Thursday, 8 December 2016

Visit to Elephanta Island Cave temples

Elephanta Island is about an hour from Mumbai  chugging slowly on an ancient tub. It was weekend so the boat was crowded with locals off for a spree to see the famous caves.

We embarked from Apollo Bunder,  right in front of the gateway to India, the scene as the boat departed was a tourist postcard, gateway framing the Taj Mahal hotel in the background and the awful tower which is the extension of the hotel.  Tickets were really cheap 120 R return. As we advanced into the sea we could see the skyline of the Mumbai which we had not, and probably would never discover, super tall blocks, all shiny new glinting in the sunlight.

On arrival we walked along a long pier towards the island, there was  a small gauge toy train which was immediately packed inside and out. The island was incredibly green and lush palms, tamarind and mango trees,  steep hills arising abruptly. 
I wondered what the Portuguese sailors thought they would find when they first came ashore in 1534; we don’t know what they thought of the magnificent cave temples but we know what they did, an enormous amount of damage, shooting mostly all the lower portions of the rock sculptures  and stealing the huge basalt stone elephant at the entrance to the caves,  they managed to drag it down to the sea with chains which promptly broke sending the massive sculpture to the bottom of the sea, it was rescued during the British colonial years and taken to a museum in Mumbai. It was the Portuguese who named the island Elephanta but it is actually called Gharapuri, city of the caves.
At the end of the pier there is a steep climb on a paved path to the entrance of the cave area. The way is lined with stalls under the trees, also our first sight of monkeys being very naughty, grabbing any food in evidence and other monkey business. We were intrigued to see a line of heavy wooden chairs with sturdy poles, evidently for carrying people up the hill, must be a four man task, regretfully we didn’t see this sight in action as we trudged up.

The caves' origin is dated approximately during the period 450 to 750 AD, there are no inscriptions so the dates are based on the fact that this period marks the decline of Buddhism in India and the revival of the Brahmanical traditions.
There are two groups of caves—the first is a large group of five Hindu caves, the second, a smaller group of two Buddhist caves.

The Hindu caves are from the Shaiva Hindu sect, stone sculptures were hewn from the basalt rock and dedicated to Lord Shiva, as usual with many lingum , symbols of divine generative energy, usually a phallic object as a symbol of Shiva. Apparently the caves were originally painted but now only traces remain.

The caves are certainly impressive and must have had a wonderful sense of tranquillity when they were used as temples, just bird song, sound of the sea and beautiful Vedic mantras. It is difficult to grasp this nowadays, especially as the once fabulous sculptures are so tragically damaged, there is still beauty there but very sad and poignant, the remaining visages stare serenely into the unknown future. 

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Back from India!

Been back for nearly a month after our Indian sojourn. It was a great trip with so many contrasts, thank all the gods that it was  trouble free, no serious problems and we managed to solve the minor glitches that assail independent travellers.
It was a challenge to work our way around the Malabar coast with a big detour to Hampi but we did it, much helped by many kind people along the way. Our own attitude changed as we learned to walk trustfully among people living with different priorities, our eyes and hearts open to new experiences. Besides everything else it was great to spend such an exciting and interesting trip with Lucy, definitely the organized one, many times it was a pastiche of totally whimsical and excitable mother, scattering possessions along the way accompanied by calm, collected and cool daughter picking up the bits and making sure we were on the right train. 
Three Girls painted by Amrita Sher Gil, great to see the originals in Mumbai

Now that we are back safe and sound I reflect on what we saw and how we were treated, the kindness and simplicity which we encountered. The graciousness despite lack of material wealth, the way there were patterns despite the apparent chaos.
The country has seven major religions, 22 regional languages and a population of 1,332,904,657, nearly a 5th of world population. Mumbai alone has a population of 20.7 million. Maybe only born and bred Indians can fathom the mysteries and complexities, I can only write about our own experience limited by time and space; 22 days travelling from Mumbai to Panaji in Goa, Hampi and Anegundi in Karnataka, Kannur, Kochi, Aleppey in Kerala and back to Mumbai by train, plane and taxi.

