Monday, October 29, 2012

Haji Ali's Dargah

This weekend Lex and I went to Haji Ali's Darga.  Actually I've been referring to it as a mosque every since I lived here, but I heard today that it isn't a mosque at all, instead it is a shrine.

This Indo-Islamic shrine was built in the 19th century and contains the tomb of the Muslim saint, Haji. Haji died while on a pilgrimage to Mecca and his casket washed up at this spot.

A dargah is actually a Sufi shrine built over the grave of a saint or dervish.  Dargah is a Persian word for portal, and some Sufi and other Muslims believe that dargahs are portals by which they can invoke the deceased saint's intercession and blessing

When the tide is high, the dargah seems to float like a mirage off the coast. When we were there it was low tide however.

To get to the mosque you have to walk along a causeway out into the Arabian Sea. It was very crowded. On the way back the sun was going down and the moon was coming up.  The skies are so orange here (I think it is all the pollution).

Pottering around Powai

This weekend we decided to go to another part of Mumbai - the northern suburb of Powai.  Built since the 1970s on the shores of Powai Lake, this is now an upmarket commercial and residential district and is home to the Indian Institute of Technology.  The place has a very European feel, with its neo-classical architectural style.  Several scenes in the movie Slumdog Millionaire were filmed here.

Lex and I walked for a while by the lake, then went to the shopping district where we were able to sit outside at a pavement cafe for a coffee.  After that I tried something completely new - a fish pedicure.  It was a very strange sensation - half ticklish and half like having pins-and-needles.  I'm up for trying out new things, but I would say this is definitely something I'd only want to do once!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Ninth Night

I wanted to understand the story behind the worship of the goddess Durga, so this week I spent some time researching about the Navratri festival.  Durga, it seems, has many incarnations the story of why she is worshipped for 9 days is tied up with the story of the buffalo demon, Mahishasura.  

Mahishasura was a demon who terrorized the earth, but he couldn’t be killed by any of the gods because he had a protective spell on him that stopped any males from killing him.  The story goes that hundreds of years ago, there was a terrible battle between the gods and the demons.  The gods lost the battle and then went to the superior gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and told them about their defeat. These gods were furious, and in their anger, parts from all the gods came together and another life was created, all in one single female form.  The great goddess Durga was born, and she battled with Mahishasura and after 9 days of battle she was able to defeat him.

Navratri is divided into sets of three days, each section is devoted to one of the goddesses,
which symbolise an aspect of womanhood. On the first three days Kali is worshipped - she is the
goddess of honour, who destroys all impurities and sins. During the next three days Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth is honoured. It is believed that she blesses her devotees with luck and prosperity. On the fifth day, all books are gathered and a lamp is lit to call upon Saraswati, who is the goddess of knowledge and wisdom who is worshipped for the final three days.  On the eighth or the ninth day,
many people take part in a ‘yagna puja’, at their own home or attend the one at their local

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Heritage Walks in Mumbai - Bandra

A Saturday with not much to do - so Lex and I decided to do one of the walks from the book Heritage Walks of Mumbai.  We decided we'd start with the Bandra walk as it was the closest to us and we'd see how easy it was to follow the book.  Bandra was originally a Portuguese settlement in the 1500s, was later taken over by the British East India Company and later became known as the "Queen of the Suburbs" and was the place where the rich of Mumbai owned a villa or beach house. The walk began at Bandra Railway Station which I thought had a very British feel to it.  If it wasn't for the tuk-tuk and the woman in a sari, this could have been a station somewhere in the UK.

From the station we walked by Bandra Masjid (mosque) and the surrounding market and then past Bandra Police Station into Hill Road - which the guide book told us was Bandra's first real fashion street with department stores, shopping centres and roadside vendors.  To be honest I didn't really find this area as much of a "fashion mecca" as described.  

Some way down Hill Road we took the diversion into Chapel Road, an old Christian enclave with many brightly coloured houses and old bungalows.  A lot of this area has really fallen into decay of late, but some of the bungalows are still worth looking at.  The style of the houses were modelled on a Portuguese layout with sloping roofs, external wooden staircases, verandahs and balconies.  Crosses are seen everywhere, at street corners and in front of the houses.

Back on the route again we walked up the hill to Mount Mary's Church - originally constructed by the Portuguese in 1640 and enlarged at the turn of the last century.  This area is full of people at the time of the Bandra Fair in September each year, but was fairly quiet when we walked up here yesterday.

After a quick stop at the church, we continued down the hill to Bandstand, a road that runs along the rocky coast.  This area got its name from the bands that played here for local residents - the bandstand is now derelict.  However there were many families and couples sitting by the shore or in the small parks along Bandstand.

We continued along Bandstand towards Land's End.  We walked past the Taj hotel and up to the 
Castella de Aguado (Bandra Fort). The fort dates back to the 1600s, though is now a ruin.  From Land's End and the fort, however, there are great views across to South Mumbai and the Sea Link.

Mumbai, as an island city, was once guarded by forts built by the Portuguese and British along the coast.  The guide book asked us to imagine what it was like for a Portuguese solder 400 years ago to be along in an alien, tropical land, trying to hang onto a patch of valuable property for his king and country.

