Before I went to India, I didn’t know much about the country. And now… I think I still don’t know very much! It’s a huge country full of histories and mysteries. It is impossible to explore whole country in just few days. But I learned many lessons in my life through this special experience. Precious memories from the trip left big impressions on my mind which will last forever. I wish someday I could visit India again, as I truly believe I would jump at the chance to go back!
My trip began in Mumbai. When the plane landed on the ground, I stepped out and was welcomed by warm temperature and the exotic scents of India. The airport was chaotic with many people. To save money, we decided to stay in cheap guesthouses rather than hotel rooms during our journey. We chose one guesthouse introduced in a guidebook. At the train station, we made a reservation by using a public phone.
The price was reasonable in the book but it was very different when we arrived at the guesthouse. The manager said it’s because of the rise in prices in Mumbai. It was late and we were tired from traveling and carrying a big backpack, so we had no choice but to check in. We worried about rest of our journey thinking that we may not have enough money. But later, we found out that the prices in Mumbai are much higher than other cities in India.
The sculpture of the Trimurti(the triad of divinities of later Hinduism) on the elephanta cave wall
I opened my eyes. It was dawn. Approaching the windows, I saw boats on the water. Our guesthouse was near the coast of the Arabian Sea. Last night, it was too dark to notice it. Even the Gateway of India was visible far along the shore, which was our next destination. After breakfast, we walked to the Gateway of India to take a cruise ship carrying tourists to the Elephanta Island. There are 7 Elephanta caves on the Island, five of them are Hindu, and two of them are Buddhist.
The Buddhist caves were not allowed to enter. The main cave is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside the cave, the face of the God Shiva is sculpted on the wall. It was a Hindu temple before the Portuguese soldiers destroyed it with bullets. It didn’t take much time to see around the island. In the afternoon, we went to the University of Mumbai which has a world ranking of 401. Unfortunately, guards at the entrance stopped us and didn’t allow us inside. But we could see the Rajabai tower which was modeled after “Big Ben,” the famous clock tower in London. The height of the tower is 85m with beautiful gothic structures on the campus, it made me want to study there.
The sunset of Chowpatty beach
We wasted half of a day booking train tickets to the Varanasi at the Churchgate Station. The departure date was the next day but we had to make a reservation in advance. It was 3 p.m. when we finally walked out of the station. We then took a bus to go Chowpatty Beach and luckily for us, there was a festival and the beach was full of visitors and the sky was full of kites. There were trucks selling foods and drinks on one side. There was even a mini amusement park. I put down the guide book on sand and sat on that meanwhile watching the sun go down between the high apartments… it was peaceful moment and I released stresses of earlier that day.
India was not an alien country to me any longer and I felt wonderful. When my fear, prejudice and doubts vanished, I felt hungry. Many people were eating bhelpuri which is famous Indian dish. I also tried it. As you order there are 3 options, spicy, sweet & spicy, only sweet. I still had not gotten over my fear of eating some of the spices, so I chose the sweet flavor. More importantly, it was the right choice. And I actually enjoyed it very much. Somehow it reminded me of the Korean traditional snack “popped rice” with sweet sauce on it.
After checking out and carrying our heavy backpacks, we went to the Dhobi Ghat. This is a place where people called ‘Dhobi’ wash cloths from the hotels and hospitals. The Dhobi are a working class who specialize in laundry. Dhobi Ghat is located right next to the Mahalaxmi Station. As we steped inside the area, a young boy covered my camera with his hand as I tried taking a picture inside. He asked us for money for a guiding in that place. To avoid creating any fuss, we paid him a little money. Much lesser than he claimed but he accepted and led us inside.
He pointed out some white T-shirts and told us they’ll be imported by America. After our short tour of Dhobi Ghat we went to the Haji Ali Mosque. There was a tomb of Haji Ali Shah Bukhari who is a Muslim saint that died during his pilgrimage to Mecca. Located in the middle of the sea, it seems like it is floating on the water. There were two entrances one for ladies and the other for gentlemen. Women just watched and prayed next to the coffin while men were touching or rubbing their face with the fabric covering the coffin. After we arrived back in center of the city, we decided to see Bollywood movie. I wondered about reactions of Indian audience in the theater.
Many guest house were on the riverside of the Ganga
Movie title was ‘The 3 idiots.’ It’s a Bollywood romantic comedy film. Main character and his two friends are engineering students in the same college. Because it was Hindi movie, I didn’t expect much. Not knowing most of the lines I just focused on their gestures and expressions. Surprisingly, the movie was very fun. Like other Bollywood movie it was like watching a musical. And I loved soundtrack of the movie. While traveling, I could hear the main song from the movie walking on the street and on someone’s radio on the train.