India: The Southwest

India Mumbai Arch Taj Palace Hotel black and white

After a short “staycation” with friends for the holidays, we were ready to spend our final three weeks in India in the warmer southern states!

Mumbai

We started off in Mumbai on January first, eager to see the amazing architecture and coastal atmosphere that makes up the bustling city of Mumbai. From the Mughal Gujarati rulers in the 15th century, Portuguese colonization in the 16th century, and a wedding gift to the British King Charles II in the 17th century, Mumbai (or Bombay, as it was previously called), has had a multicultural past.

Not every city has a municipal building that looks like this!

We went on a walking tour with YoTours, beginning at the Gateway of India arch, which was a tribute to King George V in 1911, but was not finished in time for his visit, and- ironically- was the spot where the last of the departing British troops filed out in 1947, the end of the British empire in India.

The Gateway of India, inaugurated 1924

Opposite the arch is the grand Taj Mahal Palace, which in my opinion is the loveliest hotel in India, as it was built to be. Chris and I walked around the posh interior a bit- they still had their lovely holiday decorations up.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, 566 rooms of splendor

Other stops on the walking tour were the David Sassoon Reading Room and the Asiatic Library (which has one of only two original editions of Dante’s Inferno!!), the grandest of all railway station facades, the Victoria Terminus (now officially renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja), and Marine Drive, also called “the Queen’s Necklace” for the way it glitters along the curved coastline at night. The tour guide also recommended a historic Mumbai dinner spot, Bademiya, still at their original location since 1946.

Seriously good seekh kebabs

On another day in Mumbai we took the ferry out to Elephanta Island, to see the UNESCO heritage cave temples, with 6th century carvings of various Hindu gods. You can easily take a ferry to the islands from the Gateway of India arch; it costs about $2 and takes an hour to get to the caves, 10 km from Mumbai.

Trimurti Sadashiva- the three-headed Shiva

On our last day in Mumbai, we cafe-hopped in our neighborhood near the port and strolled around the quiet lanes, draped with banyan trees. We watched the businessmen of Mumbai on their lunch breaks and the graceful ladies in their multicolored sarees, until it was time for our night bus.

Goa

Normally I hate night busses, because I cannot sleep on them, but here in India we discovered lie-flat sleeper busses! We booked a double berth, and in the morning we were in Goa- a beach state that feels more like Thailand than India! One of the few places in India where shorts or a beach dress are totally okay. We stayed at Baga Beach, and enjoyed a few days of breakfasting on the beach, napping away the hot afternoons, and strolling through the villages near Baga around dinner time. At night the beaches transform into open-air nightclubs, and the party goes on as late as you want it to.

Time for a beach break

Hampi

Another night bus, and we woke up in Hampi, 320 km inland from Goa. It’s a very small village- maybe four blocks by four blocks- and surrounding it is a huge 16 square mile plain filled with hundreds of falling-down temples dating back to the Vijayanagara dynasty of the 14th century. A World Heritage Site, it is definitely worth a visit. A small river separates the area into two distinct bits- in the south side, a full days’ (or several, really) exploration of the temples, while on the north side, there are a dozen eco-lodges and yoga camps, offering classes in yoga, meditation, sound healing, bouldering, and rock climbing. The best thing to do on the north side of the river is just find a patch of boulders, climb them, and spend some time soaking in the view.

Sunset in Hampi
Chris and Deah take it all in

January is definitely a nice time to visit these three locations! You can get a fan room (no a/c needed) for quite cheap (under $25), and the days aren’t too hot, while the nights are perfect for sipping a cold beer outside. Transport links are easy here- both by train and bus- and prices are low. By June, in Goa in particular, it’s too hot and most of the workers in that area have headed up to northern India for tourism jobs.

Next up for us: our final stops in SE India. And then…..?

Flight to Mumbai from Chennai: $100 each

Visa: $100 each for two months

Daily costs: $75 for two people