You may be tired of reading about my Indian travels by now and indeed since I’m back in Toronto, I feel should be writing about my time here. However, we enjoyed Mumbai, or Bombay as it used to be called, so I would like to share some of our experiences there. Although I have travelled to India several times over the past few years, I’ve always avoided staying in Mumbai as my experience has been that middle-of-the-road hotels are relatively expensive and poor value. This time, we had no choice so we consulted Trip Advisor and were lucky to find a newly built hotel at a reasonable price in the Fort area. To my surprise, Mumbai has improved considerably since my last stay there many years ago. For one thing, a new overhead Expressway has reduced traffic congestion and getting into the city centre from the airport is no longer the nightmare it used to be.
The Fort area was a perfect place to be as it is the historic centre. The grand Victorian buildings almost make you feel that you are in England. It is really pleasant strolling around in this area with the sea and the Gateway of India close by. Cricket is a popular sport in India and there is a vast ‘green’ area called the Maidan where you see various teams playing or practising, many in their cricket ‘whites’.
We took a boat to Elephanta Island about an hour away where there are about seven rock-cut caves dating to between the 5th and 8th centuries. Five are Hindu dedicated to Shiva and two are Buddhist.
On entering the main cave you see a gigantic three headed statue of Shiva representing his masculine and feminine faces. Another World UNESCO Heritage site, the island was called Gharapuri until Portuguese rule began in 1534 and the Portuguese renamed it Elephanta because of a huge stone elephant at the entrance to the caves. The statue is now in a museum. Instead of a stone elephant guarding the caves, there are lots of monkeys.
We saw this one making a little hole in a bottle of water and drinking out of it. Smart monkey!
Incidentally, speaking of the Portuguese, the previous name of Mumbai which was Bombay is reputed to come from the Portuguese ‘bom baim’ which means good harbour. Undoubtedly a good harbour as Mumbai is now a city of over 20 million people.
A fascinating city of extreme contrasts, slums next to modern high rises; a population from all over India wearing traditional garb to haute couture; a mixture of intoxicating smells: jasmine and urine, spices and shit; obesity clinics with beggars and homeless on the street outside; children doing their school homework on the sidewalk.
In Bombay, anything is possible and Bollywood fires your dreams!