Twenty four hours train journey in Udyan Experess was about to end at the destination at exactly eight o’clock on Sunday. The train was slowing down; it was just one-minute stop at the Dadar railway station. Passengers were jam packed at the exit door of train to get down. And yes, it was not a smooth exit for Kiran and me, as we struck in the middle of the compartment with our luggage. Within a minute, Dadar railway station was packed with thousands of people who just got down from the train. Train almost became empty and continued its journey towards Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station. It was a sea of people at the railway station and the foot over bridge was packed with heavy crowd with no place to climb! We both stood aside for some time and started sweating. After waiting for two minutes and having climbed the foot over bridge we got the first-view of our financial capital of India – Mumbai. Our first sight was huge concrete buildings, multicolor flashing advertising boards, and crowded local market in front of us on a foot over bridge! It’s our first few minute experience of this city, Mumbai.
Next day morning at exactly half past six we were at Bandra local railway station. For every six minutes, local trains were transiting Bandra. The train ticket was printed with message that, we can travel in any of these trains to our destination within an hour of the purchase. Our journey started with Mumbai’s iconic local train from Bandra to Churchgate, which is the last local station towards the south of Mumbai. I was in Mumbai to appear for an interview at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Center (TIFR) for a research fellowship. By default, our first visit in Mumbai was TIFR Campus. Having reached the campus one hour early, we had enough time to see the campus. The campus sits right in the middle of Indian Navy area at Colaba. The area is called Navy Nagar. The neat white markings, with proper sign boards on both side of the Homi Baba road, clean-neat foot paths with less number of people walking, no shops around and an old Afghan Church was the signature of this defense area. We both spent almost three forth of our valuable day to finish my interview at the campus. TIFR campus was beautiful in its geographical location. It is just next to the waters of Arabian Sea and the view of sea from campus main building makes everyone very relaxed and calm. Undoubtedly, one of the beautiful research centers in India. Of course we did not have permission to see laboratories and other facilities, so we roamed the entire campus by admiring its beauty. Last but not the least, we did not forget to fill our appetite at the well maintained and air conditioned canteen of TIFR!
Our next visit was to a place where King George V and Queen Marry came to India on the second of December in the year 1911. To commemorate the landing of the king and the queen at this place, British constructed this monument in Indo-Saracenic style and is now very popularly known as Gate Way of India. Bombay was the name given by the Portuguese who were the first intruders to India before the British. When they reached this place they said ‘bom-bay’, which means ‘good-bay’ (good harbor) in their language. Even today, Mumbai houses its harbor in this place. Gate Way of India stands with the memory of Indian Independence time. It is at this place British ended their rule in India. After independence, the last Governor General of the British and his soldiers left India from this place. Swami Vevekananda went on his historic voyage to Chicago from this very place. Truly, ‘Gate Way of India’ is one of the symbols of Indian History. Even today, Mumbaikers use this place to spread peace, joy and brotherhood to the entire world. The hundred year old heritage wing of Taj Mahal hotel adds another feather to this place and makes one of the iconic architectural signatures of Mumbai. Kiran and I, took a bus from TIFR and got down two kilometers before Gate Way of India. We both walked on the Shaeed Bagath Singh road experiencing Mumbai’s traffic and having glimpse of other old buildings. Finally, we reached Gate Way of India through local roads.
Our walking did not stop even though the Sun was brutal on two Bangaloreans. We both are in our unusual formal dress because of my interview. It was horrible to walk in formals under the heat of sun, yet we wanted to explore the city. The place where ‘Gate Way of India’ is located can be called as the heart of city. When Portuguese came, they started colonizing Bombay right from this place because of the beautiful harbor they have. And later British followed the same plan and they also implemented local trains to Bombay. The then Bombay started to grow right from this place towards North. The streets, circles, Indo-Saracenic architectural buildings such as Mumbai high court, Chatrapathi Shivaji Museum, Western railway head quarters at this place reflects the period of old Bombay. Navi Mumbai located almost fifty kilometers away from this place, where you can see Mumbai Metro rail, Mono rail and other recent developments. Even though you don’t find Metro in South Mumbai, yet it is one of the developed and highly populated cities of India. After looking at the statue on Chatrapathi Shivaji marg, I suddenly realized that we are standing on the land of Maratha ruler Chatrapathi Shivaji. Chatrapathi Shivaji was the famous seventeenth century Indian warrior king, who ruled Maratha Kingdom efficiently with his administrative and military skills. Most of the old buildings, a museum, a railway station and an airport at Mumbai were named after him.
