Staying within our comfort zone, we ordered the only things we knew on the menu for breakfast: masala dosa and a lassi (sweetened yogurt drink). The bill came to less than $2, and that included the complimentary post-meal seeds that left us with minty fresh breath (this is standard at most restaurants).
On our way to the train station, we passed women in saris, the full length dresses, and the kurti shirts, which still cover the shoulders, front, and most of the legs. I was sweating profusely with my jeans and t shirt while Byron walked around comfortably in shorts. Some of the men wore casual polos and khakis, but others wore the long traditional shirts with scarves and henna-dyed beards.
A majority of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, which garnered some mixed reactions in India, was filmed in Mumbai. The train ride to the slums was an experience in itself. The grand train station was packed with people making a beeline for their designated track, which created a frogger-like situation to cross from one side to the ticket windows. Somehow we ended up with two tickets to the wrong destination due to our poor Indian pronunciation, but we hopped on the right train and found a seat. Each train has designated Ladies-Only carriages, which are generally safer and less smelly, but we had to stick together in order to get off at the right stop and not loose each other. The train pulled away from the station and started whizzing past buildings and streets with the carriage door wide open and several men hanging their heads out like dogs trying to catch a breeze. Apparently all safety hazards are at your own risk.
We walked across the station platform, over a bridge spanning the train tracks, and descended down a set of stairs that dumped us in the middle of a dilapidated neighborhood. There was garbage of all colors littering every surface, some of it undoubtedly part of the very structure of the dwelling, such as old tires, plastic scraps, crumbling cement and rusted metal Coca Cola signs. The homes were built on top of and next to each other, making it hard to discern where one home ended and one began. The interior of each hut couldn’t be any bigger than your average American family camping tent, which forced these families to perform many of their daily activities outside in the street, like cooking, cleaning, and bathing. The incredible part was the vibrancy and constant activity going on around us. Everyone seemed like they had somewhere to be and something to accomplish, whether that was sweeping their front stoop area or fixing an old bicycle. This slum was not stuck in a state of depression, or despair. Instead, it seemed quite the opposite with brightly painted walls, half-naked children playing and chasing each other, dogs playing with goats, or women laughing to each other while stitching delicate patterns into cloth.
I kept my guard up the entire time we weaved through the alleyways, especially down the dark narrow areas with little room for escape, but I didn’t feel unsafe once. I’m not sure if this is normally the case for tourists exploring the slum, and I’m sure there have been altercations in the past. However, I’m happy that we abandoned the well worn tourist route and gave the slum a chance.
After a very crowded and unpleasant train ride back to our area of Fort, we welcomed the air conditioned haven of Pizza Hut for lunch. The menu had a mix of classic pizzas and pastas, but with an Indian twist, some good and some bad. Byron ordered the Masala Lemonade, only to find out this was lemonade with salt and spices thrown in. If you can recall as a kid daring each other to drink the nastiest concoction you could create with the ingredients on the table, this would come close.
As soon as the sun started setting, we walked parallel to Marine Drive along the ocean. Hundreds of young locals were out along the boardwalk, either goofing around with their friends or sharing an intimate sunset with their lover. The glowing sun illuminated the back of the city skyline and created a stunning silhouette. The sidewalk led to Chowpatty beach, which was buzzing with people playing cricket, eating snacks, or lounging on blankets, although not a single bikini or speedo was in sight. Kids swam fully dressed and the women sat in the sand in their saris.
The variety of food trucks on the beach gave us the chance to try some delicious pani puri, bhelpuri, samosa and some other dishes I wish I could pronounce. Dessert consisted of shaved ice with mango syrup and sweet condensed milk drizzled on top. I may not like spice, but the Indians and I share a strong sweet tooth.