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Googling your way around Mumbai

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Lately I’ve had oodles of meetings that take me from one end of Mumbai to the other.

But I gotta admit, I’m not the best at directions. OK, let’s be real – I’m incredibly directionally challenged. And with meetings scattered around the city, I’ve had a frustrating moment or two.

You would think this is where google maps comes galloping to the rescue!

However it has its quirks in India.

Landmark ho?

  • A lot of landmarks that work wonders with taxi drivers and rickshawallahs are not found on google maps
  • Say “General Arunkumar Vaidya Marg” and no one will have a clue
  • Say “Lilavati Hospital” and you will reach without any hassle (maybe not the best example as this is ONE landmark that actually IS on google maps!)

A rose by any other name?

  • Google maps also use official street names which bear zero relationship to what people actually call them
  • Say “Vatsala Bai Desai Chowk” and get blank stares
  • Say “Haji Ali circle” and boom! You arrive perfectly at your destination

Network nonsense

  • Google maps assume you – gosh! – have reliable GPRS and network connectivity
  • Guess what.. in a moving vehicle going between different network towers you have anything but!
Google your way?

Google your way?

I remember in the 1990s when the first Delhi Atlas project started as a collaboration with the police to try and put together a proper map of the different colonies. It was a colossal task and tremendous detailed effort went into creating something that was semi-accurate in a constantly evolving environment.

Before such efforts, if you wanted to reach somewhere, you would get detailed instructions which were a colourful reflection of the communities. Long after a cinema was burnt, it remained the landmark, followed by instructions like ‘seedha chalna’ (go straight) even though the road actually forks! Then turn left at the flower wallah then carry on til you see a paan wallah on your right… the building after is the one you want! Conveniently these very same flower and paan wallahs were the best to help ensure you reached your destination.

Google maps has come a long way. Before adopting a ‘desi’ accent, the pronunciation of the street names were so hilariously bad, they were completely incomprehensible. Also each time I use google maps, I see a few more landmarks and helpful elements like ‘Pass by the HSBC Bank on your right’ being added.

I wonder what will come next?

Will using official street names on google maps accomplish what 10-30+ years has not? Change the day-to-day nomenclature to the politically driven changed names rather than what folks commonly know?

Or will google maps change to what people actually use – like Flora Fountain rather than Hutatma Chowk?

For now… while I will keep googling my way around Mumbai and still keep stopping to ask for directions lots too!

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14 Comments

  1. Similar situation in the old town where I live. Street names mean nothing to the average resident. Landmarks are everything. But, to be fair, taxi drivers do know the street names, too.

  2. expatlingo says:

    Takling metropolitan areas like Mumbai must keep Google engineers and topographers up at night!

  3. It’s some in a lot of Asian countries in the sense that people use landmarks and the street names mentioned in the common vernacular are not at all what the “official” name is…GPS came in handy massively on my last trip but before that, finding my way in a large city was an interesting ordeal

    • Now… if the GPS related maps all had the common landmarks, we would be set! 😉 I’m not surprised there are other countries where the ‘official’ name has nothing to do with what folks actually know and use…

  4. In Japan the entire way of numbering blocks etc is completely different- GPS will usually get you within 2 blocks of the spit but never right on it. I’ve laid taxis – and then followed them in the car- to the spot. Desperation is the mother of invention

  5. Brilliantly written. Loved it.

  6. isbergamanda says:

    Yes, Google Maps has a tough time with developing countries! I teach in Venezuela and I am constantly lost too. There are rarely street signs so I use Google all the time, but sometimes it has you going the wrong way on way streets or just going down streets that don’t exist. Good luck!

    -Amanda at http://teachingwanderlust.com/

    • I can imagine you’ve had a few frustrating moments! 🙂

      It has sooooo improved here from the early days! I remember being so surprised in Jakarta that taxis there could actually rely on google maps… with the introduction of uber in India, you can now almost rely on google maps to get you more or less to where you want to go.

      Challenge is making sure you selected the RIGHT destination as sometimes there are places with similar names or it hasn’t been marked properly but at least you generally will not go the wrong way down a one way street anymore!

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