Travel Tales #6 – India Trip: Day 1 (Part 1) – Arrival – Distressed to Joyful; Bailey's Way
We landed at the Mumbai airport at 2:30am. By this time, we had spent about 18 hours total in flight (14 hours from Houston, TX, USA to Doha, Qatar then another 4 hours from Doha, Qatar to Mumbai, Maharashtra, India). Both myself and my partner, Monish, were incredibly exhausted, hungry and smelly (apparently I perspirated a lot on the flights and roaming around the airports!). We made our way to customs for me to fill out an immigration form before we separated into our different lines. Monish went to the line for Indian Passports and I made my way over to Foreign Passports. Surprisingly, the jam-packed Indian Passport line took less time for Monish to go through than it took for me to get through my Foreign Passport line, which was significantly shorter. Although, this probably shouldn’t have been a shock as the US Customs line always moves much faster than the Foreign Passport line back home.
As I was standing alone in my line, waiting to gain entry into the country, I began to wonder what people were thinking of me. The ambush of stares from curious eyes began as soon as we reached Doha, and I knew they would continue throughout the duration of my time in India. I’m already used to being stared at as I’m often finding people in Houston pointing their eyes in my direction, but Monish prepared me for the enormous increase that would arise as soon as I entered his motherland. The Foreign Passport line consisted mainly of Indians and Middle Eastern people, so I began to make up stories as to what they were thinking about the lonely white girl entering wondrous India on her own. I continued to make up stories like these in my head (or verbally to Monish and the family) throughout the trip as a form of entertainment! I’ll talk more about this later.
Finally, it was my turn to approach the guy at the counter who would review my documents, stamp my passport and allow me to gain entry into this vast and beautiful country. While I’ve been studying the Hindi language for almost 2 years now and was beyond excited to exercise my knowledge with the people of India, I chose to refrain from practicing with this man who got to decide if I can enter his country or not. By this time, it was a little after 3am and he did not appear to be in a good mood nor enjoy having to handle the foreigners line.
After receiving my stamping, I found Monish and we made our way to baggage claim. Already, I was seeing so many differences than what I’m used to in the United States. Once you retrieve your bags, you are required to stand in line and have them screened again before you may exit the airport. I found this odd because back home, our bags are screened in between landing and retrieving them at baggage claim. I later found out that this process of standing in line for the screening is only for international flights. Thankfully, we weren’t required to do this as we traveled by flight to Delhi, India a few days later.
Once we exited the airport, we immediately saw Tanvi (Monish’s sister) and Jigar (Tanvi’s husband). The smells of India instantly hit me – they were familiar smells but I couldn’t pin why as this was my first time entering the country. Maybe I’ve smelled these smells in an Indian household in the US before, or maybe in one of the Indian shops/restaurants we frequently visit in Houston? Not sure, but I do know that my excitement began to steadily increase from this moment on.
We made our way to the taxi/Uber/Ola pickup area and awaited the arrival of our cars. They don’t have Lyft in this country, but instead have their own ride-share app called Ola, though don’t ask me how to use it as I was just along for the ride! We had to order 2 cars as there were 4 people and 4 big suitcases and it’s not easy to book a large vehicle in India via Uber at 4am. When you think of Mumbai, think of it as the New York City of India – a massive city, lots of people everywhere, noises throughout the night and a great public transportation system, meaning that you don’t need to own your own vehicle, just as you don’t need to own one in NYC.
Tanvi and I hopped into the first of the two cars that arrived and I told Monish to ride with Jigar as he and Tanvi were the ones who booked these cars on their phones. It was about a 15-20 minute drive to their side of town as traffic was minimal due to the early hour it was. During the ride, Tanvi and I talked the whole time, beginning to really get to know one another as this was our first time meeting in-person. A little background: Monish and I began dating in January 2020, right before the global pandemic lockdown occurred. Due to COVID-19 and issues with scheduling appointments for updating Monish’s U.S. VISA, we hadn’t had the chance to meet his family, who all reside in India, until now, over 2 years after we began dating. Of course, I’d originally met everyone virtually via WhatsApp calls back in 2020. We all began forming relationships back then and have been staying in touch digitally, though nothing beats getting to know someone in person.
