Diversity is one of the defining traits of India. The language, religion, food and landscapes are varied and exotic. It is a magical, mysterious country and the main objective of Vasco da Gama’s expedition across the globe in search of a spice route.
Mumbai is the largest city of India and the embodiment of the multifarious culture of the country. Taxis, tuk tuks, pedestrians and cyclists nosily navigating streets dotted with skyscrapers and squat houses are the backdrop to this amazing megacity. The abundance of beautiful temples, mosques and churches indicate the numerous traditions of Mumbai. Colourful festivals are enthusiastically celebrated throughout the year and are the perfect time to visit the city.
From June to September the monsoon descends on Mumbai. Water falls from the sky and runs down the streets. This make seeing certain landmarks in Mumbai more difficult, but is a unique way to experience the city. Mumbai is a shock to the senses. A perfect immersive introduction to India, made more intense and vibrant in the monsoon.
Framing the Arabian Sea of the Mumbai harbour in South Mumbai is the Gateway of India. The impressive arch and turrets of the monument attracts crowds from across India and the world. In the shadow of the beautiful landmark are food stalls and entrepreneurial souls selling ice cream cones.
Embarking on a short ferry from the Gateway of India delivers you to Gharapuri or Elephanta Island. For such a small island in the Sea of Oman there is a surprising amount of cultural history. The Elephanta Caves are a network of caves including incredible art cut from the stone, the most impressive honouring the Hindu deity Shiva. The artists responsible for these works of art remain a mystery, and their masterpieces a unique insight into a lost culture.
Another religious shrine in Mumbai is the Haji Ali Dargah mosque. The beautiful Indo-Islamic building appears to float on the ocean during high tide, as the pathway connecting it to the shore is only visible at low tide. Whether joining the throngs of people on a pilgrimage to this marble masterpiece or visiting one of the many small Hindu temples dotted around Mumbai you are sure to be awed by the rich religious heritage of India. Just remember the importance of being respectful to the cultures you are experiencing.
For over one hundred years row upon row of concrete troughs, laundry lines swaying in the breeze and the houses of washer men have made up the Mahalaxmi dhobi ghat. A bridge near to the Mahalaxmi railway station provides a perfect vantage point to appreciate the scale of this outdoor laundry. If you would like to walk amongst the houses and laundry there are usually people happy to show you around for a very small fee.
Water flies, spinning from laundry flung against flogging stones. Work in the dhobi ghat is not always easy, but every face you see is smiling welcomingly. The families of this community have been here for generations, they have perfected their trade.
When the skies open during monsoon things grind to a halt. Not because the people are afraid of getting wet, but because clothes cannot be dried. Torrential downpours can pour over 200mm a day onto areas of the city. In a flash gutters become rivers and clothes are soaked. Monsoon is a surprisingly beautiful way to view the city. From the waves crashing around Haji Ali and the citizens determinedly facing the rain under umbrellas of questionable use to the standstill of traffic there is nothing like a Mumbai monsoon. The rain is actually a welcome relief from the heat of India, as long as you have somewhere to retreat when you have had enough.
The skies may be overcast in monsoon, but the atmosphere of Mumbai is only enhanced by their moodiness. The deluge is the perfect excuse to hold a hot aromatic chai under the awning of a street stall. Street food or local specialities or curries from one of the many restaurants lining the streets is a colourful way to end a day in the city. The spectacular blends of spices in these dishes make walking through the warm rain a pleasant memory in no time.