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Friday, 01 September 2017

Alias Mumbai - Page 2

Written by Richard Taylor
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For a change, the bovines didn’t have the run of the place. There was still the odd cow but they were usually tethered at street corners and major intersections.

Within the hour I’d reached the port, where boats and ferries were moored in a light mist and the seagulls were in absentia, supplanted by pigeons flocking in force around two of Mumbai’s most famous sights – the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal Hotel. The former, with its Arc de Triomphe styling, had been completed back in ’24, commemorating the royal visit of 1911. The adjacent hotel looked so imposing, surrounded by a battery of limousines and caleches, I assumed it was a six star grade, if there were such a thing, although its recent history had been blotted by a terrorist bomb attack some years ago.

 

This is unavoidable and must be said. Mumbai is not an armed camp but there are a great many guns and guards about. Outside the fenced-in green of the university, two soldiers were sitting in a cement turret, rifles trained on the street. Banks, stations, parks, had similar security. Mumbai, indeed India is a land of many creeds and good on them for that. But it has come with a steep price.

Beyond the port, the crowds and traffic grew thicker near the Victoria Terminus, not so glorious sans its light show but an impressive edifice for all that and I stopped to chat with a young English woman who was “just admiring the architecture.” Given the niceties of Indian travel, it seemed prudent to arrange my departure a few days in hand, however the inner station was a writhing mass and the girl suggested the ‘tourist tickets’ sold at Church Gate. This led me through Mumbai’s major bazaar, which was its own bewildering maze but in the end it had been sound advice. The lines at the Church Gate ticket booths were small dribbles of ones and twos.

The next morning was devoted to cave art, something I tend to visit under duress, or to pompously bray forevermore, “I visited this unpronounceable place to see cave art and I’m a better person for it.” Thus it was a bit of a comedown visiting the antiquities of Elephanta Island. Oh, the caverns themselves were splendid, the ferry ride offered a wonderful prospect of the Gateway and the Taj Hotel and the sea breezes were lovely (Mumbai, despite lacking the jackhammer and sweat milieu of other Indian super-cities, is still a stifling town). But that pronounceable name Elephanta was suspect, an unserious tag, like Charlie Gibbs. It suggested some kind of amusement park. I could blame the seafaring Portuguese for this, renaming the perfectly good Gharapuri (‘city of Ghara priests’) for an elephant carving they’d found at the port of the island some two centuries back.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 03 October 2017

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