TRAVEL || Lima Does India - Mumbai

India. Wow. It's always a place that manages to take my breath away, and judging from the reception my Instagram stories got, it see...

Mumbai Jacket Neon Lights Night Portrait_effected

India. Wow. It's always a place that manages to take my breath away, and judging from the reception my Instagram stories got, it seems like it really captured a lot of imaginations.

So, just to clear up a few things first of all (not that they really matter): I am of Indian origin, and yeah, I've been to India plenty of times in the past.

Until I moved out of the family home though, all of my experiences of India were pretty... boring. Trips to India as a kid involved traipsing around various villages, meeting lots of different family members, drinking bottled water and of course the dreaded 'bucket shower'. Being from the North, my memories, and the way I saw India, was a dustbowl that my extended family happened to live in.

My first real trip to India, saw me travel around a bit more freely, but still only in the north - New Delhi, Agra and Jodhpur in Rajasthan. It was an experience that I loved, travelling around India at my own pace, seeing things I'd never seen before, discovering things I'd already known about her, but never experienced for myself.

From that trip onwards, I'd always wanted to go further south, take in Mumbai, and go even further south to the likes of Kerala. These were places that seemed distinctly different to everything I'd ever known about India whilst growing up, and I yearned to see her in a different light. Fast forward 8 years, and here I was, in Mumbai.

My first impression of Mumbai, formed at 5am no less, is that looking through the window of my 'coolcab' (note that the taxi firm at the airport really didn't want me to take a non-AC cab), I could see that the empty roads were lined with life, and I don't necessarily mean people, but more, with trees, coconut palms mostly, and various other exotic plants that looked straight out of a David Attenborough documentary. The driver also took us along Marine Drive, and it was fascinating to see groups of young people sat on the walls by the beach, out with friends at dusk. This is not what you might associate with India at all, and straight away I knew I was going to love this place.

VISA AND GENERAL PREPERATION

So, for a tourist visa, you can apply online for an e-visa, which costs about £60 and is good for 6 months. Fortunately, things have improved since the last time I visited, and the process is lightning quick - you find out with 72 hours if you've been granted or not. For those of you of Pakistani origin, or who have visited another country on the subcontinent during the past three years, I hear it is a bit more difficult to obtain a visa.

As far as preparation for the trip goes, we planned out where we wanted to be and when, got our travel vaccinations: tetanus, hepatitis (B I think) and a few others, just a couple of weeks in advance. We didn't really plan out what exactly we wanted to do, so we kind of just winged it as went along, and in fact, if we felt like we'd done all that we wanted to do, we just moved along to the next place a bit early. In terms of packing, you don't necessarily need to pack everything, as you can buy pretty much anything when you land, and often a lot cheaper. It just depends if you want to spend a few hours shopping - personally, I love doing this, as it helps me get a feel for the place.

Another thing to think about is mosquitos. You'll be given advice by your GP about malaria prevention, particularly if you're heading into a high risk area - Mumbai and Kerala are low-medium risk zones, so I'd recommend protecting yourself from mosquitos at least. Aside from that mosquito bites are seriously irritating anyway, so bring along some DEET spray and vaseline - if you cover yourself in vaseline, particularly at night, the mosquitos can't quite get a grip on you, and are unable to bite. I found that mosquitos were less prevalent in Mumbai, but they were everywhere in Kerala.

Also, I'd really recommend getting a 4G sim from an Indian network whilst here, as your UK networks will charge ridiculous amounts to send messages, make calls or use data here. I think EE charge £6 per day, with a 500mb allowance, over two weeks that adds up to £84. Once you've gone through baggage collection and customs, there are usually some network operators there with a little shop. If your phone is unlocked, you can get a sim activated there and then, or if you've brought along a pocket wi-fi device with you, you can just get a data deal.

However, our phones are both locked, and we didn't have a portable wi-fi device, so we had to buy one in Mumbai, and for some reason, it takes 48 hours to activate to the SIM. However you get it though, it costs 600Rs for a 28 day data pack and 1000Rs for the device (total of £17), and you get 2GB data per day. We ended up buying a pocket wi-fi, so no calls or texts, but it was a life saver!

