After five weeks exploring the North of India, it was time to head south. We arrived in Mumbai, excited to spend the Christmas holiday in India’s most populous city and were happy to spend some time in a cosmopolitan city that reminded us a lot of home in New York.
We took a tour of the city where in a short three hours we were able to see some of the highlights of Mumbai. One of our favorite spots was Dobi Ghat – the largest outdoor laundry in the world. There are over 800 washing stalls and every day, each man there washes over 40 pounds of laundry. Once clean, the clothes get hung in every corner of the laundry area and then returned to their owner the next day. Believe it or not, only a few items of clothing are lost each day as the workers are required to pay for each item lost. On our tour, we also visited the Jain temple, Chowpatty beach, and a local fish market giving us a real flavor of the goings-on in Mumbai. But Mumbai is a city better experienced by walking around, taking in the nightlife, and absorbing the energy of this bustling place and most of our best experiences were had off the tourist path and at local cafes, restaurants and markets.
During our visit, we also had time to visit Elephanta Island – an island nine kilometers from Mumbai and home to temples carved in stone that were thought to have been created between AD 450 and 750. It was amazing to walk through these caves and to try and imagine how they were built thousands of years ago.
A highlight of our time in Mumbai was the chance to experience Christmas India-style. We decked out our hotel room with Santa Claus signs, garland, and even the world’s smallest Christmas tree. We celebrated Christmas Eve with festive high tea at the Taj Hotel (thanks Mama Jane!) where we feasted on local Indian dishes as well as the traditional English scones and finger sandwiches. Later that evening, we headed to Christmas mass at a local church. Given the incredible crowds expected, mass was moved from the church to the schoolyard behind the church – where a stage / altar was erected and rows of chairs for hundreds were assembled. The service was officiated by the Cardinal of Mumbai and the festivities included a choir and orchestra, which made for an incredible experience. It was a beautiful mass and a Christmas we will remember for a long time.