It is kind of sad that icons of the third-world need first-world examples to drive home the right picture or adjective. You know, we have so many times heard adages like “Scotland of the East (where I come from)”, Venice of the East and so on. I will be the culprit for doing the same. Hopefully I can redeem myself. The Gateway of India, Mumbai is to South East Asia what Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is to Paris.
This post relives three hours that I spent walking about the place. Now three hours would seem an insanely high amount of time for any local. Unless of course I had a pretty damsel to court. I assure you however, that the monument and shadow, has an enormous amount of things to offer. Specially if you know where to look!
This bold basalt edifice looks out to the Mumbai Harbour right at the tip of Apollo Bunder. Historically, it was built to commemorate the 1911 royal visit of King George V but was only completed in 1924. What’s ironical, is that just a little over two decades later, the British used it to parade off their last regiment, as India marched towards independence.
The Local View
Now, the gateway is a favourite gathering spot for locals for people-watching. It has all the goodies – giant-balloon sellers, oodles of photographers, even touts rubbing shoulders with Indian and foreign tourists alike, giving all the hubbub of a typical bazaar without the general escalated noise and smell. Boats regularly depart from the wharfs for the Elephanta Island and Mandwa – prehistorical attractions.
What does come as a very good to-do here is to hop onto a “Victoria” – horse-drawn gilded carriages. It will probably cost you a pit of patience, but if haggling is not out of your array, get them to go around the Oval Maidan at night. Spectacular views of the illuminated buildings. Should not cost more than Rs. 350.
In the late afternoon or early evening, feed the pigeons. Seriously. There are literally thousands of them. Even more than how many I saw at India Gate, New Delhi. And they make for some great photography subjects. They really do not mind posing!
Opposite of course, is the massively impressive Hotel Taj Palace which for many stands for a Mumbaikar’s much talked about determined and enterprising personality. It was apparently built over a century ago by the very ambitious industrialist Jamshedji Tata to “avenge the whites-only policy of Watson’s, then the city’s poshest hotel.”
Don’t be shy. Arguably one of the best views of the wharf and the Gateway is from inside the hotel. Particularly from the Sea Lounge at high tide. At least for the novelty of it, standing there felt surreal (from the locals like Gandhi, Nehru to visitors like Mick Jagger or Madonna, they have all gazed on from where I stood).
The Trinkets and Chowpatty
One particular thing I remember are the fruit salad sellers. Really fresh produce, cut in front of you and offered in platters large enough for a pretty filling afternoon snack. The carts were very brightly coloured, had glass encasing containing intricately cut fruits. And large carrot-sized incense sticks that burnt the entire day. And look out for the tiny dinghies bouncing softly on the water.
For an even more local feel, I took a short walk to the Chowpatty Beach. Again, more balloons, lots of beachside stalls selling everything from sea-shell over-priced souvenirs to bhelpuri or even a head massage. The beach is surprisingly litter-free, regularly patrolled by lifeguards and beautifully lit up at night.