March 28, 2012 – First day in Mumbai, India
Growing up, we called this city Bombay – apparently it is correctly known as Mumbai.
The cruise terminal in Mumbai
The Gateway to India – built to honor the visit of King George
I have to confess to some apprehension about this visit. I guess I have been preconditioned by our earlier ports in India, by other passengers and my own misinformation, to expect enormous crowds, waves of beggars and vendors and general difficulty in getting around and dealing with people. Indeed it was difficult making it through immigration and the horde of taxi drivers outside the gate was astonishing. There are 90,000 taxis in Mumbai, and I think most of them were at the gate. Our destination this morning was the ferry to Elephanta Island which departs just outside the Gateway to India, or India Gate as the locals refer to it. We negotiated a fare with the driver (no meters) and took the short ride to the ferry landing. Two notes about taxi fares in India- 1) the drivers have the upper hand – they know where you are going and 2) no matter what you negotiate, someone on the ship will tell you they got it for half that amount.
The crew on the ferry to Elephanta
Elephanta Island is about 10 miles from Mumbai, about a 45 minute boat ride, and is filled with caves containing dozens of sculptured Hindu statues. It probably was, at some time, used as a temple of sorts.
The entrance to Elephanta caves
These caves and the statuary in them were carved out of solid rock in the sixth century. Many of the pieces were removed through the years to museums. Climbing to the caves is steep and hot, through a gauntlet of vendors, and the caves were a refreshing cool respite at the top.
Additional residents of Elephanta – Monkeys & Cows. The monkeys are aggressive and so are the sacred cows, both being after food when they see a tourist with some or even reaching in their bags.
Returning from Elephanta, we went to the Taj Mahal Hotel, next to India Gate, and made reservations for lunch for the next day. The Taj is a first class hotel (I don’t even want to know the prices) and apparently is a favorite of business people from all over the world. It was like dropping in to a different world for a few minutes.
The restaurant at the Taj
After leaving the Taj Mahal Hotel, we walked about 2 blocks to a street noted for its markets. It is hard to describe what it is like “wading” through these streets, where there are markets actually on the street. Two or three people at a time are constantly beseeching you to buy bracelets, peacock feather fans, colored world maps, gold bracelets, hats, and any number of other items you must have and this is combined with women and children carrying babies asking for donations. It is truly overwhelming. The photo looks like it was inside a shop – it is a sidewalk.
Mumbai Street Scenes
After walking a few blocks we began searching for a place for lunch (maybe a McDonalds?) and spotted the ship’s Hotel Officer and his wife having lunch. They waved us over and told us that they came to this restaurant every time they were in Mumbai – It was called Leopold’s, and like most places we have seen in India had open windows and ceiling fans. It looked like it had been an English pub in a previous life and was jam packed with both tourists and locals. We had mixed results – the curried chicken marsala was too hot for Sally but the local bread called Nan was delicious. It was like a giant tortilla, cooked with cheese and garlic. After lunch and some shopping we found the Prince of Wales Museum and spent some time there. I had expected a historical museum, but it turned out to be a museum focused on Hindu relics, so we didn’t stay too long.
Alternative to the taxis.
An apartment with a balcony