Welcome to Mumbai

taj-mahal-palace-mumbai

 

If Mumbai is your introduction to India, prepare yourself. The city isn’t a threatening place but its furious energy, limited public transport and punishing pollution make it challenging for visitors. The heart of the city contains some of the grandest colonial-era architecture on the planet but explore a little more and you’ll uncover unique bazaars, hidden temples, hipster enclaves and India’s premier restaurants and nightlife.

Mumbai’s most famous landmark, this stunning hotel is a fairy-tale blend of Islamic and Renaissance styles, and India’s second-most photographed monument. It was built in 1903 by the Parsi industrialist JN Tata, supposedly after he was refused entry to nearby European hotels on account of being ‘a native’. Dozens were killed inside the hotel when it was targeted during the 2008 terrorist attacks, and images of its burning facade were beamed worldwide. The fully restored hotel reopened on Independence Day 2010.

Much more than an iconic building, the Taj’s history is intrinsically linked with the nation: it was the first hotel in India to employ women, the first to have electricity (and fans), and it also housed freedom-fighters (for no charge) during the struggle for independence.

Today the Taj fronts the harbour and Gateway of India, but it was originally designed to face the city (the entrance has been changed).

 

Imposing, exuberant and overflowing with people, this monumental train station is the city’s most extravagant Gothic building and an aphorism for colonial-era India. It’s a meringue of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic styles whipped into an imposing Daliesque structure of buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained glass.

chhatrapati-shivaji-terminus

Some of the architectural detail is incredible, with dog-faced gargoyles adorning the magnificent central tower and peacock-filled windows above the central courtyard. Designed by Frederick Stevens, it was completed in 1887, 34 years after the first train in India left this site.

Officially renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) in 1998, it’s still better known locally as VT. Sadly, its interior is far less impressive, with ugly modern additions and a neglected air – stray dogs roam around the ticket offices – despite the structure’s Unesco World Heritage Site status.

 

Iskcon Juhu plays a key part in the Hare Krishna story, as founder AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada spent extended periods here (you can visit his modest living quarters in the adjacent building). The temple compound comes alive during prayer time as the faithful whip themselves into a devotional frenzy of joy, with kirtan dancing accompanied by crashing hand symbols and drumbeats.

iskcon-temple

Murals around the compound detail the Hare Krishna narrative. The Iskcon hotel here is also recommended, as is the thali-only restaurant (meals ₹230 to ₹450). It’s a compelling place to visit for intense, celebratory worship in the sedate suburbs.

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