• mumbai first impressions

First Impressions of Mumbai & Arriving in India

When I arrive in Andheri East, at the most awesome Aussie, Elise’s place (she has too!), it was two or three in the morning. It was my first time in India. This was over a year ago.

The roads were empty, I’d paid 5x as much as I should have for a cab, and the driver was angry I wasn’t tipping him. There were mean looking dogs outside her gate, and a meaner looking security guard. It was dark and dirty and I was pretty sure I was in the Mumbai slums (I SO wasn’t!). I was starting to second guess backpacking India alone! Looking back, it’s so nuts to think I felt like this.

I stayed awake because of jet lag and waited for my couchsurfing hosts to wake up for work. All my fears were eased when the sun came up and I could see out their window that I was not in the slums, but was actually in a nice area of Bombay. I felt a little silly for being so worried the night before. Elise offered me a cell phone for the day, made me a chai, and I was off to explore. I should have decided from this point on to only stay with girl CS hosts in India, because Elise made everything go so much smoother, but I’m just not that smart.

First thing to do in Mumbai: Be a badass with Elise and take the slow local to Colaba during morning rush hour. I don’t care what anyone says (Ben), it was fun.

mumbai

My First impressions of India

Looking back through the journal I kept while backpacking India, it makes me laugh at what used to shock me and now feels like the every day norm. Just like when I explained my first time abroad, I was just as niave almost two years ago in India! Here are some things I jotted down my first four days in Bombay.

  • Just because an Indian woman looks beautiful in her sari, doesn’t mean she won’t throw an elbow in my face to get on the train. Still true. Yesterday at LuLu’s grocery store in Cochin, a lady elbowed me to try and steal my green pepper from my cart to claim it as her own!

mumbai

  • Hindi on the phone sounds like a lot of angry yelling. Everyone seems mad all the time, but it’s just the way they talk on the phone.  Takes some getting used to; even now, I think my friends are always mad at each other.
  • Showering with a bucket takes some new squatting muscles. It’s also really hard to get all the tangles out of my hair this way! I like to brush my hair in the shower while the water’s running over it to help the tangles escape. Hello tangled hair for the duration of my Indian trip! Thankfully, at my house in Goa we have a real shower, but somehow with the scooter rides and ocean swims I still have tangly hair most days.
  •  The toilet situation… or the lack of a toilet I mean. The hole in the floor was okay… but no toilet paper was definitely a deal breaker. It took me 15 months in India to adjust to the “bum gun” and I’m an idiot for not switching sides sooner. Add on the fact that most public restrooms in Mumbai that aren’t “fancy” have no sinks to wash up. Make sure you have your antibacterial! And Seriously, practice squats before your trip or your legs are going to kill. Indians must have the strongest quads.

mumbai

  • I felt no sense of personal space. It was magically gone. My body was just a big blob always in the way of people. They were going to stand as close to me as possible, until I almost fall over. Still no personal space but not AS bothered by it anymore. If you are waiting in line for something and get lucky with a group of Indians who want to be proper and not line-jump… you better bet they are standing so close they are leaning on you.
  • Men at the train station just cutting in line… shocking. Looking back, over a year later, it doesn’t even register in my mind anymore. Neither do the cows in strange places, like this one at the train station.

mumbai

  • At first, I wore a kurta because the stares made me nervous. I thought I needed to basically pretend to be Indian. Websites had advised me to try to blend in and dress traditionally. Now I stay true to myself and wear what I want as long as it covers me up. My Indian friends would give me so much shit if I was walking around in traditional clothing every day that they don’t even wear on a regular basis. If you’re traveling India as a solo female be sure to check out my tips on safety.
  • So much gold everywhere!! Even on the women begging. It may not be real, but who knows. As long as I’ve been here I haven’t bought any gold. It’s a different quality than what we use in the U.S. Here in India is is richer, brighter, and has that look that you aren’t sure whether it’s even real or not. In the U.S. people like a light gold or white gold- minus the rappers.

mumbai

  • It’s hot… really really hot. Indians don’t seem to mind, they aren’t dripping in sweat constantly like tourists seem to be, and they don’t need A/C. Our Indian friends actually think the reason our beloved Piso who passed away, got sick because we have air conditioning in the house. Add on trash, pollution, and fish markets to the heat and you’re in for an uncomfortable first day in India! It’ll end with you blowing black snot out of your nose.

