Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Myriad Musings on Mumbai

Have you ever wondered why Hyundai Santro and its micro-sedan Xcent are the most sought after taxis in the commercial capital of India?

Carved from below a hill!!!
Have you ever imagined in your wildest and weirdest of dreams that autorickshaws are banned in a great part of Mumbai, including the precints in and around the Gateway of India?

Have you ever thought about beaches without waves? [Well, at least in Chennai we don’t!!!]

Well, for an answer you should plan a visit to the Commercial Capital of our country - Mumbai!!! Indeed we [three of us professor-friends from Tamil Nadu and an equal three from Kerala] were witness to this and much more curios on the go, during our three-day tour of this wonderful tinsel-town - dubbed the bollywood of Indian Cinema!

Although the domestic airport is an eyesore, and an apology for an airport, one redeeming feature is that, you’ll forget this eyesore the moment you snatch one step into the International Airport which is really a paradiso eartho!!! And well, on the brighter side, there is no coo cooing by taxi wallahs out there on the high lanes and by lanes, coaxing and cajoling their intended ‘target’ customers, which has become a way of life or shall we say, the norm at the Railway Station and at the Domestic Airport in Chennai! Like in Calcutta, the taxis are regulated by pre-paid taxi stands that don’t charge you a penny extra than what is fixed!

This not only lends credence to their services but also lets the passengers heave a great sigh of relief – far far away from the maddening cries of the taxi wallahs who drone around their ‘victims’ like a bird hovering around its prey!

Avion Hotel, quite a stone’s throw away from the Domestic Airport, was our preferred place of stay, as in the past!

Avion, - though on ‘renovation mode’ to welcome her summer tourists, busy sprucing up her lanes and lawns, aisles and stiles, leaving no stone unturned in the process, - didn’t let us down! The breakfast was way beyond toothsome by all means! Variety, the spice of life, can be felt here in all its grandeur! Yes, I strongly recommend Avion for your stay in Mumbai!

We took taxis (yes, there are more santros and ritzes, with indicas and indigos nowhere in sight! I think, diesel cars have been out of reach for mumbaiites?) to the Gateway of India, and en route we saw the mighty Taj Oberoi hotel, and Trident, [yes the good ol’ ones, which were taken over by terrorists in the 2008 attacks, and witnessed heavy fire in the process] beautifully spruced up and having regained double their lustre. People who flock to the Gateway of India seldom forget to take snapshots foregrounding the mighty Taj Oberoi and Trident which adorn the backdrop to the Gateway!

The Gateway of India, an amazing monument overlooking the Arabian Sea, is a great tourist attraction in Mumbai! From the Gateway of India, there are ferry services with balcony facilities, that take you to the mighty Elephanta Caves. Of course, although the Govt-authorized ferries cost you Rs.160 for a 90 minute trip into the sea to the beautiful island, the ferry men make merry by frisking away another Rs.20 from your wallet for a balcony ride on their ferries.

Yet by all means it is a ride worth its value for every penny of it. Even as the ferry cruises along a decent five nautical miles into the Arabian Sea, you get to see fleets of ships anchored on all sides of the sea, waiting to unload their cargo. One particular ship aroused our curiosity beyond measure. It was an old, dilapidated, unused, unkempt old warhorse, now abandoned, which lay floating for may be years now, and there was a lone companion in the portals of this old huge ship, cooking and eating  all by himself, and having his living in the remnants of its grand old decks.

A mile or so further, and you can see those beautiful sea gulls, in colonies, congregating around your cruise boat by the dozens. We first mistook them for prodigal ducks that were floating along with the air currents, and had great pity for them. But soon we were alerted by our travel companions that they were indeed sea gulls. In a jiffy, a swarm of sea gulls encompassed our cruise boat, and tourists were happily feeding lays and similar airy stuff ;-) to these gulls of the seaside.

What an amazing sharpness of acumen these birds have, when they sense fishes underwater even from very high altitudes, and in one flash dive, they get their intended target with aplomb!
That mischievous brat!!!
Now, after our around 90 minute cruise down the sea, a beautiful island welcomed us in all its pristine glory. This is the Elephanta Caves, a Buddhist centre from the 5th to 7th century AD. The Buddhist stupas in each of the caves have an aura of their own, which seems indescribable. You need to climb a thousand steps (like the ones in the Rock Fort Temple, Trichy) and all the while, you need to be on the watch out for the monkeys, the chimps and the apes which come discreetly to whisk away your Lays or your Good Day, and many were spontaneous victims to this snatching episode that unfolds on an hourly basis every other hour of the day. Unmindful of the hullaballo caused by the chimps, I left our pet bottle of Slice near my travel bag, and was busy sipping away a cuppa coffee as happy as could be, when a little chimp blazed her way quietly through the shrubs and flicked away the mango squash, all in a jiffy!

