Today Stuart and I got a much better chance to see how the city works. How it functions. Not just the extremes but how the ordinary folk go about their daily lives. We spoke to a lawyer, to fishermen, to stallholders in the flower, fruit, spice and vegtable markets, saw the barbers, the commuters, the rubbish collectors, the joggers, the yoga enthusiasts, and witnessed the faithful attend the harmony of the mosques, temples, and churches all side by side by side. A real mix. The Bombay mix.
Every year millions of people come to this city in search of a better future and leave a permanent imprint on its culture. They make the city what it is - one that is hustling, bustling and constantly on the move. Little wonder then that Mumbai is christened as the Industrial capital of India. The eclecticism and the industrious nature of its people is what contributes to the culture of this city, which we were told, is best observed in the morning, when it is quite unique.
So we got up early. Very early. 4am early. To watch Mumbai wake up. And come to its senses. We got to peek into the underbelly of the city and got insights into what makes this magnificent city tick.
We started at the docklands under cover of darkness to witness the fishing boats arrive. And what a sight (and smell!) it was! The fishing businesses there are all controlled by the women. They manage the men who go out to sea for 5 - 7 days at a time, they conduct the one-of-a-kind daily auction of the 20 tonnes or so of fish that come back, they resell each boat's catch at three times the dockyard value in other markets or to shops, and they handle all the money. In summary, they make three times what the men make. And when the time is right they pass down control of their business to their eldest son's wife - from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law. Women rule here. And have done for hundreds of years.
I only took a few snaps because at the docklands photography was a little restricted in light of the Mumbai attacks ten years ago. That is where the terrorists got ashore and attacked the very hotel we are staying in.
We then headed to 'Ink Street' to watch hundreds of newspaper vendors sort out at lightning speed thousands of newspapers in seven different languages. By hand! A vendor offered us some chi (super sweet ginger tea) which sure woke us up. The smell of the newsprint and the ginger was lovely and warm - almost sensual.
We then saw drove past the milkmen, eggs sellers, and experienced an ‘only green’ herb market sprawled across a popular bridge. The herb market was literally in the road and a nearby police van stood guard - for a price! (20,000 rupees per pitch per month!). The smells here were intoxicating too.
We only briefly paused at the meat slaughterhouse / market. The sight of the chickens being weighed before being 'necked' rather put us off. The place smelled the sweet smell of blood. We drove on.
We then headed to experience the clamour and chaos of the arrival of over 100 tonnes of weird vegetables, bizarre fruits, pungent spices to each of those three markets too. Heaps of colours, strong smells, and unusually shaped produce greeted us. The smells were almost overwhelming as we wandered through each.
Our dawn tour then took in the melee of dazzling colour at the fresh flower market with its beautiful blooms and still more beautiful smells. Flower markets across the world are a joy to behold but Mumbai's was quite special. Bright, cheery, and happy the vendors obviously loved their work. Stuart got a lotus flower too. Bless.
We had almost had our full of smells - fish, newsprint, ginger, herbs, flowers, fruit, spices - it had been a magnificent assault on the senses to awaken any body.
But wait. There was more. It is not only the body that Mumbai awakens. It is also the spirit. And what better way to turn on that spirit than a session of early morning yoga. And they do it here in their millions. Yoga is almost a religion. Hey, they even do it in the air - flying yoga - up a rope.
Rest assured though dear reader we kept our feet firmly on the ground. We just watched. Our senses had taken enough flight for one day. Besides, we would have not only tied the rope in knots but also our feet!
So we returned to our hotel, happy after our olfactory tour. We had seen how the city works and smells. And contrary to popular belief, Mumbai smells lovely. A lovely mix of smells. A Bombay mix.