A Visit to Mumbai, India – Part I

My trip to Mumbai, India was an eye opening experience.  In a way it was what I expected but at the same time I wasn’t always prepared for what I saw.  India is clearly a developing nation but in many ways behind other third world countries I have visited.  I know that India is becoming a technology center for many global companies, it has a quickly developing economy and is on the verge of rapid industrialization.  However, when you walk the streets and talk to the people you don’t see much evidence of that.  There are obviously many wealthy people in India, but there are far too many that live on the street below the poverty line.

While it’s true that many people are poor and live on the street, all of the people I met were warm and accepting of my presence.  Some were guarded at first but if I asked for directions, to take a photo, or just how their day is going they would all flash a big smile and do their best to help me out.  Those that spoke English were eager and willing ask where I’m from and how I like the country.  Some engaged in conversation and other just said hello and posed for a photo.   I’m wouldn’t get the same reception if I walked the streets of Vancouver (my home town).  People in Vancouver are often self-centered, indifferent, or paranoid you are running some scam and do not engage strangers to the same level.

The people in India are also very spiritual and tolerant.  They are a blend of many religions (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and others) often obvious by their clothing though there is no visible tension between them.  They celebrate festivals and openly practice their faith.  Many also believe in the concept of Karma which is present in all of the religions.  Because of this, there seems to be an environment of safety and I did not ever feel threatened during my visit.  I walked in many different areas of the city, alone, as an obvious outsider and didn’t feel unsafe at any time.  It may have been luck but I can’t say that I would do the same in other large cities around the world.

My experience of India is limited to one city, Mumbai (Bombay).  Other cities may be drastically different, I really don’t know.  I hope to visit other parts of India some day to see for myself.

Exploring On Day 1

My first day in Mumbai was just spent exploring the area I was staying in, Juhu.  Juhu is an affluent suburb of Mumbai where many Bollywood stars live however if you plucked me from Vancouver and dropped me in Juhu I would think it far from affluent.  There are obviously many poor people living on the street and there is garbage littered everywhere.  The waterways I saw were extremely polluted, looked almost like blank ink and filled with trash.  Juhu Beach unfortunately isn’t much better being covered in garbage, and both animal and human waste. For a country so blessed with natural beauty and resources it’s a real shame to see it treated so poorly.

Part of the problem is the population explosion in Mumbai.  I have heard estimates that put the population between 20 and 24 million people and all those people need to live somewhere.  Combined with the fact that Mumbai is home to some of the most expensive real estate in the world, you essentially force people to live on the street or in slums.  These places often have no sanitation, garbage collection, or even running water.  The garbage and waste is simply dumped into the environment and it is clear that nature has paid a heavy price.

Juhu Beach, not every area is this littered though there is no area that is clean. One thing to note is the smog in the background, air quality is not very good either. At the end of the day, my eyes started to hurt and I attribute this to the air pollution.

Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : Juhu trash


People getting a ride across the water, if you saw the water you wouldn’t want to get wet either.

Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : raft


One of the ways the people who live on the beach support themselves is by growing methi (fenugreek) crops. These are grown on the sand of the beach, watered with salt water collected from a nearby pool, and harvested as sprouts for sale in the local markets.
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : methi crop


The pool where water is gathered, dug below the ocean water level so always full.
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : Water hole


The water is carried in large plastic jugs, sometimes a long way.
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : Carrying Water


One of the locals harvests his crop. He saw me walking around the area and taking photos, he waved me over and asked me to take his photo so he could see it. He also told me how he grows the crop and about his life. His English was basic but we managed a short conversation. He has spent most of his life on this beach.
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : Methi (Fenugreek) Harvest


Behind him, an extremely polluted body of water. I’m assuming it is a river, but it barely has any flow. I saw people defecate into this water, and in another area people were using it to wash off. It’s no wonder that tropical disease thrives here. When you combine the poor sanitation, very high population density, heat and insects you have the perfect recipe.
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : Boat


I saw a lot of dogs, cats, and other animals roaming around as well. They get by on what scraps they can find, most do not appear to be in good condition.
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : Dog


The various beach shelters are rudimentary at best.
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : Shelter


Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : Shelter


When you see how little some people have, it makes you rethink your needs and wants.  This image in particular has stuck with me, it seems even a slight breeze would be capable of wiping out what little this person has.
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : shelter


Behind the beach, you can see how bad the water is. While I sat in this spot, I saw people throwing garbage into the water and it was a soup of debris.
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : slum water


Despite the pollution, life still does exist in and around the water. I saw birds walking around in the water trying to catch whatever may be present. Also, crabs live in the mud and carry on as usual. Nature is certainly resilient.
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : crab


The people carry on as well, despite the trash a game of cricket is being played (I saw cricket being played everywhere, and by everyone. It is another religion in India).
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : juhu cricket


If you are not playing cricket, you are probably playing football (soccer).
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : football on the beach


On more than one occasion, young couples courted each other on the beach apparently oblivious to their surroundings. After a while, I think the trash just blends into the background, it becomes the norm.
Mumbai : Juhu Beach : October 2012 : lovers


Part II of the trip available here.