Experiencing a Monsoon in Mumbai
Now that I’m slugging to work most days through the rain and the muck, it’s funny to think back on the many months of pre-monsoon hype. From the way people talked about monsoon season, I was picturing myself swimming to work everyday, or riding the road waves on a wooden plank reminiscent of the one at the end of the movie “Titanic.” You know, in the scene where Kate Winslet shivers alone on a jagged-edged boat piece and Leonardo DiCaprio decides he’d rather freeze to death than make even a second attempt to get on the makeshift raft. Lazy much?
Anyways, I digress. It was pretty fun watching everyone in the overcast days leading up to when the monsoon broke. The anticipation was intense, as if everyone was holding one collective breathe until the first rains fell. When it started, it was a pretty wonderful relief from the unmentionable heat of the months prior. These days, it’s liable to pour at any and all times, at which point the water level may rise to your ankles or shins and the streets will transform from somewhat manageable to washed out and flooded in a matter of minutes. I’ve had quite a few nice conversations with strangers while ducking under awnings for some measure of cover from the onslaught.
The drainage issue is… well, it’s an issue, and everything is constantly damp. I came home one day to find that my one decent pair of shoes, a pair of black flats, had grown a thick layer of mold. No matter how much I cleaned them, the mold kept growing back. This was soon followed by a moldy purse and moldy earrings, all three of which I relinquished to the trash. Unfortunately, mold also started growing on things that I actually care about, like my passport. And then, as a reward for trying to be somewhat hygienic and changing my sheets, I found that my pillow had molded. Come on, India, my pillow? That’s low.
Since monsoon began, I’ve come to terms with three things:
1. I will always be wearing slightly damp and smelly clothes.
2. My feet will always look zebra-like from the stripes of dirt and grime that accumulate while traipsing through wet streets.
3. My curly Jewish hair is doomed to be perpetually Medusa-esque until monsoon ends
Lots of people have told me that a person’s attitude towards monsoons is largely colored by his/her economic situation. If you can afford to watch the constant downpour through your apartment window while enjoying a hot cup of chai, then monsoon season can be nice. But for most people, it’s a season defined in varying degrees by impossible public transport, the increased spread of malaria and other diseases, homes and huts flooded with water and sewage, and more.
One perk of monsoon is that it brings a whole new slew of fruits into season. I recently tried a dark purple fruit at work that immediately made my tongue feel uncomfortably thick and kind of numb. When I asked the name of the fruit and my co-worker said she didn’t know its name, it only amplified my fear that it was some sort of freaky fruit-club-drug hybrid.
Monsoon also turns the previously dry hills outside of Mumbai into beautiful green paradises full of tiny waterfalls. I took advantage of this during a day spent waterfall rappelling in a place that, in all seriousness, resembled the floating mountains in “Avatar.” It really was that beautiful. The only downside was that it poured for about seven straight hours so that I spent the entire day drenched, freezing, and shivering uncontrollably.
During some of my other travels outside of Mumbai, I’ve seen tons of people out tending to their rice fields and harvesting their crops. It’s easy to forget how heavily this country relies on agriculture while living in a big city, but hearing people talk about making month-long trips back to their villages for a cropping season reminds me how important a good monsoon season is for the country and how a lot of people are suffering from the unusually sporadic rains we’re getting this year.
When my sister and brother-in-law recently came to visit, they had no choice but to plan their trip during monsoon season. With that in mind, I tried to plan us a trip that capitalized on monsoon season. In addition to short stops in Amritsar (the amazing Golden Temple) and Rishikesh (lots of westerners trying to find themselves), we did four days of incredible hiking in the Valley of Flowers in the northern state of Uttarakhand. It’s best to visit during monsoon because that’s when all of the flowers are in bloom, and we weren’t disappointed. Hiking through the enormous flowering valleys along the river, nestled between huge green mountains with snow peaked mountains ahead, was absolutely unreal.
Having completely ruined my camera during a storm the week before and having by then seen the absolute rage of Mumbai monsoons, I made sure that my siblings came to India prepared for the rain onslaught. They bought water-proof camera cases and packed clothes and shoes that would dry quickly.
We lined the insides of our hiking backpacks with trash bags and went on a ziplock bag frenzy. We planned our trip with plenty of cushion time, anticipating landslides and washed out roads. They even laminated all their travel documents (their idea, not mine- I’m not that nuts). So of course, it rained a grand total of one time during the entire trip, on our last afternoon in Rishikesh when we were safely underneath the awning of our hut playing bananagrams.
Joke’s on us, India.