Mumbai (Bombay), INDIA
28 Mar 2007
|28th March 2007
Mumbai is built on a series of seven islands [Colaba, Wadala, Mahim, Parel, Mazagaon, Old Woman's Island and Matungasion] that form the city districts. A series of reclamation projects linked the archipelago into a peninsula. Once part of the Ashoka Kingdom, the lands passed through the hands of Hindi rulers until 1343, when Muslims [Mohammedans] of Gujarat took control. They ruled for two centuries, but Mahim Mosque is their only visible legacy. By the 16th century, Portuguese troops had established trading centres along the Arabian Seacoast. They took Mumbai by force and built it up with structures like colonial St. Andrew's. Portuguese settlers influenced development in many ways. They gave the city its European name, calling it Bom Baia [good bay]. The official name is now once again Mumbai, but some people still use the colonial name. Koli natives called their islands Mumba in honour of Mumbadevi, a Hindu deity. A temple dedicated to Mumbadevi stands at Babulnath near Chowpatty's sandy beaches. India is only about a third the size of Europe, yet its population is one billion people, fully one sixth of the world's population. More religions are practiced on a larger scale in India than in any other nation. Hinduism is the main faith 80%, but there are also Zorastrians, Moslems 14% [because of population, there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan], Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Parsee's and Christians 2% to list a few. Mumbai is the nation's financial centre and pays 25% of the total taxes of the country.
We docked in Mumbai at the Ballard Pier extension at about 6am. We had decided our tour of the city was to be one of Indian culture and history. Our guide was called Venita and she was in her early forties with two teenage children who on her own admission never took any advice from her.
The city has a population of 15 million with another 2-3 million people commuting to work every morning by train, [the journey for some 4 hours each way].
The absence of rubbish on the sidewalks and streets was a welcome contrast to Goa and Cochin, although beggars were more prolific. All 5000 yellow and black taxis are powered by compressed natural gas. Property dilapidation is attributed to rent control, but I suspect this is simply code for poverty. There are numerous cricket pitches [hockey the national sport but cricket the best paid], which are occupied at lunch time and if not being used at night are being watered by 15 ton brightly coloured water trucks. The beach and promenade are empty during the day but host thousands of young men and women at night. [The Indians prefer to enjoy the beach when it's not so hot. Indian tourists use the beach during the day but always go into the sea fully clothed!!]
Rush hour at night is a sight to behold, with what seems to be millions of pedestrians making their way home or to a local bar. Our first stop was at 19 Laburnum Rd, Gamdevi, Mumbai. The house belonged to Ghandi's friend and Ghandi always stayed there when in Mumbai, now a Ghandi museum. It was here we saw his meagre possessions including a mattress, his spinning wheel, walking stick and a knife and fork with plate. He kept three books in his bedroom and these were the Bible, Koran and the Hindu Gita.
We learned about his life, his values and how in spite of never holding formal office changed the history of a nation and the British Empire. I read with great feeling his speech he delivered in London in September 1931 during his visit for the first Round Table conference. His words explain why he believes in God and are so simple but so compelling you cannot fail to be moved by them. I will include them as an annex to my journal.
On our way to the Gateway of India we passed by the Victoria railway station [now renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus] which was built in the 1880's in the style of St Pancras and is considered to be one of the most elegant imperial buildings in India. It handles over 1100 trains per day, two of which are reserved for women passengers and 5 million people per day, [passengers are not able to shut the doors].
The waterfront monument known as the Gateway of India was built 15 years after George V and Queen Mary announced the capital of British India would be moved from Calcutta to New Delhi in 1911.
As we crossed the Mahalaxmi Bridge we stopped for a photo shoot of the famous Dhobi Ghat, an open-air laundry where from sunrise to just before sunset thousands of men labour to clean the clothes of the city dwellers.
Our penultimate visit was to the magnificent Prince of Wales museum which houses artefacts dating back several hundred years BC on three levels. The exhibits include stone carvings, fine paintings, ceramics, military memorabilia and tapestries. The exhibition made me realise how a nation sees itself in the context of its near neighbours and how its historical relationships with these countries shaped its fortunes and its future.
The final visit before returning to the ship was to the sculptured Hanging Gardens and the Parsee community's Seven Towers of Silence which are adjacent. It is here dead bodies are hung for vultures to devour in accordance with Parsee tradition. This is considered their last act of charity on earth and prevents the body from contaminating the soil, sea or fire.
The day had involved us returning to the ship for a meal and then seeing the city by night. We fell to sleep believing we had genuinely attempted to learn a little more about this enigmatic country. We set sail for the Seychelles tonight.