We took a short bus ride from Bundi to Kota and caught the overnight train to Mumbai (AKA Bombay). Mumbai is a huge city - one of the world's largest - and quite a drastic change from the quaint towns and cities we'd been visiting in Rajasthan. Mumbai is vibrant and modern, complete with skyscrapers and air-conditioned boutiques, but has just as many old colonial and art deco buildings giving a sense of nostalgia for the faded glory of the past. It also has it's fair share of temples, mosques, and churches, and a dizzying array of chaotic markets. It's everything you expect and everything you don't - a strange concoction of flavors that shocks your tongue into submission when you drink it in.
Mumbai is technically an island and therefore has several waterfront promenades that make for some great people-watching. Chowpatty Beach on the northern end of Back Bay is an especially good place to take in the local scene. Children carry pinwheels and men receive head massages, while fawning couples share bhelpuri (a local snack) or ice cream purchased from vendors who set up temporary stalls on the sand. We sat and watched the sun being eaten by the smog that lay low on the horizon, mesmerized by all of the activity around us.
Mumbai also has lots of parks, or "azids", where Indians gather to partake in the country's favorite past time, cricket. Just as our beloved baseball often remains a mystery to those not raised on it, we have tried hard to understand this allusive game, but have yet to discover its allure. Still, it was fun to stop for a while to watch men dressed in their whitest of whites and capped with a floppy hat taunt one another as they took turns with the bat.
Taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city one afternoon, we took a ferry to visit Elephanta Island. The ferry departed from the Gateway of India, a huge monument built to commemorate the visit of King George V, and took us past several oil tankers and a refinery, reminding us once again of this country's long and sordid history and its present efforts to propel itself into the 21st century.
The island is home to a series of impressive cave temples, supported by huge carved pillars and decorated with enormous statues of gods. The main temple was dedicated to Shiva, and portrayed him in several different manifestations, including one elegant sculpture showing his three faces - the creator, the destroyer, and the preserver. We also hiked to the highest point of the island to see several canons, relics from its later life as a British military outpost.
The rest of our time in Mumbai was spent wandering the markets, enjoying the cafe scene, and sampling deserts at our favorite sweet shop. We also enjoyed a few delicious beers, which were -the first since traveling to the mostly dry northern states. We'll always remember the city for what could have been, beacuse on our last day we were asked to be extras in a film - I am sure we could have been the next big Bollywood stars if we only had a little more time....