And finally, currency! I never used to worry too much about currency in India before, as things there were that much cheaper, it didn't really matter. This time felt a little different though, it definitely felt like everyday items were a little more expensive than they had been in the past. So 100 Rupees is about £1.10, which means that £1 will get you 90 Rupees. I don't think you can exchange before arriving in India, as I believe there are rules about taking the rupee outside of India, so we just used ATMs, and in some places used our cards to pay. There are fees for this, there are always fees, so we made sure to withdraw 10,000 rupees at a time (£109), so that we were withdrawing less often.

LANGUAGE

Bandra Colourful taxi Mumbai_effected

In Mumbai, the main language seemed to be Hindi, although I am aware that they also speak Marathi - I'm not really sure which is the official language, but if you speak Hindi or Urdu, like me, then you shouldn't really find any problems. If you don't speak either of these, then not to worry either, because English is widely spoken too. And even if you're trying to communicate with someone who doesn't speak English, they'll probably just go find someone who does!

The great thing about Hindi, or Urdu, or pretty much any language spoken in India, is the expressiveness, and not just of the spoken word, but also the accompanying body language that comes with it. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if you just look at someone's hands while they speak, you can probably work out roughly what they're trying to say, regardless of how well you know the language.

My absolute favourite piece of body language has to be what can only really be described as the 'head wiggle'. Not only does it look so cute, it's also incredibly versatile, with subtle variations meaning wildly different things - it could mean yes, no, I don't know, come on let's go, it doesn't matter, thank you, no thank you, I don't understand, I know what you mean - anything really, and by the end of the two weeks, I found myself doing it too!

Also, just as we were getting ready to leave, I realised I hadn't actually sworn in Hindi throughout my time here, which is most unusual for me. I'm thinking that subconsciously my brain knew that people would understand exactly what I was saying, so kept me from calling even the rudest of people behnchods or something.

FOOD AND VEGETARIANISM

Yogurt Dahi Vada Street Food Mumbai Bandra Travel Guide India_effected

If you're vegetarian, you are gonna love India. One of the things that I don't really like about Europe, is the general distaste towards vegetarians and vegetarianism. In the UK, it's not quite so bad, but even still you find yourself having to read the labels on a lot of things, and of course gelatine or crushed insects are randomly thrown in to things that just don't really make any sense, and generally vegetarians are an afterthought, and of course, you get seriously fed up of mushroom fucking risotto. I don't even like risotto.

In India, the little green dot is your friend. Everything edible, and I really do mean everything, is labelled with a green dot for veg, or a red dot for non-veg. Here, vegetarianism is the norm, with the lowest meat consumption rates in the world, so you can literally walk into any restaurant, or up to any street food vendor, and feel safe in the knowledge that there's not gonna be any dodgy labelling or any cross-contaimination. You will be in your element. And you guessed it: no fucking risotto in sight.

As for the actual food itself, well, Mumbai is a cosmopolitan metropolis, so you can find pretty much anything you want. I was here for the Indian cuisine though, particularly the street food that Mumbai is so famous for. I wouldn't spend too much time on the internet looking for the best places though, just find a market and no doubt you'll stumble across plenty of vendors. Just make sure they look clean, and they don't have food just lying around exposed to the elements and you'll be fine - so long as you can handle the heat!

We'd heard all about the Vada Pav in Mumbai, and we'd tasted it in the UK at Bundobust, so we were really excited to give it a try on the streets of Mumbai, but in Colaba, we just couldn't find anywhere that did them. What is a Vada Pav though? Well, it doesn't sound anywhere near as appetising as it actually is, but it's a ball of mashed potato, infused with spices and chilli, which is then covered in a pakora-style batter and deep fried. It's served in a bun, with red chilli paste and green chilli chutney.

