…the unexpected remarkable underdog that I was all too excited to have a brief but everlasting encounter with.
So this past December I was privileged enough to visit India for the first time for a week with my mother and youngest sister Penina. I can confidently say it was love at first experience and boy was it an adventure, one for the books.
India is an unexpected “paradise” for curious travel enthusiasts and tourists alike. It is one of the most engaging, colourful, chaotic, spiritual and life-affirming countries I have ever visited thus far.
Our trip was off to an interesting start. We landed in Jaipur in the early hours of Thursday morning the 18th of December 2015. Jet lagged and tired we were greeted warmly by our Indian host families. Upon our arrival at the hotel, we were told that our room was not available yet since check out time was only in the afternoon and all the rooms were occupied (agh). Now anyone who has travelled a long distance trip knows the deep yearning for a comfy bed and sleep once reaching your destination. So after almost an hour of trying to hustle a room – to our defeat, fatigue and annoyance we decided to crash on the hotel lobby couches for a few hours until a room became available.
After about 4hrs of sleep and freshening up, we were ready to hit the busy streets of the Pink City. We began our day touring and exploring Jaipur’s City Palace, where the Rajasthan Royal family resides. Jaipur is known for its glamorous stucco buildings.
We met The Princess of Jaipur (Diya Kumari) and I was touched by her humble grace and poise. She is a radiant and warm-hearted woman, a role model that continues to make us fellow women proud. We visited an Observatory not far from the palace gates; he Observatory of science was truly a majestic site. To think that so many years and centuries ago people were already thinking of things beyond earth, is incredible.
On the Sunday we travelled 5 hours, to reach Agra t go and witness the famous man made wonder of the world – The Taj Mahal. I felt like such a fan and having a groupie moment. Since I could remember I always wanted to visit the Taj. Finally I got to understand what the fuss was about. It truly is magnificent. The Indian architecture never ceased to amaze me the entire trip. Something I found quite intriguing and somewhat annoying at the same time, was the locals fascination with Black people and our hair in particular. The locals could not stop staring, wanting to take photographs and touch our hair, that at some point it actually became a little uncomfortable and awkward – especially for an introvert like myself. However I had a little bit of an aha! moment when I thought more deeply at my discomfort of the locals analysis of me. The roles were now reversed and I was the object and subject of dissection the same way I had done (probably even subconsciously) many a times to those I found interesting to shoot as a photograph enthusiast and aspiring writer.
Next up was the city that never sleeps (literally, perhaps besides New York City), Mumbai (also known as Bombay) for the next four days. The first thing I noticed was the extreme heat and humidity, thank God for the air-conditioned bus we toured in.
I found Mumbai a cultural experience to live for, although it is definitely not everyone’s flavour of spice – particularly if you are not a city fan. It is definitely one of the most alive and buzzing cities I’ve ever experienced. Wherever you look, no matter what time of day even in the rural parts, there are always people (and cows).
My Highlights of Mumbai are…
Witnessing The Dabba Wallahs at work
The Dabbawallas are one of thee most unique kind of service and logistics in India. The formal name of this entity is “Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust”. Dabba wallah means The Lunchbox (tin) carrier. It is a uniquely Mumbai based Tiffin box service – supplying Tiffin boxes from one’s home to his/her office. So this is nothing but home made food. In essence it is simply a logistics service. The Tiffin arrives every afternoon sharp at 12:30 without fail. Their precision is impeccable and admirable. They are reported to have a 6 sigma accuracy – meaning there is a one in a six million chance of making a mistaken (delivery default rate is one in a million deliveries). During the evening the empty Tiffin box are returned back to the respective homes at 17:30. The pick up is done at 08:30. The delivery of the lunchboxes is done anywhere to anywhere in Mumbai. Hence they recently received a SIX SIGMA certification.
The World’s Largest Open Air Laundromat
On our city tour by foot, we rode the local train order to get to what is known as the world’s largest outdoor laundry. The Dhobi Ghat (Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat) is a well known open air laundromat in Mumbai, India.It is located next to Mahalaxmi railway station on the Western Railway’s Saat Rasta roundabout. It can be easily seen from flyover bridge of Mahalaxmi station. The washers, locally known as Dhobis, work in the open to wash the clothes from Mumbai’s hotels and hospitals. The word Dhobi Ghat is used all over India to refer to any place where many washers are present. There are rows of open-air concrete wash pens, each fitted with its own flogging stone. Dhobi Ghat is a very popular attraction among foreign tourists like ourselves. In 2013, World Records India and World Amazing Records honoured a World Record Certificate to Dhobi Kalyan & Audhyogik Vikas Co – op. Society Ltd. This outdoor laundry is really a site to see. What really struck me, is that there were only men here and the one’s that owned the stall. Laundry which is a domestic chore considered to be a femxle duty has been defied at the Dhobi Ghat, even our tour guide was a man, Salim.
So obviously everyone wants to know where the best places to lahla umlenze and jiva in Mumbai are. Since Mumbai is India’s nightlife capital, with bars and clubs that could hold their own with the best in the world, catering to the city’s giants of fashion, finance and film – you are not short of any kind of vibe you may be looking for. Dress codes apply in Mumbai and it pays to make an effort. You never know who you may be rubbing shoulders (or bodies) with. My Indian host mom took me out on the town, in the suburb of Bandra (where we were staying). Our first stop after some tapas was The Bar Stock Exchange. The bar is based on the concept of the stock exchange (hence the name), where the price fluctuation is determined by the stone age concept of demand and supply. Cool and Genius. The terraces and location is undoubtedly the best part about this place! And there’s a great array of choice of alcohol and food. So next time you find yourself in this ever awake city, do make a stop at this local hip joint. For those who enjoy their liquor this is definitely the place to be – it’s reasonable for the superb quality. Bandra has many more other watering holes within walking distance of each other. After exploring a few, sajiva kuze kuse and I was unable to stand in my heels anymore – we called it a night/morning. My one night out in the Mumbai streets was quite the memorable experience.
The Market Shopping
Shopping in Mumbai is every shoppers dream. #AllYouCanBuyForCheap. Mumbai’s streets, corners and pavements are lined with shops and virtually everything is available in it’s bazaars and markets. The street market such as the one we visited show cases India’s business skills and hard bargaining at its best. We visited the one very close to Gateway of India, the Government Emporium, which is well stocked with a verity of handicrafts and clothes. In the streets opposite to the government emporium, there are many handicraft, silver and antique shops. I don’t really recommend this type of shopping to any fellow shopalcoholics – you simply will want everything. I had to hold myself back several times, well my mother did.
The word Beautiful in all its meaning embodies the spirit of India. Its extraordinarily rich, full of colour and life. This country has the vibe of being deliriously alive and has an understated history and culture that cannot be denied. It embodies juxtaposition in its purest definition. People live in bi-polar worlds, even if they live within a few meters of each other. Although this is not uncommon here in South Africa, in India it seems more prevalent and extreme – with lavish upmarket hotels right next to a slum dwelling. However the people are brought together in fervor for life and love for others and each other. It is hard not to be impelled by their sincerity and warmth. The big country has managed to harmoniously accommodate the peaceful co-existence of people of various religions and cultures, which somewhat makes it easier to feel welcomed and comfortable.
If you are looking for a cultural explosive experience then India is the place to go. Although it is not the safest place to visit alone as a sista, you will no doubt still have a good time, and that is why I recommend it as a girls trip – unless you’re staying at an ashram. I intend to return soon and explore more of what India has to offer.