Traversing South Mumbai
This morning, we decided to explore Mumbai on our first weekend off work. We settled on South Mumbai, which is known as the more/most luxurious area in Mumbai. Grabbing an Ola cab was the most convenient way to get there, although it still took us 1.5 hours (~540 rupees) as there was a weekend traffic jam. South Mumbai is separated from the rest of Mumbai by the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, and as our cab travelled across the bridge, the ubiquitous auto rickshaws began to disappear, and more luxury cars came into view. The entire stretch was pretty quiet; there were no honking of vehicles, no wayward crossing of roads, no cows trailing in the distance. I felt like I had left District 12 for District 1.
Heading into the city, the bustling urban life not unlike that of the Mumbai I had experienced for the past four days, emerged. Yet, I was also aware that the roads were more well-paved and wider, the houses were grander, and more tourists were spotted. We stopped at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as the Victoria Terminus. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its historical importance as the headquarters of the Central Railway. Built in 1887, it was first named Victoria Terminus after Queen Victoria, and was designed in the Victorian Gothic style (which to me resembled a mansion that James Bond would head into to hunt for the evil villian).
From CST, we decided to head down to the Gateway of India. The long walk gave us the opportunity to wander around a fair bit. We stumbled into the General Post Office, not aware that it functions as the central post office of Mumbai. It was built in 1913, and was deliberately situated near to the CST as the proximity facilitated easier delivery and receiving of mail from other cities.
According to UNICEF, the literacy rate of Mumbai is approximately 91% as of 2014. This is quite a high figure, and it was thus unsurprising to see the presence of many book stands dotted across the city. They sold English and Hindi books in first and second-hand versions.
Being a foodie, I searched for ‘must visit’ eateries. One of it was K. Rustom & Co., an Iranian ice cream parlour that began selling its famous ice-cream sandwich in 1953, and is one of the oldest ice cream shops in Mumbai. It started out as a provision store selling ice-cream on the side, but now sells its ice-cream full time, although its decor remains humble and unassuming. I had the pistachio ice-cream sandwich for 60 rupees, and deliberately chose this flavour as pistachio and Iran go hand in hand. I was not disappointed by my choice. The ice-cream was sprinkled with pistachio nuts on the side, and biting into it, the flavour of rose water came through, which went well with the pistachio and the crispy thin wafers it was ensconced in. They have an extensive menu with varied flavours that keep expanding, as they make their ice-cream in-house.
Ice-cream devoured, we continued to explore the city, and unknowingly walked into the David Sassoon Libary. It is a heritage site in Mumbai, and was built by the businessman and philanthropist David Sassoon in 1870. What struck me as I was walking out however, was that David Sassoon was the great-grandfather of the poet Siegfried Sassoon. Siegfried Sassoon was one of the poets I first encountered growing up, and his poems continue to be one of my favourites. What a coincidence that I stood in a library in Mumbai that his great-grandfather built. I felt like I went back into time, and then some more.
We finally reached the Gateway of India towards the evening. Built in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911 to India, I could not help but wonder: do the vast majority of Indians who flock to this monument understand the significance of this site? How would they react if they do? The post-colonial legacy of India remains strong, but then again, is it problematic to recognise the monument as a part of India’s history? Who decides what we do with monuments like these?
Overlooking the Gateway of India is the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, another grand and luxurious structure. A five-star hotel, the original building was constructed in 1902 by the Tata Group, and in 1973 a new tower was added to complement the original one. Security was tight when we went it as it was attacked by terrorists in 2008, and that vicious memory continues to haunt Mumbai.
For dinner, we went to a cafe that also came under the 2008 terror attack — Leopold Cafe. I chanced upon this cafe while reading up on the novel Shantaram, a highly-reviewed novel written in 2003 by the author Gregory David Roberts. The cafe was mentioned in the book, and it is one of the oldest in the city. Established in 1871 by Iranis, today they serve a wide array of cuisines, from Western to Indian to Chinese. I tried the grilled chicken with mustard cream sauce for 573 rupees and it was delectable, along with a tasty pineapple lassi for 146 rupees. Portions were huge, but we still managed to squeeze in a French chocolate cake for dessert.
We were stuffed after dinner, and took a cab ride back to our hostel. I thoroughly enjoyed myself exploring South Mumbai with good company, and it helped too that the weather was not punishingly hot (it had rained in the morning). This is a good start to my time in Mumbai.