After a lovely weekend in Mumbai, we spent Monday and Tuesday seriously exploring the city.
We started Monday morning, with a charming female guide, and our regular driver, for a formal half day of sight-seeing. As we left our hotel, we drove along Marine Drive, the famous, spectacular, multi-lane road, overlooking the curved bay and the Arabian Sea. We left Nariman Point, location of our hotel, passed Chowpatty beach to the other extreme of Marine Drive, Malabar Hill. Marine Drive is Mumbai’s most famous boulevard, and at night the bay has dramatic streetlights, nicknamed the “Queen’s Necklace” because of the half-moon shaped bay, twinkling at night, like a jewelled spectacle. Marine Drive is built on land reclaimed from the Arabian Sea. We were in the relatively luxurious southern shore of Mumbai and we commented that south Bombay seemed very clean and free of litter, compared to many other parts of India that we had so far visited. She explained that Mumbai had a billion Dollar plastic recycling industry located in the slums, which does give the slum dwellers the opportunity of work, in this case they are paid by the amount of weight they prepare for recycling, but, of course, they are underpaid! Our guide also reminded us of the grim statistics for greater Mumbai:
- The largest slum in Asia
- 55% homeless
- Two thousand shanty-towns
Mumbai is India largest city with over twenty million inhabitants and each day six million people travel. There’s good north/south railway and east/west metro, plus many buses but we were not brave enough to contemplate public transport (we had tried it in Delhi and that was enough). The south of Mumbai has plenty of taxis. The maximum we paid for a journey was Rps 100 (approx £1). Whilst the taxi drivers were all trying to sell us additional trips and offering to take us to sites that we may want to see, or they have a friend with a shop and it is the “cheapest in India!” – they were typically honest, hard-working people. After a while you get used to the sales pitch and know what is coming next and it usually starts “where you from?”
Our guide and driver took us to the older part of Mumbai. We passed the neo-gothic style high court building, then stopped at Victoria Station, known locally affectionately as VT. This magnificent building reminded us of St. Pancras Station in London. There are so many old colonial style buildings in Mumbai that are truly magnificent! We stopped to view the famous, sprawling, outdoor laundry quarters, Dhobi Ghat – here we saw thousands of items being hanged in the sunshine to dry. It is a central laundry, where all of the “washers” (for want of a better word) are self-employed and all have their particular clients that they service. Dhobi Ghat is the largest of its kind in the world – at night it doubles up as the local red light district apparently, just mind-boggling! We then went to one of the oldest parts of town, that was once the thriving center of Jewish life, and was now predominately populated with Muslims. Mumbai is 17% Muslim and 64% Hindu. We stopped and explored a very old synagogue, named Magen David. It was decorated unusually in pale blue painted wood. It still functioned as a synagogue but had clearly seen better days. To the left of the synagogue is its thriving school – these days most of the children are Muslim!
We spent a half an hour at Kanaka Nehru Park, named after the mother of the famous Indian prime minister. This offered beautiful gardens, set on the top of a hill, with commanding views of the city. We enjoyed a pleasant stroll. Our guide explained that the park had been constructed on top of an underground reservoir. She also pointed out the nearby Parsee funeral site. The Parsee, originally from Persia, believe in neither burial nor cremation – their traditional approach is to leave the corpse for the vultures! Their logic behind this is that birds fly close to heaven. Unfortunately, there is now a shortage of vultures in Mumbai, due to disease and this has created a crisis. The Parsee population of India is circa 65,000, with 45,000 in Mumbai – despite their small number, we learned that this group of people had been immensely important to India’s development. We had become fascinated by the Parsee people and promised to go to an exhibition the next day.
The next stop was the Gandhi Museum, also known as Mani Bhawan Gandhi Sangrahalaya. This was where Gandhi lived in the period 1917-34.This was actually the home of a very close friend. We were really fascinated by the excellent museum. We wondered if India’s history would have been different if the Gandhi, the young UK educated advocate, had not been removed from a first-class train carriage in South Africa because of his race?
Afterwards we visited the famous Prince of Wales Museum (or Chhatapati Sivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya as it is now called). We saw some excellent exhibits of sculpture and miniature paintings.
Tuesday, we spent the morning at the National Museum of Modern Art to view the Parsee exhibition. We found this exhibition very interesting. Please open this link and learn about the Parsee people that had caught our attention – it’s an amazing story.
We then had lunch in a really trendy cafe – it was 1960s, with all kinds of funky pictures on the wall and a working jukebox! When we questioned the waiter about the history, his reply was “ oh, it is very old, it was built in 1960s!” – we were amused by his vision of really old!
Afterwards, we took a rickshaw to Gateway of India, on the waterfront, and one of the most prized possessions of India. We visited the nearby Taj hotel, another colonial building, built in the early 20th century and sadly the center of the terrorist bombing in Mumbai. We inspected the amazing hotel, took some photos but decided not to have tea there!
One of the big attractions of Mumbai is the many excellent and inexpensive restaurants. We were recommended three restaurants for dinner and were delighted with all of them, especially the fish and seafood – we had been virtually eating a vegetarian diet since we had arrived in India.
Mumbai is definitely our sort of town and will be a candidate perhaps for a return trip.
Tomorrow, we must leave Mumbai and catch a flight to Kerala, for the next stage of our adventure.