Mumbai is situated in the third largest Indian state, Maharashtra. Tourists recongize the region mostly for it’s temples and beaches, especially on their way from Mumbai to Goa.
But even for short escapes from the city, a trip to the local area of Mumbai offers beautiful impressions. Especially if you travel with young children, would might want to escape the chaotic inner city for a short break. The road out of the city is cumbersome and takes, due to the location of Mumbai on a peninsula, hours. But at the docks in front of the Gate of India, the ferries are ready to bring you (within a short drive) over to the mainland. If you like, you can make a trip to Elephanta Island, a small, densely wooded island in the bay of Mumbai, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to the famous cave temples.
Although on the mainland opposite the Mumbai peninsula no famous sights wait for tourists, you can get a glimpse into the lives of the rural population in the hinterland of the teeming metropolis.
Anyone who has wondered, at the sight of slums in Mumbai and the people who live along roadsides and sidewalks, why people prefer such living conditions instead of staying in their villages, receives the answer here. The barren region, that lives on rice cultivation, lies rough and fissured under the burning sun. Large cracks run through the dry, reddish-brown clay. Only once a year, during monsoon season, the landscape turns into fertile plains where rice can be grown. The rest of the year, people must survice from what little they could harvest during the monsoon season.
The orientation in this relatively undiscovered and nontourist area is not easy. In guidebooks you will find very little informations and no one speaks English. At the same time people are very friendly and helpful. For those who do not feel entirely comfortable with such an individual tours, I recommend as an alternative at least a day trip from Mumbai with a guide. The Mumbai NGO Reality Gives supports one of the villages in the region by constructing schools and developing the village’s infrastructure. By booking their Village Tour, travelers aresupporting the project, while receiving an impressive, personal insight into life in the countryside. The invitation to lunch at one of the families homes, the walk through the small village where you can experience peoples everyday life, a visit to the stationary rice mills and the ride across the fields with ox carts are extraordinary impressions for adults and children.
On the way back to the ferry we have the chance to visit a village that is celebrating the opening of its new temple. It is not entirely clear if the festives attract us or if we are the attraction. None of the villages elders can remember that ever a European would have strayed into their houses. Quickly a crowd has gathered and residents admire the extraordinary visitors. We are invited into the newly built temple room and receive the tikka, a blessing when one is spotted with red powder to a point on the forehead by one of the villages elders.
Back on the ferry we sit down and enjoy the ride back into the sunset over Mumbai. Already many miles before arriving you see the smog hanging over the city and you are welcomed by the unmistakable and very special ordor of Mumbai, a mixture of gases, waste stored in the heat and food steaming. At this moment a breathtaking view of the Gates of India and the venerable Taj Mahal Hotel, lying in the evening sun, opens on the shore in front of the ship.