Our armchair travels now take us to the west coast of India and the large, sprawling city Mumbai formerly called Bombay. The city is famous for being home to the Hindi-language Bollywood film industry.
The Gateway of India is an impressive arch that faces toward Mumbai Harbor. It was built incorporating the Islamic styles of 16th century Gujarat. This arch was built to commemorate the royal visit of King George V in 1911 however it was not completely finished until 1924. The gateway has become a popular gathering spot for locals and for people-watching. This is the spot where you can see it all from giant balloon sellers to photographers to vendors and so much more. In March you can participate in the Elephanta Festival with classical dancers and musicians. Every day boats depart from the gateway wharf for Elephanta Island.
Take a trip to Elephanta Island which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was created between 450 and 750 A.D. and the labyrinth of cave temples represent some of India’s most amazing temple carvings. The main temple is dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer, creator and preserver of the universe. The Portuguese named the island Elephanta because of a large stone elephant near the shore. It collapsed in 1814 and the British moved it to Mumbai’s Jijamata Udyan garden. You’ll find a small museum on site which offers informative pictorial panels of the origin of the caves. When exploring it is advisable to purchase Pramod Chandra’s A Guide to the Elephanta Caves. Once you have arrived you can walk or take a miniature train to the caves. Along the way are souvenir stalls and curious monkeys to guide you.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus certainly a mouthful and difficult to pronounce. This is Mumbai’s most impressive Gothic building and monumental train station. It was built in a mixture of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic styles with buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained-glass. If you look carefully you can see incredible dog-faced gargoyles on the central tower and peacock-filled windows above the central courtyard. This amazing train station was designed by Frederick Stevens and completed in 1887. It was officially renamed in 1998 but locally it’s known as VT or Victoria Terminus. It has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Flora Fountain is also known as “Hutatma Chowk” and has been one of India’s heritage sites since 1960. It was built in 1864. This fountain was named “Flora” derived from the name of the Roman goddess of flowers. The square wall within which the monument was erected is called Hutatma Chowk. It is surrounded by such institutions as the famous Bombay University, Bombay Stock Exchange and the Gateway of India. The fountain stands illuminated at night.
Taj Mahal Palace is an amazing hotel and Mumbai’s most famous landmark. It was built in a mix of Islamic and Renaissance styles and is India’s second-most photographed monument. It was built in 1903 by Parsi industrialist JN Tata. This is the hotel where many lost their lives during terrorist attacks in 2008 and the fully restored hotel re-opened its doors on Independence Day 2010. It is well-known for being the first hotel to employ women, the first to have electricity and once housed freedom-fighters (free of charge) during the struggle for independence. Today the hotel stands proudly facing the harbor and Gateway.
Chhatrapati Shivaji (Maharaj) Vastu Sangrahalaya is Mumbai’s biggest and best museum, displaying a mix of exhibits from across India. The domed museum was built in Islamic, Hindu and British architectural styles. Visitors can see impressive Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, terracotta figurines from the Indus Valley, Indian miniature paintings, porcelain and interesting weaponry. There is great information provided in English and audio guides are available in seven languages. Two of the upstairs galleries are comfortably air-conditioned and at the entrance you’ll find a fine cafeteria and museum shop.
Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum is a gorgeous museum built in 1872 in Renaissance-revival style. It was once known as the Victoria & Albert Museum. The museum contains over 3,500 objects centering on the history of Mumbai like photos, maps, textiles, books, manuscripts, Bidriware, laquerware, weaponry and exquisite pottery. Contemporary music, dance and drama are featured in the new Plaza area and for your comfort there is a cafe. You’ll also find a museum shop on the premises. The museum building has found a home in the lush gardens of Jijamata Udyan. On the grounds to the east of the museum is the giant statue of an elephant which was once located on Elephanta Island.
Prince of Wales statue in the gardens
Jijamata Udyaan was once known as Ranichi Bagh or Queen’s Gardens. It is a combination zoo and garden located right in the heart of Mumbai. It was laid out in 1861 and is one of the oldest zoos in India.
At one point the zoo was let down but underwent renovation. Now visitors can see exotic species like jaguars, zebras, Humboldt penguins, tigers, Asian lions, wild dogs and more. Additions to the zoo are a separate animal holding areas, animal exercise yard, viewing area, underwater viewing area and many other useful and necessary improvements. The project is the work of M/S Highway Construction Company who renovated the Woodland Park Zoo in the state of Washington in the U.S.
Iskcon Temple is a fascinating place to visit. Located more out in the suburbs it has a key part in the Hare Krishna story, since founder AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada spent long periods of time here and you can still see his living quarters. The temple grounds come to life during prayer times when devotees pray accompanied by kirtan dancing, hand cymbals and drumbeats. Murals in the compound detail the Hare Krishna narrative. There is a fine Iskcon Hotel and canteen.
For those who love horses and the excitement of horse racing there is the Mahalakshmi Racecourse owned by The Royal Western Turf Club. This is an elite sports club and this is a renowned horse racing track in the country and looked upon to be one of the greatest circuits in Asia. The Grandstand is also on the list of heritage structures. The racecourse was built upon marshy flatlands around 100 years ago. The renowned Indian Derby is held every year on the first Sunday in February for the members of Mumbai’s high society. During the racing season from November to April business tycoons, actors, celebrities and other elite come to watch the races. Over 100 horses are trained before the racing season begins.
