Return to India, Part 2: Mumbai

To continue with the India narrative (the first post is here, in case you missed it)—after visiting Chennai, we flew to Mumbai for a four-day visit. When I originally planned our India trip—back in the spring—I thought it might be fun to visit somewhere we’d never seen before. Mumbai—a big, bustling city on the Arabian Sea—seemed like a good choice, because we’d have lots of things to do.

Mumbai – the Gateway of India and Taj Hotel, in the Colaba district.


Only after I’d made our plans did I learn we’d be traveling there in the middle of monsoon season. At this point, there was nothing we could do but bring sturdy shoes and umbrellas, and hope the rains weren’t too torrential.

Our hotel in Mumbai, The Residency (Fort), wasn’t as luxurious as the places we’d stayed at in Chennai and Mahabalipuram, but it was perfect, location-wise, being right in the heart of South Mumbai. Not only could we walk to many of the sights, but the streets outside our hotel were Vendor Central. Every day, vendors set out their wares: shoes, socks, underwear, shirts, jewelry, backpacks, watches, sunglasses, hats, umbrellas (perfect for the monsoon!), and cheap electronics. My son was very excited to find a severely discounted (and probably off-brand) set of Beats headphones for $3, as well as a Messi soccer jersey and a Dhoni cricket jersey.

On our first full day in the city, the sky looked ominous, portending heavy rains, but we decided to forge on ahead with our plans and took a ferry from Mumbai Harbor to Elephanta Island.

En route to Elephanta Island, with the Gateway of India in the background (before the rain).


Of course, this would be the one day during our trip when it actually rained, and, about halfway through the seventy-minute ferry ride, the skies opened up. We were on the top deck and got soaked, despite our umbrellas. By the time we landed on the island, the rain had stopped, but the resulting heat and humidity were like a steam bath! The path to the caves was long (all uphill) and at the top, we were met by a troupe of monkeys. The leader of the group displayed a remarkable knack for opening half-filled water bottles!

The monkeys, lying in wait for an unsuspecting group of tourists.


The rock-cut caves were well worth the long climb, as they had huge carved sculptures from the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., depicting Hindu deities. Usually we prefer to wander on our own at tourist sites, but we decided to pay for a guide. A good decision, seeing as how the guide knew a great deal about the caves, and described every figure in detail. It was a far better cry than us wandering around, squinting at the statues, and saying, “That looks like Ganesh,” or “That might be Parvati, but I’m not sure.”

Outside view of one of the Elephanta Island caves.


As luck would have it, the rest of our Mumbai visit was rain-free, although with the intense humidity, it was hard to be out in the sun for longer than an hour or two. Still, we managed to fill our days with lots of sightseeing: a visit to the famous Taj Mahal Palace hotel, the Mani Bhavan (Gandhi’s home and museum), the Chhatrapatī Shivaji Mahārāj Vastu Saṅgrahālay Museum (with an excellent exhibit on miniature painting – a personal favorite of mine), Leopold’s Cafe, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST – an historical railway station with gorgeous architecture), and Malabar Hill (with an awesome view of the city).

View of Mumbai skyline from Malabar Hill


One night, we took long walk along Marine Drive, overlooking the Arabian Sea, as the skyline darkened and the lights of the city emerged.  We also squeezed in a Bollywood movie (at the famous Regal Theatre), where we saw ABCD2 (Anybody Can Dance 2). Despite the fact that the dialogue was in Hindi (no subtitles), we followed along pretty well. Luckily, montages, song & dance numbers, and “dark night of the soul” moments are pretty much universal, whatever the language!

In the end, Mumbia was definitely worth the visit. It gave off a different vibe from Chennai, but it was fun to try a new place.

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