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Mumbai, city of contrasts

Posted: 2007-03-06 15:23:02, Categories: Travel, India, 581 words (permalink)

A view of the Walkeshwar temple area in Mumbai. Mumbai, also known as Bombay, showed itself to me as a city of contrasts. It had a touch of British glamour from the 19th century and modern highrise buildings, but also large slums spreading haphazardly in every direction. The local commuter trains were the most packed I've seen anywhere but it took only a short boat ride and a few steps away from the beaten path to escape the city and be alone inside a forest.

A walk through the Fort district clearly showed that Mumbai was an important city under the British rule. The Victoria station, main post office, public works office, high court and other buildings in the area were constructed during the 19th century in grandiose style. A few details such as double decker buses still remainded of Britain, but otherwise the atmosphere was very much Indian: the mix of small shops, street vendors and beggars told loudly that it wasn't Europe no matter what the buildings looked like.

I stayed in Mumbai with Gaurav, another Indian friend from my INSA year in France. He lived 20 km north from the center and a ride there showed the more recent development of the city. The road went through vast areas of slum dwellings, dotted with islands of modern highrise buildings. Construction companies are actually making big money from these so called slum rehabilitation projects, where they get valuable land in exchange for arranging housing to the people whose homes are bulldozed away. The constructors proceed by building high towers containing dozens or even hundreds of apartments each and arrange them around a western style shopping area. Security guards sit at the gates watching that outsiders don't come in.

Gaurav lived in one of these newly developed areas which are housing increasingly larger numbers of Indians. Many of them are singles or young couples who have moved away from their parents' house and are working for multinational companies. They do long days in the office and spend free time in the shopping malls, which try to mimic their American and European counterparts in almost every way. One particular difference which still tells it's India is the smaller number of household appliances in the apartments — it's cheaper to hire a maid to do cleaning, laundry and dishes than to buy machines for those tasks. Gaurav told that the daily maid service for him and his two flatmates was 1500 rupees per month, less than ten euros per person.

A completely different and very enjoyable experience in Mumbai was a day trip to the Elephanta Island. Boats to the island leave from the city center and take about one hour to reach the destination. The island is famous for caves which were carved some 1200 years ago and used as temples. The Hindu sculptures in the caves were impressive, but there was also a less known side of the island. It didn't take many steps away from the main walkway to be inside the surrounding forest without anybody else around. I walked a couple of kilometers around the western half of the island, partly along the shore and partly following a small path going through the bushes. Some of the trees with lianes were quite impressive.

After Mumbai I resumed cycling and rode about 150 kilometers east to Pune. On the way I saw some more temple caves in Karla and crossed a small mountain range. In Rajasthan it was quite flat but from here onwards there'll be more hills and small mountains ahead.


Comment from: Amchi Mumbai [Visitor]
Hey Arto, First of all thanks for the pic, loved it! Also loved the fact that you enjoyed parts of Mumbai. What I however don’t get is that whenever people come to India is it fashionable for you guys to make everything so dramatic and gloomy? For instance, you were telling about how land from slums is taken away by large builders - the slums are illegal - are nowadays made into highrise buildings. But then you had to add a gloomy flavour to this by saying and I quote “Security guards sit at the gates watching that outsiders don’t come in". Honestly what do you mean by this? Was there a mob of people throwing rocks at the building - NO! Then why the dramatasism. Lets talking about your univerity and maybe then you will understand where I am coming from. Does your university not have security? Is your security there to shun outsiders - NO! Your univesity security is there so that people who live on campus and day scholars have someone to depend upon incase of an emergency. Another mistake most foreigners make is that you compare evenly the exchange rate to the purchasing power of the rupee in India. For example, you said that the maid gets Rs. 1,500 which at the time was about 30 Euros. Now that is misleading because it does not give a true picture. 30 Euros in France have a much less purchasing power than Rs.1500 have in India. When you converted your Euros to Rs. you must have found that things are mostly inexpensive in comparison to what you would’ve paid for in whichever country you call home (I am guessing France). I am not trying to be offensive but most Indians who would have read your blog would have thought this to themselves and probably must have never said anything to you. The reason being is our culture, where guests are equalled to God. So even if we don’t like anything we let it go. But when you are writing about a country you visited its proper etiquette to paint a rosy picture of it, especially a country like India. You gave the true picture for all the bad things, but you painted all the good things also in the same colour. I could go on, but I think by now you catch my drift. Next time you are in Mumbai, maybe you should see the parts you skipped. Regards, AMCHI MUMBAI
2010-01-02 @ 23:56
Comment from: [Member]
Hey Amchi, Thank you for your comment and I’m glad to hear that you liked the picture! I’d like to still answer and hopefully make it more clear what I meant. I wasn’t trying to paint a gloomy picture when writing about the security guards - just telling what I observed. As you said it wasn’t dramatic: there were not people throwing rocks at the building and I wasn’t harassed by the guards in any way. However, it was a difference to my home country (Finland) so it caught my attention. We might have someone observing an area during the night but no full time guards at apartment buildings or universities. I see the need for having guards at the door as one sign of the divide between rich and poor, which was also otherwise quite visible in Mumbai. You’re right that the purchasing power of 1500 Rs in India is quite different to that in Europe. It was perhaps a mistake to throw in the number without explaining that. Also, 1500 Rs was the monthly price of the maid service for one flat. One maid can take care of several flats so she probably earns a bit more than that. However, what I wanted to say was that it cost less to hire a maid to do cleaning, laundry and dishes than to buy machines. It was a big contrast to Finland, where almost everything is being automatized by more and more sophisticated machines and the number of personnel is minimized. In our culture in general it’s not very common to have servants. I’m not saying that our way is better, but it certainly is a big difference. To get a more complete view of my experiences I’d like to suggest reading some more of my articles about India. Almost everywhere I was welcomed with amazing hospitality and had a wonderful time. Still, I don’t want to write only about the rosy bits but also about the things I didn’t enjoy as much. My blog is of course subjective and others will see some of the things in a different light - but I try to be honest in how I experienced it. Regards, Arto
2010-01-04 @ 01:53
Comment from: Amchi Mumbai [Visitor]
Hey Arto, I am quiet impressed with your reply. Now people who read your blog(s) would get a clearer picture of what you mean. I agree that both the good and the bad points should be included - awareness is imporant; but its only apt to paint the good in good and bad in bad, otherwise it causes ignorance in the minds of the readers. All the Best Amchi Mumbai (Vanmeet)
2010-01-07 @ 12:30
Comment from: call me katha [Visitor]  
HEllo my name is Katha Pungijaniba.I’m from new delhi and i would love to visit mumbai someday.It seems to be such an interesting an beautiful city.I want to go there with my 5 sisters and 4 brothers. do you want to be my next brother? thank you bye
2014-02-26 @ 12:14

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