Here's the first bit about Mumbai, it's rather long but I want to convey the unique flavour of the city and besides everything else how fascinating it is just to walk around, surprising, alarming, making 1001 connections, colour and most of all lots of fun.

Our Indian adventure started at 02.00 landing at Chhatrapati Shivaji, Mumbai's airport. 
Long immigration lines and then unexpected forms, thank goodness our visas were in order. Finally we were through, met very efficiently by a smiley driver and his car sent by the hotel. What a relief not having to negotiate the mysteries of pre-paid taxis and all the attendant hassle. The streets were as quiet as we ever saw them at 03.30 in the morning, we drove through a good slice of Mumbai including mean streets with plenty of people sleeping on the pavement. So many small shops and businesses all with their own signs arranged above in hundreds of different fonts and colours, Hindi names and then lots of Muslim names as we drove on the edge of Chor Bazaar with its minarets and mosques. We skirted the Arabian sea and glimpsed a floating apparition, a gleaming white mosque surrounded by moonlit waves, we must surely come back to see this wonder in daylight. As we approached the Fort area we were astounded by the bizarre architectural relics of the Raj, mostly quite hideous in their hotchpotch of gothic, mudejar, indo-saracen styles and all built on an enormous scale. Somehow weirdly attractive in their decrepitude, tatty old monsters never created anywhere before or since, we were to become quite fond of these huge monstrosities and the stories hidden in their musty depths. According to writer Jan Morris, "Bombay is one of the most characteristically Victorian cities in the world, displaying all the grand effrontery of Victorian eclectism".

Finally we arrived at Hotel Residency Fort, a our haven for the next few days in Mumbai, a comfy hotel in an interesting area. A few hours sleep and this is what I saw on opening the curtains on our first morning in Mumbai

Corvus splendens, huge crows which we were to see every day of our entire trip in India, they are hansome birds if slightly sinister. Very necessary scavengers.

We chose to stay in the Fort area of Mumbai as it is within walking distance of many of the sites we wanted to visit during our short stays. It was the old commercial hub of Bombay, near the docks and the Gateway of India. Although deploring the politics of colonialism, it had a huge impact on India for good and bad, no more so than in the big administration centres, Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta. The architectural style which evolved and became the all too solid emblem of British power in Bombay was gloriously eccentric, quite mad, we certainly wanted to explore this area.
We soon found out that almost all the streets and landmarks in the Fort area have two names, the old colonial names and the post colonial Indian names, endearingly the old names seem to be the ones in common usage.

One of the main arteries of the Fort district is the Hornby Road now Dadabhai Naoroji Road. The entire stretch of the road is studded with Neo–Classical and Gothic Revival edifices built during the boom years of 1870-1919. A unifying element of the very divergent styles is the pavement arcade which continues on both sides of the street providing shade and protection from the monsoon. Still today, and no doubt always, also provides good pitches for small stalls selling almost anything, well perhaps the rather alarming non-ergonomic plastic dildos were not available to the memsahibs of circa 1920 but they may have been tempted by the florists and hand made stationery and perhaps a new solar topee from Whiteaway and Laidlaw . What else would they have seen along the way?
Crawford Market built in 1869, with its weird blend of Flemish and Norman architecture is still a maze of stalls selling spices, fruit and vegetables, it's in a terrible state and very filthy, to get there is a nightmare, a vision of hell in the early evening with the worst traffic, taxi drivers refuse to go there.The friezes on the outside and the fountains were designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard Kipling.

Victoria Terminus designed by Frederick William Stevens, initially named in honour of Queen and Empress Victoria, built in 1887. It was renamed as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in 1996. Quite a sight, mind blowing embellishments of carved animals and birds. We caught the train down to Goa from here averting our eyes from the prolific rat population down on the tracks and praying they couldn't gain access to the train, they didn't!

Bombay Municipal Corporation Building was designed in the gothic revival style by (who else?) Fredrick William Stevens and built in 1893, it has a tower and dome of nearly 80 metres, quite a statement.

