Travel Through Mumbai, Maharashtra and Bollywood
We reach Nagpur in the morning at 7. As in Varanasi, a railway line is being built on stilts across the city in Nagpur. The traffic on the thoroughfare is therefore very handicapped. In the afternoon we want to take a taxi to the center. Traffic is better regulated here. Nevertheless, when the traffic light turns green, the rally starts. At the front are the mopeds, then the tuktuks and then the buses. Mopeds and tuk tuks always find a way to reach the top of the phalanx.
The visit in the center turns out to be not very interesting. There are some streets with clothes. Tourists do not exist here. In a mall, we see a pizzeria and have a pizza. It's so hot that the sweat is on my forehead, even though the air conditioning is throbbing.
There are many students there, for whom pizza seems to be something very special. The prices are high by Indian standards. The vegetable market is still deserted at noon.
We go by an auto rickshaw to the bus station to take a bus to Jalgaon. The buses leave every 20 minutes. The first one that arrives around 1:20 pm is literally stormed. The people who were inside have a hard time getting down as most want to rush to have a seat. It's the real rat race!
We decide to wait for the next one. It arrives at 1:40. To go up, it's still the same but we planned the shot. We went up with the luggage and reserved places but where are we going to put them? Fortunately, the spare wheel of the bus occupies the first seat. We can put our bags on it.
After having traveled by bus all day, we arrived in Jalgaon. It is a small modern town with no particular interest but which is a good starting point to visit the Ajanta caves. The hotel is located next to the station. The manager of the hotel thinks we should get a premium room instead of the standard room. We are happy to agree.
Day 2 - Ajanta caves
A good night's rest at the hotel got us in shape. The hotel manager talked about a cheap taxi that we could order at the front desk. I ask there, but the nice lady refers us to a gentleman at a desk. When I ask him, he gets up immediately, gets a car and we drive to the center.
A bus leaves from the Jalgaon bus station at 8am and leaves us at the crossroads of the road leading to the Ajanta caves. First we pay to access the parking of the shuttle, preceded by stands of souvenirs and gargotes. After a good chai, we go to the place from where the shuttle bus that takes to the entrance of the site itself.
It is truly an extraordinary site with 26 caves encased in a horseshoe-shaped hill. All caves were excavated, carved, painted with beautiful Buddhist frescoes that tell the episodes of the life of Buddha. Some caves were monasteries (vihara) having monks' cells. Others were sanctuaries containing stupas or temples (chaitya).
The Prince Padmapani painting is considered to be Ajanta's masterpiece. The pillars are all decorated with finesse. We are captivated by the beauty of the site and we spend the morning without getting tired. Fortunately, we came early. As the more the morning progresses and the site is full of visitors including, of course, the inevitable groups of schoolchildren.
Contrary to what one might think, we have seen very few foreign tourists. Most want to take a selfie! Around 1 pm, we take the shuttle that brings us back to the pits. We have lunch in a dhaba and we go to the side of the road where the bus had left us to try to catch one that goes to Aurangabad.
There are of course taxis that want to take us there but we prefer to return by bus. Oddly, all the buses that pass on this road tell us that they do not go. We are disappointed and a little further, we see two guys with a child waiting by the side of the road. They tell us that they want to go to Aurangabad. They stop a small truck whose front cabin is already occupied by a few passengers. The driver offers to take us. We sit next to the driver on the engine hood.
On the road, we meet a lot of oxcarts, groups of pedestrians, herds of buffaloes. It take 3 hours to arrive in town. We arrive in Aurangabad at 5:10 pm and we go to the hotel near the train station where we settle in a room overlooking a quiet street.
As we have time, we decide to go for a walk to the caves located 5kms from the center. We take a rickshaw. There are two sites 1 km apart from each other. Mostly Buddhist, these caves were carved in the rock as in Ajanta and Ellora where we will go tomorrow.
The site is much less grandiose than the other two but, from up there, there is a beautiful view of the surroundings of Aurangabad. We see the Bibi-Ka-Maqbara from here and the place is peaceful.
The trip to here has made us cross the city which is very extensive, pretty riddled and very dirty. For dinner we enjoy a good tandoori chicken at the little restaurant at the corner.
Day 3 - Ellora caves
The bus leaves Aurangabad bus station at 8am. We arrive at the site of Ellora caves at 8:45. The site includes Hindu, Buddhist and Jain caves. All these temples were dug from top to bottom, which is really remarkable.
We begin the visit by cave number 16 to the magnificent Kailasha temple. At this time, there are not too many people and the soft light of the morning is most enjoyable. This huge monolithic structure (the largest in the world) really impresses us. When we realize that the temple was dug directly into the rocky hill, we are blown away by the genius it took to achieve this marvel.
