Further SOUTH, BOMBAY
dominates not only the Maharashtra coast but the entire state itself. It is an immensely busy, noisy, frenetic island city, a magnet which draws everyone and everything towards it: job-seekers from all over the state, as well as goods for export, diamonds from and antique furniture from Goa, wanna-be film stars and models from the north and businessmen from the world over.
One of the distinct advantages of exploring India along the coast, is that you can arrive in Bombay the way you should do, by boat, and through the city’s most famous landmark, the Gateway of India, built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. Forget the hassle of V.T. railway station, or the long drive in from the airport: as we sail into Bombay harbour, weaving our way through the tankers, the ferries, the yachts and cruisers, we can step off our boat, cross through the vaulted arch of the Gateway, and there is Bombay in front of us.
Despite comparisons with New York, another island melting-pot city, and despite its sophistication, Bombay remains most definitely an Indian city, but it is also a cosmopolitan mix that bears witness to generations of invaders, traders and immigrants, all drawn by the lure of Bombay’s deep harbour, commercial expertise and trading instincts. The Portuguese, the first Europeans to interest themselves in Bombay, came in 1509, and built a walled city at Bassein. In 1662, Bombay – which at that time comprised seven islands, subsequently drained to form the single island we know today – passed from the Portuguese to Guprab merchants moved south to Bombay. as did the astute and gifted Parsis –a Zoroastrian community who had earlier fled religious persecution in Persia. Arab traders arrived by sea from the Gulf and the British arrived in search of silk, muslin and spices.
Many of the city’s timeless images are. naturally enough, connected with the Arabian Sea. At Wore. Haji Ali Mosque stands on a raised walkway in the middle of the sea and hundreds of daily pilgrims waft for low tide to visit the shrine. Each evening, Chowpatty Beach is ablaze with the lights of stalls seeing fruit-juice. ice-cream and snacks to the crowds who throng the beach after work. Marine Drive is one of the main arteries of south Bombay, yet amidst the traffic there are early morning joggers,, people walking the dog, flocks of pigeons, fishermen, and sedate horse-drawn landaus.
One of “the” sights of Bombay, Elephanta. Island is roughly 10 kilometres from the Gateway of India, and accessible only by boat. On the island are four rock-cut temples dating from the 4th to the 9th century, but sadly they were badly damaged by the Portuguese. To get there, take a launch from the jetty in front of the Gateway: they are very regular, very cheap, and very full. Usually the launches don’t operate during the monsoons. Allow a full day for the visit, including travelling time. In February/March each year, there is a festival of classical Indian music and dance held on the island, which is a wonderful event. Top class artistes perform and you sit outdoors under banyan trees, and travel back to Bombay on special launches at mid.
Bombay’s biggest and best spectacle is the annual Ganesh Chaturthi festival, when the popular elephant-headed god is worshipped in the home and then taken to the sea and immersed. There are several auspicious days for the immersion, but the last day of the festival is always the most spectacular. Huge idols of Ganesh arrive at Chowpatty Beach, carried on trucks, and have to be lifted off by crane. They are carried or floated out to sea, with devotees swimming out or accompanying in small boats.