Marvelous Mumbai trip: The Maximum City on minimum effort, Day Two.
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Having completed an improvised walking tour of the Maximum City on the first day of our marvelous Mumbai trip, we headed out on four wheels on Day Two. I’d turned to the tripadvisor community in Mumbai for help in arranging a private tourist transport service. A highly respected member gladly hooked us up with a Toyota Innova and driver for a very reasonable price. Talk about doing a Mumbai trip in style!
My son broke into a wide grin when he saw the multi-utility vehicle waiting for us outside the hotel. I’d promised him that there would be less walking today and that he’d “pilot” a Cessna at a flight simulation arcade in Andheri East. But first, we needed to heed the irresistible beckoning of the most iconic of Mumbai’s landmarks.
The Gateway of India towers like a petrified sentinel on the water’s edge of the Mumbai Harbor overlooking the Arabian Sea. The imposing basalt arch was erected in 1924 to commemorate the 1911 visit of Britain’s King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay. The Gateway of India is both the biggest tourist draw and the most beloved of the booming metropolis’s heritage structures. Locals and tourists flock to the historic arch to have their photos taken in front of it or take a leisurely stroll while deflecting touts hawking all manner of tourist kitsch. Competing for the privilege of appearing in countless Mumbai trip photographs is the stately and opulent Taj Majal Palace hotel, located a stone’s throw from the arch. Words fail to capture the incomparable beauty and majesty of this historic structure. It is so photogenic that even the crappiest photographer with a cheap digital camera can take a poorly composed snap of the Taj Mahal hotel and have it turn out postcard-pretty. If you can’t afford to stay in one of its sumptuous rooms, you can settle for a selfie with the Taj on the background. Speaking of selfies, the monopod or selfie stick attracted a lot of curious looks at almost every tourist spot we went to. I half-expected the police to approach me and inquire about the novelty I was brandishing. Mercifully no such thing happened, allowing us to click selfies with shameless abandon.
Ferries that take tourists to the Elephanta Island and back operate from the harbor, as do chartered boat operators that offer everything from aqua sailing to luxury yacht rentals. The rock-cut cave temples of the Elephanta Island, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are certainly worth the hour-long ferry trip and subsequent climb up 120 steep steps. Tempting though it may have been to hop on a ferry to the island, there was no way my petulant boy would be walking up those steps. So I had to ditch that one, as well. The island, not my son.
It was 11:00AM when we left the Arabian Sea-side in order to fulfill my promise to Motito that we’d do a bit of malling in this Mumbai trip. Despite taking the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, the drive to the Phoenix Market City shopping mall took more than an hour. What’s the mall like? Well, it’s vast, chock-a-block with brand-name retailers and one of the poshest in Mumbai. But I come from the Philippines, the mall capital of Asia (and possibly, of the world), so it’s gonna take more than that to impress me. Besides, we went to the mall for one thing only: the Flight4Fantasy flight simulation experience.
For 1750 rupees, you could pretend-pilot a Boeing 737 commercial airliner for half an hour. My son did not meet the minimum height requirement for the Boeing 737, so he happily hopped on the Cessna 172s replica instead. A Flight4Fantasy crew member sat next to him to give instructions for the first 10 minutes, then it was All Motito Airways afterwards. The Cessna flight simulation experience lets you fly over scenic airports and landscapes, using realistic-looking cockpit controls. My little boy could hardly contain his glee as he identified some of the famous landmarks he was “flying” over. After crash landing the Cessna, he climbed aboard the military jet fighter, which is essentially a 4D aerial shoot-em-up game. You get no points for correctly guessing that he liked this one better than the Cessna. My wallet was poorer by 1500 rupees when we left the Flight4Fantasy arcade. We capped off Motito’s special segment of our Mumbai trip with a a super-sized lunch at the food court McDonald’s.
An hour-long drive later, we were walking into the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, or the Mahatma Gandhi Museum & Reference Library, in South Mumbai. My son is familiar with the life and times of the Father of the Nation and has seen the “Gandhi” movie starring Ben Kingsley. While movies are inclined to take artistic liberties at the expense of historical accuracy, they do get some things right and can serve as a springboard for further studies/discussions. That should cover my ass for choosing the lazy route to teaching history. The modest, two-story building served as the headquarters from where Mohandas K. Gandhi initiated his non-violent resistance and Indian independence movements. The place has been repurposed into a museum exhibiting Gandhi memorabilia, historical artifacts, and personal effects, and a library that houses books and periodicals on Gandhi studies. The highlight of the visit for my eight-year-old was the collection of 28 tableux or dioramas, prepared by Smt. Sushila Gokhale-Patel, depicting significant events in the life of Gandhiji. True to the spirit of the Mahatma’s generosity, the museum does not charge an entrance fee, but you are welcome to donate any amount you wish.
With dusk fast approaching and my dear boy expressing a fervent desire to retire to the hotel pronto, we only had time to visit one more attraction. I really, really wanted to stop at Leopold’s Cafe, because I’d been so mesmerized by “Shantaram,” Gregory David Roberts’ sprawling, semi-autobiographical novel about an Australian prison escapee who finds love and redemption in India, but not before breaking bad first. Leopold’s Cafe figures prominently in the novel, and the book’s success has immortalized the 144-year-old Parsi restaurant into a cultural icon. None of that mattered to my boy, though, so I elected to take him to the Hanging Gardens instead.
Built on the slope of the Malabar Hills, the terraced gardens is where Mumbaikars go for a quiet stroll or leisurely jog, to read the day’s papers, meditate, or simply catch up with friends amid the lush greens, colorful flowers, and fascinating animal-shaped topiaries. Also known as the Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens, this green oasis in the middle of the crowded, chaotic city also features a children’s play area equipped with swings, slides, and a concrete shoe house inspired by the nursery rhyme, “The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe.” We walked around this urban paradise for half and hour, then found a bench to sit and take it all in. I asked Motito if he was up for more sight-seeing, but he was having none of it. We would be flying back to Chennai in the afternoon of the following day. It would be a waste not to squeeze a couple more destinations in the morning. With that thought, I got up and led Motito out of the gardens and into the car that would be driving us back to our hotel.