Mumbai was formerly known as Bombay when it was under British rule. In 1662 Charles II of England married Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess. As part of the dowry, England received the islands which made up Mumbai. It was leased to the British East India Company for 10 pounds per year. It is the wealthiest and most populous city in India and the fourth most populous city in the world with a population of 20.5 million.
The colonial waterfront monument of the Gateway to India is considered the entrance to Mumbai. The arch was built to commemorate the visit of Britain’s King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. It is the place where the last detachment of British troops embarked in 1947 marking the end of imperial rule. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is located on the waterfront near it. After the Parsi industrialist J. N. Tata was refused entry to the British Watson’s Hotel (since closed), he built the Taj Hotel in 1903. The hotel and other sites were attacked by terrorists from Pakistan in 2008, killing 173 people. The last terrorist was executed by the Indian government recently.
Built in the 1880’s Victoria Terminus, the railway station, is one of India’s most elegant imperial buildings. Although rail service began in the 1850’s, the building opened for Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. On a street lined residential street we found Mahatma Gandhi’s home which is now a museum and bookshop. The park fields are filled with cricket players on Sundays.
The Hanging Gardens are gardens built on top of the city’s large water reservoir. They are adjacent to the Parsi community’s Towers of Silence in which cadavers are hung for vultures to devour in accord with Parsee tradition.
Known as “the Queen’s Necklace” Marine Drive lines Back Bay. Chowpatty Beach is the gathering place for residents, an endless stream of Mumbai life passes from one end to the other throughout the day. It is exceptionally crowded at night.
Departing from the Gateway of India, ferries take passengers for the 45 minute ride to Elephanta Island. UNESCO recognized the caves which were sculpted between the 5th and 8th centuries. The carvings are dedicated to the god Shiva, creator and destroyer. We were there on Shiva’s birthday, a festival day and exceptionally crowded. Small boats filled to over capacity with standing passengers were arriving continuously while we were there.
Day 1 Tour
Sue organized the tour with Namaste City Tours, http://www.namastecitytour.com Our guide was Vasu firstname.lastname@example.org The cost was 2350 rupees plus tips (approximately $47 US plus tips), including lunch.
We took the ferry to Elephanta Island; quite a pleasant cruise. After the majority climbed to the caves and back, we had beers (Foster’s, $3 US) in the local restaurant before returning to the ferry. Thank you, Jeff, for footing the bill!
After a delightful lunch at the Indian Summer Restaurant, we continued the city tour. We saw the Dhobi Ghats (laundry), the Fisherman Village (where the terrorists landed in 2008), Marine Drive which becomes the Queen’s Necklace at night, the Hanging Gardens, the high point view of Mumbai, the Towers of Silence, Gandhi House, Victoria Terminus train station, and much more. We arrived back at the East Gate of the port about 6 p.m.
Night 1 Tour
During the day, we arranged a private tour in the evening for 6 of us with Vasu for $20 pp. This was the best value and the best tour of the voyage! Jeff, Joyce, Sue, Mike, David, and I piled into an SUV with Vasu driving and guiding. We visited the Red Light District to see lovely women in saris plying their wares. Prostitution is legal in Mumbai. It was reminiscent of Amsterdam. The pay-to- use toilets were open, the stalls readily seen. Wine shops were doing a great business.
We drove through the Muslim slum where families of 12 or so live in closet sized houses. There is one public toilet for 1400 people. Open cooking fires were at the street side. Apparently the electricity is pirated; televisions were plentiful.
The city came alive at night. Streets were thronged with people. You do not want to drive in Mumbai! On Marine Drive, we saw an Indian wedding whose guests numbered in the thousands and was held in a cricket field and club.
Finally we stopped at the InterContinental Hotel on Marine Drive. We went up to the top floor to the Dome, an open air bar and restaurant. The evening was perfect. Gentle breeze, stars bright, view of the Queen’s Necklace fantastic. One vodka and tonic: $16 USD!!
Day 2 Tour
Again we had pre-arranged with Vasu for a shopping excursion. Sue, Ine, and I met Vasu at the Green Gate at noon. He had a car and a driver. Taking us to various shops, he escorted us shopping while our driver stayed with the car. We visited Crawford Market and Cottage Industries Emporium among others. We stopped at Starbucks India, the most elegant Starbucks I have ever seen, where Sue treated us all to beverages. Three hours later, we were exhausted from shopping and returned to the Green Gate.
The big screen movie in the showroom was Life of Pi, the story of a 16 year old boy whose passage on a freighter ends in a shipwreck in the Pacific and he is left to fend for himself. Although this book was released several years ago, I had no desire to read the book or see the film. However, Sandy, Sue, and I decided to give it a try. We all agreed it was superb!
We are now back in pirate waters and taking precautions. Next stop is Oman.