PERHAPS THE MOST ASTOUNDING POSITIVE ASPECT OF TOURING IN INDIA -- and it is enough to balance out some of those inevitable negatives -- is that it feels sometimes like you can see the whole world in one country. Within the confines of Mumbai City, for example, the curious traveller can find testaments to almost all of the world's major religions, political movements, and major empires. This can also be done, of course, in Singapore or London, but in Mumbai it feels more REAL. The testaments and monuments feel at home here, look weathered and authentic, whereas in Singapore they look like they are attractions in a Disney park. The numerous Islamic domes of Mumbai look so real and quasi-Arabian, it makes you feel that you have been transported to the Middle East, just across the Arabian Sea. Now, I have to admit, I am a big fan of the Middle East, and regard it one of the most exotic places I have ever been. However, it is so far away, and there is such a security cloud hanging over that region these days, that I don't think I will be returning to the Middle East any time soon. Fortunately a trip to Mumbai's Haji Ali Mosque is enough to give you that Arabian rush without any of the dangers of modern Islamic terrorism, and I rank it one of the best attractuions in the city. It's cool.
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SITUATED AT THE END OF A LONG CAUSEWAY POKING INTO THE ARABIAN SEA, Haji Ali Mosque has been described by LONELY PLANET as a "white-washed fairy-tale mosque containing the tomb of the Muslim saint Haji Ali." From the shore it doesn't look so either so white-washed or so fairy-taleish, and takes on a rather dirty countenance. You have to start the long walk along the long hot causeway to begin to appreciate the mosque's sublime beauty, which grows on you slowly. As I made my walk one early May day, the warm breezes of the aforementioned Arabian Sea filled my lungs, transporting me to another (decidedly Middle Eastern) dimension. The sun blazed above. All around me, meanwhile, rose the clamor of Islamic India -- drink and trinket wallahs advertising their wares, beggars pleading for mercy, the hypnotic tunes of a kick-ass Muslim song. I handed out loose Rupees to the beggars, remembering that a good Muslim always supports the poor.
Gradually as I walked, the mosque entrance came into view. And once I got close enough to behold the whole structure, I was suitably spellbound -- this really was a fairy-tale building after all! And there was so much color, so much color everywhere -- I know that India is packed with color but Haji Ali Mosque is even more scintilatingly hue-packed than the average Indian temple. On a typical day a hundred sari's fly in the blue blue air, while in the sky above, Arabic language Koranic flags are all a-flutter...
According to legend, Haji Ali was a wealthy local businessman who gave up the material life after making a pilgrimage to Mecca. One story claims that he died during the pilgrimage and floated back to this spot on the shores of Mumbai. It is a beautiful story and as you sit on the exposed rocks of the mosque, staring out at the glistening sea, you could almost believe it is true. There is something undeniably miraculous and holy about this site, just another of the one billion holy sites of India!
A Boots'n'All Mumbai travel guide writer Lubna Kably visited the mosque once and had this to say about the experience: "Men are allowed within the main sanctum where the tomb is placed. The tomb, which lies in a silver frame engraved with the 99 names of Allah, is covered with richly embroidered velvet in red and green. Offerings of flowers and scented sticks (aggarbattis) are made and the devout raise their hands and pray. Women have a separate enclosure for prayers, but they can see the proceedings in the main sanctum through the delicate latticework."
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HAJI ALI MOSQUE IS LOCATED JUST DOWN THE HILL FROM ANOTHER MUMBAI LANDMARK, THE MAHALAXMI TEMPLE. For details on how to visit both attractions, visit the Mahalaxmi Temple site.