Whiteaway and Laidlaw Emporium now, Khadi Bhander. Loved this haunting place, *see shopping

The J.N.Petit Public Library named after its donor Sir Jamshetjee Nesserwanjee Petit, it was designed by architect Merwanjee Bana and built in 1898.
The Petit family, a formidable Parsi mercantile family, were seen as exemplars of Parsi charity; donating their profits to animal welfare, orphanages, widows' homes, infrastructural projects and libraries. The JN Petit Library had originally been instituted in 1856 as the ‘Fort Improvement Library’ for Parsi students studying at the Elphinstone College.

Vatcha Agiary Parsi fire temple built in 1881, with its mighty Persian beasts guarding the entrance.

The dwindling Zoroastrian Parsi population of Mumbai first migrated from Persia in the 10th century but with a huge influx in the 19th century, these later arrivals were also Zoroastrian but were known as Iranis.There are still many remnants of their culture in the Fort area, fire temples with Assyrian motifs, a few of the old Irani cafes left such as Britannia and Leopold, see under Irani Cafés for more info.

We came across the quaint Parsi Lying- in Hospital long since closed.

The Flora fountain marks the southern end of the Hornby Road. An insignificant monument surrounded by roaring traffic, a neo-classic sculpture of Flora with too much clumsy embellishment.

Kitab Khana,just opposite Flora Fountain is the old book shop  see shopping.

Mahatma Ghandi Road
Beyond the Flora fountain the Hornby Road joins M.G. Road as it is know.

More architectural delights, museums and galleries, a really interesting walk culminating at the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Colaba.

The David Sassoon Library and Reading Room
Completed in 1870 with a donation from David Sassoon a wealthy Jewish merchant from Baghdad. I could live here, thousands of old books stacked in creaky old mahogany book cabinets. The reading room is on the first floor and still very popular, members only, we had to cajole our way in as earnest book lovers. There are tall Venetian style windows leading on to a wide balcony where members were snoozing in the rickety planters chairs, bliss!

Elphinstone College
Established in 1856, a department of Mumbai University named after an early governor of Bombay Mountstewart Elphinstone, a pioneer in the education of Indians, of course in the English manner.It is right next door to the David Sassoon Library.

Prince of Wales museum or Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
In 1904, some leading citizens of Bombay decided to establish a museum to commemorate the visit of the Prince of Wales, the future king George V.
The design was awarded to George Wittet who also designed the Gateway of India, both in the Indo-Saracen style. The museum was completed in 1915, but was used as a Children's Welfare Centre and a Military Hospital during the First World War, before being handed over to the committee in 1920 and finally opened in 1922.
There's a wonderful collection of Mughal miniatures, sculptures from the most ancient eras of Indian history, lots of early photographs of Bombay. The gardens are delightful, a little area of tranquility after the streets, fascinating as they are.

National Gallery of Modern Art
A feast of Indian art with objects and paintings since 1857 including one of my favourite Indian artists Amrita Sher-Gil, she had an amazing life balanced between Budapest, Paris and Delhi, she died tragically at 28 in 1941.

In front of the gallery is Madam Cama Road, love the name, follow this and arrive at the Oval Maidan, the huge open space comes to life on Sundays for non stop cricket and chai.

The maidan has a spectacular view of the law courts and Mumbai University which loom in the background, more massive neo- gothic edifices built in the 1870s when the maidan was also used for polo practice.

Finally we visited the Gateway to India, really not a huge attraction for us and it was indeed very boring, just a huge lump of masonry stranded on a bleak promontory BUT it was really entertaining to watch the crowds taking endless selfies with huge groups of family and friends and the inevitable requests for Lucy to be in the photo too, this was repeated everywhere we went, apparently this is really common, blondes are in demand for family groups, so weird to think how many albums will have a grinning Lucy in their midst.
The Gateway was also the quay for the ferry to Elephanta Island.
 See separate entry for boat trip to the Elephanta Caves.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
Just behind the gateway is the Taj Mahal Hotel, commissioned by Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata , an Indian pioneer industrialist, who founded the Tata Group, India's biggest conglomerate company. He was born to a Parsi Zoroastrian family in Navsari, then part of  Baroda. The hotel was inaugurated in 1903, just the year before his death. (By the way he died in Germany on a business trip but was buried in the Parsi section of Brookwood cemetery in Woking, Surrey, how very prosaic)

