I can't believe it. It's here. Our final days in India. Now that we are officially leaving I am already feeling withdrawals. We experienced so much in this magnificent country. I’m still in shock. (PS. It's now over a year later and we are just editing this post. Seriously guys, we are the worst bloggers ever.)
Still on our high from accomplishing four government buses in one day, we decided to keep the momentum and travel to Mumbai by bus. We took a government bus from Vagator Beach to Mapusa (less than an hour), where we had a delicious dinner and almost got caught in a brawl between two homeless guys at the bus station. If you find yourself in Mapusa (which most likely will only be because you are taking the bus to Mumbai), make sure to eat at Navtara, it was cheap and delicious (and actually spicy, unlike a lot of Indian restaurants, at least for foreigners).
Our second leg (which was almost 14 hours) was overnight and thankfully on a sleeper class AC bus. Now while I love taking the sleeper buses, I do want to emphasize that driving in India is absolutely insane, and this goes for the buses too. I’m actually surprised that there aren’t more stories of people falling from their cubies (like I almost did). The swerving, speeding, and screeching halts are far too often, but it's all part of the adventure (as long as you are alive to to tell the tale that is!).
We met a great, young couple while we were in Agonda who told us to stay in Colaba while in Mumbai so we found the cheapest hotel possible ($25, prices are higher in Mumbai) and booked it for the next four nights. The hotel was not nice. It was terrible actually (a year later and I still shiver when I think about it). Aside from the fact that we had a prison size window and our room was filthy and constructed out of cinderblocks, something so disgusting happenings as soon as I entered into the room. I had stepped on something. Every step I took I could feel it under my foot, something hard and almost plastic-like. I sat down on the wooden plank, I mean bed, to inspect what was stuck on the sole of my foot. And you know what I found? A TOE NAIL CLIPPING. SOMEONE ELSE'S TOE NAIL CLIPPING. Big toe to be exact. NOPE. It was also a little too far south in Colaba in our opinion, but we only slept there and we had decent water pressure so not all was lost.
Despite our hotel troubles (seriously Brian, we couldn't have splurged for our last few nights in India? We did come out $1,000 under budget! whoo hoo!) Brian and I LOVED Mumbai! Our legs and feet were throbbing by the end of each day from all the exploring we did. Once again, I found another city I could definitely see myself living in. We walked the crowded sidewalks of Colaba Causeway day in and day out, with merchants selling the exact same trinkets and souvenirs we have come to love (and hate. I will never look at a toy drum the same). If I never hear “real pashmina scarf” again it will be too soon.
We ate lunch at the same place every. single. day. because it was so insanely delicious and cheap. Honestly we didn't mean to, but it was like we were under a spell. We stumbled upon Pancham Puriwala because of the giant crowds of locals waiting outside and decided it was worth the wait (which didn’t take longer than five minutes). You are sat basically on top of one another, with zero elbow room between you, so if you aren’t comfortable having your personal space invaded, this may not be the place for you (or any of India for that matter) but I urge you to try it! The Pancham Thali was our favorite which came with five vegetables, four puris, kadhi, paneer pulao, dahi wada, and sweets. Plus they would bring different refills of puris throughout your meal. And do you want to know the best part? The total cost for our decadent, delicious lunch (plus my daily pistachio and rose lassi) was less than $4 dollars. Insanity.
We still had a couple of my cousin’s wedding items left on our list including a pair of shoes for my uncle (her dad) and so I made it my mission to find them for less than $5 (they were selling for $60 in the US). Since I’m a professional Indian shopper now, I was able to secure the perfect shoe for the father of the bride for…drumroll please…$2!! Hip hip Hooray!!
We stopped into the famous Leopolds Cafe, one of the locations of the 2008 terrorist attacks, but decided not to take a table as it was completely overrun by tourist. We walked around and marveled at the beautiful architecture of the University of Mumbai (where I, of course, tried to talk Brian into moving to Bombay so I could go back to school there). We ate a delicious sandwich which I can only describe as an Indian style panini from Sanjay Sandwich Centre (at least thats what his sign said). We caught a glimpse of India Gate but somehow managed to leave without a photo. I decided to give henna another shot and left with the most beautiful tattoo on my hands. We even took a break at the most beautiful McDonalds we have ever seen for an ice coffee and masala fries.
On one of our last days, we took the Bandra-Worli Sea Link north to another area of Bombay and ended up in a part of town that if you didn't know any better, you would have thought was Rainey Street in Austin, TX. It was as if the universe knew we were gearing up to go back state-side when we stumbled into a restaurant called Doolally which served DELICIOUS CRAFT BEERS. We were in beer heaven.
Bombay was the perfect ending to our two months in India. It has definitely been the hardest country we have traveled to so far, but also one of the most rewarding. We will miss the smells, both good and bad. The sights, both shocking and stunning. The tastes, both strange and delicious. But most of all, the people, even those out to scam you (maybe we won’t miss them as much). Every single person we met here made our hearts swell with their kindness. Everyone was so proud to show us their country. When the money crisis was at it's peak, the locals would usher us to the front of the line because we were “visitors in their country.” When we were frustrated because we were getting scammed by someone, someone else would jump in to help. This community will bend over backwards to help you, no matter what situation you are in, even when you aren’t in need of help.
We were exhausted at the end of each day. Somedays, we felt as if we were human punching bags for India to practice on. I’ve never looked forward to a shower (even a cold one) more than I did in India (I’m a wash your hair once a week kind of gal), and as I washed away the dirt and grime (literally) from each day, I would go to sleep excited for what tomorrow would bring (which as we all know was most likely food related). And speaking of food, Brian and I kept telling ourselves, we know we will get sick, it's just a matter of time. In the end, we didn’t! We successfully ate our way through India for two months without any bouts of the infamous Delhi Belly (we will write a guide on avoiding food poisoning in India someday).
I know many people have a fear of visiting India, and honestly I don't blame them. It has such a heavy reputation. The food and the pollution. The crowds and the crime. The heat and the distance. But why not challenge yourself? Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Experience new cultures and flavors. Open not just your mind but your heart to the wonders of travel. And experience India. Whether you are traveling on $10 a day or $1000 (omg I can't even imagine), you will be forever changed after visiting this beautiful place. You will leave with a new appreciation of so many things, both big and small. Find yourself. Give yourself this gift. Embrace it. You'll hate it some days, but you will leave with more love than you knew was possible. I know it's hard to grasp the true meaning of all of this through a couple overly descriptive sentences but after spending two months here, I fully understand the quote, "there are two types of travelers, those that have been to India and those who haven't."
If there is anything I learned from these first four months of travel, it's to face your fears. Brian always tells me, “You can do anything for 30 minutes, Shiva,” and while that 30 minutes slowly turned into hours, days, and even weeks. It was true. India was exactly what everyone said it would be, an explosion of all our senses. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
SF, LA, and Charlotte, we are coming for ya! See you soon!!