As soon I land at the airport, the air pulls me in a thousand directions, my eyes stranded even though opportunities to explore exist everywhere. People are in abundance, a man holds on to his briefcase with resolve, while another woman grabs the end of her sari and repositions the wide-eyed baby on her hip and yells two words in a language I don’t recognize. I suspect she is trying to sell the toys that lay in a basket that is affixed to her head. In one ear, I hear a cacophony of sounds, the high pitch squealing of horns, the desperation of the taxi cab driver trying to get his passenger to a destination, and the cries of a young child who is hungry for no food in particular.

I forge ahead, making my way through the customs, answering the requisite questions, knowing that the way I respond determines how much under the table cash I have to pay to allow my baggage a safe passage. I hand the officer my blue passport, decorated with the key words, United States of America, my golden ticket, and with a half-smile he allows me to put one step into Mumbai, India, the place of my heritage, what you can’t detect when I say ya’ll in my sometimes Southern drawl.

It is chaotic, but it appears that each person’s action is carrying out a special symphony. At the exit of the airport,  I hear my name, my family greets me, waving hugs and sweets in one hand, a way to distract me from the little girl relieving herself on the pavement. I am in a van driving through the streets of Mumbai, the air, looks as if it is thicker, almost covering the message the sun carries.  I look at the streets, with the different vendors, a rainbow of products line the street, from fresh sugar cane, saffron milk ice cream bars, and Indian street food, pani-puri and pav bhaji. On the other side, the women gather, selling sandalwood incense sticks while others try to solicit tourists with their display of red and green bangles. As the car moves forward, the faces create a kaleidoscope, the image rotates depending on what I want to observe.

Much later, the crowded streets are forgotten. The sand, lighter air and the smells of authentic street food entice me. Juhu beach is a favorite destination of many travelers, the sometimes uncrowded space, an untouched area from the elements of the city, where the land seems to exhale rest. It is this part of India that has stayed with me for so many years. Amid all of the exhaustion on the streets, the campaigns of selling and negotiating tourist trinkets, there is solace. An unencumbered vastness of land that isn’t advertised in travel magazines or flashed across the television screen.

This is where Mumbai’s heart beats and where you can listen to how the sitar laughs through the waves of the sea.

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What are your favorite places to travel? What do you remember most about these places? Do you like to visit “tourist” attactions or explore on your own? What about traveling to places out of your element surprises you?

Image by mihir1310

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