One week ago close to midnight, Matt and I boarded our flight to Mumbai with an Indian budget airline. Not only did we choose the cheapest airline, we also choose the cheapest time to fly, the time nobody wants to arrive in Mumbai: at 2am. As we walked down the gangway of our little plane, I noticed that we were the only non-Indians on board and everyone was staring at us. Welcome to India, I thought to myself.
For a long time before the flight, we have been worrying that our bikes wouldn’t survive the flight. Our disc brakes and gear changers are very fragile and would break if the bike falls over in the cargo hold. Because of that we wrapped up our bikes and our twelve saddle bags in cardboard boxes, bubble warp and Chinese shopping bags. Nevertheless, we were quite tense as we watched them rolling away on the conveyor belt, not sure if the heart shaped “fragile”-sticker that the man on the counter stuck on them would do any good.
Against our expectations, the airport in Mumbai was the cleanest, most modern and best designed airport we have ever landed at and we safely got back our bike boxes and bags. What a good start!
The 4am taxi ride to our hostel showed us, that not all our expectations of India were wrong. Traffic in India is something else. There are no white lines on three lane sized highways. Trucks, cars, cows, tuc-tucs, motorcycles, people with overloaded wheelbarrows, scooters, bicycles, chicken, pedestrians, window cleaners and chai sellers share the road without any obvious rules and a lot of horns.
The very next day, my Kindergarten friend Irina and her boyfriend Fabian (check out his photography blog: www.fabiankappeler.com) flew to Mumbai from Switzerland to join us cycling India for one month. After travelling for more than half a year and constantly saying hello and goodbye to new people, it was wonderful to fall into the arms of old friends and knowing to have them around for the next month.
All of us were in awe of all the things happening at once on the streets of Mumbai. The whole city is absolutely crowded, there is a density of humans in every corner that I have never seen anywhere before. The scent of freshly baked naan bread in a street changes to the smell of dead rats within seconds. On top of that it is always loud; cars horn, people scream out what they’re selling, bicycles ring their bells, music plays from somewhere, the nearby mosque calls to prayer and the police officer blows into his whistle. Mumbai is intense for all the senses.
Mumbai is home to just over 20 million people. The quickest way to get a direct feel of these numbers is to take a ride to Mumbai city center via the train system. As we waited for the train to roll to a stop we watched in disbelief as men ran alongside the train jumping on through the open door in hope to get a seat for their long journey home.
We boarded, or rather squished our way in through the mass of people. Wanting to be sure we were heading in the right direction, we asked if the train was heading to our suburb and more importantly, if it would be stopping. Their answers raised my heart rate instantly. They replied: “The train will stop at your station, but you won’t be able to get off”. They explained, that the number of people squishing into the train would make it impossible for us to exit.
The train rattled on and we pushed and squeezed our way to the open doorway where men were already hanging outside the train. We needed to be at the very edge of the carriage door when our stop came. Our heart rates soared as our platform approached and we lent into the in flowing crowd just as the train stopped… we did it, we exited the train!
It must also be said, that throughout the chaos in Mumbai, the people are very tolerant of each other. After the chaos of boarding a train, people then apologize when the sway of the moving train bumps their shoulder into mine. After we have settled on a tuc-tuc price which is 20 percent of the original quote, the driver gives his little smile and head wobble and is excited to have us on board. Chaos is part of their life in Mumbai and they have learnt to thrive in it.
Together with Irina and Fabian we explored this buzzing city during the last couple of days. We went to the worlds biggest Laundry slum, sipped chai here and there, got lost a few times, watched the sunset at the crowded beach, got invited to a wedding ceremony in a temple, ate delicious and very hot food, regretted it the next time we had to go to the toilet and took tuc-tuc-rides all over the city. In the evening of our fist day together, Fabian said that Mumbai feels like the stressful end of an open-air music festival where everyone is packing to leave as quick as possible, everything is covered in rubbish and dirt, there is still a lot of noise and everything is a bit chaotic. I would have never thought of this comparison but it is true in a way!
After only one day, we agreed that we can not possibly ride our bicycles out of Mumbai, the traffic is too dangerous. We researched our possibilities and decided to take a train to the hopefully quieter and less crowded Udaipur in the North of India. Today in the morning we got up at six and took two big Uber cars for us four and all our luggage to the central train station. There we had to say goodbye to our bikes again. 40 Minutes before departure, two young boys wheeled them away from us, saying that they will bring them to the luggage carriage.
Now, 8 hours later we are still in the train, hoping our bikes are too. Indian train rides are a unique experience. We booked four tickets for the sleeping carriage and were surprised when we found our booked seats already taken by not four but seven people. After a bit of discussing we finally found a place to sit and watch the show: People everywhere, wind filling the carriages from the open doors and the countless fans at the ceiling, chai sellers walking by every few minutes, followed by samosas, Indian lunch box, fruit and roasted nut sellers always singing out what they have to offer.
In the middle of all this I try to concentrate on writing this blog post, not sure how well that went:). The green landscape dotted with little towns and farms is flashing by the window and I am excited for the next two months in this incredible country.
Talk to you soon and hopefully with our two bikes
Matt and Jasi