We often say that three days is a reasonable amount of time to form a first impression of any city. So the one day we had in Mumbai wasn’t even going to scratch the surface of this mega city of 21m people. But one day is all we had following an arduous transit from the UK. So this is what we got to see on a leisurely day in Mumbai.
Staying in the Fort area of the city – in the far south of Mumbai – we were at least well located for our whistle stop tour. The area takes its name from Fort George built in the 18th century by the British East India Company. At one time it had been the centre of the city but is now dwarfed by the sprawling metropolis that has spread northward.
A twenty minute walk took us to Mumbai’s number one tourist attraction, namely, the waterfront Gateway of India. Facing out to the Arabian Sea, the 26m high arch was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. Though the foundation stone was laid in 1911, the arch wasn’t completed until 1924. Prior to independence in 1947 it was where the great and the good (viceroys and governors of Bombay) would disembark.
Right beside the Gateway is the world famous Taj Mahal Palace hotel. Legendary for its luxury, we found the outside to be in need of some repair. Like many of the surrounding buildings in this prime location, the Palace hotel has a ‘faded’ look on the outside. Despite this minor deterioration, it was a million miles away from the haphazard, services starved fishing village just a few hundred metres along the seafront. A real tale of two sides of Mumbai.
Entrepreneurialism is very much in evidence all over Mumbai (often driven by poverty). As we walked around the emphasis on education was apparent with many private sector college and course adverts. The open air study pavilion on Madame Cama Rd was a model of studious calm with young Mumbaians putting in the hours on a Saturday afternoon!
Cricket had to pop up somewhere, and whilst there were no games on at the great Wankhede Stadium, we indulged ourselves watching the many local cricket matches on the Oval Maidan. This 22 acre public space has many pitches, each with their own makeshift pavilion. Despite the apparent cricket link, the name actually derives from the shape of the grounds and ‘maidan’ derives from the local Marathi word for ‘playing ground’ Controlled since 1997 by a local residents association the Oval Maiden has a strict – and unusual – set of rules including: ‘No cattle, horses, goats, stray dogs, etc are allowed in the maidan”.
The day was topped off with an evening stroll along the famed Marine Drive. This 3.5km stretch of road is a huge C shaped arc where south Mumbai faces out to the Arabian Sea. At night the Drive is packed with locals and tourists enjoying the walk and cool air. On the other side of the road are many Art Deco style buildings. This is no Miami waterfront mind you, time and neglect have taken their toll on these once magnificent buildings from the 1920s and 1930s.
Along the Marine Drive, we came across the concluding overs of a 20/20 night game at the Wilson College Gymkhana. With 48 runs to beat, the batting side hit a series of boundaries to win on 51 runs, with overs and wickets to spare. Wild celebrations erupted from the winning team; leading us to guess this was not just a run of the mill victory. No trophy in sight so perhaps this was a derby match.
On our way back we swung through the remarkably well ordered Churchgate railway station. The main station in this part of Mumbai. Another great opportunity for photographs as we indulged the ever present college students seeking assistance with their projects. As is often the case, they wanted a photograph of us with their poster about the issue of violence against women. Happy to oblige.
A minor downside to the day, the demise of a beloved hairbrush. A bounce on the hotel bathroom floor did for the brush, breaking it into two pieces. Why a problem you ask? Well I was just attached to it, unlike the handle! But hey, we’re in India, land of repair/reuse, so we hit the street and it isn’t long before Indian ingenuity obliges at the hands of a street shoe repairer.
Alas, his glue failed to do the trick and the brush is no more. The search for its replacement begins.
Bye for now.