We woke up around 10:00am to the sounds of Tanvi and Jigar being awake along with the smells of the food that Auntie (their maid) was cooking. As Moni and I laid there for a moment, allowing ourselves to fully become awake, we began to notice sounds from the streets below as Mumbai was also beginning to wake up. We ate breakfast in the house prepared by Auntie, then Tanvi walked us down the apartment building and up the street so that we could catch a ride in an auto (also known as an auto-rickshaw; known as a “tuk tuk” in Thailand) to take us to Westside, a clothing store local to India.
The traffic had already begun to build up at this time and I was surprisingly calm as our auto weaved in and out of the traffic that filled the chaotic streets. I have some pretty severe PTSD from past car wrecks and I was very nervous about being in a vehicle while in India, so it was a massive relief to feel calm, as I had initially prepared for the worst. We arrived at Westside, where I tried on a few kurtis (also known a kurta) before deciding to purchase two of them. I also found some lovely sandals that I wore throughout the trip and a pair of earrings that were very traditional. All of this cost about $87 USD, which was amazing to me as the kurtis also came with pants! Back home in America, pants are sold separately from the kurti and the one kurti that I had purchased to celebrate Diwali in 2021 had cost me $45 USD…it was on sale and the cheapest one I could find that I also liked!
After leaving Westside, we hopped into another auto that took us to an area where Moni could get some passport-sized photos printed for his H1B VISA documentation appointment that was scheduled for March 16th in Delhi. We walked down a small alley, ducked into a doorway and found ourselves inside this little photography studio. They had Moni sit on a stool and took his photo – a setup that reminded me of a typical 2000s “picture day” that I endured every year in grade school.
Once we received the printed photos, we made our way back to the street where there were many shops and cafes to explore. I made Moni go into the bookstore next door with me where I purchased 2 books about the Hindu religion as I’m interested in learning more about it. I wasn’t sure where to begin searching for these types of books in America, so I was beyond excited to find them, especially since they were written in English. As we left the shop, Moni told me that he wanted to take me to McDonalds to try a McSpicy Paneer sandwich, although I made sure that we stopped in the religious store that I saw so that I could purchase a small Ganapati and Saraswati idol before pressing “pause” on all the shopping to grab a bite to eat.
As we made our way into McDonalds, we were surprised that they asked to see our vaccination cards as the last place to do so until now was the Mumbai airport. We began to slightly panic as we had left our physical copies of the cards at home, but thankfully Moni remembered that he had photos of them on his phone and the McDonalds employees accepted them as the proof they needed. We made our way over to the menu kiosk and I was amazed at how wild the menu was! I know that McDonalds as well as other fast food chains tend to have different foods available in foreign countries to appeal to different taste buds, but I had never imagined to see what I saw…
Before beginning to create your order on the touch-screen kiosk, you must first select veg or non-veg to keep confusion aside as roughly 40% of the entire country maintains a vegetarian diet. I loved that we were able to filter our selections ahead of time as its often incredible difficult for us to eat fast food in America since we are now vegetarians. We ended up ordering the McSpicy Paneer and the McVeggie sandwiches along with some French fries and an ice cold Coca-cola for Moni. They also had Paneer McNuggets that I told him I wanted to try before leaving the country. Both of our sandwiches were incredible, although I think that the McSpicy Paneer tasted the best. While it was interesting for me to try their menu items, I found the decor in the restaurant equally interesting. Everything, including the technology, was very modern and up-to-date, unlike the little photography studio down the street that seemed to be a step back in time. To Moni, these little details aren’t even noticed by him as this country is his home; while to me, it’s a whole new world of endless wonder and surprises around every corner.
After finishing our lunch, we walked back to Tanvi’s apartment as it was close by and walking after a meal is great to help settle the food in our stomachs. We dropped off all of our shopping bags, quickly changed clothes then grabbed an auto to take us across town to Bandra Fort. I was happy to jump into yet another auto as I quickly fell in love with the auto rides! The small auto rickshaws can zoom in and out of traffic so much easier than vehicles and I found it exhilarating.
We arrived on the side of town where the fort was located, but first made a pit-stop in order to check out St. Mary’s Church, AKA Basilica of Our Lady of The Mount. Moni told me that he used to go there sometimes when he lived in Mumbai because his all-time favorite Bollywood movie, Rockstar, has an incredible scene that was shot right outside of this church. While this church was Catholic, the inside looked a lot different than any Catholic Church I’d been inside in America. It was very colorful and had words written in both English and Hindi all throughout the church. What I found most interesting was seeing so many women wearing sarees and traditional Indian clothing while attending the small service. You definitely don’t see this kind of thing in a Catholic Church back home.
Next, we began to make our way towards Bandra Fort on foot. It was a short enough distance away for us to enjoy as nice walk together. It was VERY hot outside and the fort did not offer much shade as it was mainly just remains left, so we quickly took some photos that overlooked Mahim Bay, the skyline of Mumbai and the Bandra-Worli Sea Link bridge that opened in 2009. Moni asked it I wanted to climb to the top of the fort for a better view, but I quickly refused as I was dying to get out of the sun. So instead, we walked into the garden and took a seat on the steps under all of the beautiful palm trees and greenery. There was a bit of a breeze from the ocean, which was such a nice break from our constant movement in the sun.
We had some time to kill before meeting up with Tanvi, Jigar and Tanvi’s friend, Manish, for dinner, so we made an executive decision to head to a local coffee shop that offered air conditioning alongside a tasty caffeinated beverage. Coffee By Di Bella was somewhere that Moni had always wanted to try, so everything just seemed to fall right into place. I chose to enjoy a smoothie as I don’t like consuming caffeine past morning, but I later regretted this choice as smoothies are made with ice, ice is made with local water and local water likes to destroy an American stomach… Although this was a bad move on my end, it was a very delicious and fresh smoothie!
Once the sun began to set, we left the coffee shop and browsed a few street market stalls before heading to Soho House – an exclusive club that only grants memberships to people in “creative” fields. Manish had gained access to a membership through his experience and connections working in the Bollywood industry and we were able to enter as his guests. Tanvi also works in the Bollywood industry, although she didn’t have a Soho House membership at this time.
We enjoyed dinner (and those who drink enjoyed some drinks alongside their dinner) up on the 8th floor rooftop that has an amazing view of the Arabian Sea. Sadly, it was very dark outside by the time we made it up there, so we weren’t able to bask in the glorious view. We spent the remainder of the day enjoying the company around the table, getting to know one another and talking endlessly about Bollywood films (as to be expected!).
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Be sure to check the next day of this adventure – India Trip: Day 2 – Meeting the Parents! You can also check out more tales of my first trip to India and live vicariously through me via the articles below. Enjoy, friend!