Through most of my travels in the U.S., I’ve noticed that one town is pretty much like another. Wal Mart on the outskirts, whats left of main street on the inside, probably built near a river or a bay. When you travel in a different country, though, you expect something different. You want to know on a visceral level that you are not at home, that things are different elsewhere. Despite the ever wider reach of Starbucks and MTV, here are five ways you’ll know you aren’t in the U.S. when you are in Mumbai.
1. Chor Bazaar. Operating for over 150 years, this market is prime real estate for hustlers, sellers, ne’er do wells and legitimate business men alike. “Chor” meaning “Thief”, the market is known to be the first stop for a lot of Mumbai’s missing goods. Find treasures, trash and everyday items for obscenely low prices. Keep an eye on your wallet, though, and be prepared to haggle.
2. Towers of Silence. Zoroastrianism, which may be the world’s oldest monotheistic religeon, proscribes that the dead be exposed to the sun and to the birds on the top of a squat, broad roofed tower. It is seen not only as a clean way to deal with human remains but as a final act of charity to the birds. Go with an attitude of respect and consider leaving the camera in your backpack. A cemetary demeanor would be appropriate.
3. Elephanta Caves. In the Mumbai Harbor there is a small island containing two groups of caves, one Hindu one Buddhist. Both contain hand carved statuary to the prominent figures of each religion. Nobody knows for sure who carved the stone. The carvings have been narrowed to between the 5th and 8th centuries, though. Nothing of this complexity and age exists on the North American continent.
4. Haji Ali Dargah. A mosque and tomb located on an islet in Southern Mumbai, the structure doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen elsewhere. It is visited by over 40,000 pilgrims on Thursdays and Fridays, most seeking the blessing of Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Sha Bukhari, a Muslim Saint. According to legend, the mosque and tomb were built on the place his casket struck land after his disciples (per his direction) cast it into the sea.
5. Walkeshwar Temple. Originally built in 1127 AD, this temple marks the spot where Hindu god Ram paused while chasing demon king Ravana who had kidnapped Ram’s wife, Sita. It was destroyed by the Portuguese and rebuilt in 1715. Currently the temple hosts an annual Hindu classic music festival. It is also quite busy during the full moon and new moons, when worshippers crowd to it. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was a favorite of the Malabar pirates.
With so many unfamiliar things to see and so much diversity, there is no reason for Mumbai to feel like anywhere but Mumbai. When you are there, get out and see something on this list. Explore some of the difference in the world. You’ll be glad you did.