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Sightseeing in Mumbai

Film City: Bolywood

Film City was built by the Maharashtra state government in 1978 to help the Bollywood film industry with settings for film productions. Nowadays, Film City is a huge complex of twenty indoor film studios with pavilions that belong to some of the better-known movie-makers of India. The film industry in India is the biggest in the world and produces in excess of 1000 films per year (sometimes as many as 3000!).

Film City offers a 2 hours guided tour for Rs.499 +tax. Another way to see the action is to volunteer to be an extra in a film. Go into the Mumbai area of Colaba, in the evening, especially near Leopold’s Cafe and wait to be hired by an agent on behalf of an ongoing film production. Usually, there is “mass scenes” recruitment going on there, and if the action has scenes that take place in the West, foreigners from Australia, Europe, and America have a good chance of being chosen. Before you accept, find out from the agent roughly what you have to do, and what type of film is being shot to avoid awkward or embarrassing roles. From the time you are picked up to being taken back to your hotel, expect long days of up to eleven hours with a lunch break. Usually, you will be paid around 500 for participation, as well as food and transportation.

Gateway of India

Gateway of India and Taj Palace Hotel

The Gateway of India is a 26 meters tall arch designed to be the first thing to be seen by those arriving in Mumbai by boat. It was completed in the 1920’s in Indo-Saracenic style, which combines elements from Islamic and Hindu architecture. The central cupola is 15 metres tall and 25 metres in diameter. On both sides of the arch, there are spacious halls that can accommodate up to 600 people each.

The Gateway of India was built to commemorate George V’s visit to India in 1911 and stood as a symbol of British rule over the sub-continent. Symbolically, it is also a “departure” gateway as it was through this gate that the British troops marched away in 1948, after India gained its independence.

Taj Palace Hotel

This luxury hotel (in the photograph above, on the far left of the Gateway of India) occupies a prime position on the coast of the Arabian Sea in the Apollo Bander district of Mumbai. Taj Palace used to belong to the Indian billionaire Jamsedji Nusservanji Tatta. Built in 1898-1903, it was designed as Mumbai’s best piece of architecture with luxurious furnishings ordered from Europe.

The seven-storey building has a European architectural style, with its central cupola topped with a turret, and in the inner yard there is a big swimming-pool with a terrace. The hotel is a place of fine dining as it hosts some of the best restaurants in Mumbai. The rooms overlook the Arabian Sea and the Gateway to India arch. Each guest room has its own unique interior while the numerous halls are covered with hand-made carpets and the walls adorned with paintings and semi-precious stones.

The hotel’s guest list is quite remarkable and includes famous politicians, idols from sport and entertainment, and high-flying business people.

The Taj Palace Hotel now has an extension - a modern high rise tower building that is just behind the original structure.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus) Train Station

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus) Train Station

Chhatrapati Shivaji was a 17th century warrior-king who became a national hero. The railway station, the largest and busiest in Mumbai, is named after him. Its construction started in 1878 and lasted ten years. The station design is based on St. Pancras station in London. Originally named after Queen Victoria, the station was renamed in 1996. The architecture is a mix of Victorian and Gothic styles with infusions of Hindu motives. By its appearance, the building looks more like a palace rather than a railway station: the stained-glass windows, finely carved stone motives, elegant columns and tall arches produce an exuberant palace-like atmosphere. The central cupola is encircled with little turrets and on top of it is a sculptured figurine symbolising Progress. The central entrance is adorned with two sculptures: one of a lion and the other one of a tiger; they symbolise the two countries - Britain and India, respectively.

Currently the station has 18 platforms that serve mainly the suburban trains and a few long-distance routes.

In 1994, the Chhatrapaty Shivaji terminus received recognition as a UNESCO heritage site.

Elephanta Island/ Gharapuri Island

Cave Temples at Elephanta Island

Elephanta is one of the islands in the city harbour. Its main attraction to tourists is the cave temples adorned with numerous beautifully carved sculptures. In 1987, the whole island was declared a UNESCO heritage site.

Back in the 16th century, the Portuguese named the place Ilha do Elephante, that is the Elephant Island, because of the big basalt elephant statue that was guarding an entrance to one of the temples. The Portuguese wanted to ship the statue to Lisbon, but failed the transportation effort letting it drop into the sea as the ropes were not strong enough. Later, the British lifted it and put it into Bombay’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which is now called the Dr Bhau Daji Lad City Museum. The easiest way to get to the island is to take a ferry boat from the Gateway of India. The trip lasts about one hour with the first boat sailing at 9 am and the last at 2 pm.

There is a walkway leading from the pier to the temples, as well as a tourist train that takes visitors directly to the steps, which descend into the cave temples. The temples are relics of a powerful principality that chose the island as its capital. It is not known exactly when these Hindu temples worshiping Shiva were carved. Most probably they are from the 7th century at the time of the rise of Gupta Empire.

The main entrance to the caves is from the northern side. From here, the visitors come into the main hall with its massive columns. The hall contains a 6.3 metres high statue of Mahesamurti, or Shiva, in three revelations: Shiva-Creator, Shiva- Protector and Shiva-Destroyer.

There are other sculptures clustered near the entrance and on the side walls. They represent Shiva’s achievements such as the creation of the sacred Ganges river. The island can be visited only during daytime and it is important to catch the last ferry back, which leaves for Mumbai at 5.30 pm.

Currently, the island has 1,200 inhabitants who grow rice, go fishing, and repair their boats. The people live in three villages: Shentbandar, Morabandar and Rajbandar. The temple caves belong to the area of the Shentbandar community. Each February the Maharashtra Tourist Board organizes a festival of dance on the island.