It’s always been hard for anything to get in the way of the normal functioning of Mumbai. But the recent terror attacks paralyzed South Mumbai for about 3 days, and left the rest of the city home bound, shocked, and glued to news channels.
I was there when the attacks happened, but luckily not in South Mumbai. As schools, colleges, and many companies remained closed, the city was relatively quiet. The mess was over Saturday morning (29th November), after which everything has been back to normal. Trains, buses and taxis are back to their usual frequency, offices have opened, the airport is functioning as usual but with tightened security.
Some of the hotels are back to normal as well, others are not taking new guests until things are clearer. Many of the South Mumbai hotels are not allowing people to enter the restaurants and cafes unless they are staying at the respective hotel.
Especially since tourists were the target in Mumbai, most countries have issued travel warnings and even bans for people to fly to India. Post attacks, a British report has named India one of the top 20 most dangerous places to visit. There are currently many rumors floating around that the next attacks are being planned along India’s west coast, specifically Goa and Cochin. All of India’s big cities are on high alert.
But really, who knows? There were no concrete official terror warnings or alerts with regards to Mumbai before the attacks happened. Sometimes, as stupid as this may sound, when places are officially on “red alert”, I think they are probably the safest places to visit. Terrorists know that those places have heightened security, so attacks are difficult.
So what should you do to assure your safety as much as possible when you are in a foreign city?
Here are my thoughts:
1) Awareness and vigilance: Be aware of the socio-political situation, and have background on previous dangerous occurrences in the place you are going to. Keep track of local news and what’s generally happening by looking through the local newspapers everyday.
2) Register yourself at your Embassy: If you are going to be somewhere for at least 4-5 days, it’s worth the effort to take a trip to the local embassy of your country and inform them of your travel plans in the country. Should something drastic happen, finding you may be less difficult.
3) Stay away from large crowds during religious festivals: The pretext of much terror is religion, especially in India. Although it may be a great cultural experience to attend these festivals, when in doubt of safety, avoid being at the prominent spots.
4) Change your routine: If you are a foreigner in India, staying at the same place for more than a few days, it might be safer to vary your route when you go about daily activities (groceries, walk, etc).
5) Talk to locals: When in doubt about going somewhere in the city, talk to locals you can trust, for example your hotel/hostel staff and friends, they should be able to give you a reasonable idea of the situation and will help you make further travel decisions.
6) Take a taxi/rent a car: If the city you have been in has recently suffered attacks, it might be better to take a taxi or rent a car rather than take pubic transport in and out of the city.
If you choose to travel to Mumbai any time soon, you will feel the tremendous anger of the locals, and a general air of sadness and anguish. It seems that there will be a large demonstration tomorrow at the Gateway of India in Mumbai, where people will gather to express how let down they are and demand action.
FYI: The only place in India under consistent and official travel warning is Jammu and Kashmir.