Mumbai

Hectic, crowded and loud but clean, friendly and picturesque. Mumbai is the biggest city in India with a population of over 21 million. You are constantly surrounded by people, traffic and noise, but It’s worth it to see the lovely historical buildings.

This vibrant city was an important trading post for the Portuguese and then the British. The original fort is no longer standing, but the colonial architecture left behind on the former fort grounds is spectacular. We spent a few days wandering the busy streets, admiring these gorgeous buildings, fountains and parks. One of our favourite ones is Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Train Station. This extravagant Gothic building has an interesting mix of domes, spires, turrets and gargoyles. The inside was equally impressive with tall, arched passageways and vaulted ceilings. This massive building has a commanding presence on the corner and is opposite to the stately Municipal Corporate building (BMC). BMC is a large Gothic stone building with tall towers and domed ceilings. It wasn’t even listed in the guide books, but we thought it was impressive.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Snagrathalaya is an Indo-Saracenic wonder. Surrounded by a beautifully manicured garden, the long building has many minarets and a large onion-dome on the roof. It now houses a large museum. Nearby, the High Court building is a large, multi-towered stone building. Unfortunately it is surrounded by trees so it’s mostly hidden from view. Beside it is the tall, stately Rajabai clock tower. There are many other colonial buildings in the neighbourhood that are in very good condition. Most are used today as government and university buildings so we weren’t allowed inside, but we could still admire their exteriors.

Mumbai is situated on the western coast of India on the Arabian Sea. It has a lovely pedestrian walkway along the waterfront, allowing great views of the large city’s skyline. We went to Marine Drive at sunset and then stayed to see the city lights at night. It’s a popular place for Mumbai locals and tourists to hang out in the cooler evenings.

This fast-paced modern city still had a small-town India flavour. There were many street cows, delivery-bicycles and street-side cobblers to add to our street-photography compilation.

Overlooking Mumbai Harbour are two other colonial relics. The Gateway of India is a large stone archway topped with four turrets. It was built in the early 20th century and was used for official government ceremonies. Behind it is a luxury heritage hotel. Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is a large stone building with rounded balconies and red domes on the rooftop.

An hour’s ferry ride from Mumbai is an ancient Hindu site called Elephanta Caves. A series of rock-cut temples from the 5th – 8th centuries were carved into a cliff on Canon Hill. Seven temples were originally created, but only 3 have withstood the test of time. They are not as impressive as the caves in Ajanta or Ellora, but were made the same way by chiseling into solid rock. The main cave is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva so there are many large carvings of Shiva, his wife Parvati and other characters from his myths. There are sculpted columns throughout the main room with carvings at their top. On top of Canon Hill are the remains from an old military lookout. Two old British canons sit on cement platforms overlooking Mumbai’s harbour.

On the way to our next destination in the state of Rajasthan, we decided to make two quick stopovers. The 1,100 km drive would have taken 25 hours, so instead we took 3 buses with two overnight stays. Our first stop was in the important pilgrimage city of Nashik. The holy Godavari River is mentioned in ‘Ramayana’, Rama’s life story. The legend says that at this spot, Rama ordered that the nose of Ravana’s sister be chopped off. Ravana is a demon king from Sri Lanka. Being mentioned in the legend makes this a holy place for Hindus. Since we visited in the hot spring, there weren’t as many tourists at the bathing ghats, but we did see a few people washing away their sins in the holy river. Mostly though, the area was full of small tent kiosks selling religious relics, spices and old coins. The area has a lot of litter and is in a busy, unkempt part of the city.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Nashik is also home to the largest wineries in India. We went for a tour and a tasting at YORK Wineries. The vineyard has a lovely setting on a lake surrounded by small hills. At home, spring is a time for regrowth. Leaves are budding from spring showers and everything is turning green. In India, spring is hot and dry. Everything is brown as trees lose their leaves and ground cover dies. Pruning is done in September and grapes are harvested in February and March. Because of the intense sun in this area, the vines are strung on horizontal trellises which protect the grapes from being scorched.

AT YORK Wineries, we tasted five wines and were pleasantly surprised at their high quality and taste. The wines are priced very high though. The prices are similar to what we’d pay in North America for imported wine.

We had another quick stop in the large city of Ahmedabad. This city was founded in the 1400s by Muslim Sultans. There is not much left from its historical past except three old mosques and a Jain Temple. Mosques don’t have statues or idols as is common in Hindu temples, but they do have elaborate carvings and designs. Jama Masjid was built in 1424. The mosque has a large centre courtyard with a pool for washing and a male-only prayer room at one end. There were lovely carvings on some of the walls. Ahmed Shah’s Mosque from 1414 used to be the royal family’s private mosque. It is surrounded by a lovely garden and small pool. Inside the prayer hall are 152 stone pillars. Sidi Saiyyed Mosque was built in the 1500s and has beautifully carved lattice work designs on its windows. Huthee Singh Jain Temple from the 1800s has an interesting design with multiple domes around the exterior and a central dome inside.

In between the mosque and temple visits we walked through a busy local market. You could buy anything from clothes and household goods to fruits and vegetables, but it was too hot and busy for us to shop.

The federal election was taking place while we were in Ahmenabad. We weren’t sure what to expect as India is the largest democracy in the world with 900 million eligible voters. The election takes place over several months with voting occurring in different states at different times. After casting a vote, the index finger is marked with a black dot so that you can’t cast a second vote. It turns out that it was a normal day like any other, with no protests or demonstrations.

Coming up next: Udaipur – A Palace Fit For A Maharaja

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Western India. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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