May 9, 2019
Incredible India, indeed. So first of all, I should mention that we had movie night last night, and the movie was “Lion”. We had seen it before but chose to go again and we were so glad we did. Seeing it while in India was very special and emotional and it really highlighted so many aspects of the culture including the fact that there are 29 different languages spoken here and people from one area often cannot communicate with others from another area.
This was our final tour in India with Alice and Tom and the tour company, Magic Tours of India, was a wonderful choice in every city. This tour in Mumbai was no exception.
Our guide was Meherrukh and our driver was Vithal.
Meherrukh greeted us and gave us some informative maps to show that Mumbai (formerly Bombay, which she still calls it) was originally 7 islands which are now joined together. The name Bombay came from Bom Bahia which means beautiful bay. It was renamed Mumbai in 1996 as part of a wider policy instigated by the right wing nationalist Shiv Sena Municipality to replace names of any places, roads and features in the city that had connotations of the Raj. The name change was widely unpopular when it was first imposed especially among the upper and middle classes and the immigrant communities. Now it has taken root and even outgrown the narrow agenda of the originators. But as our guide proves, those who grew up in Bombay often still know it as Bombay.
Our first stop was the most acclaimed attraction, the Gateway of India. It was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary and was officially inaugurated in 1924. It is situated on the waterfront and is just across from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel where the terrorist attack and bombing took place in November of 2008. It was part of a series of 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai which left lasting scars here in this city.
Gateway of India
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
New wing of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
We had been to both the Gateway and the hotel previously but the Gateway (and the crowds that are there) are always interesting to see. Beautiful clothing. It was early so not too crowded. Always vendors to try to sell you things, though. We didn’t spend any time in the hotel this visit.
Here are some of the other buildings in the area. And a panoramic view.
There are lots of fishing boats and houseboats just off the pier too.
We stopped at an area that really highlights the contrasts of this city. It is big. It has lots and lots of people and a lot of traffic. It has India’s most prolific film industry. It has the world’s most expensive house (more about that later) and it is an area of slum living, and our guide shared that 60% of the 14 million people here live in slums. She said that the schools for guides tell them not to focus on that but she believes that she should share reality with everyone. Some of the reason for slums is rent control. Some people pay as little as $10/month and so the landlords let things get run down and become slums. They are trying to move people into big buildings and tear down the slums but people do resist this.
There was so much trash in this area. She said that people just discard trash without even thinking about it and some of the trash also comes from other countries and just piles up.
Right around this slum area are high rise hotels including the Ritz Carleton hotel.
You also see homeless people on the streets. They hang their clothes on the fences.
There are a lot of interesting colonial buildings in Mumbai and it also has a variety of art deco buildings. Here are some examples.
This building was once a beautiful hotel. It is now unoccupied and in terrible condition.
We walked through the gardens of the Children’s Museum. A beautiful building and grounds.
They have a lot of fruit bats (flying foxes) in the trees outside the museum. The picture only shows some of them!
Interesting – this woman is selling fruits and also charges for people to weigh themselves!
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as the Victoria Terminus, is a huge historic railway station and also a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered the finest example of Victorian Gothic architecture in India. It is used by 7.5 million people every day! There are separate cars for women if they choose to use them. During rush hour it is so crowded that people hang out of the doors. People are so used to overcrowded living conditions that the trains seem normal to them. Sometimes tourists like to hang out of the doors too! But never go on it at rush hour.
We so enjoyed being able to ride on the train.
The dabbawalla lunch box system has been in place for more than 100 years and is 99.9% on time with no errors! More than 250,000 lunches are prepared in homes and delivered by these self employed dabbawallas to offices and businesses. They are picked up usually by men on bikes and then taken by train to the people in the businesses and then the lunchboxes are picked up and returned to the homes. The system is said to be the envy of Federal Express for its efficiency! You can recognize the dabbawallas by the white hats they wear.
Some of the people love to have their pictures taken!
Like these beauties. Just love the colorful clothes.
We always love markets and this was no exception. Meherrukh walked with us and told us about some of the exotic fruits, vegetables and spices and how they are used. Our first view of this market was the rats, though…
Everything was beautifully presented. They grow a lot of mangoes here, I didn’t know there were so many different varieties!
We visited two synagogues. In the first one there was a charge for taking pictures, so I became the designated picture taker. This one was recently remodeled and is beautiful.
The second one was much simpler but equally beautiful. One of the members was there to show us around. We could all take pictures here.
A visit to the outdoor laundry is a must when visiting Mumbai. Dhoby Ghaut loosely translated means laundry by the banks of a river. Here you see stone pools with rocks inside where the men and some women beat the clothes on the rock and wash them, then hang them to dry. Now there are actually some washers and dryers too but it is all outdoors. And it is huge. You also see people bathing in the pools.
Some companies contract with the laundries to wash all of their uniforms. And the saris you see are usually the ones that the owners have discarded and will be sent to used clothing places or cut up and used for decorations. The washers are known as dhobis. Most often, the people who work there also live there. Here are some of their homes and the lower buildings below the high rises in the distance are places that are for the people who are being relocated from the slums.
We also visited a Hari Krishna temple and were allowed to take pictures there. Afterwards, we ate at the vegetarian restaurant right next to the temple, where Meherrukh ordered her favorite Indian foods for our lunch and she ate with us – we treated her to lunch.
Meherrukh shared her religious beliefs with us. Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest religions that remains active. They believe in a single God. What is most unusual is the “Towers of Silence” where what is called ritual exposure is used – the dead are taken outside and vultures peck at the body. Vultures are rare now, so solar panels are used to decompose the body followed by cremation. I was not familiar with this religion but Tom has had a student of this faith.
We visited Gandhi’s home which is now a museum. They had wonderful photos and dioramas that depicted events in his life. The room is where he spent most of his time. Very basic.
Here are just a few of the other sights of this amazing city.
The tall grey building is the most expensive house in the world. Owned by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, the 400,000-square-foot had construction costs exceeding 1 billion US dollars!
We are saying goodbye to India, but we will be back. So much more to see and explore and we were so glad that all of our guides gave us so many opportunities to be with the people in their everyday lives.