My bad!

Military personnel have also used these caves as their security stand point in the past centuries, which could be gauged from the many cannons that still adorn the Cannon Hills as testimonials to the same!

Although the climb was daunting, we were able to relish it, thanks to the hundreds of shopping bunks of all hues and shades adorning either side of the array of steep steps! While some had binoculars of different types, some had all kinds of toys, vanity bags, clothes, key chains, snacks, tea, coffee, samosa, and even restaurants that served biryani!

sea gulls hovering around us deep into the sea...
It was the season of mangoes in Mumbai, and the Elephanta Caves were no different!  Indeed the natural sugars in the ‘slightly raw, slightly ripe’ mangoes gets an extra complexion and added taste to it with a profuse sprinkle of salt and chilli powder!  The favourite choice of children during the holidays!

After a wonderful time at Elephanta, we boarded our ferry back to Mumbai! Coast Guard motorized ferries where whizzing past us in full throttle every now and then, and we could also see Coast Guard helicopters hovering over the island once every hour or so.

We decided to take the EMU [Suburban Train] to Vile Parle! I was curious to know the meaning of this nomenclatural wonder! I was told that, it’s not French in origin, as I made it out to be, but taken from the names of two good old temples in the vicinity – Virleshwar and Parleshwar! This place also houses the first ever launch factory of Parle Products, India. The place is also famous for her native delicacies, like Vada Pav, and one ‘god knows what Kichadi’, that really struck a chord with our tastebuds!

Well, Mumbai should be the ultimate destination in India for its marvelous architecture. Although we had a glimpse of Big B [Amitab’s] palatial house, Ambani’s breathtaking mansions with helipads that ‘touch the sky,’ Lata Mangeshkar’s beautiful bungalow, etc, still, most of the towering apartments in Mumbai have a special charm which are unique in themselves!

Most of these ‘skywalk’ kinda towers have, on an average, 35 to 40 floors or above!

Be it the Juhu Beach, or any of the umpteen beaches in Mumbai, the shoreline is adorned by these cityscapes that skyrocket to the core! [Like, if you want on a smaller scale - your Marine Drive in Kochi]

Yet another architectural marvel in Mumbai of late is the Bandra–Worli Sea Link, the awesome cable-stayed bridge, is one of its kind in India - designed as the first cable-stayed bridge to be constructed in open seas in India. We cruised through this wonder, without even a minor traffic snarl, and yes! On either side of the bridge one could find caution notices put up, which forbids vehicle parking and photography! And these rules are being meticulously followed too! The sea-link, we are told, reduces travel time between Bandra and Worli from 90 minutes to 20–30 minutes. Way to goo!

Our next destination was the famous Sanjay Gandhi National Park! From Avion, where we all were staying, we ‘Santroed’ to Sanjay Gandhi National Park in hardly 15 minutes, in the City’s unofficial carrier – Uber [not Ola!!!]

It is indeed amazing to note that this National Park with 104 square kilometers, is located within one of India’s busiest metropolis! It was like, you were transported to another wild world of the famed ‘Hatari’ type, or the ‘Gods must be Crazy’ type!

Well, bicycles were up for grabs, for hire at a pretty decent rate, and we all eagerly crowded around the bicycle rental zone, when, we were told – by a good Samaritan - that it was a longgg way within! And that buses frequent the Kanheri Caves, every fifteen to thirty minutes!

So we all got our next available bus, and getting the ticket, - Rs. 26 – we noticed that, not a single word in the ticket was in Hindi or in English! It was Marathi all the way! Mumbaiites are indeed so passionate towards their mother tongue, or so we felt! Way to go!

The Kanheri Caves, which are supposed to be around 2500 years old, strike us by their wonderful array of sculptures which daze us all by their intricate proportions and careful attention to even the slightest detail!

One look from the highest point trail deep down, and you have an awesome sight in store! Lakes, buildings and hills can be seen at a farr of distance! The dense forest also has a beautiful river that meanders through the slippery, didgety rocky terrains of the park. We could find a lot of spotted deer, even out there in the open!

Nature trails and rock climbing are added attractions here! While boating is a pastime for the ‘less adventurous’ here, and preferably by those who’ve been struck hard by cupid’s fancy arrow!!!

To be contd…

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