When we got back to Mumbai after our Keralan adventure, we sought out the elusive Vada Pav, and we quickly found a place near our hotel that specialised in them. It was literally the tastiest thing I'd eaten during our time here, and really put to shame the cheap (or expensive) knock-offs we have in the UK. For 34 rupees, we got two Jumbo Pavs and a squeezy bottle of green chilli chutney to dispense generously - and how we did. Just one bite and you begin to realise that the hype is for real. So much so, we bought a couple more. And, in case you're trying to work it out in your head, 34 rupees equates to about 50p!

Thums Up Cola Stiletto Nails Mumbai Night Shoot _effected

Also, I have to confess to being completely obsessed with Thums Up, which is an Indian brand of cola, which is now actually made by Coca Cola, but it has a slight Indian tinge to it, like you can taste the natural ingredients that it was made from, and they have it pretty much everywhere in Mumbai, so naturally I drank way too much of it...

RICKSHAWS AND TAXIS

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I'm just gonna say it straight up, the best way to get around Mumbai is by rickshaw (or tuk-tuk if you insist). Sure, it may be a little slower than a taxi, and it doesn't have AC, and you can feel every bump in the road, but if you really want to feel Mumbai, or anywhere in India for that matter, if you have the choice between a taxi and rickshaw, I'd recommend taking the rickshaw every time. You'll feel the wind in your hair, the smells of India will fill your nose, the sounds will ring in your ears, it really is a good way to experience life there, instead of being far-removed in an air conditioned taxi.

If you caught any of my Instagram stories, you'll have seen some of the wild rides we went on, where it feels more exciting than even the most terrifying rollercoaster rides. There are no rails, there are no safety harnesses, or even seatbelts actually, and you're 100% at the mercy of the driver. The more of a hurry they're in, the more fun it is, as they start taking risks they really don't need to, and you genuinely feel like you're going to crash, but somehow, the road just opens up.

There are some places that rickshaws are not allowed to go though, and I admit I don't really know the rules,  but if you want to go to a place they can't go, they'll tell you, so just get a cab instead. Either hail one in the street, or get an uber. If found that uber was ridiculously cheap here, 140Rs for a 25 minute drive, which is equivalent to about £1.80ish? Crazy.

Rickshaw Meter Mumbai Bandra Travel Guide Haggling_effected

Whether you hail a taxi or a rickshaw though, you have to be prepared to haggle, and haggle hard. Know where you're going to, know how far away it is, and how long it's likely to take so that you can build up an idea of what a reasonable price might be. If you ask the driver how much it will cost, he will undoubtedly see you're a tourist and charge at least double the going rate, so don't be afraid to stick to your guns. If he doesn't play ball, fine, move on to the next one. If you find that none of them are even coming close to what you think is fair, then maybe think of accepting a higher fare, or try to get them to go on the meter.

Meter really is the best way to go, in Bandra this is really easy to achieve, but for some reason in Colaba I don't think I managed to get a single one on the meter. Also expect drivers to be picky, if you're journey is too long or short, or to an area they just can't be bothered to go to, they'll happily say no and drive off. Don't worry though, just keep trying. It's half the fun!

MARKETS SLASH BAZAARS

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If you travel to India, and don't buy something from a market, or bazaar, or chowk, have you even been to India? I don't think so. Markets are the lifeblood, the backbone, of India. Everybody goes to them, everybody passes by them, they are literally everywhere. Usually when I visit these types of markets abroad, I tend to find they all sell basically the exact same things - if there are 5 or 6 jewellery stalls, they'll all have the exact same items, but here, they all had different stock, which meant I probably bought enough jewellery to open up my own branch of Claire's Accessories. 

Something I've always noticed about India, whether it's Delhi, or Mumbai, is that Indians have this habit of opening shops in little clusters, where they all sell the same things. So you'll have markets that specialise in clothes, others that specialise in gold, homeware, jewellery and so on. If you're looking for something in particular, and you find a place that does it, no doubt there'll be 5 or 6 other places nearby that also do that same thing!

We spent a fair bit of time in a few in Colaba, and south Mumbai in particular, and found that they have this mysterious allure that keeps drawing you in. You think you're just about ready to leave, and go on to do something else, but each time you make to move, something catches your eye, and you spend another half an hour or so just browsing, and of course there's the...