Visitors find it amazing that just 90 minutes from the busy metropolis you can find the quiet and lush nature of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Here you’ll find 104-sq.-km. of protected tropical forest. You can enjoy bright flora birds, butterflies and even wild leopards. There is a trekking ban in order to protect the wildlife living here but you can go walking in the woods along with the Bombay Natural History Society.
On your own you can rent bikes, take a shuttle to the Shilonda Waterfall, Vihar and Tulsi Lakes, where boating is available and to the impressive Kanheri Caves. The caves are 109 dwellings and monastic structures for Buddhist monks 6km inside the park. They are not all accessible and developed over 1000 years dating back to the 1st century B.C. Don’t take the lion and tiger safari since the animals are all in cages and enclosures. There is an information center with a small exhibition inside the park’s main northern entrance. The best time to view birds is from October to April and butterflies from August to November.
If you are a Bollywood fan or are interested in what goes on during filming head for Mumbai Film City. It is located near the national park. You can see real life-like gardens, mountains, lakes, homes, cities and villages. It is a favorite venue for Bollywood film shootings. It was constructed by the Maharashtra state government to promote the growth of the film industry. Almost 1000 sets can be put simultaneously in this city. It is spread across 520 acres and is open to the public but prior permission should be taken to visit Film City. One of the main attractions for visitors is to see a film shooting with its all star cast. More than 900 films along with TV shows are filmed here.
Haji Ali Dargah is a lovely Indo-Islamic shrine which looks as if it’s floating like a sacred mirage. This was built in the 19th century and contains the tomb of the Muslim Saint Pir Haji Ali Shan Bukhari. There is a legend that says the saint died while on a pilgrimage to Mecca and his casket miraculously floated back to this spot. Keep in mind that it’s only possible to visit the shrine at low tide via a long causeway. Thousands of pilgrims cross it daily especially on Thursdays and Fridays donating to beggars along the way. It is visited by people of all faiths.
Global Pagoda rises up from Gorai Creek offering a breathtaking sight of this golden 96m-high stups modeled after Myanmar’s Shwedagon Pagoda. Its dome houses relics of Buddha and was built entirely without supports using an ancient technique of interlocking stones. The meditation hall beneath it seats 8000. There is a museum dedicated to the life of Buddha and his teaching.
Take the time to visit Khotachiwadi. This neighborhood will let you see how Mumbai life was before high-rises took over. This is a Christian enclave with lovely two-story mansions. There are wonderful quiet winding lanes to explore and it is particularly beautiful when decorated at Christmas time.
High Court is an elegant neo-Gothic building dating from 1848. The design was inspired by a German castle. Visitors can explore the building and attend cases where you can see court officials in starched white tunics with red cummerbunds and scarlet berets. Unfortunately inside no cameras are allowed.
Malabar Hill is Mumbai’s most exclusive neighborhood located at the northern end of Black Bay. Here you’ll find an enclave of serene temples, bathing pilgrims, traffic-free streets and picturesque pilgrims’ rest houses. From here you can see Chowpatty and Marine Drive.
Marine Drive was built on reclaimed land in 1920 and arcs along the shore of the Arabian Sea from Nariman Point past Girgaum Chowpatty and onto the foot of Malabar Hill. It is lined by art-deco apartment building and is one of Mumbai’s most popular promenades and a wonderful place to watch the sun set. At night when all the lights are twinkling it has earned the nickname “The Queen’s Necklace”.
Girgaum Chowpatty is a popular city beach. It is quite active in the evenings when the stalls open up at the beach’s southern end. It is not advisable to take a swim here. However on the 10th day of the Ganesh Chaturti Festival in September millions flock here to submerge huge Ganesh statues.
Mani Bhavan is a tiny museum that has found its home in the building where Mahatma Gandhi stayed when he visited Bombay from 1917 to 1934. The leader formulated his philosophy of satyagraha (non-violent protest) and launched the 1932 Civil Disobedience campaign from here. Some of the exhibitions include a photographic record of his life, along with dioramas and various documents and letters.
The Nehru Center is a cultural complex that includes a planetarium, theater, gallery and an interesting history exhibit, Discovery of India. The tower is striking architecturally. It looks similar to a giant cylindrical pineapple and the planetarium resembles a UFO.
St. Thomas Cathedral is a lovely cathedral that was begun in 1672 and finished in 1718. It is the oldest British-era building in Mumbai and was once the eastern gateway of the East India Company’s for – the “Churchgate”. It was built in Byzantine and Colonial-style. Its interior is full of impressive colonial memorials.
For all amusement park lovers there is EsselWorld which was established in 1989. The amusement park area along with Water Kingdom stretches over 64 acres of land. Both of them together count at India’s largest amusement and water park as well as Asia’s largest theme water park. The park offers fourteen family rides, eleven exciting thrill rides and fifteen children’s rides. The park is also home to Mumbai’s first ice skating rink a total of 3,400 sq. ft.
There is a dance floor that lets people hold parties at the park with colored lights, high definition audio and a glass dance floor. You can enjoy Riki’s Rocking Alley a bowling alley that consists of a built-in arcade and restaurant. There are many different other places to eat like the well-known Domino’s Pizza among others. The park has the Fab-5 which are EsselWorld’s and Water Kingdom’s mascots.
In 2010 EsselWorld opened the horror ride “Monsters In the Mist”. This is a indoor dark ride with a track and car system. It runs for four minutes through a dark den that is filled with mist and fog with lots of thrills and adventures along the way. It consists of over 20 scenes supported by state-of-the-art animatronics and hi-end audio. It was designed by renowned international dark attractions manufacturer “The Attraction Factory” headquartered in Missouri, U.S.A.