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We need a guide! This is my thought as Nikki and I sit outside Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport in Mumbai. It has been a long flight and neither one of us slept much, but we have just arrived safely, and now the reality of the situation is looming. So we sit there, right outside the airport doors- feeling totally unreal. Where to now? We had deliberately chosen not to book anything, not to plan anything, just to arrive and dive straight in. Being daring by nature, we both believe that all you need is a sense of adventure, a bit of money (the kind that really stretches when needed), a ticket, a toothbrush and a good pair of shoes, and even the last two can be bought in most places. We had read that Mumbai was very big, that it was humid, and the home of Bollywood. We had read that nothing could quite prepare one, so we didn’t bother. All good and well, but now, sitting outside the arrivals hall, we are in it: Exhilaration, fear and wonder. We need a guide, I think, smiling to myself. Then – as if the universe always provides such things effortlessly and right on cue – he arrives: Tom, the long-haired, German hippie with a copy of Lonely Planet under his arm, and a devilish grin. He comes over looking for a light, and we exchange greetings. “You guys want to share a prepaid taxi?” “Sure!” In moments it’s all set and we’re heading for the “Fort District” in the care of an ancient taxi driver in an even older taxi. Rush hour in Mumbai is something to behold. Around 16.4 million people fill the streets, creating their own lanes, hooting, squeezing, dodging and defying all statistical laws of probability. It all just flows like water. The taxi dashboard is decorated with gold-rimmed pictures of the driver’s favourite deities, floral wreaths and glitter, and somehow, either by the grace of those gods or the nimble wits of the geriatric driver, we make our way through this new, strange place. It’s true – don’t bother preparing yourself! Smells of incense mingle with the smells of cabbage, fish and garbage, sweat and smoke, smog and spice, mystery and much more. Between ragged patches of slum and shanties are modern glass and steel towers, then a Buddhist temple with a gorgeous tree growing inside, then a Colonial ruin, then a half-demolished ten-story apartment block, all in browns and gold, and a glittering shrine. Motorcyclists, some with small children perched on the handlebars, zoot past unconcerned. They are artfully dodging antique trucks, iconic tuk tuks, bicycles, and millions upon millions of pedestrians. Soon we have found our first “cheap” hotel (Rs1680 per night for an air-conditioned double), and, after a short “Ja! See you guys around” Tom is already off into the crowds looking for something else. He has a similar itinerary to ours: Whatever Happens. I doubt we will see him again, but then, one never knows. What on earth are we doing here? We are absorbing the sights and smells, the noises and textures, the sticky heat and the immense intensity of it all. We’re in – head first – and its great!

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