Mumbai in Five Senses

After Aqaba we continued our journey, stopping at Sharm el Sheikh to annoy the taxi drivers, then through Salalah and Muscat in Oman before reaching Mumbai, India on the 19th December. If you haven’t been to India before, Mumbai is a crash course in all things Indian. Fortunately I have been to India so I was prepared, and in my opinion, the best way to get through an Indian city is to become like a pebble in a stream, just let everything flow past and keep cool. Mumbai is truly an assault on the senses and perhaps the best way to describe it is to tell you how the senses are assaulted. I will start with SMELL

The smells of Mumbai are like no other in the world, powerful, aromatic, gagging and subtle in the space of 100 meters. Of course the smell of spices seeps into the air more or less everywhere that food is being cooked. That of course means everywhere. If you like Indian food you will walk the streets with permanent hunger pangs, its more than a smell, its an atmosphere. Unfortunately you can walk a street smelling the infinite variety of spices, breathing deeply, savouring before gagging on the smell of stale piss. This too is everywhere, not surprising in a country of such extreme poverty, however it is difficult to determine from which animal it has come from, of course it could be human, probably is but there is also a wealth of stray dogs roaming the streets and marking their territories with pungent odours. It could also be cows, who tend not to mark territories but also beed the more than occasional slash. Add the two smells together and you have your first sensory overload.

There is one sound of Mumbai that prevails, it is everywhere, persistent and headache inducing. You see, all cars, especially taxis in India are fitted with a high tech low band sonar system. Its called a horn and heres how it works. You drive your car in a straight line pressing the horn every two seconds. If you get no reply you continue driving in which ever direction you want. If you get a reply from the left, you steer slightly right, from the right you swerve to the left. Its a bit like bats in a cave and it works, cars drive along the roads with what appears to be no set rules or regulation yet everything seems to just flow. Now imagine a road with thousands of cars all using their sonar every two seconds and you will begin to get an aural image of what the cacophony of Mumbai sound like. On the second day in Mumbai I found the only taxi in the city with no horn. There was just a big hole in the steering wheel where the horn should be. We however arrived safety, because like immunisation, if you have 95% of cars using their horns the system will still work.

The taste of Mumbai for me can be summed up in a cheap meal from the Leopold Cafe. Chicken tika wrapped in garlic nan. Pure heaven, succulent chicken marinated for several years in a gorgeous tika sauce, the freshly baked nan dripping with chunks of garlic and of course washed down by an ice cold Kingfisher beer all for about £4. If your nasal orifice has overloaded from the street smells, your toungue will drag you back to a spice filled niverna.

Touch. If there is a touch to Mumbai, it could be one of two things, the feel of a beautiful silk sari or the polluted grime that seems to cling to everything outside.

The last sense, is of course sight. It is here that you get a true sensory overload, from the intense poverty, to the rich colours of the clothes. From cows walking in the streets to the fumes belching out of the back of a 40 year old taxi. Mumbai is a visual smorgasbord with something for everyone both good and bad.

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~ by jasonrow on January 10, 2010.

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