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marianne Mumbai - A travel report by Marianne
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Mumbai,  India - flag India -  Mahåråshtra
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marianne's travel reports

Mumbai: City of Extremes

  19 votes
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Mumbai: world’s largest city with world’s largest shanti-town, home to India’s richest and poorest; packed with 16 million people on 440 sq km. A city that beats all records.

Mumbai skyline seen from Haji Ali Mosque
Mumbai skyline seen from Haji Ali Mosque
Red double-deck buses, neoclassical colonnades of Horniman Circle, domes and spires of Victoria Terminus, colonial architecture of the GPO (post office). It looks so familiar: this is London in the tropics.

But there is a difference. Mumbai is more crowded, more chaotic, squalid and above all loud and noisy but not the ordeal I thought it would be. On the contrary I enjoyed this frenzied and overpopulated city.

Mumbai is an island connected to the mainland by bridges. The southern end: Colabra, Fort District and the Maidans are considered the city centre. From here it is 30 km to the airports. (see tips, secret places

People in Mumbai are in eternal motion. They whizz around in red or yellow double-deckers and in fast moving local trains, filled to bursting. We restricted ourselves to buses and taxis.

Taxis have metres but these have not been adapted to current prices. Instead conversion tables are used. Before boarding we asked the driver for these tables, if he couldn’t show them we went to another taxi.

Our hotel was close to CTS train station (Chhatrapati Sivaji Terminus), also know as Victoria Terminus. The following two buses were useful (they have a stop at CTS train station):
# 124 via Crawford Market, Central station to Haji Ali Mosque
# 103 via Crawford Maket, Hanging Gardens to Chowpatty Beach.

Bombay or Mumbai? Marine Drive or Nataji Subhas Chandra Bose Road? Victoria Terminus or Chhatrapati Sivaji Terminus?

The Hindu Nationalist party decided that traditional names would sound better than colonial names. The name switch took place in 1995 but until today old and new names are used side by side.

My choice of Mumbai’s must-sees.
1. Vicoria Terminus and Post Office
2. Horniman Circle and Asiatic Society Library
3. Maidans and cricket
4. University and High Courts
5. Bazaars and Crawford market
6. Chowpatty Beach and Malabar Hill
7. Gateway of India
8. View from bus # 103 to Haji Ali Mosque

Favourite spots:
spires, gargoyles, turrets and domes that festoon the exterior
spires, gargoyles, turrets and domes that festoon the exterior
Victoria Terminus:
A vast sea of commutors, vendors, porters and beggars. I wonder if they ever look at the spires, gargoyles, turrets and domes that festoon the exterior. The British lion and the Indian tiger stand guard at the entrance. Late afternoon is the best time as the light is perfect for photos. The more I look the more details I see. Mythical beasts, monkeys, medallions of important persons adorn the walls. I especially like the stained glass windows with elephants, which prove that I am not in London after all.

Horniman Circle:
A replica of London’s Park Crescent. Its neoclassical colonnade faces a small park and is flanked by the Asiatic Society Library, a gleaming white building. Broad stone steps lead to the entrance. Inside little has changed since colonial days. Teak book cases line the walls. The books are old and dusty. Students bend over mouldering tomes. In the all-India-newspapers corner men study their local paper and read what happened at home.

What's really great:
High Court: corkscrew pillars directed transplanted from Venice
High Court: corkscrew pillars directed transplanted from Venice
The Victorian buildings along Oval and Azad Maidan made me once again feel as if I were in London. Soft thuds and enthusiatic cheers of the batting team attracted my attention. I joined the fans to see which team had the better bowlers.

When I looked at the buildings that line the Maidan I found it difficult to decide which was more extravagant the University or the High Courts. The corkscrew pillars of the High Court attracted my eye. They looked as if directedly transplanted from Venice. The interior of the university reading room with its vaulted ceiling, Gothic windows with stained glass were also truly Italian in character.

Chowpatty Beach is a sweep of sand bordered by Marine drive, and the best place to eat bhel puri; crisp-fried bread mixed with rice, lentils and vermicelli. A cluster of foodstalls on the beach sells bhel puri or ice-cream. During the day there is a trickle of clientele but at sunset the beach is in full swing.

Chowpatty Beach
Chowpatty Beach
From Chowpatty Beach it is a short climb up Malabar Hill, where Mumbai’s well-heeled live. Once many colonial masions speckled the hillside. These days only few managed to weather demolition. High-rise, high-rent appartment blocks have filled up the empty spaces.

The Hanging Garden and Kamala Nehru Park are laid out on top of Malabar Hill. It is a favourite place of old people, families and young couples who come to walk among the topiary, sit on the benches or lounge on the lawn. Bus # 106 from Colaba and # 108 from Victoria Terminus terminate here.

Visit the gardens only if you have time on hand or if you are desperate for fresh air. I found the bus ride far more interesting than the garden itself.

Waiting for cargo
Waiting for cargo

Hotel City Palace seemed a good choice as it is opposite Victoria Terminus and therefore easy to find. It is a favourite of European backpackers and we arrived, late in the afternoon, all that was left was a poky room, with no windows and a dungeon smell at Rs1350. (€24). We saw another room 3x3m, including the bathroom, far too small for two people and much overpriced at Rs 1375. No other hotel nearby, the receptionist assured us.

