As I was sitting in the Mumbai airport watching rain patter on the slick runway, I found myself reflecting on a rapid three days spent in the west Indian metropolis. The exercise tickled all five of my senses, especially after six weeks spent on Bali’s relatively sleepy Bukit peninsula. Mumbai can only be described as sensory overload.
I heard the ceaseless cacophony of honking horns. I could feel the stifling humidity that leaches your body’s energy. I saw the towering high-rises and the pervasive black mold that crawls up their bare concrete. I tasted the warm gulps of flavorful masala chai. The smell of an afternoon rain dampening the layers of cow manure and trash in the street strongly lingered in my memory.
But now, I sit in a simple, beach-side hotel 300 miles south on India’s west coast. I’m in the small state of Goa. There are no high-rises; just dense forest broken up by rutted country roads and sporadic structures. The delicate power grid cuts in and out as it pleases. The hum of urban traffic is replaced by chirping birds and crashing ocean waves. The hordes of people and vehicles in Mumbai have transformed into large herds of cows that set up shop at various locations around town.
I’ve been in India for just a week but I’ve already got a taste of both extremes — Mumbai’s metropolis vs Goa’s countryside.
Life is undoubtedly more relaxed here in Goa. But the chaos of Mumbai, India’s capital of commerce and entertainment, is by no means dull. As you would suspect, the city of 20 million is full of vibrance and life once you pull back the curtain.
I unknowingly arrived in Mumbai on the final day of one of the city’s biggest festivals. Every year in September Hindus celebrate Ganesha, the god of wisdom. Nearly every street has a parade dedicated to Ganesha and red powder is thrown around, covering the people in a scarlet tint from head to toe.
As I was roaming around the city on my first day, still exhausted from a red-eye flight, I stumbled across one of these parades in a neighborhood with narrow, packed streets.
One man, who later would introduce himself as Nelson, saw me observing from the sidelines and insisted that I join the festivities front and center. He thrust me into the parade and started shoving sweet, lactose-laden sweets down my throat. The men beating drums and carrying a multi-ton parade float with only manpower were grinning from ear-to-ear at the foreigner getting initiated in one of the most important festivals of their culture.
When I was sure that my hearing had been permanently damaged by my proximity to the drums and bells, I retreated to the sidelines where Nelson invited me to sit on his porch where he ordered me tea from a street vendor. Of course, I offered to pay the nominal amount, but he insisted that I was the guest. I was a bit shocked after being in Bali for so long where you’d be hard-pressed to find such an invitation from a local without an expectation of monetary exchange.
Given that Mumbai is home to Bollywood, India’s film industry, I wanted to go to a theatre to get the full experience of the city. I noticed that there was only one film — ‘Brahmastra’ — playing at dozens of theaters. I walked into a few and realized that, while the film was available in multiple local languages of India, English subtitles were not an option. Rain check on watching Brahmastra.
Here in Goa the options for entertainment are definitely more limited. The draw is the nature and beaches — but due to a prolonged monsoon season this year, I haven’t really been able to take full advantage. Periodic downpours every day swell the rivers and taint the water brown with sediment and runoff. It’s not like the electric blue water that you’ll see if you look up photos of Goa online.
Despite the unstable weather, I have enjoyed transitioning to Goa’s more nature-oriented environment. Riding packed trains, hailing rickshaws, and dodging traffic was a good time in Mumbai, but I am definitely more cut out for the “no shoes, no shirt, walk down to the beach” lifestyle here in Goa.
I’ll have my base set up here beachside for at least another week before I move on in my tour of India. In the meantime I’ll be solo surfing, trying to work through power outages, and continuing to broaden my understanding of Indian cuisine.
One thought on “The contrasts of India: From city to countryside”
Thanks Evan. Great writing and photos!