My first car ride in India was rather smooth and I was thankful for this, as Monish had previously spent numerous hours preparing me for the shock of the chaotic driving that occurs throughout India. I have severe PTSD from many car wrecks that I was in during my younger years, so his preparation was much needed. But due to the minimal traffic at 4:30am, I hardly got a taste of what to expect when riding in a vehicle in this country and what I was soon to be in for…
I stared out the window in complete awe and wonder as we made our way to Tanvi and Jigar’s apartment. There was so much to look at! This place looks nothing like back home and my desire to see and know more began to intensify rapidly.
Since mine and Tanvi’s Uber arrived to their apartment first, Tanvi was able to give me a tour of the apartment before the boys arrived. Again, everything looked so different than what I’m used to back home! The keys to open the apartment are filled with holes versus how back home, keys have incisions cut to fit the wards of a particular lock. The light switches are “backwards” as you flip them down to turn things on and in the US we flip them up (I never got used to this one, by the way!). Centralized AC is reserved for the 1% wealthy in India, so they had 3 different AC units hung high above windows in different areas of the apartment – one in their room, one in the guest room where Monish and I stayed and one in the living room. They also have fans, of course, which all have a rotating nob next to its switch as the way to control its speed. Not a hanging cord in sight like we see in the U.S.!
As I mentioned early, I was feeling sweaty and kind of yuck after the long hours of travel, so I immediately asked to take a shower. I learned very quickly that this would be a much different experience than what I’m used to! First of all, they don’t use shower curtains in India. This concerned me as I tend to make messes everywhere I go… Tanvi assured me that it would be okay as they have a squeegee for me to use to push the excess water towards the drain. I’m no stranger to hard work, so this added step to my shower didn’t phase me. [And for those wondering, this is for a household shower. Hotel showers don’t require this and are similar to the showers found in hotels in the US.] Also, while they have the option for hot water at their apartment, they would need to flip a switch and allow it time to heat up before it would be ready for use. While this is a luxury that not everyone in India has, I assured them that a cold shower would be perfect as I did not need to add anymore heat to my already boiling body temperature.
Tanvi prepared some Maggi noodles for everyone to snack on before we all tried to get some sleep. Maggi is basically India’s version of American Ramen Noodles – but 1000 times better! They use a spice blend called Maggi Magic Masala which is an explosion of rich flavors that’s sure to satisfy any lover of spicy foods. The photo below is the first photo that myself, Monish and Tanvi took together and is one that I will always hold dear to my heart!
Being the curious cat that I am, I began to wander around their apartment and notice the differences between Tanvi & Jigar’s home in India and our home back in the U.S. Their fridge was much smaller as they have fresh food each day prepared by their maid. Their countertops are lower but they have tons of storage up above. The stove is also much smaller and has 3 burners all side-by-side and they didn’t have an oven in their home. All of these observations began to make more sense to me throughout my time in India as I learned more about their way of life.
Monish and I stayed up later than Tanvi and Jigar, but after awhile we decided to try to get at least 3-4 hours of sleep to help with the jet lag that would smack us in the face the next day. As we turned on the guest room A/C and began to settle into bed, I learned that they don’t use blankets during the warmer months, but instead use a fairly thin shaw. This is because it’s typically very hot and no one wants to sweat underneath heavy blankets! Although the A/C combined with the fan was more than enough to keep us cool throughout the night. The beds in Indian households are much firmer than ours in the U.S. which is something that Monish had been preparing me for, long before this trip was booked. To my surprise, I found them very comfortable! As I began to doze off, listening to the sounds from the street below – cars and scooters honking, people yelling, cows mooing – I was so grateful to finally be in the country where Monish grew up and was already ready to wake up and begin exploring!
Here are a few sneak-peaks of the photos for Day 1: Part 2 of this beautiful, adventurous journey!
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Be sure to check the next day of this adventure – India Trip: Day 2 – Exploring Mumbai! You can also check out more tales of my first trip to India and live vicariously through me via the articles below. Enjoy, friend!