Do you ever take for granted the beauty and culture you’re surrounded by on a daily basis?
I know I’m often guilty of this in Bombay where it’s all-too-easy to moan about the sorry state of affairs (the traffic especially), or else get caught up in the glitz and dazzling glamour of the endless soirées. Somewhere in the bargain, the heritage and old-world charm of this fast-paced city is left unappreciated.
Well this past weekend, I found myself in a tourist’s shoes as I had one of my oldest and dearest friends from London visiting. As tempting as it was to spend our day soaking up the sun by the Taj poolside, I was under strict instructions to make sure she soaked in as much of the Maximum city as possible instead…
Our first port of call was the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue.
I pass by this fairy tale-like structure on a regular basis as it’s situated in the heart of Kala Ghoda. Literally translating to Black Horse, this is a neighbourhood oft-frequented for its art galleries, designer boutiques and charming cafes (not to mention the eponymous art festival which takes place here annually).
But this was the first time that I wandered past the Synagogue’s unmissable bright turquoise facade…
… To find myself utterly enchanted by the ethereal grace and serenity within.
Wallpapered in light shades of blue, the interiors are overlaid with intricately embellished pillars, Victorian stained glass and deep Burmese teakwood furnishings.
The sanctuary is positioned facing west towards Jerusalem, and there are Torah scrolls on display, as well as silver-cased sefarim (religious books) from the collection of the Sassoon family who built this Synagogue in 1884 to serve the large Baghdadi Jewish community in the area.
You can’t help but reach for your camera as soon as you walk in, but it will cost you – Rs. 100 (~£1) for any photography and Rs. 150 (~£1.50) for videography shot here, with these proceeds going towards the maintenance of the building!
Of course there was no resisting that #IHaveThisThingWithTiles moment…
… Before we left to have a meander around the area, walking past colourful works of street art and sampling the enticing infusions at Sancha Tea (a must-visit if you fancy a tea tour around Bombay), with a quick stop for chai and scrummy sandwiches at the Pantry – a cafe I’ve always been partial to for its cosy and rather quaint ambience!
Suitably fortified, we took advantage of the quiet Sunday afternoon to drive past the many heritage sites and structures built in the Victorian gothic architectural style including the iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (better known as Victoria Terminus Station).
Incidentally, Bombay also has the largest number of Art Deco buildings (after Miami) including cinemas (Eros and Regal to name two) and residential buildings on the sea-facing Marine Drive!
Finally, we headed to the bridge near Mahalaxmi train station to look in on the activity at Dhobi Ghat, the world’s largest outdoor laundry which has been in operation for over 140 years! The vast space is kitted out with over 1,000 open-air troughs and concrete wash pens, with the dhobis painstakingly beating out the dirt from thousands of clothes each day… It’s quite a sight to behold!
Sadly there were a lot of cultural treasures left uncovered due to time constraints, as well as it being a public holiday for Ganesh Chaturthi – the annual ten-day festival held in honour of the elephant-headed God.
Known as the remover of all obstacles, Lord Ganesha is worshipped as far as Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Nepal and even China, but is especially revered in Maharashtra – the Indian State in which Bombay is located.
During the festival, you’ll find colourful and larger-than-life pandals (temporary shrines) set up across the city – in temples as well as homes, with family and friends dropping by to pay their respects… and to eat modaks of course – traditional sweets made with rice or flour and stuffed with grated jaggery, coconuts and dry fruits.
The festival is one of my favourite religious celebrations, but this year was even more special as not only was Antonia in town, she joined in the ceremony quite whole-heartedly!
I’ll confess that we did manage to sneak in some downtime at the palatial Taj hotel too, with poolside lounging and luxuriously indulgent treatments at the Jiva Spa thrown in…
And last but not least – we made time for a few foodie excursions as I simply couldn’t have had Anty leave Bombay without trying the flavour-packed plates at the Table, or the street-style chaat at Swati Snacks – both of which feature among my favourite restaurants in this city!
It was so wonderfully refreshing and eye-opening to see the city from a new perspective.
Have you ever been a tourist in your own city before?