Monday, April 20, 2009


...felt different than the other cities I've been to in India.  Most of it is because it's a more business-focused city, the financial hub, much like New York would be.  The bustle of business people moving about felt more focused and less chaotic than Bangalore or Delhi.  It's also by the sea, the first time I'd experienced the ocean here.

The ocean means many things.  It means there are fishing communities, and the slums that accompany this industry.  It creates a shore, that defining edge of land that evokes perspective and a sense of openness.  It enables landmarks like Mumbai's Gateway of India, a monument to "the landing of their imperial majesties", the king and queen, in 1911.  And it means it's humid as all get out.

You can take a one-hour boat ride to Elephanta Island, site of many ancient caves, one of which still has amazing carvings hidden inside.  There are actually three villages on the island, a captive population to hawk the many trinkets and clothes ubiquitous at such tourist destinations.

Having just finished the book Shantaram, I knew many of the names and landmarks of the city, but with no reference to geographical location - it was interesting filling in my orientation with the legendary Leopold's, Colaba Causeway, Marine Drive, and others.  I stayed close enough to be able to walk to many of the sightseer's destinations, but far enough from the tourist area to disassociate 
myself from it.  I hate staying in tourist areas.

There are an incredible number of old British-raj-era buildings that may still be in use, to some extent, but are in the inexorable process of mouldering and falling down.  It's a bit like one of those movies where humanity has abandoned a city - plants and vines creeping up walls, watermarks staining the outside walls, dust and decay setting into the books and furniture inside.  My sister would love it.

Next to all this, of course, are skyscrapers and innumerable miles of congested residential maze - I took the train 45 minutes north of downtown to meet Harsh, injured cyclist from the Sikkim ride, and other friends of friends living in the more populated suburbs and witnessed, among other things, the Oberoi mall.  Walking in was weird - I could have been in any bright fancy mall anywhere else in the world.

Hilarious observation of the week: Apparently the trend of artistic decoratings of some theme animal has arrived in Mumbai.  But what animal for a city in India?  The water buffalo, of course.  A series of brightly-painted offerings were displayed in a tiny garden near Churchgate station.  Ha!!  Gotta love it.

I didn't get to a couple of things like the Haji Ali mosque and a museum or two - have to save something for the next time...

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