Mumbai

Local Tourists at Maximum Mumbai

Busy days, late hours and horrid traffic left me and hubby SS exhausted on the Friday evening. Thus came many pleasurable and contented ways of spending our weekend. That of ‘relaxing at home’, ‘chilling out with a dvd’ and getting chores done.  With the onset of winter and chill in the air, we finally decided to finally get out of our contented monotonous chilling at home and explore what was closest to us – the city of Mumbai. What first came to our head was the symbol most popularly associated with Mumbai City – The Gateway of India and and decided to start with areas around it.
The Taj and the Gateway from the Sea

Colaba Causeway

It was walk down memory lane for me as I passed the legendary Regal theatre and the Alibaba Restaurant that was adjacent to an office where I once worked right after my engineering on the way to the Gateway. It was wonderful to walk on Colaba Causeway and hear the vendors speak expertly in English and French and still see them target only the white tourist population and almost ignore the brown skinned locals!  The array of gaudy necklaces, trinkets, scarves, marble and wooden showpieces that have not changed for a long time now continued to be there and continued to fascinate me. Only most of them were pretty pricey targeting a dollar audience dollars and not for local Indians!
The Taj Hotel
Right across the Gateway of India, The Taj has stood like a shining beacon of lovely architecture in Mumbai city and a balm to eyes tired of filth, peeling paint, slums and box like buildings with matchbox apartments. From the Gateway it looked grand as always and a testimony to what Mumbai has withstood, repaired though not healed. The luxury hotel has attracted distinguished visitors in Mumbai and it was always a pleasure to enter its luxurious, and rich interiors even if it was for just a cup of late night coffee or for a conference in one of its grand ballrooms.
Wah Taj!


The Gateway of India
Coming back to the Gateway of India, my earliest memories as a kid were walking right under the Gateway and buying puzzles, tricks and such paraphernalia from a thriving market of encroachments even back then.  Now, amidst security concerns, there is a large police barricade and siege with elaborate screening, constant security vigil and a heightened awareness although it was fortunately pervaded by much laughter and photographers asking couples to make various funny poses to hold the Taj and the Gateway.
The Gateway of India

The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay back in 1911, a 100 years back from the approaching March 11, 2011. The last of British troops to leave India also passed through the Gateway in 1948. In earlier times, the Gateway was the first glimpse of Bombay that visitors arriving by Bombay would get.  The architecture of the Gateway is Indo-Gothic representing the cosmopolitan culture of the city of Mumbai even today.

Elephanta Caves and the Ferry ride
Our next destination was the famous Elephanta caves, which are on an island across Bombay, reachable by a ferry ride in the sea from the Gateway. It is funny how most locals including us have never seen these caves despite residing in Mumbai for so many years. It never helped that that those who had visited only disparaged the place saying there were just a few broken idols and little else to see. Well, but look at it this way, it really is fun to be a tourist in your own city and see things from a new perspective, understand history and see where the roots of your city indeed lie. The Gateway is one part of understanding the city, the Taj another and the Elephanta caves set in an era long bygone adding yet another dimension to this huge city.

Cruising in the Arabian Sea on an hour long ferry ride, fanned by a cool zephyr, watching the Mumbai skyline recede and trying to make out major landmarks in the city all added to our really touristy experience.
We reached the Elephanta Island by boat and clambered on a toy train which really ran the distance of a 5 minute walk but was again, a part of the experience! We then had piping hot tea from the ubiquitous tea stalls and then proceeded to clamber the many steps up the hill that led to the caves. As usual, the entrance all along the steps was lined by a huge market of souvenirs that sold everything that can be found at any souvenir market in India I suppose. We saw rows and rows of endless ‘handicrafts’ that we had bought foolishly in Rajasthan at high prices  as something unique and refused to buy more ‘unique items’.

Toy Train to Elephanta Caves

We finally reached the caves and found a guide (unauthorized guy since there were no official guides!) to tell us the history of the place instead of us looking blankly at the statues. We learned that the Elephanta Island as it was now known is known originally and referred to by locals as the Gharapuri Island which means literally island of caves. The island consists of Hindu and Buddhist caves with the Hindu caves depicting tales from the life of Shiva.

The Portuguese called the island Elephanta on seeing its huge gigantic statue of an Elephant at the entrance. The Statue is now placed in the garden outside the Jijamata Udyan at Byculla in Mumbai. This cave was renovated in the 1970s after years of neglect, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 to preserve the artwork and is currently maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. If the Portuguese used the sculptures for target practice blowing them up for most part, Indian ruffians scribbled and carved their names and declared undying love to their beloveds and desecrated the statues. ASI has done a good job however in cleaning up a majority of these names, though on close scrutiny, one can still make out English letters in the haze.
The guide told us several interesting stories about the sculptures most of which could be confirmed by the guidebook or Wikipedia. The ones I liked are Ravan lifting Shiva and Parvati on Mount Kailash, Wedding of Shiva, Shiva slaying a demon named Andhaka, and the most famous one, the Trimurti. The Trimurti is a 20 ft rock sculpture that depicts a three headed Shiva manifesting creation, preservation and destruction and thus the three important deities Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva respectively.