mumbai

  • Security is tight. There are men with guns near tourist attractions with them loaded and pointing out at you as you walk by. At clubs they search EVERYTHING looking for drugs. They opened my friends’ cigarette box and searched it. In Goa it’s very different. Now, I just walk past security as my Indian girlfriends have taught me. It confuses them but they never stop me and asked me to come back. Silly.
  •  Drinking chai all day everyday! For 5 rupees. You can’t beat it! Never crossed my mind the water could make me sick, and it never did make me sick. I say go for it! The dirtier the pot looks, the better the chai ;)

mumbai

  • Even in the chaos and trash on the streets, Indians are a group of people who get shit done. Watching the Dabbawalas at the train station deliver over 200,000 hot lunches from home and not mess up a one was pretty incredible. Anything I’ve ever asked our “helper guys” for gets done. It’s magic. But this is India… where anything is possible! One 7 year old boy even said he’d get me a tiger and he probably could have to.

mumbai

I loved India when I first arrived, but so many things were new and different. I couldn’t communicate properly, I wasn’t dressed properly, hell I couldn’t even use the bathroom properly.

A year or so later, and I still haven’t learned more than 10 words of Konkani, but at least now I can drive myself around- although my taxi confuses people as I go by. I even drove a rickshaw in Cochin yesterday. I go to the butcher and pick out my dinner from chunks of hanging meat, use head wobbles and “clicks” to communicate with my idiotic internet providers until they fix the cables properly, buy fabric and show my seamstress what I want done, and drive my dog to the vet to get his bollocks chopped. I’ve finally converted to the Indian bum gun, and I even plan on learning a little Hindi this monsoon. (anyone have a good book idea or website for that?) These sound like such simple things but actually took me ages to be able to just go DO THEM without having a driver take me or Ben help me.

The other day Ben texted me asking if there was a lot of traffic or if I’d missed it. I replied “ah yes, much traffic”, and did a head wobble as I typed it without giving that reply a second thought. Ben texted back, “wtf that was so Indian…” I hadn’t even realized!

No matter how long I’m here I know things will continue to shock me. Like just recently I needed a new tire because I ran over a nail… so I went to the mechanic which is easy to find in India- they hang a yellow tire out the front door. The man took the old one, pulled out an inter-tube, patched it, and put it back in. First of all, what in the world…. Second, it was 40 rupees. That’s less than a dollar, people.

I always felt safe in India, but now it finally feels a bit like home.

I have been writing a lot about past travels and random tips for traveling India, but now I’m finally going to be giving advice about the cities and small towns I’ve been in India when I did my first backpacking trip (along with more random tips). Get pumped because first is Udaipur, the “Venice of India“, aka the most romantic place in India.

 

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2017-08-07T20:01:40+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing to live on the beaches of Goa, India almost four years ago where she is now a travel writer. Her website gives advice on the 35+ countries she's been to but has become the go-to site for India travel, focusing on offbeat places & “glamorous travel”. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE magazine, Tripadvisor, and Thomas Cook. Her blog is one of the top 50 travel blogs in the world based on traffic. She also enjoys writing for BravoTV.

35 Comments

  1. Shalu Sharma April 16, 2014 at 9:16 am - Reply

    Interesting, but people do still go to India and most love it. Sad to know that you didn’t like India.

    • Rachel Jones April 16, 2014 at 11:31 am - Reply

      No, that’s not the case at all. I don’t know if you read the whole post, but I live and India and have been here almost 2 years. I love India and many of my blog posts are about how much I love India AND insisting that others will as well. This is titled “first impressions” about how I felt specifically, as I mention, my first “4 days in India” while going through culture shock- as you can see I wrote that India now feels like HOME to me….

      • Shalu Sharma April 20, 2014 at 4:11 am - Reply

        Oh I see, looking like I missed the rest of the article. Thanks for pointing out to me. The slums of Bombay is certainly a culture shock even for Indians.

  2. Rebekah April 16, 2014 at 3:59 am - Reply

    I’ve always heard sort of terrible things about India and had not thought about going there but this is making it seem tempting. I sort of love countries that give a little chaos and craziness.

    • Rachel Jones April 17, 2014 at 7:21 am - Reply

      You have to take the bad stuff people say with a grain of salt. I really love it here and feel so lucky to be here! When I was backpacking, it was my favorite trip for sure.