But one block further in SBS Road is Hotel Oasis. A very small but air conditioned reception and a lift to the 3rd – 6th floor for the rooms at Rs 780 (€16) The hotel has recently been renovated and is clean and bright. Very friendly management, close to the Post-Office and Victoria Station (and therefore easy to find back)

See 'tips' for the address of more hotels, including hotels near the airport.

crowded market district
crowded market district
This is not about nightlife but about the bazaars.

Right behind Victoria terminus begins the market district, a warren of twisting alleys hemmed in by wooden-balconied buildings. It is in sharp contrast with the orderly westernised streets of Fort and Colabra districts.

Everywhere people shouting out or shouting at me ‘taxi’ or ‘want guide?’, all of them jostling past, laughing, chatting and swaying around. A grubby boy tugs my skirt begging for money, an ice-cream in his hand.

Crawford market is an old British style covered market dealing in fresh food and about every kind of domestic animal, alive or dead. The main hall is divided into different sections. Merchants sit behind an array of vegetables and pyramids of polished fruit. The next aisle is stuffed with sacks of rice, lentils and tea. A whiff of cinnamon wafts towards me. Plastic containers spill over with herbs and spices. The air is laden with scent.

A cow attached to a railing means I am near a temple
A cow attached to a railing means I am near a temple
The streets immediately north of Crawford Market show the traditional division of guilds and religion. Most streets specialise in one or two type of merchandise. I breast-stroke through the crowd, past cobbler’s workshops that smell of polish and tanned hide. Shops display a jumble of clothes, plastic houseware and colourful containers. Others are draped with silks and cottons.

Pot-bellied cows attached to railings and sweet smelling yasmine garlands mean that I am close to a temple. A statue of Bhudda sits on an altar. A row of candles burns on a low shelf in front of the shrine. They are fed by ghee, clarified butter, bought next door.

By now I have lost my bearings. I turn round and retrace my steps, recognise some shops, some lanes. I am entangled in the maze of alleys, seem to be walking in circles, until I see the dome of Victoria terminus.

Portuguese style houses with shady verandas
Portuguese style houses with shady verandas
See 'tips' for restaurants.

Kotachiwadi is a tiny vilage within Mumbai. Its narrow streets are lined with Portuguese style houses characterised by curling staircases and slope in tiles roofs. Youngster play cricket, cars circumnavigate the game, women hang out their washing and an elderly bespectacled gentleman sat reading his afternoon newspaper.

East Indian Christians of mixed Portuguese and Indian origin settled here in the 19th century. This small area is a world far removed hectic, frentic, chaotic Mumbai with its slums and sky scrapers.

Head for St Teresa's Church, (behind Chowpatty Beach) cross JSS Street. The narrow streets on your left branch several times to form the village of Kotachiwadi. The wooden houses with their trellised verandas and Lillipution courtyards look very inviting. Many of these houses have been demolished to make way for modern concrete apartment blocks.The remaing 28 houses are under threat of being swallowed up by greedy builders.

Other recommendations:
piles of coins in front of him
piles of coins in front of him
The gleaming white dome and minarets of Haji Ali Mosque stand out against the blue sky, begging to be photographed.

The mosque is built on an island in the Arabian Sea. The causeway leading to the entrance is festooned with beggers on one side and souvenir sellers on the other.

When we pass, meals have just been handed out and the beggers are tucking in and have no time or inclination to beg.

The mosque looks less exotic when I get closer. Flaking paint and leaking roofs cry out for major repairs. Inside pilgrims flock around the tomb of Haji Ali.

When we walk back, empty plastic bowls and abandoned spoons show that mealtime is over. The beggars have returned to begging.

Alms giving is one of the pillars of Islam. It has been made easy for the faithful because money changers sit among the beggers at regular intervals, a tray with piles of coins in front of them.

I change a banknote and the change goes a long way.

Published on Wednesday July 19th, 2006

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Thu, Feb 22 2007 - 09:32 PM rating by travler

Even though I was only here for a few days your excellent report showed me what I missed.

Sat, Oct 14 2006 - 08:42 AM rating by dantrenner

As one who lives here, I'm happy to give you five stars. Great report! Dan

Wed, Aug 09 2006 - 02:58 AM rating by gloriajames

Great report and pics! Excellent.

Fri, Jul 21 2006 - 11:12 PM rating by mamielle

An other great report Marianne and beautiful pics

Thu, Jul 20 2006 - 02:01 AM rating by magsalex

Great report

Wed, Jul 19 2006 - 11:18 PM rating by rangutan

Another excellent report on a city most international tourists and travellers forget about visiting but reading this report it seems to offer quite a lot.

Wed, Jul 19 2006 - 02:53 PM rating by mistybleu

A very intersting report

Wed, Jul 19 2006 - 01:51 PM rating by downundergal

Another great report for your Indian collection. It seems it is always the same in Asia especially with their monuments & historic areas, if it is not knocked down & rebuilt it is left until it falls down beyond repair.
A good read and it is definately still on my wish list.

Wed, Jul 19 2006 - 10:18 AM rating by st.vincent

A fascinating city Marianne, but if it is busier and hotter than London I'm not sure I'd like it. Mind you London was around 35c today!!

I read recently that the bureaucrats want to change the name of the snack Bombay Mix to Mumbai Mix - crazy

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