Welcome to the sixth entry in my Remembering India series, where I share recipes, meals and adventures from my 2008 studies abroad. Today I backtrack to my first 24 hours of sightseeing and exploring in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai.
It was Saturday night when we landed at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Between our flight and a 9 1/2-hour time difference, my classmates and I were propelled almost 8,000 miles and a full day into the future.
We boarded a van, where I glued my eyes to the window—trying my best to get a clear picture of my new environment. I thought about my family back in New Jersey, who were probably eating lunch right now. Where am I and what have I gotten myself into?
The streets were dark, but peppered with glowing yellow light. I could make out a few kiosks, an occasional fire, and long rows of square dwellings standing shoulder to shoulder.
The van dropped us off at Hotel Supreme Heritage in Navi Mumbai. We received our room assignments for the next six weeks, where it was revealed that with an odd number of females on our trip, I would be assigned a single room. Later down the road, my friend Lauren and I would decide to become roommates. But for the first few weeks, my single room would become my sanctuary. I’d do laundry, watch music videos, and even cry in my single room—because adjusting to a new culture, climate and diet—all while working with children who’d never have the same opportunities as me—was guaranteed to overwhelm from time to time. I had a lot to learn, a lot of joys and frustrations to feel, and it would all begin as soon as I could see my new city in daylight.
On Sunday morning we met in the dining room to fuel a full day of sightseeing. There were eggs, Bombay potatoes, muesli, chicken sausages, uttapams, and pancakes served with honey. I tried a bit of everything, comparing the milder flavors of British/American breakfast to the punchy, spicy flavors of Indian breakfast.
We boarded a caravan of auto rickshaws to Vashi train station. We discovered that with the proper arrangement of butt sizes, we could fit as many as 3 passengers in the back seat (meaning we could split the fare three ways, instead of two). From there we hopped on a train to Mumbai’s CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), where about 7 1/2 million passengers ride each day. Butt sizes made no difference here, as I’d learn quickly….