HAGGLING

Fashionicide Mumbai Lima Khan Haggling Guide Travel Diaries_effected

Yep. Haggling is what I live for. I know that it can make people feel uncomfortable, or that it can be off-putting, but shopping in markets in India is always a game: the seller wants to make as much profit out of you as they think they can get away with, and you just want to pay what it's worth. And thus, the cat and mouse begins, the battle of wits, the race to see who flinches first.

The rule is, when you ask for the price of something, the seller will give you a price at least double the real value. Your objective is to get as close to half of this price as possible, using whatever strategy you can come up with. It really is a lot of fun, and the seller also enjoys the battle as much as you do. Your last resort is to walk away when you aren't happy with the final price, sometimes they'll come after you, other times, you end up not buying it at all.

COLABA

As luck would have it, our hotel was just around the corner from Café Leopold, a famous Mumbai eatery that's been around forever and was also one of the first places to be hit in the terror attack in 2008. The café's prominence in Shantaram though, seems to have made it the place to go again in Colaba, the district of Mumbai we found ourselves in. For those wondering, disappointingly, I didn't see any Frenchmen named Didier.

The stay in Colaba made me realise just how huge a place Mumbai really is, and whilst we were close to some of the touristy places, like the Gateway of India, Marine Drive and Nariman Point, it felt as though we were a world away from the likes of Bandra. Without an underground system like London, Mumbai felt more like Tokyo in size. Huge. Daunting. Difficult.

We spent three days in Colaba, acclimatising to the heat and humidity. I don't think you can overstate the difference from -2C to 35C in a matter of hours, but we adjusted fairly quickly, walking from place to place as much as possible, soaking up the heat, browsing the seemingly endless bazaars, drinking all of the chai, and eating as much of the food as possible - including a McPaneer burger.

Still, we had to leave this sprawling city behind to catch a plane to Thiruvananthapuram, or Trivandrum as it's also known, in the far south of India. Just as we'd arrived under the cover of dark, we left so, at 3am. The driver took us along Marine Drive one last time, and on to the epic Bandra-Worli sea link, surely an icon of India's resurgence into one of the world's dominant economic powers.

BANDRA

I'll talk about Trivandrum and the rest of Kerala in another post (or three!), but eight days later and we were back in Mumbai again, but this time, we stayed further north in the city, in Bandra. This time, we did not arrive under cover of darkness, but in bold and vibrant sunlight, just as the city was starting to wake up, and commuters were making their way to work.

Our second Mumbai hotel was a bit less friendly than the first, but judging from the paparazzi outside, and the swanky interiors, we'd probably made a good choice. Anyway, we had about 36 hours left before we had to get ready to leave for the UK, so we were on a mission. During our stay in Colaba, the Vada Pav had eluded us, so we needed to find a good place to taste a real Mumbai Vada Pav, we also wanted to see if we could tour the slums, as I'd read that it's not quite what you'd expect, and certainly nothing like Slumdog Millionaire.

For most of the rest of our time here, we hung out around Bandstand, Linking Road and Carter Road, to take in the atmosphere of the more hipstery, wealthy areas of Mumbai. I'll be honest though, I much preferred the cut and thrust, the rough and readiness of Colaba and Bhuleshwar over this area. Whilst it was pleasant enough, it just felt like there wasn't really a great deal to do, but there were an awful lot more places to eat. We also visited...

THE SLUMS

Commercial Slums India Dharavi Travel Guide Tips Tricks_effected

We headed to Mahim Junction train station, ready to meet our guide for the tour of Dharavi, the biggest slum in Mumbai, and probably India. Before we signed up, we did a bit of reading about it, because there are ethical concerns about these kinds of tours, almost as if it's 'grief tourism'. However, to think that, would be completely misjudging and underestimating Dharavi and the residents. For example, there are jsut under 5,000 industrial units in Dharavi, and the area itself has an estimated turnover of $650 million.

Also, the tour operator we chose are actually a charity that provide free education to both children and adults alike, to help ensure the residents have the skills they need to get better jobs, and 80% of their profits made go towards funding these initiatives. So why not?

