It wasn’t until 5 a.m., somewhere between Goa and Mumbai, that I really felt as though I’d returned to the backpacking lifestyle. Nine hours into our overnight bus drive, we stopped at a rest station on the side of the road. As I walked over to the toilets, I was hit with that overwhelming, stomach-churning stench I’d forgotten, the kind that exists in bathrooms that are cleaned about once every century. Old Melissa would have run away and dry-heaved in a bush. But New Melissa held the collar of her shirt over her nose, smiled and thought, “I’m back.” After weeks of living out of a backpack, checking beds for bugs and wondering how safe the tap water is, I’ve finally got the routine down.

A few hours later, we were in Mumbai and ready to take on the city. Our first day was low-key as we got settled into our new digs in the Fort section of the city. That night, we made plans to meet up with our law school friend Anurag, who lives in Mumbai, and Maitreya, a college acquaintance of mine who happened to be in Mumbai visiting family. Wine, beer and a few hours of hookah with new friends ensued. It was nice to be able to go out past dark. In both Bangalore and Goa, it didn’t feel safe to walk around at night. The catcalls, stares and occasional grabs and gropes become much scarier in the dark, so it’s just been better to pack it in early. But accompanied by guys, I felt safer that night than I had in weeks.

The next morning began with a bit of a headache, as mornings after wine tend to do. I went heavy on the coffee at breakfast and was in top shape to head out to Elephanta Island with Mims.

Elephanta Island is an hour-long boat ride away, so first stop: docks. The docks are located right next to the Gateway to India, constructed to welcome King George and Queen Mary upon their visit to Bombay nearly 100 years ago. The arch stands in front of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, one of the sites of the 26/11 terror attacks, as they’re known in India. The best view of the two isn’t from the docks, but from the water. I snapped a couple photos, but as is usually the case, pictures don’t do the actual view justice.

Elephanta Island was…hot. And swarming with monkeys. Sounds like my ideal afternoon, right? It was surprisingly fun, as we spent a few hours exploring the huge stone carvings in the caves around the island. The 1500-year-old temples carved into the caves have withstood both time and Portuguese occupation and now welcome thousands of guests a year.

We ended the afternoon with a quick lunch before freshening up for a meeting with our Bollywood agent. More in the next post…

Not the greatest photo. Taj on the left, Gateway to India on the right.

Not the greatest photo. Taj on the left, Gateway to India on the right.