Bombay now renamed Mumbai is the most populous city in India, one of the most populated in the world. It is capable of intimidating any first time visitor. Bombay was our first contact on our travel through South India. I read somewhere that Mumbai is like a giant monster that end up devouring you slowly. I attest to that. Bombay is one of those megalopolises that you have to see, but from which it is better to leave quickly. Bombay has its origins in the 2nd century BC, when the great Emperor Ashoka ruled the Indian subcontinent at that time.
We arrived at the international airport of Bombay in a few hours, rather, untimely (at dawn), but the city was already beginning to wake up. It soon became bustling. With the fatigue of a long flight behind us, and with our sleepy senses, Bombay welcomed us on a gray morning in late June with a warm, sticky breeze typical of the monsoon.
We knew it was not the best time to visit Mumbai. Our main objective was to reach one of the most emblematic tourist places of the city, the so-called Gateway of India. It was the first thing we wanted to visit in the city Like those sailors who in ancient times came from the Arabian Sea to this coastal city of India.
The taxi ride from the airport to the city center of Bombay, was intense (to find a soft adjective to define it). My first impression of the city was that, Bombay is half urban, half forest and a city, as we say in the city from which I come, very sugary.
The smell immediately invaded us. A smell that is hard to define. It is something sweet mixed with the aroma of spices, cow dung, incense, and moist earth. We see that the monsoon had emptied heavily and the caverns of the road had become large lagoons in the middle of the city. Crows also roared and squawked freely.
But the most surprising thing was the loud noise, the traffic chaos, and the sounds of the horns everywhere. Everyone played the horns at once, short but fast sounds, hundreds of sounds per second that invaded your senses.
I liked a road sign that said something like respect the lanes. What lanes? All the vehicles flooded the only existing lane. We pass through striking taxis and trucks, polluting motorcycles, and bicycles that disarmed along the way. We cross clueless cows, squalid and flea-bitten dogs, hardened pedestrians, and auto rickshaws.
Everyone wanted to be preferential and pass first. There are hardly any traffic lights. Traffic guards from a pedestal try the impossible mission to bring order to the chaos based on whistles. Our taxi driver, a skilful driver, weighed amazingly and masterfully all the obstacles that stood in our way.
This was the first impression of Mumbai. It is a compendium of stimuli in the form of bizarre sounds, exotic smells, and strange sensations that assaulted us in an uncontrolled way. They are a thousand stimuli per second that saturate the senses, and we have to learn to digest in small sips.
Immediately I realized that despite the gray day, Bombay shone with a special light and full of color. And for the first time and after the long journey, I felt awake and very alive. In the watercolor of black and white that expanded before my eyes, I discovered the multitude of color palettes that the city offered us.
We see colors everywhere from small shops to the beautiful silk and cotton sarees of the women. We see bright ranges of colorful flowers in the hair and in the decorated trucks that crossed suddenly in our path. We pass through the pigmented mandalas painted on the sidewalks, in the little ones and flashy temples that were in our path.
The trash that grew on either side try to invade everything. We see the colorful rickshaws with its colorful and funny slogans. Some advertised a business or a bollywood poster, or a portrait of a god, or the Virgin Mary herself.
Mumbai seemed chaotic and anarchic, but within that chaos, everything seemed to flow and function. At that time, I started to feel Mumbai. As we moved south, the auto rickshaws disappeared. We were already entering the rich part of the city, and in that area we no longer travel in vehicles. Their access is prohibited. It was then that we caught a glimpse of the silhouette we were looking for.
The Gateway of India is on the waterfront of the Bombay Port opposite the Arabian Sea. It is a triumphal arch of basalt built in an Indo-Saracenic style, and designed by the Scottish architect George Wittet. The monument was erected to celebrate the visit of the British King George V and his wife Queen Mary in 1911. Since then, it was used as a ceremonial symbol of entry to India by viceroys and governors.
Paradoxically it was also the exit door for the British when India finally reached its independence. On February 28, 1948, the Light Infantry's troops paraded for the last time in front of it. Nearby is the Colaba neighborhood. It is very popular with tourists because it is close to the luxurious Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, and for being the starting point for the excursion to the Elephanta Island.
With the image of the imposing Indian Gate behind us, we board one of the tourist boats. We set off on our particular adventure to see the beautiful Elephanta Island Caves. Elephanta Island has 7 caves, of which 5 of them can be visited. They have been architecturally dated between the 5th and 8th centuries. The temple dedicated to Shiva has been declared, at the end of the 80s as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO .
The name of the caves was assigned by the Portuguese, when they rediscovered and found a stone statue of an elephant. It can now be seen in the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai. Walking through the galleries is a journey through time that takes us to the fascinating history and Indian mythology.
Visiting the caves of Elephanta Island we took a trip back in time. Exploring the caves invites us to live a small adventure that brings us closer to Shiva himself. The galleries are full of sculptures and colossal stone carvings, which bring us closer to the myths and legends of the Trimurti or Trinity.
The galleries are impressive. The ceiling, columns, sculptures of great exoticism, geometric shapes and colossal deities are all carved in the very rock. They make our imagination fly until we find ourselves somewhere far away in time and in history.
In each niche an image stands out, with scenes that represent all kinds of moods, from joy to anger. The place is also full of souvenir shops, taxi drivers, horse carriages, trinkets vendors, tour guides, and others who claim to be, and as in all tourist places in India. There are also hustler characters, cheeks and rogues, who try to loot the tourist.
Once we came back to the Gateway of India and explored its confines, we decided to finally go to rest at our hotel. But the surprise that Mumbai had for us was the fortuitous visit to a small art gallery where artists have to wait up to two years to exhibit. We went in because it was free and we were on our way.
We needed to assimilate the emotions and recover strength to continue exploring the city. In just a few minutes of contact, Mumbai had shaken our senses intensely. Of course I liked Delhi more, with many more places to visit. But it is true that we did not have time to explore Mumbai thoroughly.
After having dinner at a street stall with pav bhaji accompanied by a rich beer, we went across the road to book the motorcycle for the journey ahead to Goa next day.