Taking a local train to Marine Line railway station, we reached another signature landmark of Mumbai called Marine Drive. Almost all the Indian movies and foreign movies which showcase Mumbai will have a scene of Marine Drive. The beach is very shallow and curvy here. A four kilometer double road with neat foot paths adjacent to the curved beach adds to the beauty. Morning and evening walks along this beach are a pride for Mumbaikers as well as tourists. With street illuminated at night, this place looks magical to the eye. Kiran and I reached this place at the perfect time! Evening reddish sky and cumulative clouds are reflecting in the vast Arabian Sea. Sun was about set- a perfect framed shot for a photographer. Over to the camera now….
Next, we got down at Lower Parel railway station. Twilight was fading out, here and there advertising neon lights and corporate buildings light was flashing. After satisfying our dehydrated bodies with sugarcane juice, we headed out to the local market. Beside Lower Parel railway station life was different. A slum with a local market selling everything you can imagine, people buying things, eating what they want and children from slums roaming the market and a crowd of people running to catch a local train. This was the real life at this place. Seeing everything at once was full chaos- a real Mumbai. Just the other side of the road, huge corporate office building with beautiful sign boards, branded showrooms and a pool of Benz, BMW, Audi cars – a posh Mumbai. Mumbai is a home to almost all kinds of people no matter whether they are rich or poor. Our agenda is to finish our dinner in the local market. We tasted variety of chats and their masalas in different shops and drank fruit juices until we satisfied our stomach. Our other agenda is to walk from the local market to Worli to see the Bandra-Worli Sea Link Bridge, country’s unique bridge. The total distance was two and half kilometers and we had enough energy to walk. Exploring the streets of Mumbai at night is really fun and we are ready for it.
Bandra-Worli sea link bridge was the first of its kind in the country. It is a cable bridge across Arabian Sea linking Bandra and Worli. Five kilometers bridge looks very beautiful from far. My camera and tripod were busy in taking snaps of this beautiful landscape. We were enjoying our precious time at this place but were suddenly caught by the Mumbai lady police who were in plain clothes. We were interrogated for fifteen minutes about whereabouts. And one lady police scanned all the marks cards and degree certificates from my file. Even TIFR officials did not verify my documents so much, but Mumbai police did! After all the document verification was done, they told us photography is strictly prohibited here and not to take any photos. There are no sign boards displaying photography is prohibited, and when asked about this the two lady police did not have an answer. They called higher officials and confirmed existing of this rule. How on earth, we both would know that photography is prohibited at this place without a proper notice board. We insisted them to put a notice board here, so that it helps other tourists and then left the place. To our surprise both lady police told not to delete the photos that we have already taken!! We took a joy ride on India’s first cable bridge by Mumbai city taxi. Drive along this bridge was awesome but this joy ride also flattened our wallets.
On Tuesday morning we were standing at Bandra local railway station with hundreds of passengers, who were heading towards their offices. It was a peak hour crowd at the station. Every six minutes, train comes and halts for 10 seconds. We both were looking all around the station, nearly thousand people used to get into the train and the same amounts of people were getting down. All compartments were crowded heavily in such a way that there is no place to stand even at the door. People who got down from the train were never walking, instead they were running. Kiran suddenly said, “Mumbai never walks, it only runs.” For south Indians, especially for Bangaloreans these are unseen visuals, yet it is normal life in Mumbai. That’s how Mumbikers live in Mumbai. Metallic foot over bridges are another interesting part of Mumbikers life. Typically, a foot over bridge in Bangalore can take you from one side of the road to other. But here the story is different; you can walk on foot over bridge for a half a kilometer and even more at some places. All foot over bridge end at local railway stations. Millions of people use these bridges every day. What we observed is that the default friction-pads of metallic surface on which people walk, have completely become shiny surfaces. The city’s civic body has welded extra friction-pads to the metallic surfaces to give friction while walking! Only in Mumbai these kind of strange things are seen. Kiran asked me a question, “How to travel in this crowded train?” I told him, “It’s very simple. Just stand in the crowd, they will push you in and whenever you want to get down come near to the door they will push you out.” It’s very easy to travel in Mumbai’s crowded trains. Today we are heading towards the country’s oldest railway station known as Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST).
Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus is hundred year old railway station in India. This was built by Britsh to remember the golden jubilee of the Queen Victoria in the year 1887. It was known as Victoria Terminus but in 1996 it was renamed as Chatrapahti Shivaji Terminus (CST). The architecture of this monument is in the Gothic-revival style. It was built for a railway station which had the head quarters of Indian Peninsular Railway during British rule and even after hundred years it still a working railway station and also the countries busiest railway station. CST hoses both local and national trains. This beautiful building also has the tag of UNESCO heritage site. CST was also the victim brutal terrorist attack of 26/11, but no harm done to the heritage building during the attack.
Last night we both were in formals and today we became locals. We started our journey by walk under the hot Sun after having lime juice near Azad Maidan. We passed by Hazarimal Somani road, M.G.Road and halted near the Flora fountain which reminded us of Avenue road in Bangalore. Yes, it’s Books! We scanned through all the books at the stores. Kiran started searching for some exotic books and purchased few of them. Flora fountain is also one of the architectural monuments in south Bombay. It was erected in the year 1864 to honor the Bartle Frere who was the governor of Bombay. It was named after Greek goddess, Flora. Hutatma Chowk is another landmark located beside flora fountain. It was built in the memory of members of Samyukta Maharastra Samithi who lost their lives during the police attack on their peaceful demonstration. The area around this place is also called as Fort Area. This place is also famous for many other reasons. Within a radius of one kilometer, nearly twenty eight bank’s head quarters buildings can be found! Some of the bank buildings have unique architectures. Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) at Dalal Street sits right at this place. It’s the heart of India’s financial transactions. And for the people who work in this area, their language would be just money. Sun has already dehydrated the lime juice we consumed and now it is time for sugarcane juice. Mumbai’s heat was unbearable for two of us. Sugarcane juice has almost become water for us; we drank sugarcane juice almost at every junction while walking. Later in the evening Kiran’s stomach gave a push, and then he started suspecting the sugarcane juice he had and stopped drinking further!
Sun was over head, and the clock was showing twelve o’clock. It’s a perfect time to see Mumbai Dabba Walas at Churchgate railway station. On the way to Churchgate station we spotted a Parsi temple. Kiran told me, only parsis can enter this temple. Mumbai has many parsi temple at different parts of the city and the one at fort area is the oldest of all which is three hundred years old. Due to last night Mumbai police attack on us, we almost stopped our photography. I feel an SLR camera connected to a tripod is the problem to Mumbai police. Unfortunately, we did not have a normal point and shoot camera. We just saw the temple from outside and suddenly spotted dabbas and cycles of Dabbawalas beside the road. It was a hundred year old practice of delivering food to the customers office from their homes. Dabbawalas collect the filled lunch dabbas (food containers) from homes and deliver it to the workplaces on time, and then they return dabbas to home. Their mode of transport is just carts and cycles. Their unique dress code of white pajamas and white Ghandi Cap distinguishes them from common public. Their services were uninterrupted by any strike or harsh day of monsoon from the last hundred years! Only in 2011, during Anna Hazare campaign against corruption in Mumbai, they went on a day’s strike. Except this, nothing stopped them in hundred years! They can be spotted at many places of Mumbai during lunch time.
