Marvelous Mumbai travel : The Maximum City on minimum effort, Day One.
Arriving at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport’s (CSIA) domestic terminal on a bright April morning, my son and I headed straight for the prepaid taxi counter, one among several transport providers that greet travelers before they step out of the airport. I had booked us a room at the Residency Hotel in the Fort-Colaba area, whose historical landmarks, cultural heritage, and lively social scene make it an ideal starting point for anyone wishing to make the most of their Mumbai travel.
Our Mumbai trip had not been without the expected admonitions from my husband, who had insisted we use the hotel’s airport pick-up service, and my father-in-law, who had sternly warned me against shady characters who might want to take advantage of a foreign-looking mother and her young son. I prevailed over both, arguing that despite misconceptions about Mumbai being a big, bad, impersonal metropolis where empires are built and fortunes are made at all costs, it is a city that has survived tragedies that would have devastated places of lesser mettle. That a city’s diverse denizens would collectively pull themselves up by their bootstraps after the crippling flash foods of 2005 and the horrendous terrorist attack in 2008, must say a lot about their brave hearts and indomitable spirit. Besides, I am cheap. At Rs1500, the hotel’s airport pickup service was hard to justify against the prepaid taxi fare of Rs760.
Our prepaid cab was a blue-and-white liveried Hyundai Santro, courtesy of Cool Cabs. The laconic cabbie spoke only to advise that we take the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, which, for a pocket-friendly toll charge of 60 rupees, would reduce travel time by 30 minutes by allowing us to skip 14 traffic lights on the longer route. Completed in March 2010 to the tune of US$250 million, the cable-stayed bridge has eight fast-moving lanes and is one of Mumbai’s architectural landmarks. At night, the sea link gets bathed in lights, illuminating thousands of vehicles scrambling to beat the rush hour and casting a pale glow on the Arabian Sea below.
We reached the hotel at half-past 10:00AM, and not only were we allowed to check in early, we were also upgraded to a room with free WIFI. Residency Hotel’s rave reviews on tripadvisor.com had led us there, and I must say the hotel earns every one of its positive appraisals. Our room had a flat-screen TV with all cable TV channels (including HD), tea and coffee making facilities, in-room safe, electronic controls for lighting and temperature, welcome snacks, and buffet breakfast. Because of Residency Hotel’s strategic location, all major attractions, from the historic Gateway of India to UNESCO World Heritage site Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to the buzzing Colaba district, were within a twenty minute walk.
Showered and unpacked, our first order of business was to go find us some lunch. Despite being half-Indian Motito has yet to acquire a taste for the local food. Traveling with my son means foregoing culinary adventures in favor of the bland and tested. Here’s another reason why I chose to stay at Residency: it is a ten-minute stroll from a McDonald’s. On rare occasions, we’d haul ass to the nearest Mickey D’s so Motito could have his meal, then head for a restaurant of my choice so I could have something a little more sophisticated than Chicken McNuggets. This was not one of those occasions, however, so I settled for a Big Paneer Wrap. It’s a rectangular chunk of cottage cheese, battered and deep fried, seasoned and garnished with tomatoes, onions and lettuce, and wrapped in baked wheat tortilla. Believe me, it’s tastier than it sounds.
Fuelled by American fastfood, we were now ready to explore the Fort district. The area’s iconic Gothic buildings and Neo-classical architecture hark back to the era when Fort George was built in the 18th century by the British East India Company to protect the Bombay Castle. I resisted the urge to stop and take photos every five minutes, as my son did not see the point in ooh-ing and ah-ing at old buildings. He begged for respite from the mid-day sun, and the Jehangir Art Gallery provided just that, and more.
Founded in 1952, the Jehangir Art Gallery has four large exhibition halls that showcase works by local and international artists. Contemporary Indian art is thriving in Mumbai, thanks in part to the support it gets from art galleries like Jehangir. I was grateful for the stunning glimpse into modern Indian art and really appreciated the presence of student guides who willingly discussed some of the works on display. Oh, and we didn’t have to pay a paisa to get in.
Prominently displayed on the sidewalks surrounding the art gallery were creations by various local artists. Here you will find drawings, paintings, and prints depicting Hindi gods and goddess, fascinating slices of Mumbai/Indian life, and everything in between.
Our next stop was the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum, formerly called the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India. Established in 1922, the museum sits on a sprawling three acres of palm-fringed property. Its Indo-Saracenic style building houses some of the finest collections of art and historical artefacts in the country. I took one look at the Sculpture Collection on the ground floor and knew that our explorations were done for the day, having decided to spend what was left of the daytime marveling at the magnificent displays. Sculptures and bas-reliefs representing the major gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon were a sight to behold. From the imposing basalt figure of Shiva to glorious Vishnu reclining on the serpent Shesha to the solemn Buddha in earth-witness mudra pose, the Sculpture Gallery kept mother and son occupied for an hour and a half. What an engaging visual for reviewing Motito on his Hindu mythology on the fly!
Aside from the vast array of ancient Indian sculptures, the museum maintains jaw-dropping collections of Chinese and Japanese antiquities, European paintings, prints and miniature paintings, coins, textiles, pre- and proto-historical artefacts, as well as a natural history exhibit. Lectures, gallery tours, heritage studies and conservation courses are regularly conducted on site or at partner institutions. Visiting hours are Monday to Sunday, from 10:15AM to 6:00PM. Entrance charges are 70 rupees for adult Indian citizens and OCI/PIO cardholders, 30 rupees for children, and 300 rupees for foreign adults. I recommend checking out the museum’s website for announcements regarding special events, holidays, and closures for maintenance.
We were so absorbed by the artefacts in the sculpture and pre- and proto-history sections that I hadn’t realized we’d spent two hours already and had two more floors of exhibit space to cover. I’ll confess that I’d erred in not managing our time at the museum that we ended up rushing through the other objects on display and completely skipping the exhibits on the building’s East Wing. Before starting our stroll back to the hotel, Motito and I stopped for some samosas and coffee at the Museum Cafe. Dear son complained about having done more than his usual share of walking, so the Colaba Causeway sidetrip had to be jettisoned. Ah, it was so close and yet so far. Perhaps he’d be more inclined to gallivant the next day, because I’d arranged a private tourist car for Day Two of our Mumbai travel.