20.02.2012 - 22.02.2012 32 °C
After a day on an aeroplane (which included our first taste of India - a delicious chicken biryani) we were glad to touch down at Mumbai airport shortly before midnight local time. We caught a taxi from the airport to our hotel in the Colaba district and Patrick got his first glance of Indian temples, street dwellers and crazy driving.
The following morning we walked around Colaba which is known as the tourist district and saw the famous India Gate which was built to commemorate King George V's visit to India. The district is also home to the famous Taj Hotel - a massive, majestic building which was unfortunately the centre of the 2008 terrorist attack. When Ffion was in India 7 years ago she visited this area and was able to go inside the hotel to look at the expensive croissants and use the luxurious toilets but now the hotel is closed to non-residents and is heavily guarded which is a real shame. For lunch we went to a tourist cafe which was also attacked and had our bags searched on the way in. In the afternoon we visited a modern art gallery where all of the artists on show were actually present, selling their wares. We even saw one artist touching up one of her oil paintings of a representation of fire. In the evening we went to a local dhaba (cafe) for a tasty thali (rice, bread and a selection of dhal and curries) and an aloo parantha (potato stuffed in a thick chapatti).
On our second day in the big city we visited Elephanta Island and the famous caves there. After an hour long boat ride passing a navy base and a gas ship unloading its cargo into a big gas pipe about a kilometre off shore, we arrived at the quaint island which is half way between Colaba (nearly at the tip of the Mumbai peninsular) and the mainland section of the city. There was a small train to take the elderly and the gullible half a kilometer to the foot of a small hill. Ascending the steps up the hill we were bombarded with calls of 'ganesh statue Sir', 'yes, you like', 'looking good price' from the stall holders lining the route. At the top we found the caves which were built some time between the 5th and 8th centuries AD. The first cave had some good examples of Hindu sculpture and a famous Trimurti (three headed Shiva) at the centre. There were other Hindu gods to spot too such as Ganesh, the elephant god, but we both felt we didn't know enough about Hindusim to properly appreciate what we were looking at. After exploring the other caves - some with Shiva lingams (phallic representation of the god), others which were probably simply homes to the Brahmin priests who lived and worshiped there - we discovered that there was a small museum which explained more about the gods represented at the caves. Although India is a country of many religions and Patrick was looking forward to seeing his first Hindu temple and Sikh Gurudhwara the first religious building we'd seen and visited was actually a church - St Thomas' Cathedral - which was near our hotel. We'd spotted it on our first day and seen an advert for their Ash Wednesday service the following day so, after a thali lunch and another hour on the boat back from Elephanta Island, we went back to the Cathedral for the service. It was strange because if you closed your eyes and listened to some parts of the liturgy you could have been in Wakefield Cathedral but when you opened your eyes and saw worshipers pulling parts of their brightly coloured saris over their heads when approaching the altar to take communion it was obvious that you were in India, not West Yorkshire. We weren't too impressed with the choir or the organist who seemed to be having a tempo war with the loud bass in the choir during each hymn but were glad we'd gone to the service for the experience.
That evening we took our first sleeper train to Ahmedabad in Gujerat. After more than an hour travelling north through Mumbai watching the madness at every station as people fought to get on the train first we settled down on the bunks which Patrick described as being surprisingly comfortable.