Courtney is “under the weather” today so Deb goes alone on the shore excursion to see the marvels of Mumbai. Formerly known as Bombay, the tour guide explains that the name was officially changed from Bombay to Mumbai in 1995 in an effort to erase signs of British influence on the city.
Our first stop is outside Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus). It is one of India’s most elegant Imperial buildings with an extraordinary conglomeration of domes, spires, Corinthian columns and minarets. The first train left from this station in 1853. Today half a million commuters use this station every day.
The tour guide explains that Mumbai is a city of contrasts yet it all works well together. Traffic is organized chaos but there is no aggression, no road-rage. Modern skyscrapers rise next to century old buildings. Poor and rich cultures co-exist within the same neighborhood. For example, we observe a poor man getting a haircut across the street from an exclusive club. Religions freely practice their unique practices. Hindus walk their cows through the streets and tie them up in front of the local temple to receive offerings. The Parsi community does not believe in cremating or embalming the dead. Instead it continues the practice of placing its dead in grated towers called Dokhmas (Towers of Silence). Here the dead perform their final duty on this earth by feeding the birds.
We stop at the Dhobi Ghat on the banks of the local river. Each morning, men called dhobi-wallahs do laundry. These estimated 8,000 men pick-up clients’ laundry and bring it here to soap, soak, boil, and thrash it in large stone sinks. After being air-dried, pressed, folded and wrapped, the bundles are returned to their owners usually a week later. The secret that keeps the operation running smoothly is the coded symbol that is placed on every item. Invisible to the untrained eye, this mark ensures that items are rarely lost. In fact, only 1 out of every 100 items is lost.
Mahatma Gandhi, a peace activist who advocated end to British rule, is considered the father of India. In Mumbai, he called Mani Bhawan home between 1917 and 1934. It is now a museum that tells Gandhi’s life story in books, photos and dioramas. A sitting room and bedroom are preserved showing some of his personal items including a spinning wheel.
We travel along Marine Drive, Mumbai’s graceful seaside boulevard and promenade. Not too many people are there in the early morning but it is a favorite spot in the evening among the locals. At night, it is known as the Queen’s Necklace because of its glittering lights.
Next, we stop to visit the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum). The beautiful building, with its white Mughal-style dome by architect George Wittet, houses collections of religious statues, Indian paintings and Mughal Empire weapons.
Our final stop is the Gateway of India, the city’s most famous landmark. This Indo-Saracenic archway was built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. It was originally conceived as an entry point for passengers arriving on steamers from England; today it is remembered more often as the place from which the British staged their final departure.