Arriving In Mumbai
We finished visiting Oman with all the beautiful mosques. The next leg of our cruise took us down the coast of India. The first port of call was Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). We had only one day to explore Mumbai because we left the next day for our inland tour of Agra and the Taj Mahal. It was a long, busy day as we explored the religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai.
We arrived in Mumbai very early in the morning and experienced the first of many long port entry procedures we would find in India. The ship was docked in the commercial port. Despite everyone having tourist visas, the customs and immigration processes were painful. It was then a long ride through the port to get to the final gate to exit.
As we left the port, we saw long line ups at the gate. It was Navy Week in Mumbai and there were activities happening at the port.
This was also the first of many long lines we would see in India. The country had recalled some of the currency denominations . People were lined up at banks to exchange their bills. We were in India for 6 days and we never did get our money converted. Even when we tried to get money exchanged at a hotel, we could not get small bills. It was a good thing that U.S. dollars were widely accepted and that we always travelled with U.S. cash despite being Canadian.
Driving Along the Waterfront
Our tour guide began our introduction to India as we drove along the waterfront. Mumbai was originally called Bombay. It is really a collection of seven islands on the west coast of India. It is the commercial capital of the nation and one of the most densely populated cities in the world. There was a long history of Portuguese and then British rule we saw in the architecture as we travelled to see the religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai.
The long waterfront of Mumbai included a long sand beach. But nobody swims in the polluted waters of the bay. We saw fishermen but were not sure how far out they went to fish.
While the water may not be used, the waterfront is a busy place. People walked or exercised along the shore. Green spaces were available. We even saw a park that was reserved for older people (referred to as the Nani Nani park).
We were interested to see cricket patches everywhere. If there was not green space, people just played cricket in the middle of the road. Our tour guide joked that this may be the other religion we would see as part of the religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai.
Tourist Sites Along the Way
We got a running commentary as our bus moved slowly through the crowded streets of Mumbai. As we had seen in our SE Asia trip, traffic was a crazy mixed mess that seemed to move with a hidden logic.
We got our first view of the sacred cows of India. We saw them everywhere in this large metropolitan city. Only the tourists seemed to be surprised to see them crossing in the traffic. This would be a common sight as we travelled around India.
Along the way we often saw street art and statues. There was an interesting eclectic mix of modern art and traditional scenes.
We slowed as we went past the oldest train station in India. It was beautiful and intricate.
Our First View of Religious Diversity On A Tour of Mumbai
We would find no end to the religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai. As we drove through the city to our first stop, we got a view of the history of this city through the places of worship we saw. We found the same thing when we visited the coastal town of Cochin.
Our first discovery was the Haji Ali Mosque located in the water along a short causeway. It is only accessible during low tide as the causeway gets submerged when the tide is high. The mosque is associated with legends about doomed lovers and contains the tomb of a local merchant, Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. He gave up all his worldly possessions and set off on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He eventually settled in present-day Mumbai. On Thursdays and Fridays, the shrine is visited by an enormous number of pilgrims.
We saw many examples of Christian places of worship. St. Anthony’s Catholic Church stood proud on a city roundabout.
There were mosques and temples everywhere we looked. Some were large, ornate structures. But many were small local places of worship.
We stopped briefly in front of the Parsee Fire Temple. Parsee Zoroastrians fled from Iran and settled as a small closely knit community. This group is getting much smaller as they must marry within the community. They maintain a perpetual fire in consecrated buildings known as Fire Temples. We were only able to view the temple from the outside as only worshippers were permitted in.
There was no question that we would find religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai!
Walking In the Markets
The bus finally stopped. We got off the bus in the Flower Market. Our tour guide marshalled us together and off we went. She had no problem stepping into traffic to get us across the busy streets.
The Flower Market was beautiful and colourful. We saw local merchants stringing the flowers into garlands. Many of the flowers we created as offerings for the temples. We also saw the flowers being used to decorate cars for a wedding ceremony.
Our cruise ship tour groups were always looking for shopping opportunities. We passed outdoor stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables. Stalls after stalls contained shoes for sale. I gazed longingly at the beautiful sarees that would be made to order. But we had been delayed leaving the ship due to long port processes so shopping was not on our agenda for this excursion.