From the moment we arrived, we could see that already this was not what we were expecting. Whilst it looked like a mess in comparison to the rest of Mumbai, it didn't look quite as bad as the images I had in my mind, or smell anywhere near as bad as I had imagined. The people walking by us were wearing clothes that looked no different to those we'd seen all over India, they looked normal, the place was positively bustling with activity, and nobody really looked miserable or destitute. Our guide himself was a slum-dweller from elsewhere in Mumbai, so it was really interesting to hear first-hand experience of how everything works.

We saw two main areas of the slum, the first was the industrial side, where discarded plastics of all shapes and sizes, collected from across the city is recycled into tiny plastic pellets, and sold on, where clothes are manufactured to be sold at the market stalls all over Mumbai, where leather is made, where paint cans from the infinite construction sites of Mumbai are brought to be cleaned and re-used. Narrow, slanting pathways, with narrower side streets shooting off in all directions, no space wasted. What was most fascinating here, is that these businesses are owned by slum-dwellers, but the workers travel in from towns and villages outside of Mumbai, and live in the factories.

Then we headed over a bridge and into the residential side of the slum. What we saw here is difficult to describe, to do it justice, and of course, we weren't allowed to take photos, so I'll have to give it a good shot. We saw tiny shacks, some about 10 sq metres in size, through to large houses, maybe the size of our own. We wandered through the narrowest of narrow backstreets, where houses back up onto each other, and steep staircases that more resemble ladders lead you up to the shacks on the first floor.

The narrow pathways were genuinely terrifying, it felt a bit like the scene in Star Wars, where the protagonists leapt into the trash compactor and the walls started to close in on them. It didn't really feel like a path, it felt like we were walking through people's houses, intruding on their lives. Above, plastic and metal sheeting from the shacks above jutted out over the pathway, leaving tiny slits for natural light to pierce through. I dreaded to think how it might look at night, but to my surprise, there were LED lights dotted around to light it up.

The image you may have of slum dwellings, is of plastic, tarpaulins and metal sheets kind of loosely held to together by rope with streets of mud and sewage, but these images are mostly wrong. Dharavi is a well established, and now legalised slum. The people who live here have access to water and electricity by law, their homes have been improved and renovated and improved again over time and even generations. The people here have pretty much everything they could ever want, and this surprised me a little. The kids have schools in Dharavi, not enough to hold them all though, but those who can't get schooled here, go to schools outside.

That's not to say that life in Dharavi is amazing, or even represents all slums. The tour was setup to show you a different side, the positive side to life in a slum, whilst also showing you some of the negative aspects - the shared toilets, the crumbling tower blocks funded by corruption, the occasional stream of toxic, greeny-blue, foul smelling water running through the middle of pathways.

A trip to Dharavi certainly leaves you with plenty to think about, but one thing is for sure, the people who do live there, love living there, and I was glad to experience that, even if just for an hour or two.

THE PEOPLE

Mumbai Chai Walla Markets Tea Slow Motion Pouring_effected

For all of the historic sites, or natural beauty, or amazing bazaars and everything else that India has, it's really the people that make it what it is. On the one hand, you can get stares, some may try to rip you off, or scam you, some may even make comments as you pass, but overall the people are so emotive, so expressive, and generally just happy to meet people from outside of India, who have chosen to visit their country.

With me, it seemed like people were curious. I'd have people call out from across the street: "Lady Gaga!", I had a few girls come over and say how much they loved my look and style, a few asked if I was a celebrity. Even in the slums, a woman said out loud: "Wow, she looks like a fairy!" - all of which, I was happy to take, as it was meant in good spirit and wasn't intrusive or uncomfortable.

I found that attitudes in Mumbai are a bit more upbeat than in the north, where it feels much more intense and even judgemental. As an Indian female in the diaspora, I would regularly have men tutting and shaking their head as they walked past, whereas in Mumbai, it genuinely felt like people aren't really that interested in the colour of your hair, the length of your skirt or your bright af makeup, if anything, they were more likely to compliment you on it.