  3. Christie April 16, 2014 at 4:29 am - Reply

    I love this. I first visited India (just Mumbai) when I was 14 and as a naive teenager was so shocked with what I saw! It took a lot of getting used to – especially things like cows in strange places haha! When I went back in 2012 to backpack for a few months, I loved it. It can be challenging to adjust to certain things, but so worth it for what you see and experience and learn :) That’s so cool that its starting to feel like home for you.

    • Rachel Jones April 17, 2014 at 7:22 am - Reply

      I bet you were really shocked at that young age! That’s cool you could travel so young.

  4. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) April 16, 2014 at 5:04 am - Reply

    Fascinating read! Aaah bucket baths and holes in the ground – reminds me of many a visit to India in my childhood years where I used to go really often to visit family – it’s funny how you gradually adapt isn’t it? I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve gone out there alone and not felt safe so it’s great to see that you’re settling in well and it’s starting to feel like home :)

    • Rachel Jones April 17, 2014 at 7:22 am - Reply

      That’s great you got to make trips here as a kid! I think I”ll have some serious culture shock when I go back to America lol

  5. Pallavi April 16, 2014 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    If I hadn’t grown up here, it would be really devastating for me as well. Especially the toilets. Thankfully they only exist in trains and rural areas. Haha!
    I’m looking forward to your Udaipur post. Rajasthan is one of my favourite places in India. There is so much history associated with that place.

    • Rachel Jones April 17, 2014 at 7:29 am - Reply

      Yes, it’s good the toilets are better in nicer places. As backpackers we rarely see the nice nice places though :) The udaipur post is up! Part 1 anyways.

  6. Colleen Brynn April 16, 2014 at 10:04 am - Reply

    You’ve got some really great stuff happening here! I’m loving it. Also, on Indians getting things done – that boat story, nah??

    • Rachel Jones April 17, 2014 at 7:25 am - Reply

      the boat story!!! man I should make that a post of its own lol

  7. ellen Bak April 16, 2014 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    I have become a rabid fan ! I will be taking off soon for my year or two of over 50 female solo travel. I have gotten so much info from your site! Thank you so much and keep the blog coming! Love your name Hippie in heels although your just a kid. I’m one of the original hippies from the sixties! You get so many looking at you because you are young, blonde and quite pretty! I’ll let you know if a dark haired older women gets the same attention! Ha! Keep up the good work! ellen Bak

    • Rachel Jones April 17, 2014 at 7:30 am - Reply

      Haha, I am a big kid :) I’m sure you will get stared at too! You’ll have to let me know how it goes! I’m glad you’re finding my site helpful.

  8. Karyn @ Not Done Journeyling April 16, 2014 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    Isn’t it amazing how we can see things one way on first sight, and then when we adjust they look completely different! The things don’t change, but our perception of them does. I couldn’t handle squat toilets or crazy traffic when I first went to Thailand, but once I was settled in I was just like, meh.

    My parents visited me in Chiang Rai while I was housesitting for my boss, who had his own house that he and his wife were raising their 3 little girls in. As is normal for a Thai home, their kitchen was outside. I was so used to this being normal and didn’t think to mention it to my parents. But my mother was horrified that people would eat off cups and plates that were kept OUTSIDE! To us they weren’t outside, they were in the kitchen room which happened to be three steel walls and a roof, and this was the most normal thing in the world. But to her it was like we were keeping our crockery in the garden shed. lol

    • Rachel Jones April 17, 2014 at 7:31 am - Reply

      wow a kitchen outside! I haven’t heard of that before. I think it would shock me too haha. We do get used to things though, and in India they have “water rooms” where only one water source is in the house therefore kitchen and bathoom= same thing. WEIRD!

  9. anuj April 17, 2014 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    In Bhagwat Gita{the holy book of hindus),Lord Krishna said

    ‘whenever evil will rise on this world,i will take birth on Holy land of india to remove that’

    In other words india is a holy land and no body want to leave india
    The more time u spent in india more hard u will find to leave.

  10. Anna L. April 17, 2014 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    wooo! I luvs India. Albeit my experience was with a rich friend and a massive family wedding. There’s good and bad about anywhere, but it’s definately a place that won’t get boring soon! Nice to hear your retrospectice thoughts on things. It proves that you’re living :D

    • Rachel Jones April 18, 2014 at 2:04 am - Reply

      That’s great that you experienced a big wedding. I’ve been invited to village weddings but not the big shabang. Finally next year in Delhi I will go to one!

