Our first port in India, we found this city much quieter, prettier and gentler than Delhi (which we visited in 2010). As India’s financial and entertainment centre, it is a younger city than the capital. Britain formally took over the islands of Bombay (reclamation later joined them into a single land mass) from the Portuguese in 1665 but leased it to the East India Company for a mere £10 per year. It eventually became the trading headquarters for the whole west coast of India. Britain took back control of the region in the early 1800s. In 1996 the name officially changed to Mumbai but I was surprised to hear how many people still refer to it by the English name.
We joined with four other people for a tour with Mumbai Magic, a tour company started by an enterprising young woman who hires young female college students to show tourists around their city. We had one guide, a trainee, and the sister of the owner who helps out from time to time. One guide per 2 persons. It seemed like overkill at first until we realized that we were going to have a multi-modal experience: first walking around the city centre, then hopping on a local bus to get to a market, then grabbing a train to see the dhobi ghat (the municipal laundry). Just crossing the street was an experience, let alone piling into a bus and jumping on a still moving train.
We loved the architecture of the major buildings – most with a mix of religious motifs called Indo-Saracenic style. The Taj Mahal hotel, which you’ll remember was one of the places bombed in 2008, reminded us of the Peninsula in HK. It was built by JN Tata for all to enter after he was refused entry by the Watson Hotel. Sadly, you must now go through very tight security – even to get into the one Starbucks we saw, on the corner of the hotel. The hotel, right on the ocean when it was built in 1903, is now across the street from the Gateway of India opened in 1924.
The nearby Watson Hotel still stands, but only just! It has actually been condemned but tenants, mostly law firms, will not leave because it is very close to the Law Courts and, of course, has more than reasonable rent. We were not permitted to take photos as we stood inside the lobby but I snapped a shot of the law firm signs showing the old, rather scarey, wiring inside the lobby on the top left.
The train ride was a hit for Tony but, sadly, we didn’t end up in the incredible Victoria Terminus. We did see it from the outside and it is quite beautiful (built in 1887).
The dhobi ghat was quite sobering. From a bridge above you can see how the laundry is done, day in day out, by men beating each piece of linen or cotton on the sides of concrete open-air troughs and then hanging them up to dry on twisted lines above. It was relatively cool when we looked down upon them but it’s difficult to imagine how they do such work in the summer months. Evidently during rainy season they actually have to iron the clothes dry. My goodness how incredibly fortunate we are to have been born into relatively affluent western families.
The next day Tony and I struck out on our own and caught a ferry from the Gateway of India to Elephanti Island. This island has rock-cut temples that are reminiscent of both Khajuraho (the voluptuous maidens) and Petra (the amazing columns of the temples). Believed to date between AD450 and 750, the sculptures are mostly in tact despite damage by the early Portuguese military.
We rounded off the day with a visit to the “fortified” Starbucks at the Taj Hotel in order to get some free internet!