top of page
Glorious Mumbia


We spent 5 days in the exciting, crazy city of Mumbai, a city of 23 million people on the central west coast of India before starting an organized tour of the north and south. Mumbai is the financial, commercial and entertainment capital and the most cosmopolitan city in India. Our first impression of the city is that it is noisy, busy, colorful and always moving.  Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay is a long narrow city originally made up of 7 islands. In the late 1700’s to mid-1800’s the islands were connected as the land was filled to shape the city as it is today.  Since Mumbai is the largest natural harbor in India, the shipping industry is alive and well.


Bombay was part of the spice route with lots of importing and exporting for hundreds of years. Before the British, Portuguese traders used Bombay.  The British took over the settlement in 1661 because the colony was given to the king as part of a wedding dowry.  In addition to spices, the British established a large cotton industry.  At one time there were  as many as 300 mills.

We came to Mumbai to see the city and to visit with Sadhana, an exchange student who stayed with Betsey’s family when they both were in high school in Portland, CT.  We were welcomed into her family with open arms!  Sadhana graciously arranged for a very knowledgeable tour guide, to take us around the city, giving us insight into some of the history and customs.  When we weren’t touring, Sadhana and her family joined us for lunch and dinner making sure we had tastes from many different areas of India -  each meal was better than the last.

Our hotel, the Taj Mahal, was located on the waterfront overlooking the Arabian Sea and the arch called the Gateway of India. The arch was completed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of the first monarch to visit India.  Today it is symbolic of Mumbai and is a gathering point for tourists and street vendors.  The Taj Hotel was the scene of the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2014. 


Our guide took us through Mumbai to Banganga Tank, the oldest place of Hindu pilgrimage in the city where acts of daily life and religious functions meet.  The lake, as it is referred to, is spring fed so it is constantly refreshed.  Around the lake are many temples and shrines which can be used as meeting points for Hindu rituals to honor the gods and ancestors, receive blessings, funeral rites, and the spreading of ashes.  One Hindu funeral tradition we witnessed - men shave their heads, leaving a small tuft at the top for wisdom, and after a prayer ceremony, they put the ashes of a recently deceased family member, along with flowers into the lake.  The lake is also used by some men for bathing. Throughout Mumbai we visited several Hindu temples and shrines and learned a tremendous amount about this most ancient religion.

From the Gateway, we took a ferry through the harbor to see the Elephanta Caves, a series of rock temples carved into the top of a steep hill linked to the Hindu god Shiva.  The carvings are believed to have been created between the 5th and 7th centuries.  Much of the art has been damaged over the years but what remains is very alive and full of personality.
Early one morning, our guide took us to the flower and fish markets used for both wholesale and retail.  

The flower market was completely unexpected.  Instead of lots of varieties of stemmed flowers, we found mostly marigolds that had been removed from their stems – huge bags and boxes of them in yellow, white and orange.  They are used in all kinds of decorations from garlands, to head pieces, decorations on vehicles, entry ways and offerings at temples.  Festivals, weddings, and funerals all involve these colorful flowers in addition to rose petals and a few other buds.  Truckloads were unloaded and sold in a matter of minutes.  Men carried huge, heavy bags  or crates of marigolds and you better not be in their way.  This occurs every day.  It is amazing that the city could consume so many flowers!


The fish market was also a hive of activity and color.  Fishermen brought in their catches into the docks while their wives made the sales – both personal and retail.  Many women sat around peeling and cleaning shrimp, others were scaling and fileting all sorts of others. Most of the fish were not recognizable to us but they looked like they'd make a nice meal.  It was interesting to see women continue to wear their sarees in such a wet, dirty place but they just wore them 8” shorter!

Not to be missed was the 140-year-old Dhobi Ghats or the open-air laundry system of Mumbai.  The hand washers, known as Dhobis, work in the open to clean clothes and linens from Mumbai’s hotels and hospitals.  The open-air concrete wash pens are used to beat the clothes clean.  They are then hung to dry.  It is estimated that at least 500,000 articles of clothing are washed, sorted and ironed each day.  A code on each garment makes sure it gets back to its owner.  It looks chaotic but is amazingly efficient and colorful!

We walked along an old section of town to see many of the buildings that were built during the British colonial period.  Most of them have been repurposed but their architecture still stands out as pillars of a bygone era. One particular one was Victoria Station, the main station in Mumbai.  All the trains came into the same place using both sides of a platform.  The station, which serves as many as 3 million people a day, has a constant stream of people as trains come and go every 40 seconds.

There is a unique lunch delivery system called Dabbawalas in Mumbai that picks up hot meals either made at home or at a restaurant and delivers them to workers.  Most Indians are used to some form of hot meal at lunch.  The service, which has been running for over 120 years, picks up a multi layered lunch pail prepared by mid-morning at home after someone has left for the office.  The bag is coded with shapes and colors to ensure correct delivery. It is then taken to the train where special cars are set aside to receive them.  They all go to the main station where they are sorted and given to local bicycle delivery men (dabbawalas) who make sure they get to the right recipient.  As many as 80 million lunches are delivered each year in india.  The people who deliver the pails wear white uniforms with a traditional cap. The whole process is repeated in the afternoon to return the empty tins home for the next day.

Thank you Sadhana for making our visit so memorable! After a great 5 days, we flew to Delhi to join our group for a 23-day tour of India, from Delhi in the north to Kochi in the south.  Lots to look forward to!