We'd walked for a couple of hours by this point, and after walking back along Bandstand and taking some more photos we decided we jump in a tuk-tuk to Mocha Mojos and get a drink.  After that we walked to Suzettes for some delicious crepes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Navratri - Nine Nights of the Goddess

October is the month of Navratri - the festival takes place over 9 nights and worships the different incarnations of the Goddess Shakti (Mother Goddess).

For the first three days the warrior goddess Durga, also known as Kali, is worshipped.  Durga is a spiritual force that destroys all our impurities.  For the second three days Lakshmi is worshipped.  Lakshmi is the bringer of spiritual wealth, as well as material wealth.  The final three days are spent worshipping the goddess of wisdom and knowledge, Saraswati.

Day 3 - Yellow

For Navratri there are also different colours for each day - women wear clothes in these colours and some women also fast or just eat vegetarian food.  The nine Navratri colors for 2012 are:
Day 1 - Pratipada - Red 
Day 2 - Dwitiya - Sky Blue 
Day 3 - Tritiya / Chaturthi -Yellow
Day 4 - Panchami - Green
Day 5 - Sashti - Grey 
Day 6 - Saptami  - Orange 
Day 7 - Ashtami - White
Day 8 - Navami - Pink
Day 9 - Vijayadasami - Blue

During the Navratri festivities Lex and I have been out to the local streets and joined in with the celebrations.  This has involved looking at the various shrines that have been set up and watching the dancing.  Last night we went to a neighbourhood where people were dancing with sticks.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Beach Life at Juhu and Bandra

This weekend I needed to take some landscape photographs for an online photography course that I am doing.  The options were forest, desert, mountain, prairie and seacoast.  Since none of the other options were available close to Mumbai, I opted for the seacoast one.

We took a tuktuk to the beach at Juhu and then started walking along it.  At Juhu it was quite sandy and there were even people who were swimming in the sea.

From the water's edge, this is the view looking back towards Juhu.  It's not a busy or touristy place at all.

After walking and taking photos at Juhu we took another tuktuk to Bandra.  Although it's just down the coast it's a very different landscape here.  More rocky.  However there seems to be some fishing going on and there were some colourful fishing boats pulled up on to the rocky shoreline.

One of the shots I had to do was of reflections in water.  This is the one I did at Bandra.

I also tried different modes on the camera such as the sunset mode and taking photos into water.  All in all I was fairly happy with these photos.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Global and Medieval

Phoenix Mills Shopping Mall

A quote from Edward Luce:
In the last 30 years India has been through a nineteen-month spell of autocracy, it has lost 2 leaders of the Nehru-Gandhi family to assassination, it has faced separatist movements in Punjab, Kashmir, Assam and elsewhere, and it has switched from a closed economic regine to an open(ish) economy.  It has moved from secular government to Hindu nationalist government and back again, it has gone from single-party rule to twenty-four party rule, from anti-nuclear to nuclear, from undeclared border wars with Pakistan to a lengthy peace process.  It has also moved from virtual bankruptcy to a lengthy boom.  By any normal barometer, India appears to be highly unpredictable.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Four Days in Matheran


On Tuesday it was a public holiday in India - it was a celebration of Gandhi's birthday.  The school gave us Monday off as well, so we were able to have a long weekend.  Some of the teachers travelled to exotic destinations (Singapore, Hong Kong, Oman).  Lex and I however decided we stay local and go to the hill station of Matheran, about 2 hours away from Mumbai.

The "Toy Train" doesn't run in the monsoon season, however Saturday was the first day it started running again.  We didn't know that - so although we saw the train at the bottom of the "hill", we'd already decided we'd hike up.

We stayed at the Usha Ascot resort.  The photos make it look better than it really was.  It was quite run down really - a typical example of faded glory - but the people were friendly and the food was excellent.

On the Saturday afternoon, after a great lunch, we set off for a local hike.  We walked to Charlotte Lake and then on to Lord's Point.

The views at Lord's Point were great.  We then carried on to Celia (or maybe Cecil - depending on what map you look at) Point.  Cecil Point was actually quite scary.  In the wet season this is actually a waterfall that tumbles over the edge of the cliff.  At the moment it was just a trickle and you could walk right up to the edge!

 We started Day 2 (Sunday) with a walk to Alexander Point and then Rambag.  The panorama at the top is actually taken there.

Each day we were there we thought about going up to Porcupine Point, also known as Sunset Point in the evening.  This was quite a long way from our resort so it would involve riding there on a horse.  Unfortunately on each evening we were then it got cloudy and we even had a thunderstorm a couple of days.

We therefore decided that we would go to Porcupine Point during the day.  We hired horses on the Monday and rode up there.  I can see that this would be a lovely place to watch the sun go down.

On the way up to Porcupine Point we stopped at another point, called Honeymoon Point.

On our final day, we went for a walk before breakfast.  Here we are again at Charlotte Lake looking towards the valley.  As you can see we were high above the clouds.