The Trimurti Idol

It took us around 2 hours to go around the entire place, take photos and listen to stories besides indulging in chai, and look at knick-knacks in the souvenir market. The ferry service starts early in the morning and continues till around 5:00 pm in the evening in winters. I suppose this time gets extended in summers.

The ride back thrilled us again as sea gulls swept up and down, and in circles with their cries over the lapping waters. We disembarked at the Gateway and headed back into the chaos of the city. With a few hours left to kill on that perfect weekend, we ate pav bhaji at one of the tiny restaurants at Colaba Causeway, ate a really yummy looking pan and watched a movie at the historic Regal theater.
I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone who wants to become a tourist at Mumbai. Go Out Mumbaikars and take that ferry ride!
A Glorious Sunset

This post was re-posted from my other blog Richland Talk

Categories: India, Mumbai | 18 Comments

Crawford Market at Mumbai

Sale! Discount! Unbeatable deals!  When it comes to unbeatable deals at wholesale prices, it’s gotta be the wholesale market itself! For the uninitiated, Mumbai’s biggest wholesale market is the Crawford market that draws eyeballs, pockets and mindboggling quantities for plenty of shopping.

I stood outside the Crawford market taking the scene in. Cars screech, Bikers honk, people get on and off buses in a cacophony.   A tourist bus screeches to a halt as sunburnt tourists stand in a file gaping at the chaos. People walk around with large sacks. Some like me frenetically click pictures in black and white, sepia and color standing at weird positions across the road trying to keep the chaos out and the market in!

Crawford Market – the main building

I entered the Crawford market expecting more madness. Instead of chaos I found and insane number of shops and goods selling their wares perfectly peacefully!

Aisle inside the Crawford Market building

Why you should visit Mumbai’s Crawford Market

  • Go there particularly if you are shopping for a party of any kind. Go beserk on buying Party decorations, Diwali decorations, Christmas decorations for a fraction of what you’ld pay in your neighborhood
  • You think your neighborhood mall has a lot of ‘imported’ and exotic foods? Check out Crawford market for the sheer variety of things you can buy – types of pastas, sauces, exotic dry fruits including pink cashewnuts and green cashewnuts, chocolates, cheeses, oils of all kinds and cookies from around the world.
  • For a long time, elite south bombayites visited this market for imported perfumes, toys, accessories, luxury soaps, detergents, gifts and cosmetics. It is interesting to still see Persil detergent boxes, the array of perfume shops and the beauty products.
  • Go there just for the heck of seeing how big a market can get!
  • Go there just to check out one of Mumbai’s popular landmarks
  • Go there to check out a piece of history
  • Go there to see another example of architecture after seeing the jhuggis and jhopdis in Mumbai.
  • If you think, the building is not enough market, venture outside into the maze of lanes and by lanes for an even bigger market. Tiny alleys with ramshackle buildings might have the most interesting of things you want to buy. We even came to a shop of magic tricks and one where they sold ammunition! (See pictures below)
  • Visit it to go to another piece of history – the Badshah Juice center which stands there since 1905. You cannot miss out on their famed ‘Falooda’, the rose/saffron flavored drink with vermicelli and jelly and ‘sabja seeds’ at the bottom and laced with icecream  and nuts at the top.oooo. yum!

Fast Facts

  • Crawford Market earlier named after the first Municipal Commissioner of the country, in the spirit of renaming all that sounds ‘British’ is now officially named as the Mahatma Jyotirao Phule market after the social reformer.  However, the powers that ordain these things have not been successful in getting anyone to call it anything but the Crawford market!
  • The Crawford market building was the first to be lit by electricity in India
  • The Crawford Market used to be the primary wholesale market for fruits and vegetables. However, in 1996, the fruits and vegetables market shifted to Navi Mumbai
  • A Grade 1 heritage structure, the Crawford market was designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of the famous novelist Rudyard Kipling.
  • This building is a blend of ‘Norman’ and ‘Flemish’ architectural signs designed beautifully to allow plenty of natural sunlight, air and shoppers!
  • Don’t miss the impressive frieze on the main entrance that delineates peasants in fields or the charming clock tower.
  • The Crawford market occupies a prime piece of land that is much eyed and sought after by builders, developers and politicians. Fortunately, citizen groups and some sane people in Mumbai have managed to keep these roving eyes away atleast for a while from here, while plans of renovating it are underway

At the Dryfruit store. Check out the pink cashews!

There are chocolates and there are paan chocolates

An Oil shop at Crawford

Blazing guns!

The famous Badshah Cold Drink restaurant

The Yummy Kesar Special Falooda (Yellow) and ‘Royal’ Falooda (Pink) from Badshah

The roadside Magician in an alley

 

How to get to Crawford Market

  • The market is located in South Mumbai near the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST)  opposite the office of Commissioner of Police of Mumbai
  • Take a local train or Bus to CST) and cab it after that.
  • If you insist on taking your car, try and park far away and then cab it since parking can get expensive (Rs 80 per hour!) in peak hours.