The Kailasha temple is decorated with hundreds of sculptures and in places we can see remains of painting. Originally, the temple was painted in bright colors. Once past the emotion of the discovery of the Kailasha temple, we continue the visit to the Buddhist caves, then the Hindu caves and finally the Jain caves.
The Buddhist caves are, for the most part, monasteries. Only Cave number 10 is a chaitya (temple). The Buddha seated at the back of the temple counts his fingers. In Cave number 12, on the third floor, two sets of seven Buddhas are lined up on either side of a small recess closed by a door in meditation position on the left and in the teaching position on the right. One of them represents Prince Siddhartha himself!
The sculptures of Hindu caves are full of energy. They often represent episodes of Shiva and Parvati. They play chess or dice, they dance, or they cajole. They get married, surrounded by their friends who bring them gifts. Their son, the little Ganesh is there, too.
The Jain Caves are on the other side of the road, as well as Hindu Cave number 29. To get there, we take a shuttle. There are five Jain Caves. The number 32 is the most beautiful. At one point, we are lucky to be there alone!
The Hindu Cave number 29, located on the other side of the road, is accessible by a small path. We ask the driver of the shuttle who returns from the Jain caves to stop at the junction of the path and then continue on foot to the cave. It is huge and contains beautiful sculpted scenes like the one where Shiva warrior kills Andhaka under the benevolent gaze of Parvati.
In the early afternoon, we have surveyed all this wonderful site. It's very hot, now and we are hungry. Near the entrance, we have lunch in a popular restaurant resembling a large shed. We return to the Kalaisha temple around 1 pm but the atmosphere is different from the morning. After a little tour in the Kalaisha temple, we take a tempo to return in Aurangabad. He is drunk. In front, we are four people with the driver and behind, they must be a dozen stuffed in there. Loaded as it is, it literally flies and we get home well!
Day 4 - Daulatabad
We negotiate a rickshaw for him to take us to Daulatabad Fort. We did a good job of getting there early because it's warmer to climb all the steps to the top. The visit of this fort is quite nice despite not being in very good condition. Some buildings that have been redone, while others are being restored. The workers are amused to pose for us.
The history of this fort is quite extravagant. This citadel was the capital of a small kingdom in the twelfth century. The Sultan of Delhi having conquered it in 1327 wanted to transfer the seat of his government from Delhi to Daulatabad with all its inhabitants! Most of them died on the way but the worst thing is that a few years later, the sultan decided to return to Delhi and Daulatabad was abandoned. It became regional capital again during the reign of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
There remains an immense red minaret, the Chand Minar. There is a double wall, an impressive watchtower, the remains of a palace, tunnels inhabited by bats and many crooked and rickety stairs. They make it a site whose visit, without being extraordinary, is not uninteresting either.
After visiting the fort, the rickshaw takes us to the Bibi-Ka-Maqbara. It looks like the Taj Mahal, and it's called mini Taj! This pretty white mausoleum was built in the seventeenth century by the son of Aurangzeb to accommodate the tomb of his mother. In the middle of the mausoleum, the tomb is in a pit where people threw coins.
It is not located in a very nice area (besides, there is not really any nice neighborhood in Aurangabad) and we are getting hungry. Will we find something to eat in the area? We follow the street that goes in front of the Bibi Ka Maqbara and we discover, down the street, a restaurant quite nice and friendly.
After lunch, we walk to the Panchakki garden. The walk does not follow very pleasant streets! We finally reach the garden and we are a little surprised to have to pay to enter a garden lined with souvenir stands. There is a large central pond with a kind of waterfall at one end. No explanation is given to explain how it works.
On the other side of the garden is the tomb of Musafir and a small mosque. All this is really nothing extraordinary and the price of entry is not justified at all. Aurangabad is not a very nice city and we will leave it without regret. Fortunately there is in the vicinity the wonderful site of Ellora caves. We take the train leaving for Mumbai at 9pm!
24 Hours in Mumbai
After a long journey we arrive at Dadar station around 5:15 am. There we take a taxi that takes us to the hotel in the district of Colaba. Taxis are not expensive at all in Mumbai and there are plenty everywhere. We take an hour to get there because of the traffic jams that reign here (aggravated by the work of the metro).
The subway is under construction but it will be put into service in two years. The street where our hotel is located is very quiet and located near the main artery of Colaba Causeway where is our favorite restaurant. Mumbai surprises us with midsummer temperatures.
We walk to Victoria Station where we admire its incredible neo-gothic architecture. Parts of the movie Slumdog Millionaire were shot in this hall. The whole area around the station has beautiful Victorian monuments and there are even red double decker buses. Unfortunately, it is not very easy to walk through the traffic and congested sidewalks.
We take a taxi to Banganga Tank, a really different neighborhood in this big modern city. It is a holy place in the Malabar Hill area. Around the large pool lined with ghats, we find all the fervor of the holy places of India, with the usual rituals always fascinating to observe.
