Elephanta Island

 Major adventures, Southern India, Sri Lanka  Comments Off on Elephanta Island
Apr 252012

The island of Elephanta, an hour ferry ride from Mumbai, is described on the UNESCO website as “the glorious abode of Lord Shiva.” The seven caves at the site are considered the epitome of Hindu cave culture. Images from Hindu mythology pantheon decorate the temples.

The date of the Elephanta Caves is  debated and varies from the 6th century to the 8th century based on the findings of different archeologists. The caves constitute one of the most striking collections of rock art in India.

There are two groups of caves.  The main cave, famous for its carvings to the glory of Shiva, consists of a square hall plan with the interior divided into smaller areas by rows of supports.  This interior space carefully imitates a building.  False profiled beams have been carved into the roof  and the supports are in the shapes of the pillars, columns and capitals prevalent in stone architecture.   Colossal figures of dvarapala guardians flank the entry.  Enormous high-reliefs depicting the life of Shiva are on each wall of the vast square sacred assembly space.  Ten other reliefs, placed in each angle of the main hall and in the aisles to the east and west, depict further episodes from the legend of Shiva, such as the marriage of Shiva to Parvati, Shiva killing the devil Andhaka. Additionally the 15 large reliefs surrounding the lingam chapel in the main Elephanta Cave not only constitute one of the greatest examples of Indian art but also one of the most important collections for the cult of Shiva.

A popular destination, visitors include locals on day excursions, Indian tourists as well as tourists worldwide.  Although they come for the caves, all visitors are fascinated by the the bold and very aggressive pack of monkeys that will steal anything from anyone at any moment.  Although I was very cautious after warnings from our guide,  sure enough I lost my water bottle on which Mama Monkey promptly unscrewed the lid and gave Baby a drink. Maybe cute but it was alarming for me!!!!
Source: UNESCO

Daily Mumbai Details…

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Apr 242012

Mumbi is more, much more, than I expected. Somehow I had dismissed this megapolis as overcrowded, traffic congested, slum ridden and very focused on powerful mega-money and famous film stars. All of that is true but it is so much more. We left wishing that we could have spent two or three more days exploring the historic Fort area on foot.  Walk abouts are the best way to really see, smell, taste and treasure  a neighborhood.

What a day of intense contrasts! We started the morning at one of Bombay’s many Dhobi Ghats, “the world’s largest outdoor laundry.”   Established by the early 19th century English, the system is still going strong and here in Bombay is done primarily by men.   Like in Kochin, Dalits rent space from the government and develop their own clientele ranging from the railroad (sleeper cars) or hotels to individual families.

We  then made a too quick visit to Mani Bhavan, the famous mansion from which Mahatma Gandhi established his nonviolent resistance movement.  It felt like sacred space.   He had resided  there for 17 years and today it is a museum celebrating Gamdi’s life and accomplishments.

Off to the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai, terraced gardens atop Malabar Hill are dotted with fountains and flowerbeds, and one cobbled walkway and surrounded by incredible mansions of some of the world richest families.

Shivaji Terminus, now known as Victoria Terminus in honor of Queen Victoria, or “Bombay VT” to the locals. This historic railway station and home base of Mumbai’s Central Railway boasts stunning Victorian Gothic architecture and beautifully ornamental fixtures, some of which were painstakingly crafted by students at the Bombay School of Art.

Certainly one of the most amazing, unique to Mumbi discoveries, was witnessing the tiffin delivery service from the local train station.  Dabbawalas are the men who make sure that nearly 200,000 people get their lunch in time delivered from their home to their offices or schools, everyday. It is a step process. A dabbawala picks up the packed Tiffin, takes it to the train station, puts it on the train. It is picked up at the train station by a different dabbawala who takes the tiffins to those wallas who deliver them to the final destination. After lunch the empty tiffins are delivered back to their home. This is done every working day for a fee of about $10 per month. A dabba is simply a tiffin box carrying home-cooked food, which is to be delivered from the home to a person in an office or a school. And a dabbawala is a person who picks up the food from the home, and ensures that it is delivered to the right office, to the right person on time. The operation started in 1890 by the English Today 5,000 Dabbawalas deliver 200,000 daily tiffins.

