Stepping off the plane for our first visit to India I was obviously filled with excitement, but after so much planning and anticipation I also felt nervous at having no idea what to expect. We landed into Terminal 2 of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport which, only being built in 2014, was super modern, but even the shiny new interior could not detract from those annoying but necessary passport control queues.
My first observation was that India did not mess around when it came to security, there were lots of gun wielding military personnel, and the passport control staff were stern, only communicating in intimating death stares and grunts. Visas thrown back at us (which I presumed meant accepted) we made our way to yet another check before picking up our bags. Feeling relived that we had now been granted permission to enter India, and had all of our luggage, we headed towards the exit where our bags were once again scanned. Feeling like we were 100% secure after our various checks our next task was to find our hotel.
As it was Pablo and I’s first time in India, and we had landed in Mumbai after midnight, we decided to stay in the rather lovely Niranta airport transit hotel rather than trying to navigate the city at night. On walking up to our close-by swanky accommodation we were once again greeted with an airport style security screening; both of us and our bags checked, it was finally time to check in. *Side note – These security measures do not bother me at all if it means that we get to travel safely and rest in peace, I only mention them to forewarn anyone else that is planning a trip what to expect.
Getting into our hotel the receptionist scanned our passports complete with Indian visitor visas and we discovered that Niranta actually does rooms per the hour if you are just wanting to freshen up between travel, which is really handy. Finally, all admin in place, it was time to crash out on our plush king sized bed.
Waking up early and eager to explore we quickly freshened up in the huge shower and indulged in our free breakfast.
On check out one of the young porters offered to escort us over to the prepaid taxi booth and arrange our car for us. I had been told not to book a cab through the hotel as often they are in cahoots with the drivers who charge extra then take a cut, but to be honest with you I didn’t care if we got charged a couple of quid more and the teenager got a tip, as I admired his tenacity.
Pablo and I hopped into our blue and white little bug of a car, bags precariously placed on top, and off we went for our first drive in India.
The quiet and organisation of the airport was soon left behind and exchanged for blindingly bright sunshine and beeping horns. There were no lanes and we weaved within millimetres of other vehicles, people and animals – one hand on the horn at all times. No one seemed concerned by our close proximity, they simply snaked around one another as if they have some telekinetic power making them aware of where people were about to move.
This extreme closeness and noise was different from home yet I did not fear for my safety, and instead felt exhilarated by the wild ride.
As our driver took the wheel with one hand and chattered to a friend on the phone I looked out the window trying to take in as much as I could. Even whizzing past in a car it was obvious to see the conflicting ways of life in Mumbai, glossy buildings, dilapidated high rises, new sky scrappers being erected and slums covered in satellite dishes all nestle in amongst each other. These financial differences were more stark than in London and every time we stopped on the journey people would bang on the window begging for money. Though difficult to deal with, one thing I learned very quickly about India was that you have to go with an open mind and let the world wash over you in the way that the locals do.
Our driver made the journey longer by stopping to pick up a few bits from the shop and waving down other taxi drivers to ask for directions before turning back on himself, and by UK standards, drove like a maniac. The thing that many people seem to forget is that you are no longer in old blighty and people do things differently around the world. So I took the time to enjoy the experience, going by my travel mantra: relax, observe and learn.
In that short one hour journey I felt the uptight niggles of everyday life disappear and my brain beginning to focus on what really matters to me. I was captivated by the sheer amount of people, noise, smells and the fact that all parts of life seemed to take place on the street.
My first impressions of India were confusing; it was strict, yet unruly, colourful, crumbling, extravagant and poor all at the same time. In my video I describe India as ‘very… a lot’ and I stand by that.