INDIA IS ONE OF THE MOST ABSURDLY COLORFUL AND FLAGRANTLY BEAUTIFUL COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD, AND IT IS A PLACE THAT INVADES YOUR DREAMS LONG AFTER YOU HAVE DEPARTED FROM ITS HECTIC AND FRAGRANT SOILS. Apart from the darling peaks of the Himalayas, one of the Indian places I dream of the most, is the Mahalaxmi Temple in Mumbai. It rises from the Arabian Sea shoreline like a sentinel from another world, a roughly triangular yellow beacon of difference and exoticism in a world rapidly becoming everywhere the same. The Mahalaxmi Temple is the kind of building you could only see in India. Its proximity to one of my favorite Indian attractions, the Haji Ali Mosque, helps makes the Mahalaxmi Temple a definite must-see when you are in Mumbai. You could go down to the Haji Ali Mosque to get a taste of Islamic life in India. Then, for your Hindu India experience, head up the headland to the Mahalaxmi Temple and see how the two compare.
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ACCORDING TO THE Mumbainet.com GUIDE TO MUMBAI: "The Mahalaxmi Temple sits atop a long flight of steps on the edge of the Arabian Sea. It is devoted to Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth, and Lady Luck to millions of adoring Indians. The shrine itself is quite characterless, but has a curious history. It is said that in the 1890s, when the adjoining causeway was being constructed by a British engineer, the project was always jinxed: every time the foundation was laid, the sea would rush in and destroy it. Then one night, a labourer dreamt of Goddess Laxmi who ordered him to dig out an idol from a spot under the causeway and build a shrine on it. This was done with due alacrity, and the causeway was ultimately completed." There is some fascinating and amusing Indian-English contained in the above quote, but its sentiment is sound. With due alacrity, I recommend a visit to Mahalaxmi Temple. Just a point -- you won't be able to take a photo inside, due to the prohibitions on cameras. At least the at Haji Ali Mosque down the road you can take a decent photo of the very photogenic scenes which present themselves there! And also, if you visit Mahalaxmi Temple, factor in getting hassled by kids to buy them Pepsi or a bag of rice. It is all a part of the Indian experience these days!
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I LEAD WITH THIS ACCOUNT, FROM ONE EXOTIC WRITER, ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCES IN EXOTIC MUMBAI:
"Bombay pounds at my senses. The squalor, the overwhelming crowds, the pungent smells, the dazzling colours, the vendors demanding my attention, the beggars tapping at my elbow, the traffic, horns blaring, swerving all around me. The women clad in bright saris and men in lungi and vest make a brilliant, moving splash of colour against the drab fading buildings. One night, returning home along Mereweather Rd in central Bombay, I am knocked aside by an elephant as big and silent as a house. This is the city of Salman Rushdie and Rohinton Mistry. The city where V S Naipaul was stricken with panic. A city on overload.
"There is a sense of vast sprawling decay and chaos. Each of the 16 million plus inhabitants struggles against every one else for space and a living. The vendors spread their wares across the pavements and along the road's edge so that a casual stroll becomes a perilous walk through a minefield. Everyone, it seems, clamours to know,
"Sir, what is your name? From which country? How long you are being in India? Can I show you something special? What are you looking? You want hotel, very cheap? You want girl? You want boy? You want hashish, very good quality? Grass? One rupee? One pen? Foreign money for my collection?"
"Across the peninsula from the Gateway to India is the Mahalaxmi Temple. I buy a handful of flowers and bits of coconut for five rupees and go down to the sea where dozens of Hindus are floating their offerings. Anil is diving among the flowers and gathering the coconuts for his family.
"I cannot get that boy to go to school," says his father.
"He goes swimming everyday. He lives in the water like a fish.
How old do you think he is?"
He looks like five, maybe six, but his father insists that he is eleven."
Bomaby/Mumbai is a city that pounds on your senses. Get there, and find out. Follow the instructions listed beneath!
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MAHALAXMI TEMPLE IS SITUATED AT ONE END OF BREACH CANDY -- a trendy residential and shopping area, now known as B. Desai Road. My taxi driver once hassled me to buy some goods from its vaguely hemispherical array of air-conditioned stores. B. Desai Road is located north of the main heart of Bombay/Mumbai and prominent landmarks such as Chowpatty Beach and Marine Drive. It is basically just over the hill from Chowpatty Beach. Just get in a taxi and go there!
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