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Mumbai meddling.

Building blocks of bureaucracy.

sunny 35 °C
View Indian Caves and Temples Tour 2011 on Grete Howard's travel map.

As we parted company with the driver last night, he asked us what time we wanted to start today. We should have known that if we said 09:00, in India time that would mean 09:45. Serena (our local guide) took us all around the sights of Mumbai, starting with St Thomas Cathedral. St Thomas was the first apostle to India. The cathedral was begun in 1676, but after the death of the governor who started the project, it was abandoned and neglected for 40 years. In 1710, the East India Company chaplain adopted the church and it was finally opened as the first Anglican church in Mumbai, on Christmas Day in 1718. The cathedral was given the essential cannon-ball-proof roof and was originally divided into sections for different classes of society, including one for 'inferior women'. The interior looks much the same today as it did in the 18th century, whitewashed and furnished with polished brass, wood and stained glass windows. The walls are lined with ornate memorials to British parishioners, many of whom died young of disease or in battle. The church is currently under renovation, but you can still see the splendour of the building and all it represents.

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A lot of the day was spent sitting in traffic jams, carrying out drive-by shootings (photographically speaking) of such historic and architecturally rich buildings such as the University Campus, Mumbai Big Ben, the Railway Station and Town Hall.

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The island of Bombay which was a Portuguese possession became part of the dowry of the Portuguese princess Infanta Catherine of Braganza on her marriage to Charles II of England under the Anglo-Portuguese treaty of 1661. In 1668 King Charles transferred it to the East India Company for a loan of £50,000 at 6% interest. That would have been an awful lot of money in those days, and shows you how rich and powerful the East India Company was.

An outdoor laundry may seem like an unlikely tourist attraction, but the rows and rows of similar coloured cloths hanging to dry above washing vats is a photographer's delight. Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghats are known as the world's largest outdoor laundry, with 200 dhobi families working together, collecting dirty laundry, washing it (removing stubborn stains in boiling vats of caustic soda), drying it on long, brightly coloured lines and using heavy wood-burning irons for pressing.

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One of the highlight for me today was the fascinating Ghandi Museum. Mani Bavan is a modest two storey building, but is famous as a result of Gandhi spending 17 years here from 1917 to 1934. The building belonged to his friend, and in 1955 it was declared a memorial to Gandhiji. It has now been turned into a museum, highlighting the various stages of this great man's life with miniature dioramas and period photographs.

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After lunch we took our shoes off to visit the most beautiful Jain temple in town. Babu Amichand Panalal Adishwarji Jain Temple is not a name that exactly flows off the tongue, but it is said to be the most beautiful Jain Temple in Mumbai. The peace-loving Jains (they take great pains to avoid killing even tiny insects) believe in self-restraint and aestheticism, but they plough large sums of money into the construction and maintenance of their places of worship. They also do a fair amount of charity work, and as we were leaving, we saw a long queue of people waiting for some kind of medical treatment from the temple.

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The Hanging Gardens of Mumbai bear no resemblance to their namesake in Babylon, they are just pleasant terraced gardens, created on top of the town's water tank. A Fire Temple and Zoroastrian Towers of Silence are located nearby (Mumbai has the world's largest Parsee population), where the bodies of the deceased are placed to be picked clean by vultures as is their tradition. In order to prevent the city's water reservoir from being polluted by the bones and remains of the recently departed, a cover was built and gardens created.
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In order to be able to easily update this blog on a regular basis, I decided to buy a dongle in Mumbai. After trying at least four shops, we finally found a store that sold the Tata Photon Plus, which came recommended and did indeed seem like a good bet. Actually purchasing one was going to prove rather difficult and full of Indian bureaucracy at its best. I expected to be able to pop in the shop, part with my money, have a short explanation of what to do, and walk out again. Oh no. There is a form to fill in. Fair enough. At this stage, however, you need your passport and visa, which of course were back in the hotel safe. Having retrieved these, we return to the store to pick up our purchase. Oh no. You need to give them a photocopy of the documents. In colour. The security guy on the door is beginning to know us by now. Ten minutes later, with some very good photocopies of the ID, we go back to see the same attractive sales assistant and start completing the form. Two lines later, she asks for my passport photo. What passport photo? “Anything else you need” we ask before we go off again, this time to find someone who can do us some instant pictures. Our question is met by the typical Indian head wiggle, which we took to mean no. By now I am beginning to think this is not an electronics store, but more likely a job creation scheme. Form duly completed, photocopies of the passport and visa, and a passport photo attached to the form – surely that dongle is mine now? Not quite. Fortunately I knew the answer to the next question (what's the address and telephone number of your hotel), but was initially stumped by the following request: “name and details of your contact in Mumbai”. What contact? The day was saved by me remembering the business card Serena had given me earlier in the day. I hope she doesn't mind being our 'representative'. Hopefully she will never know...

Another 3/4 hour goes by while the sales assistant makes several phone calls (often on two phones at the same time), a lot of consulting her colleagues and even more head wiggling. There is a problem with activating the phone. Oh. She also seems to be serving at least three other people at the same time, and the chap next to her is also trying to sort our activation out at the same time as serving a couple of other people. Talk about multi-tasking! All is well that ends well, and after four visits to the store and nearly an hour of form filling, head wiggling and phone calls, I am the proud owner of a dongle. It had better be worth it!

After the obligatory visit to the cottage industries craft shop, our last stop of the day is to sock up on medicines, most of which are only available on a private prescription in the UK. £20 of Indian tablets and creams would easily have set us back £150 in the UK. One of the beauties of staying in a hotel next to the city's main hospital.

Posted by Grete Howard 06:26 Archived in India

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