I'm in Mumbai for the first time. I flew in this evening for a conference, and am staying on for the weekend. I wasn't expecting to have much to blog about tonight - the flight was pretty uneventful (though the man next to me, with his habit of exhaling abruptly through his nose every fifteen seconds, came close to experiencing a more interesting journey than he did). But then I took a taxi.
The journey into Delhi from the airport is efficient but not very interesting. It's mostly by elevated highway, which gives you a nice view across the city (and makes you realise how green it is) but doesn't exactly give you a feel for life at street level. The journey from the domestic terminal in Mumbai was completely different. I was glued to the window the whole way: this wasn't a journey from an airport to a hotel but an exhilarating tour through urban India.
Street after street was crowded with people. The pavements were lined for blocks on end with people selling things: fruit stalls, clothes spread out on cloths on the ground, whole streets of children's toys or garlands of marigolds. Traders shouted out their offers in front of decorated temples, restaurants with giant elephant statues in front, offices full of late-working execs, buildings with giant replica chocolate bars stuck on the front, and churches with giant neon crosses over their doors and signs about the perils of consumerism out front. Groups of young men pounded out furious rhythms on drums while girls danced like jitterbugs to the beat. Toothless old men in rags stood singing Hindi songs outside the sleek, modern "White Smiles Dental Clinic". We passed glittering high-rises, opulent shopping malls, swanky restaurants, decrepit factories and corrugated iron shacks. The air was heavy with monsoon rain and with the smells of spices and traffic fumes, both of which gave way to the tang of the sea as we passed by the waterfront, with the lights reflecting in the water in an absurdly picturesque way.
The journey took an hour and a quarter, but I didn't want it to end. I don't think I've ever experience an introduction to a city like it. My only regret is that I have two days of conference to go before I can get out and explore Mumbai.