We went for tea and had a good look around. There wasn't much security except at the entrance so we wandered up and down the several staircases, window shopped in the corridors lined with posh boutiques, lounged in the foyer and enjoyed the millions of marigolds which had gone into the gorgeous divali decorations all over the hotel.
Finally we went to have tea but preferred to sit outside in the garden which was deserted, everyone else in the air conditioned cool interior. We were made very comfortable outside and promptly forgotten, after a little while we decided to leave since we had had the Taj experience and felt it wasn't necessary to eat cake for 600R each and tea for 300R, total 1500R, off we swished, into a taxi and to the comfy café at the back of the Kitab Khana bookshop, excellent tea and cakes for 500R.

However, it was interesting to have seen what was inside the enormous Taj hotel. It really reminds me of huge Harrods which isn't much of a compliment, although I did like the massive alabaster columns in the foyer lit from within and emitting a soft golden glow.

The Haji Ali Dargah is a mosque and dargah (tomb) located on an islet off the coast of Worli. We visited the mosque taking care to go at low tide as there is a causeway connecting it to the mainland, sometime it becomes flooded at high tide.
 It was a Saturday so there were masses and masses of visitors out for the day, ladies dressed to the nines tripping along the causeway and out on to the rocks. There were traders and beggars and food stalls and the low tide mud was stinking to high heaven. Some of the beggars were horribly deformed in various ways, one poor man had elephantiasis. There were no tourists just a huge crowd of muslim faithful coming to pray at the dargah and have some fun at the same time. 
 As we approached the beautiful apparition we had glimpsed on our early morning arrival it became a little more down to earth. The original 14th century mosque was beautiful, gleaming white marble with intricate carving but within the last decades there had been very ugly additional buildings crammed on to the tiny island. One ugly block looked as if it was meant as a hostal for pilgrims but it was unfinished, an empty shell already crumbling, what a pity. As we walked back the sun was setting and again from a distance the mosque was almost a magical vision.

Some random observations.....
There's too much!!! Rampaging around on badly maintained roads, dancing to its own manic rhythm with a constant cacophony of horns from early morning until around midnight. Merely crossing the road was a life threatening experience although there are some pedestrian overhead crossings but deserted, reason soon revealed as crumbling steps and walkways. Only solution was to huddle up with a group of locals, try to blend with the gorgeous saris and nonchalant kurtas and walk briskly and confidently whilst being assailed by a marauding horde of ancient yellow and black Padmini taxis, Marutis and the occasional Ambassador, no tuc tucs in central Mumbai but they dominate everywhere else.

After the first shock of the sound and the fury one soon gets used to the daily mayhem and just gets on with it, taxis are so cheap it was easy to get around and even if the destination was on the wrong side of the road, no problem, the taxi would simply do a u turn and bump over the middle verge blasting madly on the horn but not more loudly than all the other traffic that we so nearly missed.
Any small purchase in a shop would involve at least 3 people escalating up to 10 or more depending on the situation. When finally, the purchase had been made, with many questionings and offers of advise, the bill would be laboriously hand written and recorded in large marbled ledgers, even in seemingly modern stores such as Fabindia, clutching this document one went to the packing department where the purchase was waiting in a cubby hole ready for packing into a nice brown paper carrier bag with string handles.

Fabindia in Fort was a magnet for us, we certainly spent quite a few thousand Ghandis there (Ghandi appers on all paper money)

It's a chain of stores with a brilliant concept, sourcing beautiful textiles and making garments which have traditional cuts but with a slight twist, maybe not as exuberant as the traditional clothes we found in the markets but totally wearable, it's much more expensive but worth it for the quality of the sewing, the specially dyed colours and the huge choice. By the way the store was full of appreciative locals both women and men, there is a kids department and also household wares, bliss!