Tips

  • Carry lots of cash, since paying by credit card might not be an option.
  • Carry cash for yourself not others. Be wary of pickpockets in the milling crowd
  • Buy in bulk for better deals
  • Haggle. Haggle. Haggle. Even if you think you are getting a good deal. It can get sweeter.
  • Try to go earlier in the day around 10 a.m. after they are done with the loading and get away before it gets chaotic in the evening

 Happy Seeing, Shopping and Saving!

Going back in time with a Sepia look for the main Crawford market building

P.S. - This post was published in DNA in its column ‘Around the Blog’.

Categories: Mumbai | Tags: , , | 31 Comments

Soaking in the Monsoons – Karnala Fort

Green trees
Birds and bees
Open grounds
Hillocks and mounds
Swirling mists
Floral twists
Ancient fort walls
Gushing Waterfalls

Away from the city noise
And traffic that annoys
We went not too far
Just a little drive by car
Onto fort Karnala
For the first soak in monsoons gala

Office to home, home to office, traffic woes, malls and movie shows had me bored. Finally, the heavens opened up and a collective sigh sounded across the heat oppressed city of Mumbai. No matter how ugly the rains make everything in the city after a month or two, the first rains are always lovingly welcomed with anticipation of hot chai and fried ‘pakodas’. Travellers start conjuring images of verdant road trips and planning weekend getaways in the monsoon months.

We started our 2012 monsoons with a short but refreshing trip to the Karnala Bird Sanctuary and the lesser known fort on the hill inside it.  At just 10 kms away from the suburb of Panvel, Karnala would be one of the closest ‘green’ destinations for the tree deprived Mumbaikars.  This fort and the hill can even be seen from the highway afar as a Thumb sticking up on the ‘funnel hill’.

We started off bright and early and reached Karnala at 8 a.m. Revived by scalding tea and a heavy breakfast at Kamat around the corner from Karnala, we started off our foray.

The DON’T TRASH directive deserves a special mention that mandates keeping the forest as pristine as possible by having visitors deposit Rs 200 with security and return with all the disposable stuff (which is ALL counted). Applause for the idea!

And away we go..
‘Two roads diverged in the wood’ and we opted for the more difficult trail to the summit of Fort Karnala. A few minutes of clambering over rocks and leaves and branches, later we the not so fit city folk, started huffing and puffing,( this indeed was a great work out) on this moderate trek. A gentle zephyr revived us as we continued our ascent on the trail. This trail was supposed to be 6 kms and we made good time as we reached the peak after about 1.5 hours.  The heavens rewarded us by opening up and drenching us in cooling fresh water.

We reached the fort Karnala, and explored the gateways, vantage points, water reservoirs and found the perfect spot for a well-deserved picnic.
Coming down is usually the hard part though most people think it is easier. With the rocks being more slippery, we had to be very careful finding the right toe holds.  The whole trek lasted around 3-4 hours and the time we spent at the summit.

Summits take all the time in the world to climb, but once there, the satisfaction of having gone up all the hard way is immense. Lush green panoramas and cool winds awarded to climbers are sweeter and the aching muscles later even pleasurable.

And we enter Karnala

He tried to run but could not hide

Karnala Fort

Stairway to heaven

Vantage point

Karnala Fort History

The Karnala fort predates 1400 AD and can be seen as a Thumb from afar. It was conquered and passed around by several rulers from under the Devagiri Yadavas, Tughlaq rulers, Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar, the Portugese, Chattrapati Shivaji, Aurangzeb and finally the Peshwas of Pune.

Getting there
- Take the Mumbai-Pune old highway and then get on to the Mumbai-Goa highway. Several ‘dhabas’ (roadside eateries) later, the Karnala bird sanctuary lies on the left.
- One can also reach Panvel by a local train and then take an autorickshaw from Panvel to Karnala (will cost around Rs 200-300).
- Parking is available right outside the sanctuary.

Admission
- Rs 20 per adult was the ticket

Food
- Several restaurants are around Karnala on the highway. Food is permitted inside, but there are no vendors/hotels inside the sanctuary. The best option would be to carry a picnic lunch inside.
- Carry plenty of water along on the trek (at least 1 bottle per person). Believe me, a parched throat on a climb near the summit is not what you would like!

What to wear
Wear trekking shoes and comfortable clothes if you plan to climb up the hill. There is little else to do actually apart from the trekking there. Hats off to the bravehearts on the way who were attempting the climb wearing party shoes or slippers or barefoot, but I would not recommend it.  If you are visiting in monsoon, wear a raincoat instead of carrying an umbrella if you don’t want to get wet (although getting wet was the best part of all!).

Etc.
If you were expecting to see birds in monsoon in the afternoon in the bird sanctuary, you will be able to see them in cages (a couple of peacocks, and parrots) and on the sign boards! If birds in the wild are what you want to see, the right time would be from October-April early in the morning.

Go on, make that monsoon trek happen. It takes just a few hours to get away from the hullaballoo of the city to sink into verdant rolling hills and fresh air at the Karnala Bird Sanctuary.

Categories: Mumbai | 2 Comments

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