Click this line to view a YouTube video of this amazing system.

After a full morning and early afternoon we boarded Air India at 10 PM for Delhi with a two hour layover, Transfer to our JFK flight consumed the ENTIRE two hours as we went through their redundant search process. We arrived in NYC this morning to a crisp clear day and will be in San Diego tonight by 10 PM tired but grateful for an exciting adventure.

Mumbai or Bombay…

 Southern India, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Mumbai or Bombay…
Apr 212012


We just arrived,

Mumbai, a cosmopolitan mega-metropolis, earlier known as Bombay, is the largest city both in India and the state of Maharashtra.  Mumbai was originally a clutster of seven islands on the Konkan coastline which over time have been joined to form the island city of Bombay. The island was in turn joined with the neighbouring island of Salsette to form Greater Bombay. The city has an estimated metropolitan population of 21 million (2005), making it one of the world’s most populous cities.

The Gateway of India is the most recognizable symbol of the city, was built to commemorate the visit of the British King George V to India in 1911.

Mumbai is regarded as the commercial capital of India and is one of the busiest port cities in the country. One of the most eclectic and cosmopolitan Indian cities we are seeing sights very different than any we have seen in the last month. Young women are wearing extremely revealing clothing–short shorts and skirts, plunging necklines, bare arms all side by side with the conservative colorful saris to which we have become accustomed. It appears that much of the glamor  generated in Mumbai is because it is the centre of the globally-influential Hindi film and TV industries.  (Are most of these bare beauties running around hoping to be discovered?) We are staying in this district, which is also home to India’s largest slum population.

We had a strange but tasty dinner in a restaurant run by the Hari Krishnas which is located right next to the  cult’s enormous four square block temple complex. I went into the temple with thousands of Hindu devotees. The temple is a blatant tribute to Hari Krishna’s life and contains enormous bigger-than-life dioramas depicting significant events in his life including some in Santa Monica, CA and San Francico in the late sixties. The daily worship begins at 7 PM with the chanting, swaying, bells and tambourines–a  crowded claustrophobic experience with thousands of devotees just like we used to see in American airports. It was  an amazing disquieting experience.






Gadding about Goa II

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Apr 202012

After our neighborhood walkabout and our visit to the Goa Chitra we lunched in the 18th century Palacios Do Deo. A 213 year old mansion built by a Portuguese man who founded the village of Quempem, it is with the visit. The building and gardens have been carefully researched, restored and furnished of the period by a local builder and business man whose family has lived in the region for generations.

The restaurant served a luncheon feast of Indo-Portuguese delicacies served on an airy veranda overlooking the gardens. Every item was cooked fresh and to perfection including all the specialty breads which emerged warm from the ovens. The other clientele was a delightful mix of splurging locals and a young honeymoon couple returning soon to England after their local wedding.

An Historically Rich Neighborhood

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Apr 202012

A walk around a Goan neighborhood began a very full a day trip north and inland from our hotel. It was while walking about that we learned that there is a government incentive to refurbish and maintain historic buildings. When houses/properties are left either abandoned through death or emigration, after three years they will be auctioned and sold at prices much lower than their assessed value. Today Goans who have worked and lived abroad are gradually returning to their homeland to retire and are buying these historic colonial homes.

The home we went through is a historic home that has been continuously occupied by one family since the earliest Portugese settlement period. It is filled with original colonial furnishings interspersed with the latest technology (TV, cellphone, kitchen appliances).

The Goa Chitra, a museum set against the back drop of an organic farm, is a fascinating tribute to the Goan ancestral way of life. The museum houses more than 4000 objects with a wide range of exhibits depicting the material culture of Goa before electricity. The exhibits focus on the rural trades and indigenous skills highlighting traditional, agricultural and household implements.