I have always chased after the thrill of new places, of exploring the unknown. When the mundane routine of life as a graduate student got a bit sluggish, I always looked for opportunities to travel. Traveling not only refreshes my spirits, but also enriches my life’s experience and knowledge. I found such an opportunity when I was selected for a summer internship program in HBSCE (Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education). HBSCE is located in Mumbai, the economic capital of India. The city is well-known for delicious street foods, cheap shopping streets, historical monuments, educational institutions, the game of cricket, and also the forever-booming exclusive film industry of India—Bollywood. Naturally, my excitement knew no bounds.
Mumbai, previously known as Bombay, is one of the biggest cities in India. It is in western India, on the coast of the Arabian Sea. This city is often termed as the city that never sleeps, and I found this to be true. Every hour of the day has something different to offer. A day spent exploring the serene and calm stretches of Marine Drive in the morning, the afternoon prayers at Haji-Ali, to the hustling crowd at Chaupati in the evenings, and the mesmerizing lights of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link bridge at night, one will find every feeling in this city of dreams.
The city of Mumbai has three terminal railway stations connecting it to the rest of India. Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus is the most famous among these. Previously known as the Victoria Terminus, it induces awe in the heart of any visitor who comes for the first time. The gigantic scale of the station, the innumerable Mumbaikars (a local name for the Mumbai residents) hurrying to work at every hour of the day, and the fusion of Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival architecture and traditional Indian architecture are bound to blow one’s mind. Still, the bone-chilling memories of the notorious terror attack lurks in every corner of the station. Mumbai has been influenced by many cultures and this is reflected in the architecture of the city. The city had strong Maratha, Portuguese, and British influences, and so styles such as Indo-gothic, Gothic revival architecture, and Art Deco are seen here. In fact, it is home to the second-largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world after Miami. The University of Mumbai, the New India Assurance building, and several cinemas are just some of the examples of different architectural influences.
Marine Drive is the face of Mumbai more than any other. It is a semicircular stretch of road along the Arabian Sea. The seaside is bordered with concrete on which weary people traveling the city can sit and relax. The calm breeze from the sea, the sun setting on the horizon, and the taste of local spicy street foods makes time imperceptible. At one end of the Marine Drive is Chaupati Beach. A little north of the beach, perched on a small hill, the Hanging Gardens provide an excellent panoramic view of Marine Drive and the beach. Another famous beach, the Juhu Beach lies further north, near Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Another stretch of seaside road called Bandstand is famous for a completely different reason. It overlooks the residence of Shah Rukh Khan, one of the most famous superstars of Bollywood. From Bandstand one can see the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, one of the recent engineering marvels in Mumbai.
The Elephanta Caves, located on Elephanta Island about ten kilometers from the coast of Mumbai, is another interesting attraction. Since no inscriptions of the island have been discovered, the ancient history of this place is conjectural. It is said that the Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata and Banasura, a demon devotee of Shiva, sculpted the temple out of the rocky hill stretches in the island. The ferry to Elephanta starts from yet another historical spot called the Gateway of India, located beside the famous Taj Hotel of Mumbai. The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Mumbai. Visitors get swarmed by local photographers whose profession is to click photos of these monuments along with the travelers. Clicking a picture near the Gateway of India and the most famous Taj Hotel in front it, is a must for any person visiting Mumbai, which I did too! However, as I took the ferry to go to the Elephanta Caves, my imagination grew. I witnessed one of the best pieces of art from time immemorial, which is now declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. Larger-than-life sized sculptures of Hindu Gods from prehistoric past conjures awe in the mind of any visitor.
Like every other city, Mumbai has a large museum: the Prince of Wales Museum, where the heritage of this city and its surroundings are presented in their full glory. Just a few meters away, the Jehangir Art Gallery houses many paintings, and is a visual treat for art lovers. This city is also home to several significant science and research institutions in the country. The Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay is one of these leaders and offers courses both in engineering sciences and basic sciences, starting from the undergraduate level. Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and The Centre for Basic Sciences (CBS) are two of the other well-known institutions based here. Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), India’s premier nuclear research facility, is also located in Mumbai. The fourth Asian Science Camp was held in Mumbai where the undergraduate students got a chance to interact with other students, researchers, and pioneers from different fields and nurture science.
If in Mumbai one feels detached from nature, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park offers respite in the northernmost area of the city. In the center of the park you will find the Kanheri Cave, an important Buddhist learning center and pilgrimage site sculpted by Buddhist monks between the ninth and first centuries BCE. The park is home to several species of deer, monkeys, porcupines, leopards, hyenas, birds, and reptiles.
If I ever was tired of traveling, Mumbai always had instantaneous delicious solutions. The famous street foods of Mumbai—Pav-bhaji, Vada-pav, cheese sandwich, golgappa, Faluda, and the local brand Naturals Ice Cream—are some of the most delicious food items that one can try here. There are many eateries offering a variety of cuisines from Chinese to continental, which taste really good as well. This city is also a home for fashion, and has many fashion markets. Fashion Street, where I bought some clothes, footwear, and accessories—making friends with the shopkeepers while bargaining with them—is one of the fondest memories I have.
Although Mumbai is like any other city in the world with its own drawbacks and difficulties, it has left a deep impression on me. As the flight takes off from the Santa Cruz Airport, we see a vast stretch of slums (metal roofed houses) in contrast to the huge towers and skyscrapers just beside them. There we see the inequality of this city. But at the same time, it is a feature of this city which makes it stand out. Every person in Mumbai has a dream, has a wish to fulfill: the creation of their own happy space. This city welcomes each and every one; without any discrimination and with open arms, Mumbai immerses them in its charm. It is this spirit of these people, many of whom are living amidst constant conflicts and tensions, to live their dreams to the fullest, which gives the magical charm to this city. With the arrival of the famous monsoons to Mumbai, I left. The three months I stayed there passed like a dream that I think about to this day.
Top photo: Mumbai Skyline at Sunset, courtesy of pdpics.com
Other images courtesy of Shukla Sarkar
Shukla Sarkar is PhD student in the class of 2015. She has always been fascinated with traveling and exploring new places. Mumbai was the first place she traveled to alone, and the experience has stayed with her ever since. As novelist Anita Desai put it, “wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”