March 28, 2012 – First day in Mumbai, India
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.
Notice the vendor behind Sally – he has a camera and printer in his hand and sells instant photos! The Gateway to India was built to welcome King George V and Queen Mary to India in 1911.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We enjoyed (?) a comical search for the post office and after receiving several contradicting directions, and some wandering through the court and jail building we found a sub-station of the post office that didn’t really sell stamps. We decided to head back to the ship and after a rather tense negotiation with a taxi driver, and a conversation with him and the police, we made it the port, through the platoons of immigration soldiers, and back to our ship. I would label our first day in Mumbai as “survival”. Dinner on board and early turn in – resting for a better day tomorrow.