Day 18: Bombay (Mumbai), India (Part 1)
ABOARD OCEANIA’S NAUTICA — Three taxis. Three taxis within ¼ mile. The first one didn’t even get us out of the port before it stopped, the driver flagging down an incoming taxi and, after a brief conversation saying, “get-in, he’ll take you.” So, we climbed into cab #2 and exited through the port security gate, then stopped again within 50 yards. Our driver exited and held a brief, heated discussion with a third driver after which he said, “go with him, he’ll take you, he’s my father.” We were wondering if we were being hijacked, but no, third time was the charm. Our driver stuck with us, and we with him. Whew! Welcome to Bombay (also known as Mumbai).
Whirlwind seems an apt description of our 36 hours in India’s largest city and busiest port. Clearing immigration at the appointed time (on-board again), we ate breakfast and washed a couple of loads in the launderette while most passengers were ashore. We went ashore ourselves in late morning. In the terminal, we borrowed a phone to confirm arrangements for a private tour that evening, before venturing out to explore on our own and getting involved in a game of musical taxis.
Initially, the streets seemed eerily quiet this Sunday, almost no traffic, or pedestrians, but after a few blocks activity increased. By the time we were deposited at the gates to the museum, buses and taxis jammed the street and throngs of multi-generational families queued-up for tickets. The museum, formerly known as Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, is now officially the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahallaya. We call it the Prince of Wales Museum. It’s an architecturally striking building in the Indo-Islamic style with landscaped grounds and a soaring central hall crowned by a dome. Collections of religious art from different eras and places occupy several galleries. Most of one floor is dedicated to collections, including European painting and arms and armor, donated by the Tata family.
Our driver also took us for a look at the Gateway of India, a huge, harbor-side stone arch commemorating the a 1911 visit by King George V. Completed in 1924, it welcomed ship-borne visitors to Bombay and a mere 24 years later witnessed the departure of the last British regiment from the subcontinent upon independence.
Across the street, the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, built in 1903 by J.N. Tata, a successful industrialist, may be an equally iconic image. We later learned that Mr. Tata built the hotel after he had been denied admission to the nearby Watson Hotel because he was a “native.” Fittingly, perhaps, the Watson is a tumble-down building today, while the Taj is the place to stay in Bombay.
We had arranged our evening tour ahead of time through Ceylon Express International. Aakanksha, our guide, met us in the dockside terminal, along with our driver. We had photo stops at colonial buildings including the High Court; the Bombay University Library, designed by the architect that designed London’s St. Pancras Station and bearing some resemblance thereto; and, the Victoria Terminus. The latter is a stunning concoction of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic styles listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. It continues to serve a substantial portion of Bombay’s seven million train travelers on frequent and packed commuter trains each workday.
A tour of Malabar Hill, an upscale residential neighborhood with apartments fetching up to $2,500 U.S. per square foot, featured the beautiful and popular Hanging Gardens public park. We drove down Marine Drive, also known as the Queen’s necklace. It runs along the curving bay-front offering a cooling breeze and lovely views. We concluded our evening with dinner at the Khyber Restaurant. Its north Indian cuisine we found delicious. We enjoyed the charming décor and gracious service.
Our first day in Bombay provided a glimpse of some of the fabled city’s highlights on a comparatively quiet non-work day with families out enjoying their city. Our second day would add more strands to an intricate tapestry. Stay tuned