Guruvayur Ram Temple Complex
A Hindu temple provided our first close-up view of the religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai. We left the Flower Market for a short walk to the Guruvayur Ram Temple complex. It was a very busy spot. There was much to see on the outside of this temple. It reminded me very much of the colour and artistry we found at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Bangkok.
Our tour guide negotiated a good rate for someone to keep a watch over our shoes. No shoes can be worn inside Hindu temples.
This was a very busy temple. The presiding deity is of the charismatic Hindu god Ram. He is the seventh incarnation of Vishnu of the holy trinity (Vishnu, Shiva and Ganesh). Ram is also referred to as Maryada Purushottam, literally the perfect man or lord of self control.
The inside of the temple was quiet and peaceful. Many people were there to pay their respect to Lord Ram and the other deities.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple
The next stop on our walk as we explored the religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai was the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple. This Hindu temple (Mandir) was made of pink sandstone in a traditional architectural style with intricate carvings. The inside continued the architectural detail with artistic carvings.
This popular sect founded in 1801 by Bhagwan Swaminarayan is believed by its adherents to represent the purest form of Hinduism. They focus their faith on salvation by means of total devotion to righteousness, knowledge and detachment. As we explored the temple, we got a glimpse into the worship processes.
Part of the temple was closed and we could only glimpse the other areas behind a gilt screen. This did not stop people from paying their respect at the various shrines to the idols of this religion.
Shree Bhuvaneshwar Shiv Mandir
We continued our walk to discover the religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai. The next stop was a small local Shiva temple. We walked around to look at the relative simplicity here.
This was the first temple that displayed a swastika (also known as the gammadion cross). The ancient religious symbol (as a character 卐 or 卍) is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Until the 20th century, the swastika was the symbol of good fortune, prosperity, and longevity. The German Nazi party took the swastika as its symbol, although it is drawn slightly different and has a totally different meaning.
Keneseth Eiy Synagogue
We had one more spot on our walk as we explored the religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai. Jewish merchant families came to British Bombay in the late 18th century and soon assimilated into its commerce. While most Jews have migrated to Israel, they left behind an enduring legacy of Synagogues, libraries, schools and city landmarks.
The Synagogues are fairly plan and decorated in blue. The Sassoon family built the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. While it looked quite decrepit from the outside, the inside was decorated with colourful floor tiles and beautiful stained glass.
St Thomas Cathedral
Commissioned in 1715, St. Thomas Cathedral, was the first Anglican church in the city. It remains one of the oldest churches in India. Over the years, it has been added to and altered. This is reflected in the architecture.
Beautiful stained glass windows designed by artists from Victorian England still shone in the light. The church is dedicated to St. Thomas, who was responsible for spreading Christianity around the world. The stained glass windows shows him with a Bible in one hand and a T-square in the other, highlighting the fact that he was a builder by profession. On either side of St. Thomas are the archangels St. Gabriel holding a lily symbolizing purity and St. Michael holding a double edged sword, symbolizing truth and justice.
The Cathedral contains many carved stone memorials from the eras of British and East India Company rule in India. As we walked around the church, we found it replete with epitaphs for soldiers who fought in long-ago wars. There are stories that tell the tales of the men and women of this city.
This was certainly an amazing place to wrap up our look at the religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai!
A Busy Day In Mumbai
We had a very full day in Mumbai. A short stop for lunch at the Trident Hotel was our only stop to catch our breaths. My brain was bursting by the time we finally got dropped back at the port.
The tour provided a small introduction to the daily life in this very busy city. We saw some of the sights the city has to offer while on the bus. Exploring religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai gave us a chance to see the wide breadth of beliefs that shaped this city.
The next day we left the coast of India and headed inland to Delhi. We explored Delhi and the countryside as we headed to see the Taj Mahal at sunset and sunrise. That would give us a very different view of India than we had seen in Mumbai.
Have you had a chance to explore the religious diversity on a tour of Mumbai? Did that help you to understand a little more about the history that shaped this major city of India? What should be added to a tour of Mumbai?