Khadi Bhander in Fort is a total contrast, an extraordinary place, a real emporium of all things khadi. It's scruffy, dusty and musty, the huge plate glass windows empty except for meagre displays of Khadi textiles, a far cry from past glories.

The building was originally commissioned by Whiteaway and Laidlaw at the beginning of the 20th century as their Bombay branch, a gem of colonial department store architecture.

These plaques cast in bronze adorned the whole length of the shop front, traditional arts and crafts of India.

Whiteaway, Laidlaw and Co, nicknamed 'Right-away and Paid-for' because it operated on cash payments only, no credit, was 'the' colonial emporium or department store in India and became a household name throughout the East; it was founded in Calcutta by the eponymous Scotsmen in 1882 and also had branches in Madras, Lahore and Simla as well as further afield in Colombo, Burma, the Straits Settlements and Shanghai.

In "Plain Tales From the Raj", Charles Allen records the recollections of Norman Watney -
"Whiteaway's had acquired the distinction of being for those with small purses, it had a large clientele of junior officers. Others in a more senior position used to go down the road about a quarter of a mile to the Army and Navy Stores."

It catered almost exclusively to British tastes and clientele, as well as to Bombay's Indian elite with Anglophile tastes, but after Independence in 1947, most Anglo-Indians as well as British military and civilian staff left India to return 'Home' leaving venerable firms like Whiteaway, Laidlaw high and dry.

I think these buildings became white elephants and were taken over by the new Indian government for various uses. Very ironically this store, once providing the colonial power with its trappings, was taken over by the symbol of new Indian independence the Khadi movement started and epitomized by Ghandi, supporting poor village communities, providing them with hand looms, a means of support as the hand loomed cloth was made into garments and sold through the Khadi Bhandars all over India.
We visited them in Mumbai,Goa and Kannur.

On the street

One huge compensation for the madness of the streets were the cakes! We found cakes with really retro English names and lots of retro calories, we persisted in our afternoon tea making with the most delicious nilgiri blend bought in Mumba; tea on the beach, on a houseboat, in our various rooms but not on the trains, we were well provided with chai masala from the chai wallahs "chai, chai, chaiaahhh!"

A most wonderful book shop Kitab Khana

Irani cafés
Irani was a term used for Zoroastrians who arrived in the 19th century, as opposed to Parsis, also Zoroastrians but who had been established in India for over a thousand years, some of the wealthiest leading families of Bombay are Parsis.

Many Iranis opened cafés, they thrived by serving Irani food and chai to a varied clientele, cheap and cheerful, democratic, an essential part of the Bombay scene. Now a dying breed, in 1950 there were about 550, many grew from humble tea stalls. Now only 15 to 20 are still open.
Leopold Café was founded in 1871, it first started out as a wholesale cooking oil store and over the years has variously been a restaurant, store and pharmacy hence the name "Leopold Café and Stores". Although it's the most famous of the Irani restaurants and has been on the tourist map for a long time we really liked the lively atmosphere. After the terrorist attack of 2008 they opened within days and seem to be even more popular,most of the clients are locals, some tourists too of course. They still have police on both doors and there is a quick search before entry which is fine, worth it for the buzzing atmosphere, wide choice of good food served in small copper bowls, Kingfisher beer, sweet lime soda, mango lassi and great cakes!

Bombay Deco
Art Deco was a celebration of living in the modern world which started in Europe after the 1st world war and rapidly spread touching all design but particularly architecture. It was the coming together of industrial design with traditional nature motifs.

Bombay of the 1920s welcomed the new wave with enthusiasm, it has the most number of art deco buildings in the world, after Miami.

The art deco movement in Bombay also represented the city’s shift from a Victorian city to a modern one. The film craze hit Bombay and the new cinemas were built in the deco style during the 30s, Regal, Eros, Liberty, Metro.

Indian mythological motifs also find their way into this eclectic style of architecture.

These are a few example we found on our walks.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...