Today is our Mumbai tour with Fabian. We started us off in the Fort area with a showing of some of the historical buildings and the beautiful St. Thomas Church, formerly Anglican and now used by the Church of Northern India whose rites are essentially Anglican. The church has many beautiful marble tombs and the most interesting ceiling fan system I have seen. It was a perfect stop for the two of us. I could photograph the details and Boris could explore the British history.
We once again saw the Gateway of India, but this time went inside the Taj Mahal Palace hotel next door. Jamsetji Tataan, an Indian industrialist who was refused accommodations in a local European-run hotel, built the hotel, which opened in 1903 and predates the Gateway by 21 years. Ironically, most of the guests we saw appeared to be of European or American. We even ran into Frank and Janet who were checking into the hotel. With the view of the Gateway and the waterway, it is the perfect location. The hotel was the site of a terrorist attack at the hands of four gunmen in 2008 and as a result, security is heavy.
We passed many former British military barracks, in some cases still used by the Indian army, on our way to the memorial church for those who served in the Afghan and Sikh wars. Fabian applied to the caretaker who unlocked the door so we could take a look. The caretaker told us that the current parish is very small with only 30-40 members. The names of officers are carved into marble panels on the wall. The church dedication is to those officers, non-commissioned officers, and private soldiers who served from 1838-1843 and in 1848.
The names of the commemorated military personnel are listed by regiment. Some of the original regimental flags can be seen in glass cases at the back of the church. As you walk in, you pass the thick rope still used to ring the bells by hand. Most interesting were the special notches in the pews where the soldiers rested their rifles.
All along the way through Mumbai, Fabian pointed out landmarks and historical spots to us. He was very quick to access our interest and tailored the tour to our reactions. The things he showed us served as a backdrop to the history and culture he shared. Not on the original itinerary, he even stopped at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Name, the site of Pope Paul VI’s and Pope John Paul II’s visits. Appropriately, there is a bell named “Paulina” commemorating Pope Paul’s visit and a statute of John Paul II presented by the envoy of Pope Benedict on the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s visit. In contrast to the Anglican and Church of North India places of worship, the Cathedral was very colorful with painted scenes on all the walls and lots of stained glass, even on the opened windows.
From here we passed by other historic buildings including the High Court, Chhatrapati Shivji (formerly Victoria) Terminus-the very large and very busy train station and UNESCO World Heritage Site-and the University of Mumbai, among others. It is a holiday in Mumbai, Maharashtra Day, celebrating the creation of the state of Maharashtra where Mumbai is located. We saw many park areas filled with Indians playing cricket, perhaps the most popular sport in the country. When we asked Fabian about the sport he said that “cricket is a gentlemen’s game and there are no gentlemen left in India.”
After a drive along Marine Park Drive, we drove to the Malabar Hill District, arguably the most exclusive residential area of the city, and applied to visit a Jain Temple. Services were in progress and so we were unable to go in. Our next stop was the park with it beautiful gardens and topiaries built on top of a reservoir, the Banganga Tank. Fabian took our picture at the Hanging Gardens overlooking the Arabian Sea. We passed the Parsi Tower of Silence, slightly visible among the trees. Traditionally, those of the Parsi faith did not bury their dead, but left them out for the vultures in these tower structures. This ritual exposure is a fast-fading tradition.
Our next visit was to the Gandhi House where Mahatma Gandhi was held under house arrest. It is a small home in a middle class neighborhood with exhibits and photographs celebrating his life. We ran into many other tour groups there from our ship and once again enjoyed the speed and selectivity of our private tour with Fabian.
We drove next into one of the older and poorer sections of the city. Our stop along the bridge allowed us to see the work of those people with the contracts with smaller hotels and restaurants for the washing of their linens. There are troughs for the washing and then the linens and clothing are hung in the sun to dry. Clearly, it is done in color groups and stretches on for blocks and blocks.
Fabian took us next to what for me was one of the cultural highlights of the day, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, established in 1855 and the second oldest museum in Mumbai. The museum is next to the zoo and current home to the statute for which Elephanta Island got it’s name. (The elephant statute is actually outside just to the right of the museum entrance.) Fabian wisely made our first stop the documentary presentation on the restoration of the museum and its artifacts. While the famous Prince of Wales Museum focuses on history, the City Museum focuses on culture. The building itself is lovely. When you see what it looked like before restoration, you will be amazed. On your visit note the original floor tiles, turnstiles, and wood and glass display cases.
It was finally time for lunch. Fabian took us to the Copper Chimney. It is a very popular restaurant with an extensive buffet and usually a quick in and out. Since it was a holiday, it was full of families and we actually had to wait 20-30 minutes for our table. Even though it cut into our tour time, I didn’t mind; we had already seen a lot and it was nice to sit down for a while in the cool air conditioning. Other than the naan (bread), I didn’t recognize a single thing on the buffet, although everything was named. The solution…try a little of most things and go back for more of what I liked. This was a great theory, but I liked every single thing I tried. Natasha cleaned her plate and somehow found room for dessert too.
After lunch we had limited time so Fabian took us to Bandra, “the Queen of the (Mumbai) Suburbs” where he grew up and in route to the airport. Formerly mostly Christian, it is now home to many groups. The high-priced accommodations along the seafront promenade are home to several Bollywood stars and we saw groupies camped out in hopes of a glance.
Our first stop in Bandra was the Mount Mary Church, a pilgrimage site for people of many faiths. In front of the Basilica there are vendors selling garlands of flowers and candles to be purchased as an offering. Across the street, a circular staircase leads up to another small shrine with a view out to the sea. This time I was the rock star; a father approached Fabian to see if I would be willing to take a picture with his son.
We made another stop at the Bandra Fort with a lovely view of the city of Mumbai and the new Sea Link, a cable-stay bridge connecting Bandra to South Mumbai that we had driven across. The fort is also a holiday picnic area and was full of people today. Restoration of a bandstand is currently underway. Formerly a haven for drug dealers, much effort has been put in to clean up the area. We enjoyed the lovely setting.
On our way out of Bandra, Fabian diverted off the main rooms and through the winding streets of the villages that were the original settlements of Bandra now completely obscured by the higher, more modern buildings. There were shrines to The Virgin Mary every block or two, testament to the area’s Catholic heritage. Having seen much more than we thought we could pack into one day and thoroughly pleased with the job Fabian had done for us, we headed to the airport for our flight to Delhi. Tomorrow is the Taj Mahal.