That being said, when you reach the more touristy places, such as the Gateway of India, you'll get a lot of stares, some even had the audacity to unashamedly take photos of me without asking. But I had a lot of fun storming up to them and confronting them, telling them to delete it. I think this happens because people from small towns and villages in India come to visit these attractions, not necessarily the locals from Mumbai.

Another thing about Mumbai to be prepared for, is random people coming up to you and asking for selfies. Whether you oblige or not, is completely up to you, but I refused, as you just don't know what they're gonna be used for. Also, because the OH is white, he had even more people come up to him and ask. There comes a time though, when you just have to say no.

Overall, I found the people of Mumbai to be incredibly friendly and eager to help, even whilst stood in the queue at McDonalds, overwhelmed by the extensive vegetarian options, someone behind you will give you their opinion on what's good. Basically, people here are not afraid to strike up a conversation with strangers. I find the only time that happens in the UK, is when people are drunk, and even then it can be an intimidating experience.

PHOTO GALLERY

SaveSaveSaveSave Palm Trees Colaba Mumbai Backstreet Balcony India Fashionicide_effected

Plants, everywhere!

Marine Drive Self Portrait Selfie Blonde White Hair Mumbai_effected

Angelic vibes on Marine Drive

Fake Chanel Dup Nail Polishes Mumbai Market_effected

Chanel nail polishes, for 50Rs - too good to be true, surely ;)

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On the edge of the slums

Beautiful Cat Sat Down Mumbai Colaba _effected

The owner of the shop this cat guards said "I love her, she keeps all of the rats away."

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Street seller in Colaba

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A reminder that Mumbai is on the sea

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Vada Pav!

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Remember kids, keep yourself hydrated.

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Street lyf

Cat Sleeping on Motorcycle Mumbai Streets _effected

"Yeah, check out ma wheelz.."

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The Hanging Gardens of Mumbai

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Pious uber driver

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The Taj Palace Hotel by night

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So, so many saris

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This poor cat looked barely alive

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Footbridge leading to Dharavi

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Synthwave has reached Mumbai

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The Taj Palace Hotel by day

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Street on the edge of the slums

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Life in technicolour

Mirror Shot Mumbai_effected

Rickshaw riding

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Palm trees on every street corner

Sleeping Man in Basket Indian Market Mumbai Bombay_effected

This is what 35C does to a person

Fresh Vegetable Floor Stall Mumbai_effected

Such vibrance

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No Vacancy

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Windswept on the rooftop

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Leopold's

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Start of the day's trading

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Every colour going


McSpicy Paneer Mcdonalds Burger Vegetarian Masala Mumbai_effected

The McSpicy Paneer burger - get with the times Britain!

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6 comments

  1. Perfect - this post is just perfect. Beautiful, informative...felt like I’d been transported to India. Who knows if I’ll ever get the chance to visit (being of Pakistani origin)...I desperately want to but until then, I can live vicariously through your words and pictures. Xxxxx

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  2. Lima this entire post was just brilliant from start to finish! I loved the amount of detail you put into this and the photos you got are just stunning - I love the one you captioned, "Synthwave has reached Mumbai" because 1) Synthwave is one of my favourite things and 2) That whole shot is just stunning, the colours and the detail are amazing. Thank you for sharing your adventure, this has definitely shot up my travel wishlist and I have also bookmarked this post for future reference! Also, love the way you write. - Tasha

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  3. Oh girl! I truly enjoyed reading this piece 👏🏼👏🏼 You’re an amazing and a creative writer! This looked like it was a very fun and an awesome experience, I definitely would love to visit Mumbai one day!

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  4. I’ve been waiting for this post ever since your Instagram stories. I was particularly keen to find out about the slums and see more of south of India although being Pakistani it will be difficult for me to go so I can live vicariously through you!

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  5. Wow what a journey you went on! I love the Head wiggle and find it so endearing! I really enjoyed watching your stories and recognised the Leopold cafe from shantaram like you said! Loved that you took us on your journey with you! And i hope one day i can visit myself! X

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  6. Love your post and pics. Also love the fact that you went into detail about every aspect. xx

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