Bombay: Life in Pictures

Children line up to catch a glimpse of one of the popular Ganesh idols in the city


It’s hard to imagine a city as crowded, as frustrating, as vibrant, as ugly and as beautiful as Bombay.

Today, Desi and I are in the city known to the world as Mumbai, but always Bombay to us. It has been nearly five years since our last visit– a period inexcusably long to stay away from the land that sired you. But as always, within minutes the city grabbed me and shook me and left me breathless.

Each of your senses just seems to explode in Bombay. The smells and the sounds are amplified a thousand-fold. When I was growing up here it was a crowded city, but now the only way to describe the number of people here is overwhelming.

Homeless dogs like this one are everywhere you look in Bombay. They are peaceful souls, happy to coexist with the thronging crowds of people around them.

It is almost impossible to walk in Bombay. There is construction everywhere– flyovers, buildings, even the airport seems to be getting a makeover. Sidewalks are cluttered with hawkers, makeshift shelters set up by the poorest of the poor, even scooters snaking and braking their way through the traffic.

It is almost impossible to cross the roads in Bombay, because each time you set out to do that seems like it could be your last. There is no ebb to the relentless flow of traffic, traffic signals are considered mere suggestions, and pedestrians are not just frowned upon, they are honked out of the way by impatient motorists.

But despite the crowds and the noise and the inevitable pollution, Bombay is wonderful with the gritty reality of life. There are 20 million stories in this city and each one is as intriguing, shocking, innocent and gripping as the next. Just sit yourself in an autorickshaw and peek out of the open door at the life going by– you will come away with a refreshed perspective on life.

We landed in Bombay on one of its most special days—Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of Ganesha, the childlike, elephant-headed god so revered by this city. Each year, Bombay puts on a huge party for their beloved deity. As we took the taxi past midnight from the airport to our hotel, the city’s streets were clogged already with processions of devotees bringing in colorful idols of Ganesha to be installed in massive, ostentatiously decorated pandals.

A community Ganesh idol in Andheri, the suburb of Bombay where I grew up. After 10 days, the idol will be immersed in the sea.

Idols of Ganesha and other dieties wait to be picked up by families, at a workshop on the morning of Ganesh Chaturthi

I wanted to share some of Desi’s pictures of some very special moments in a very special city. Over the next few days, as we travel in India, I hope to share with you– internet access permitting– more stories about the wonderful food we run into. Do come back for more!

At a community Ganesh pandal, organizers grab a simple lunch of puris and potato bhaji.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

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  1. says

    oh yeah! Mumbai/Bombay is one of my favorite places. Exactly like you said: beautiful and ugly, vibrant, exciting and overwhelming. Everything at once!!

  2. says

    Ay dil hai mushkil, jeena yahan, jara hat ke, jara bach ke, yeh hai Bombay, meri jaan! these words ring true even today, despite the fact that they were sung way back in 1956.
    Loved the pictures I am missing home SO much. you brought it close.
    Enjoy your visit and share all the pictures you can.

  3. says

    I hope everyone who follows you reads your post. India is such an amazing country. When I was 14 years old, I went on an “exchange” program hosted by my girls school. It literally blew my mind. And opened it. And made me understand how big the world was…how beautiful, and how difficult. I grew up to be an executive in the travel industry and have traveled the globe. But never, ever, have I been to a place on earth as magical as India – and Bombay – especially. (“Mumbai” seems strange to me too).
    Thanks for publishing such a great blog and for sharing your “home girl” insights of that magical place called “Bombay”.

  4. Gayatri says

    Ohhh Vaishali this post and the accompanying pictures made me so nostalgic and teary. I grew up in Bandra but have lived abroad for 10 years now. Of late I’ve been finding it very hard to come to terms with what Bombay has become. But I know that whenever I go back, I feel like I had never left. I hope you enjoy your trip to India. I might live vicariously through you over the next few weeks.

  5. says

    Your photographs are so colourful and engaging. Can I ask how your experience went going round the city very obviously with a camera — how did people react? Were they generally happy to pose or did you feel you had to be more subtle?

  6. says

    This is a wonderful post that made me nostalgic. We haven’t been back to India since arriving in the US almost 5 years ago, and festivals are usually bittersweet reminders of the distance. I recently read that Bombay now has a vegan bakery. Hopefully, restaurants in India will embrace veganism soon!

  7. says

    Hi Vaishali! This made me very nostalgic of Mumbai. I lived in Andheri and travelled to Marine Lines to study – As much as the noise, chaos & dust gets to you – I loved every day of it! Nothing beats Mumbai.

    Love your vegan take on ingredients! This is coming from a hard core non vegetarian :) Do you try a lot of Konkan / Goan dishes?

  8. says

    ET, I have had very limited internet access but I hope to post more soon. Stay tuned!

    Amey, it certainly is a fascinating and paradoxical city.

    Manasi, love that song. And agreed, it rings true even today. I wonder if they found it mushkil then,what on earth would they think of it now? :)

    Movinoaklandcounty, thanks, and your job sounds wonderful. And yes, Bombay certainly is a unique city. Seventeen years after I left it I still think of it as home.

    Gayatri, I honestly could barely recognize the city. I went for a walk in the area I grew up and I was rather shocked by the changes– not pleasantly, I will add. But Bombay always pulls me back. It’s a hard city to put behind you.

    Photographer, Indians are very friendly in general and especially so toward visitors. Most people will pose for you willingly, and few will object to a camera pointed in their direction. Desi and his camera have been waved off angrily by unwilling subjects in many countries, but it never happens in India.

    Nupur, shocks the senses is certainly right.

    Sentient Vegan, Things are certainly changing and here’s hoping for more Indian vegans.

    Kumudha, Mel, Chitz, Minoti, thanks!

    Niche, nothing beats Bombay indeed. And yes, I do cook many Konkani dishes because my father is from Karwar and stepmother is from Goa. You will find several dishes from the Konkan region on the blog.

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