The neighborhood around the basin is really typical. There are small temples, alleys, stalls and more nibbled by the towers and new buildings. A little further, going towards the sea, we pass in front of the district of dhobis. it is not the big Dhobi Ghat which is located in another district, close from the racecourse.
And we arrive on the rocks where the clothes dry, near colorful houses. In a building not far from there, a high smoking chimney indicates the location of the crematorium.
But it's 11am. Quickly, we take a taxi to Churchgate Station to see the show of the dabbawala. These men leave the suburban trains loaded with several bags in which is the lunch of many employees of the district. The bags are lined up on the sidewalk, sorted according to their destination and delivered without delay.
After observing for a moment this amazing spectacle, we take a taxi to go to Malabar Hill where there is a Jain temple. Here the faithful engage in rituals always incomprehensible to us. On low tables, the devotees draw geometric shapes with grains of rice. On the floor of the temple, the jains worship a small marble statue. They always have a masked mouth during ceremonial.
But now it's getting late and lunch is well advanced. Where are we going to eat here? We ask a shopkeeper who tells us a restaurant down the street. Here we are where there is nothing to indicate it's a restaurant. The room is very small but full of people. It seems quite classy. It is rich Indians who come there. Nevertheless, it is not too expensive and the food is special. We had never tasted this kind of dish before (vegetarian, of course, as we are near the Jain temple).
Then we pass Antilia, the high-rise building of Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India with a Helipad on the roof. He lives there only with his family and keeps a cow on the 10th floor, which he feeds daily.
We stop for a moment at the hanging gardens, which turn out to be a small park and nothing special. At one point we have a good view of the shore road. The sandy beaches are empty. Interestingly, in addition to the gardens, there is a parsi burial ground. According to the Parsi beliefs, they place the corpse on a platform from which vultures feed the bodies (Towers of Silence). Although there are no more vultures in Mumbai, eagles are now taking over the funeral. In Iran, the custom is already prohibited, our guide tells.
We then follow a path interspersed with stairs, shaded by tall trees (Ridge Road) leading us to Babulnath Temple on a small hillock near Chowpatty. It is the oldest temple in Mumbai. In the street, near the temple, it's siesta time as people play card games in the shade of tall trees.
We take a taxi that drops us on Colaba Causeway. In the evening, walk to the Taj Mahal hotel and Gateway of India where there is a crowd. It's very close to the hotel where we live. It's very touristy but it's not not what we prefer in this city.
48 Hours in Mumbai
This morning in a restaurant we have the giant masala dosas! We then take a taxi to see another unusual place in Mumbai. It is the Haji Ali Dargah, a mosque and mausoleum on an island connected by a dike built on the sea. We had observed the sea yesterday to see when was the tide because we had read that we could access it at low tide. In fact, I do not think that the sea covers much of the dike except perhaps at high tides.
This mosque, built in the eighteenth century on this island is home to the tomb of a Muslim saint, and a rich merchant. He would have retired here as a hermit after returning from the pilgrimage to Mecca. From the island, we have views of the Mumbai towers.
Once seen the dike, we reach on foot to the Mahalaxmi Temple, one of the most popular temples in the city. To get there, we cross a lively neighborhood and pass in front of a whole line of sellers of flower necklaces or trays-offerings. We see faithful who engage in some kind of unusual ritual. They touch the back wall of the Sanctuary and stick there coins by pressing them against the wet plaster!
Near the racecourse, we see the Dhobi Ghat, the big district of the launderers. We head to a crowded Zaveri bazaar where the streets are teeming with activity. It is difficult to move among all the parked vehicles, the street vendors, and the carriers with baskets or bales on the head.
In a neighborhood north of Jama Masjid is the Dawoodi Bohra Mosque. It is a small Ismaili Muslim community not recognized by Islam. Their leader lives in Mumbai. Women wear kinds of very recognizable collar caps. We had already seen several in Gujarat.
We finally reach Crawford market, a remnant of British imperial architecture. In the afternoon, we return to the Malabar Hill neighborhood, to Mani Bhavan, the house where Gandhi stayed from 1917 to 1934.
This beautiful house is transformed into a small museum. The series of small models in windows tell the main stages of the life of Gandhi, from childhood to his death. It depicts his meetings with various personalities and marches for independence. It is very well done and attractive.
We are not far from Chowpatty Beach, the sandy beach at the end of Marine Drive. It's a meeting place for lovers. There are many young people on the seaside. There are nevertheless children who paddle there.
Mumbai is a city of contrasts with a mix of modernity and tradition. We did not get bored at all. Despite its activity, there are quiet areas where we can rest. In the evening, we get to Victoria station and get on the train at 9:45 pm towards Goa.