Arriving in Bombay India may be one of the most shocking transitions of any port of entry in the world. Even peering down from the plane window on the runway approach you’re treated to an impacted chaos of cars, slums and tightly packed populace doing what they do in India, all at once, and without even hearing it you know it’s loud.
Taking your first steps out into the circus that is Bombay’s daily life, you might feel claustrophobic, unable to wish away the ever-tightening knot of people closing in from all sides. That certainly was my experience – an endless swarm of humanity to the horizon in every direction. Or so it felt.
A valuable commodity in Bombay is peace and quiet. A couple days into my stay there I was craving it as though it were something I’d never had in my life. Needless to say there’s a lot of honking, shouting, revving of motors, screeching of brakes, jackhammering of jackhammers and if you’re lucky, a random exploding electrical transformer or two.
If you find yourself assaulted by the noise in Bombay and begging for a simple moment of reprise, here’s a quick list of places to go.
The boat ride is the first breath of fresh air that will be your day out to Elephanta, also known as Gharapuri (literally “the city of caves”). The idyllic zephyrs blowing over of the Mumbai Harbor will come as a very welcome abbreviation from the noisy swirl of the city streets.
Boat tickets cost 130Rs (about $3) plus an additional 10Rs (about .20¢) to sit on the upper deck. Go ahead, splurge. It’s nice up there. Boats depart regularly from 9am – 2pm daily.
Once you arrive the only thing that will be able to bring your heart rate back up is the 300 or so steps up the steep hillside to the caves. Reenergize as you stroll through the series of rock cut Hindu and Buddhist grottoes that date back to the 5th century, bedecked with likenesses of familiar eastern deities. Their opulence lessens the farther around you walk, but watch the cheerful playing monkeys and take your stress off like a jacket.
This, yes, oval-shaped park bookmarks the west side of the Fort area and may be the breather you’re looking from the swell of humanity of this crowded neighborhood. On weekends the youth come out as an army to play cricket on the dirt and grass, but the sheer size of the Oval provides ample room to relax for a second thank you very much. Bring a picnic and make the most of the giant shady trees that line the park’s edge. Bring a zoom lens for action shots of bowlers and batsmen.
Though ringed with a large iron fence the Maidan is free to enter. Or 10Rs if you want to grab a cane juice from one of the vendors on the surrounding sidewalks.
For solace and a noseful of salty air, go to Chowpatty Beach, a haven in a cacophonous city. Spend a half-day, or steal a moment to watch the parade of families, merry-makers, romantics, and gaggles of designer jeans-wearing boys strolling arm-in-arm, making the most of this charmed spot.
Cloistered on the ocean side of the busy Marine Drive you can relax, so grab some sand and watch the sun plunge into the Arabian Sea in a burst of Indian watercolors. You may want to think twice about immersing your body in the water, but really, that’s not the object here.
If you like, walk the sea wall (at night known as the Queen’s Necklace) to Colaba and feel the cool evening breezes and relative quiet serenade you as you contemplate your time in India.
Ride in a Taxi
Your own personal chariot of solace. If you’re feeling the sense of panic and dread start to grow in your gut because A) you don’t know where you are or B) the mobs are beginning to swallow you, grab a taxi be whisked away to parts less congested. Bombay taxis are everywhere and while their incessant honking may be one of the causes of your impending breakdown, knowing that it’s taking you to better locations may be just the psychological escape you need to get back on track. Just say Victoria Station, Chowpatty, Gateway of India or Chor Bazaar and you’ll be off!
Fares for these easy-to-spot yellow-roofed cabs generally run Rs18 for the first 1.5 miles and Rs12 for the rest. Add 25% for late night rides. But unless you feel like testing the honorability of the driver, try and get him to tell you the fare before you get in. If you don’t speak a language he understands, wait 5 seconds for another one to come around.
Legitimate taxis will have their fare cards on display in the vehicle.
Hanging Garden (Ferozeshah Mehta)
Catch your breath in this quiet and cozy park, opened in 1881, at the top of ritzy Malabar Hill. Sitting on a giant underground cistern, the garden is a menagerie of animal-shaped shrubbery and other plants, paths and benches. You might feel it a long time since this garden was magnificent, but as perhaps nowhere else in Bombay’s city limits, there is some very elegant silence here.
Be advised nothing “hangs” here, but the garden is free, there is shade and places to sit. Get a dosa (Rs50) out on the street and enjoy a couple sweet relaxing hours.
If you’re really feeling it, you can get completely out of the city by grabbing a ferry and cruising south down the coast to the beach town of Alibag. Granted there isn’t much to do in Alibag except lie on the beach and eat and drink, but really what more do you want, especially when Bombay’s got you wound up tighter than an Elizabethan corset.
Try Murud-Jajira Beach for best results. The water’s clean and warm and will let some of that graceful silence slip back into your brain.
Grab a ferry (the best way to get there by far) from the Gateway of India (about Rs110 one way), and sail the two hours like a champ. The ferry lets off at Rewas where you connect by bus to Alibag. Service may be limited or discontinued during the monsoon season, May-October.