As I walked the streets of Mumbai, a kind of peace came over me. It has been four long years since I traveled abroad. The dirty crowded streets, with people and cars crisscrossing each other’s paths was not as overwhelming as expected, but rather I felt a sense of calmness -almost as if I had returned home.
With a deep inhale you could smell a blend of the various scents that come with a crazy city like Mumbai. More than 16 million people live in what used to be Bombay. The smells range from the captivating smell of spices and street food to overwhelming smells of trash, urine, fish, and pollution, and if you really looked for it, a hint of Jasmine. I don’t know if it was the area we landed in, Colaba Mumbai, or the time of day, but it didn’t seem nearly as chaotic as expected. We walked the quiet alleys in the early Sunday morning hours, as the city slowly woke up and we just enjoyed getting lost in a new city.
One of the things that really was surprising to me was the tolerance of stray animals. The dogs and cats were not nearly as mangy or skinny as you normally see in other countries. Of course, compared to western standards where most living things could be considered obese, we would see these animals as thin, but I have seen way worse. There were dogs wagging their tails at people, and women cuddling with stray street cats.
Of course looking at history, there is a reason that animals and people can coexist the way they do in India. For thousands of years animals have had an extremely important part in religion and spirituality. Animals in the Hindu religion are viewed as vehicles of god or deities.
Modern times have also seen some amazing development for wildlife and nature. Before 1972, India only had five national parks. Today there are around 100 national parks and 500 wildlife sanctuaries, making up about 5% of all of India’s landmass. The government and nature and wildlife organizations are also working on providing safe migration routes by linking the various parks together.
Our first day in India was just amazing. We have quickly fallen in love and cannot wait for the upcoming spectacles. Tomorrow we head north. Rhinos here we come!