Elephanta …

I caught the boat to Elephanta from just across the road from the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. It’s a 10km trip. Photography is forbidden on the boat because the journey takes you past the naval docks. The navy was in town in a big way in readiness for the national day celebrations on the 26th of January, by a strange coincidence the same date as Australia’s.

The island is the site of seven caves that were carved out of the basalt rocks probably between the fifth and eighth centuries. There is a cluster of five Hindu caves and away from them there are two Buddhist caves. The journey from the pier to the caves takes you up a fairly steep stepped slope between stalls. The weary traveller is shaded from the sun by tarpaulins. For those that are too weary to walk there are sedan chairs …

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Chadstone Shopping Centre may not have Beware of the Monkeys signs or sedan chairs but there is at least one thing in common – just as Chadstone boasts 500 shops which really equates to five shops 100 times over, so too with the stalls, the same few themes again and again.

The main cave is a Hindu cave dedicated to Shiva. The central hall is a little over 25 metres by 25 metres, containing carvings and shrines. You can find more detail and a map <HERE>. The carvings have suffered over the centuries but are still very impressive …

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Above is the Trimurti, to be found on the rear wall. Below is the Linga which is set on a raised platform in a shrine …

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It is of striking size, much bigger than mine although I do think mine has more pleasing proportions.

Outside the cave one can make the acquaintance of the local Bonnet macaques, Macaca radiata. These guys are serious snatch and grab artists, it is unwise to be holding food or even bottled water. They unscrew bottle tops in exactly the same way as we do, drink the contents and then toss the empty aside.

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Travelling with a group you may be pushed through here at a faster pace than the island deserves. Travelling independently the bird watcher would be well rewarded by spending some time at the fringing mangroves where there are some waders, egrets and kingfishers to see. The odd Brahminy Kite passes over and Flamingoes are occasional visitors.

 

मुंबई …

I pinched the heading from Wikipedia and I hope that it reads as Mumbai to the initiated. Please accept my apologies if it means anything unintended.

I emerged from the airport there late at night, the hotel transfer got me to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in the wee hours of the following morning. The very first impression was the number of people on the streets, many working, some walking but the majority seemed to be eating, at midnight, in little restaurants and cafes opening onto the street.

Security was fairly tight at the hotel. This was one of the buildings attacked by a group of Pakistani terrorists in November 2008. Retractable bollards now prevent vehicles from reaching the main entrance until the underneath has been scanned using mirrors and the bonnet, boot and interior have been given the once over. To get into the lobby you must pass through a metal detector whilst your hand luggage is x-rayed. Your suitcase will also be x-rayed before it is delivered to your room. No worse than airport security and although a sad reflection on the modern world, worth it. That attack on Mumbai was carried out by 10 men and lasted three days. They killed 164, of those about 30 died in the Taj.

The welcome is very gracious. The arriving guest is draped with a garland of flowers, a small red dot is placed on the forehead. The room looked out over the Gates of India onto the sea. A luxurious start to my trip, and since I was going bush after two nights, I thought it likely to be the only real luxury to expect.

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Mumbai previously known as Bombay, is the capital city of the state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, and the fourth most populous city in the world, with a total metropolitan area population of approximately 20.5 million. The conurbation is one of the most populous urban regions in the world. Situated on the west coast of India Mumbai has a deep natural harbour. It is also the wealthiest city in India, and has the highest GDP of any city in South, West or Central Asia. Mumbai is, of course, Bollywood.

Mumbai is built on what was once an archipelago of seven islands that have been inhabited since the Stone Age initially by fisher folk. From 1782 to 1784, the city was reshaped with large-scale civil engineering projects aimed at merging all the seven islands into a single amalgamated mass. The problems of getting around the place continue to be solved, the Western Express highway runs across a long causeway, road building and flyover construction continue apace.

The Portuguese ruled the city from about 1534, the British from about 1661 until independence in 1947. Depending on which newspaper you read, it is now ruled by the Mafia or corrupt politicians or a combination of both.

Mumbai has a tropical climate with seven months of dryness and a monsoon that peaks in July. December to February is the cool season. In January the mean high temperature is 30.6°C, the mean low is 16.4°C. Rain is unlikely. Air quality is not real flash.

The Mumbai Mafia reach the peak of their notoriety in the building industry, little different from Australia really. Building collapses made the news whilst I was in India but by Mumbai standards they were relatively small-scale events. One of the collapses in 2013 killed 72. Mumbai’s slums are said to provide housing for approximately 60% of the city’s population.

Some how I survived the night and I wasn’t thinking about any of Mumbai’s problems as I watched the sunrise from my hotel balcony …

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Next up … Elephanta.

Myna detail …

News that a South Pacific island is aiming to eliminate the introduced Common Myna …

Early last century, the myna was introduced to Atiu Island in Cook Islands as a way of controlling insects and other pests in crops and gardens.

But within a few short years, its aggressive behaviour destroyed the local bird populations.

In 2000, the myna was declared to be among the world’s 100 worst invasive species …

By the end of 2012, over 20,000 mynas had been killed, and in their latest update, it was estimated there may be just 62 adult birds left on the island.

62 is enough to reestablish the population so there is a way to go but Common Mynas do have the obliging habit of roosting communally in the non-breeding season.