WOW, WOW & WHOA!!! This is the only simple way to describe Mumbai, a big, bustling city with over 21 million people; multiculturalism personified. Markets & bazaars are on every sidewalk, traffic is grid-locked most of the time, car horns beep incessantly & a taxi ride is a white knuckle experience. The colonial-era, art deco architecture is grand, however pollution has dimmed the once proud facades & many are in sad disrepair. The traditional & contemporary collide, many women wear beautiful saris, others western style. One can’t help observe that this is definitely a male dominated society with what appears a 10:1 ratio of men to women, with the men travelling in packs.
We are staying in the south Mumbai area known as Colaba, where many of the main tourist sites are easily within walking distance. High on the list of all visitors is the iconic & famous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Built in 1903 & fully restored after the 2008 terrorist attacks, one can easily see why it is known as India’s second most photographed monument. Needless to say we checked it out, but not before undergoing a security check similar to the airport – needless to say security remains high.
The ‘Gateway of India’ is directly across the street & is a colonial-styled archway which faces the Mumbai harbour. Built to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V, it wasn’t completed until 1924. We visited the site on our first day (a Saturday) & the crowds were huge, with many touts vying to tour us around the city or sell us something. It is a favourite gathering spot for the locals, who apparently like to take ‘selfies’ with older Caucasians! The many requests for pictures, or those taken surreptitiously, made us feel like Bollywood stars. This is also the launch point for boats to Elephanta Island, a Unesco World Heritage site. A one-hour boat ride took us to the island known for a labyrinth of cave temples with impressive Hindu carvings.
We hired a guide to take the city tour to see many of the sights not listed in our guide-book but obviously near & dear to the locals. The pictures will give a glimpse of some of the sights we encountered. One of the more interesting, fascinating & heart-wrenching was a tour of the Dharavi Slum, the location of ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’. An astonishing 60% of Mumbai’s population (a blend of Muslim & Hindi) live in slums with Dharavi being the largest. It is a city-within-a-city, a maze with many sewer-lined alleys that we picked/hopped our way through. Residents pay rent, most ‘houses’ have kitchens & electricity, however water & sewage is a big issue. There are many thriving factories (~20K) in the slum – you name it, they make it or recycle it, with all wares exported making millions annually. Many families have been here for generations & many choose to stay, despite higher education. Definitely a sobering experience!
We have survived our first few days in India, but it is far different from our Asia travels to-date. One of the most frustrating is the lack of wifi! Guess we are just so dependant on this means of communication & surfing the net. We must say though we haven’t been too shocked by anything we have seen thus far, but Mumbai has tested us & the whole experience is difficult to describe. One thing we have learned in our travels though is to go just with the flow! 😄
Next stop Panjim, Goa.