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Published: November 11th 2013
Last night myself and four friends set off on the Mumbai by night tour, an insight into life after dark in this fascinating city. The tour itself only lasted two and a half hours but in that time I saw so many sights, some wonderful and some shocking.
After catching the train to Colaba, we were greeted by our friendly tour guide who explained to us where we would be going that evening.
Our first stop was Chowpatty beach, one of Mumbai's most famous beaches. It is located on Marine drive, a beautiful lit up boulevard which stretches all along the bay. Despite the fact that it was dark at this point, the beach was completely packed with families playing games, eating and building sandcastles. The place was so full of life and excitement, much like you would expect a beach to be during the day, but our guide explained that the families tend to only come here after dark. Noticing that there were a lot of babies and very young children around, who in England would be going to sleep at this time, we asked our guide what time children usually go to bed here. Of course it
varies, but we were told on average they go to bed at 1 - 2am and get up for school at 6:30am - not very much sleep at all! Unfortunately, despite being such a popular place for fun and recreation, Chowpatty beach also seems to be a popular place for waste disposal and the shallows were thick with rubbish and sewage.
Our next stop was the Banganga tank, an ancient, holy tank of water believed to have healing powers. It is a huge rectangular tank, with concrete steps climbing up at each side. We were told that Hindus come to this sacred place to bathe and wash themselves. It is believed that the water comes from the Holy Ganges river and was brought there by the God Rama, whilst on his journey to rescue his wife Sita. We were lucky enough to visit this special place during Diwali and there were people gathered on the steps with sparklers and setting off fireworks.
We then visited a Jain Temple. I don't know very much about Jainism, but our guide explained that Jain's do not worship a God, but instead look to those who have achieved certain stages of spiritual
enlightenment. The temple itself was a huge white marble structure, beautifully decorated with colourful lights, intricately painted ceilings and brightly coloured idols, statues and paintings. It was the most beautiful temple I have ever seen and I would have liked to have stayed there longer, however, keen to reach our next destination before it shut, we were only able to have a brief look around the temple.
After leaving the temple we drove to Kamala Nehru park, referred to by our guide as the hanging gardens, situated on Malabar Hill. The view from this park was breath-taking, you can see the spectacular view of chowpatty beach, marine drive, the lights of the city and the Arabian sea. Our guide said that this used to be the location of a tower if silence. I learnt that the tower of silence is the means of disposal of the dead for people of the Parsi faith. We were told that Parsis believe that earth, water and fire are sacred, therefore they do not bury or cremate the dead. Instead they hang the bodies in a tower of silence and allow the vultures and eagles to dispose of them. Our guide explained that
this no longer happens in the hanging gardens but instead at a location further along Malabar Hill. On our way to the next stop the guide pointed out the tower of silence. In the darkness we could just about make out the tower, surrounded by trees and lit by a single light. I have to confess that this eerie sight sent a shiver down my spine.
We then travelled to Mumbai's red light district, Kamathipura. Our guide explained that this place is something that people know about but don't talk about. He told us that the girls do not work here through their own free will, instead they are brought here by trafficking, told they will be given a good job and somewhere safe to live. Unfortunately,the reality is quite the opposite. Once they start work they are not allowed to leave until they have made enough money for their brothel keeper. However, by that point, the psychological damage is so great that they cannot do anything else and end up trapped. He told us that rehabilitation is very difficult and many of the girls' families will not take them back in. HIV/AIDS is also a huge problem here.
Even before we reached Kamathipura, I was appalled just hearing about it. The streets themselves were crowded, run down and had a grimey, dangerous feel about them. Seeing some of the girls stood out on the street and knowing of their harsh reality, I felt shocked and saddened.
Our final stop was Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, India's busiest railway station. It is a huge beautiful building, victorian gothic in style and a UNESCO world heritage site.
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