Tuesday, 12 February 2013

In Pictures: Mumbai

Formerly (and still) known as Bombay.
Gateway of India
Capital city of Maharashtra.
A population bursting at its seams.
My images (I might add that I fell sick during the trip so the photographs here are only a very tiny slice of what Mumbai has to offer a visitor).

Dhobi Ghat at Mahalaxmi (below left). I doubt visitors are allowed within the grounds so one has to see it from a bridge across the railway tracks near the Mahalaxmi train station.
On the right is Mount Mary Church in Bandra. It was closed at the time of my visit.

The causeway that leads to Haji Ali Dargah (left), and a glimpse of the shrine from Lala LajpatRai Marg (right).

Games of cricket at the Oval Maidan. The High Court and Rajabai Clock Tower are in the background in the 'Gothic section'.
On the right is a block of apartments in the 'Art Deco district', which also faces the Oval Maidan. Mumbai is second only to Miami in the number of Art Deco buildings. Some famous structures in this style include the Eros cinema.

The Watson (left). I was told this was the hotel that industrialist J N Tata was denied entry on account of being 'a native'. He later built the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower as a form of protest. At the time of my visit (2011), there were plans to restore this building.

Bandra-Worli Sea Link (right). It's officially known as Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link. It links Bandra in the Western Suburbs with Worli in South Mumbai. The bridge is a part of the proposed Western Freeway that will link the Western Suburbs to Nariman Point in Mumbai's main business district.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), or Victoria Terminus (VT), a UNESCO World Heritage Site (bottom left). It is both historic and the country's busiest railway station. 

Recommended duration of stay
I'd give it 4-5 days (in that time you could include a trip to Elephanta Island, which is home to the Elephanta Caves -- another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Get in/out
Mumbai has one of India's busiest airports and one of the main international gateways to the country. Many international airlines such as British Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Lufthansa, Qantas and Singapore Airlines fly into the city. You can also reach the city with low-cost carriers such as Air Asia and Indigo.

Trains arrive in Mumbai from all over the country.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (highly recommended)
Maximum City by Suketu Mehta (highly recommended)
Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts by S Hussain Zaidi


Sunday, 3 February 2013


As the van pulled out of the Amritsar train station to take us to my grandfather's village, an unease quickly started growing from within. What would we say to relatives we had not seen in over 10 years? More importantly, did we really want to have our every movement controlled by their overzealous hospitality?

the Golden Temple at night
A quick check with my mum revealed similar sentiments, and I scrambled to the driver to have him take us back to the city. He was far from amused of course, since we had agreed to pay him a decent sum, but dropped us off at the hotel where I had originally made a booking. It was not anything fancy, but its biggest draw was that it was situated, quite literally, just around the corner from the Harmandir Sahib, or Golden Temple, the holiest shrine for Sikhs. It was originally built in 1574 and rebuilt in the 1760s following an attack by the Afghans. The temple has four entrances, symbolising the openness of Sikhs towards all people and religions. It is undeniably the biggest attraction for visitors to the city. I would suggest visiting it twice, sometime in the day and after dark when the temple is bathed in light.
the entrance to Jalianwala Bagh

Close by is Jalianwala Bagh, a public park where in April 1919 a massacre had taken place. What started out as a peaceful demonstration was seen to be an act of defiance against a ban on all public meetings. Those gathered in the park (some estimates say up to 20,000) were shot at on the orders of British Brigadier-General Reginald E H Dyer. Official sources said 379 people were killed. Other figures run up to at least a thousand. Historians consider the episode as a decisive step towards the end of British rule in India. The park now commemorates those who died in the massacre. Personally though, I didn't quite like what I saw of this historical site (even if the intentions were noble) because it looks too made-up. Some of the surrounding buildings still bear bullet holes from the incident. A well into which people jumped in an attempt to save their lives is also standing; it is a protected monument and mostly meshed up.

the crowd during the border-closing
The other must-have experience while you're in Amritsar is to make your way to Attari-Wagah for the border closing ceremony which takes place every day. The atmosphere is nothing short of carnivalesque, what with the loud music and stalls selling snacks, flags and other trinkets for a fifteen minute display of jingoism on both sides of the border (although I did notice that the Pakistani side was a lot more subdued). When the show ends though, you're likely to see people rush to the gates to meet friends or relatives stuck on the other side.

Of course, what's a visit to Amritsar without good Punjabi food! I found out about Bhrawan da Dhaba (right) from a friend's sister, who recommended it and spoke of (among other things) rotis dipped in generous amounts of ghee. She wasn't far from the truth, but I'm happy to report that my heart stood strong as the butter slid menacingly into my body. My mum and I had two rotis each and a bowl of daal makhni between us, much to the surprise of the guy serving our table. The other patrons were constantly calling him and his colleagues over for more bread, more this or that. My mum and I, on the other hand, sat in our quiet corner struggling with one bowl of daal. When we finally called the guy over, it was only for the bill. Where are these guys from, he must have wondered.
Anyway, the story goes that the brothers who set up Bhrawan da Dhaba had a falling out and one of them broke away and opened another restaurant right next door. I did not go to the other one, so if you do, let me know which is better (if at all). Another well-known restaurant worth checking out is Crystal on Cooper Road. Here you'll find both vegetarian and non-vegatarian options. I personally loved the tandoori fish.

Recommended duration of stay
2 days, 1 night. Enter in the afternoon and leave the next afternoon. This would be most suitable if you're coming from and returning to Delhi.

Getting in and away
Trains for Amritsar Junction leave from New Delhi Railway Station and take about 6-7 hours on the Shatabdi Express.
Flights are mostly to Delhi, though Jet Airways flies to London, Air India to Toronto and Qatar Airways to Doha. There are connections to Central Asia as well.
Buses run from Amritsar to several Punjabi cities, as well as Delhi.

The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer by Nigel Collett
Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi's Last Battle by Mark Tully
A History of the Sikhs by Khushwant Singh