  11. Catherine April 19, 2014 at 10:16 am - Reply

    Your first impressions of Mumbai were very similar to my own! After just a month in India I managed to get used to it all surprisingly quickly and loved it so much I definitely want to return one day! Love that you actually think it is like home now :)

    • Rachel Jones April 20, 2014 at 2:06 am - Reply

      Yeah, it took a while to think of it as home, but I finally got there.

  12. Elora April 23, 2014 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Oh that was so fun to read! I certainly learned a lot–and this may be weird, but I am really intrigued by that weird toilet. I’d be one of those people who’d use a strange toilet then send a pic to my mom, just to weird her out. I annoy her so much–and she loves me for it. One thing I’m really interested in is the chai–there is this chai mix I buy from Walmart that is super good, but of course, it has me wondering what the real local flavors are in India!

    • Rachel Jones April 24, 2014 at 10:48 am - Reply

      ahh well I was taught a chai recipe: half tea/half water, bring to boil.. add cardemon, cloves, black chai.. and ginger!

  13. Elliott June 11, 2015 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Have you ever read Shantaram? I’m in the middle of it and it’s really making me want to visit India. Do you think it accurately depicts India and/or Mumbai? … If you’ve read it haha

    • Rachel Jones June 11, 2015 at 1:56 pm - Reply

      Yes I have read it and in some ways it does depict the real mumbai

  14. Ritchie March 3, 2016 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    I’m happy to stumble upon this, you pointed out so many things that bought back so many memories. I am in the process of planning my next trip, flying in to Mumbai again it’s been a few years so look forward to it. I hope I can have another extended stay soon, this one is just under a month so will feel like a flying visit.

    • Rachel Jones March 4, 2016 at 1:25 pm - Reply

      Awesome, I hope you have a great trip! :) Mumbai is always a fun place to come back to after some time.

  15. Rainbow May 29, 2016 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    I’m a female in India for a year & met another female traveler here. Our question re: the “bum gun”–if you wash your backside & forego TP, isn’t your underwear soggy all day? We understand washing part, but what about drying part? In many squat toilet stalls, there are no bins so I’m holding soiled TP til I find a bin… Thanks for your expertise in this matter!

    • Rachel Jones May 30, 2016 at 12:25 pm - Reply

      If there is paper to dry off after, then I would do that (for example in my home or a hotel) but if not then I just give it a little shake and yes your undies will be a bit wet unfortunately – keep in mind when you spray to target your area lol and not just get water all over the place.. it gets easier as you go along

  16. browniemiles June 16, 2017 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    Great post, love your perspective on things, but some things did not seem right to me.

    “Hindi on the phone sounds like a lot of angry yelling. Everyone seems mad all the time, but it’s just the way they talk on the phone. Takes some getting used to; even now, I think my friends are always mad at each other.”

    I can’t imagine why it would seem that way. Agreed a lot of people do talk loudly in India so it can seem as if they’re yelling but angry yelling does not sound right.

    “It’s hot… really really hot. Indians don’t seem to mind, they don’t sweat, and they don’t need A/C.”

    Indians don’t mind and don’t sweat! That can never be true. Indians sweat a lot btw and they do seem to mind the heat and would love an AC. The only thing is that poorer section of the society cannot afford AC or even Air Coolers (not sure if you got a chance to saw those).

    • Rachel Jones June 17, 2017 at 8:44 pm - Reply

      Hey! You’r right about Indians sweating bit, not sure why I typed that – I actually just edited it to “they aren’t dripping in sweat like tourists are” which is what I meant. As for the rest, after 5 years in India, I still have these opinions – the convos to me do sound like arguements often, and none one of my indian friends in Goa will use the A/C and most have them in their homes but don’t find it that hot + just don’t like A/Cs, it has nothign to do with budget for them.

      • browniemiles June 18, 2017 at 1:48 am - Reply

        That’s cool. I don’t even know how many people speak Hindi in Goa! I reckon not many do.
        Not sure why people in Goa find it that hot but I am sure you will find a lot of people not using their ACs because of the electric bills ;)

        Hope you had fun in Udaipur!

        • Rachel Jones June 18, 2017 at 7:45 pm - Reply

          Locals speak Konkani, but lots of my friends are from North India :) Haha Goa is very hot and extremely humid especially before monsoon months.

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