Seeing dabba walas with their dabbas (food containers), our stomachs started making noise. It’s now time to taste Mumbai’s Biriyani at Bendi Bazar, which is a like a typical K.R.Market area of Bangalore. Most of the people who live in Bendi Bazar belong to Muslim community. Obviously, they make very good Biriyanis and lot of famous hotel can be found at this place. One person in bus suggested us to go to Noor Mahammadi hotel to have good biriyani at decent price. Well, what else you need for an empty stomach. We had chicken biriyani along with Sanju’s chikken curry, a recipe from Bollywood actor Sanjay Datt. Both dishes were very tasty and satisfied our stomach to the full. Having gained full energy with good non-vegetarian lunch, we started our afternoon journey on an iconic Mumbai double-decker bus. It was a joy ride for us and the bus passed by Marine Drive, Mantralayam (Mumbai’s Vidhana Soudha) and Back Bay fishing yard. One more interesting fact of Mumbai is that except the classy cars of corporate world, all city taxies and government buses uses CNG as fuel. To our surprise, we could hardly find any bikes on road. Bike users in south Mumbai are almost zero. This drastically reduces the amount of pollution in a city like Mumbai. We know how Bangalore is polluted with vehicles, but here everything is under control. Majority of Mubaiker’s life line transport is local trains, which runs on electricity!
Mahalakshmi local railway station is just three stops from Churchgate station. Just beside Mahalakshmi station, Mumbai houses world’s largest ‘Washing Machine’! Yes it’s the world’s largest Dhobi Ghat (Laundry space) attached to a slum. A fly over beside the station will give a perfect view of Dhobi Ghat. It sits right under the shadow of corporate world sky scrapers and apartments of Mumbai. Everyday lot of foreigners visit this fly over just to have a glimpse of the world’s largest Dhobi Ghat. Again sugarcane juice comes to the rescue to beat Sun’s heat while walking. We walked along Mumbai’s race course and reached Nehru Science Center, which includes a Planetarium. Unfortunately, before we reached the place, the last show was already running and so we could not attend the show. Science center also had museum in the campus. After a brief visit to museum, we sealed off our one and half day package of Mumbai. We headed back to the place where we stayed to catch the train to Bangalore.
Our stay in Mumbai was at a crowded place near Bandra station. Almost at all time we saw huge crowds outside the station along with series of autos piling up making traffic jam, stinking garbage besides the slum dwellers. This is a common scene at Bandra station. We stayed at IRCTC retiring room facility at the newly constructed and well maintained Bandra Terminus station, which is just a kilometer from Bandra local station. And yes, when you are in Mumbai you cannot forget the favorite dish of Mubaikers Vada Pav. We tasted Vada Pav at different parts of the city and even in our train journey. We saw people eating Vada Pav in local trains, buses, while walking on foot paths and at many places. It’s one of the famous traditional foods of Mumbai and is available at all parts of Mumbai. Before coming back to Bangalore, I renamed this dish as “Mumbai’s Burger!”
Mumbai is a city of many signatures and a place which can take you back into history. When a train halts at Mumbai, thousands of people pool into the city aspiring of their future here. It’s a home to almost all kinds of people. Country’s biggest apartments, multi-storied individual residences, beautiful corporate building and the largest slum of Asia, all have their address as Mumbai. It’s a city which is carefully packed with rich as well as poor at the same place! And yes, it is also the home to the world’s richest cinema industry known as Bollywood and also the financial capital of India. You cannot explain Mumbai through words; you can only experience it. We stayed only for two days in this city and out of these only one and half day we were able to wander the city (only south Mumbai). Right from the Mumbai Police, we experienced most of Mumbai’s life. If you ask me to choose the best experience in Mumbai, I will choose local trains of Mumbai. For me Mumbai local trains are the nerves of Mumbai’s brain. For Mumbaikers, local trains help them travel from one part of the city to other in a faster way, but for outsiders, this journey reflects the life of Mumbai. In this journey, you can see joy, young love, business, poor people, student life, office life, jam packed ladies compartment and a very calm foot board lady travelers etc., -Absolutely amazing! And you cannot see these scenes everywhere in India except in Mumbai. We missed many important places in Mumbai, yet our experience of Mumbai is not small. Mumbai is a magical city. In my view, “tourists visited Mumbai” is wrong. It’s the other way; Mumbai makes tourists visit it! I am waiting for my second trip to Mumbai.
Date of Visit: 24th and 25th of March 2014
Kiran M and Viswa Keerthy S
Viswa Keerthy S