Everyone should experience India in their lifetime.
Does Mumbai ever get cold? That’s the first thought crossing my mind after disembarking from the plane. It had been 6+ hours from Nairobi to one of the world’s most populated but beautiful cities. For the first time, I found myself at an airport whose name I couldn’t pronounce; the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport.
Give it a try and see how it goes.
Ever efficient and innovative, Indians simply call it Andheri Airport. You are all welcome.
Arriving in Mumbai during the wee hours allowed me to intimately connect with the city. The ambiance of the airport matched the dotted skylines observed while flying over the city during the landing. Indian architecture felt deep. For instance, the dome-shaped hallways with creamy colors inside Andheri appeared incomplete yet comforting. The escalators seemed to urge me on as if thrusting me to explore this mysterious gem.
Let me deviate. While interviewing for this job at Botpresso (the best SEO consultancy globally), my boss enquired about the average height in Kenya. Right there, in the flashing lights of Andheri, it dawned on me where this came from. While I’m not particularly tall, here in India, I stood out. Strangely, this felt like an oddity. Fortunately, I marveled at the diversity of the universe and kept smiling muttering “Namaste” to whoever cared to listen. Some offered a simple smile back, while others muttered incorrigibly. Truth is, it never felt as if I was thousands of miles from home.
Respect the Immigration Officials
Dear traveler, imagine the incredible work immigration officials do. Leave alone securing airports. These people facilitate world travel, one person at a time. It’s not simply stamping your passport but rather welcoming you to otherwise strange lands. Queueing at Andheri, a busy travel hub brought a silent appreciation for these hardworking souls not just in Mumbai but globally.
The Indian immigrant official had rings of fatigue behind his spectacles yet he managed to say “Welcome to India” after verification. A week of exploration awaited.
City of Dreams?
For a city nicknamed the “City of dreams” it’s ironic that Mumbai never sleeps. When one of my workmates picked me up, it took minutes for an Uber to arrive. Back in Kenya, that’s almost impossible. I won’t even mention the easily available ‘ottos’ swarming on Mumbai roads. That’s admirable.
Indians talk really fast. As my workmate haggled over our accommodation charges, I looked in awe. In a country boasting 800 languages, what if he missed one word? Interestingly, all conversations led to consensus and the only word I grasped was “Sahi.” That must mean correct. Or yes. Who knows?
Finally, we found accommodation. It was a decent hotel with good conditioning, and strangely, a bottle of water for your welcome. By the time of finishing my stay in India, the value of this gesture was not lost on me. Mumbai was hot, but so is most of India, specifically at this time of the year. Water becomes a necessity. That it’s easily affordable compared to Kenya seemed unfair.
As I slept off the night, awaiting my next day’s ride to Lonavala, I dreamt of India. Maybe, Mumbai is indeed the city of dreams.
Twinkle Twinkle …
Meeting some of my workmates for the ride to Lonavala was the highlight of my first morning in India. The morning sun felt anything but. It was scorching, unforgiving, and determined to give any visitors a proper sun-kissed welcome. While Kenya mainly experiences a humid climate, the Mumbai sun is undefeated. I doubt any little star would shine here.
Where’s everyone going?
Getting stuck in the early Mumbai traffic was hilarious. You see, everyone is hooting, demanding to be given way. One wonders, where will the next motorist go? Hooting is acceptable, a norm. That was one of the biggest cultural shocks. I thought Kenyans are impatient but Indians are a standard unto themselves.
We had spicy samosas along the way and while these felt a little different, they didn’t tell half the story of India’s rich food culture. Women in scooters overtook our Innova, lost in the mad rush. Where I come from, countable women ride motorbikes. Suffice it to say, for all the road impatience and hooting, I never witnessed any road accident during my weeklong stay.
If you can successfully navigate Indian traffic, you should be awarded a global driving license.
Land of Two Tales
As the masses of Mumbai lagged behind, our ride experienced swathes of empty rocky mountainous lands. The only constant was the spotting of TATA jalopy trucks laboring in the traffic. I expected all areas to be densely populated but here were brown and dusty lands lying idle. More surprises awaited.
A few minutes to Lonavala, I recall a huge poster screaming ‘Jeep’ lording over the empty lands. Whether figurative or not, it appeared surreal. First, because this country supposedly harbors 1.5 billion people, and secondly, despite spotting few luxury brand vehicles, the local brands reigned supreme. Without a shadow of a doubt, Indians love their local products. TATA and Mahindra dominated the wide roads, closely challenged by Suzuki and Honda.
Tranquility … Finally
Upon getting to Lonavala, the sun started burning less fiercely and more trees became visible. Except for the unfortunate incident where one of our colleagues was fined for not putting on his safety belt, the ride was seamless. Lonavala smelt different. The motorists were impatient but in a different way. This was promising.
The resort where we were booked sat atop a hill, looking over into an endless horizon. In my heart, this perfectly captures my enduring feelings for the country.
Our boss, Nitin Manchanda, welcomed us with warm smiles. Remote working greatly represses his sense of humor and demeanor. Clad in blue jeans, and a company-branded merchandise polo t-shirt, his outstretched arms to all of us cemented our personal and professional relations.
The team appreciated the offsite meeting more than words can tell. I overheard a few making plans for the next one!
800+ Languages and Foods
The biggest cultural shock was India’s food culture.
I lack adequate words to describe the varying cuisines my taste buds experienced. One thing I vividly remember; I teared up a little due to excessive spices. Who puts chilly in morning bread? Your guess is as good as mine.
In Pune, Maharashtra my football buddy (too bad he supports a losing team and that’s me being kind) Roopesh had fun at my expense by tricking me into eating ‘thali’ for dinner. Were it not for the waiter politely offering a soft drink, I would have slept hungry amidst plenty.
We sang, danced, took long walks, danced again, laughed, and ate. Then ate again.
Pictures are Worth a Thousand Words
Dressed The Indian Way
The peak of my trip to India was being taught how to wear a kurta and turban, an Indian religious dress, brought as a gift from the team. I felt honored and dignified. It’s marvelous how Indians maintain not just a close relationship within their communities but also with their gods. It’s one trait I hope Kenyans and the whole world should learn to embrace. You are because we are.
Thanks, Botpresso team for making this happen. Diwali can’t come sooner!
I will be Back
On my way back, I noticed the roaming dogs of Mumbai, playing their role in this closely-knit ecosystem. I longed for the deep coffee of Pune served in shallow cups. I briefly visited the Aga Khan Palace in Pune and saw the room used by India’s freedom icon; Mahatma Gandhi. There is also the black history of ‘Shivawarma’; all standing tall amidst the dashing life of India. These are echoes from the past, a reminder of how far the country has come, and THE promise of a better future for all; Indians and non-Indians like myself. In this country, there’s something for everyone.
Unwittingly, I had joined the frenzy, hurrying to the airport to avoid missing my plane. Perhaps, India makes one impatient, eventually. However, this is only the beginning. I wish to spend more time sampling foods, clothes, personalities, etc in this unending subcontinent.
I will be back…and sure … Mother India will welcome me.
Shoutout to Team Botpresso and special mention to one colleague from New Delhi who presented India from a different perspective. He taught me how to use curse words, slang, and gangster language to toughen me up for the next trip. Well, bring it on!