Having completed the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, it seemed like a golden opportunity to reconnect with my ultra running friends Amit and Neepa, in Mumbai, India. I first met them in 2009 during my Comrades Marathon race in Durban, South Africa. Amit and Neepa were the first runners from India to compete in the Comrades Marathon ( 89 km Ultra Marathon ), both have completed this grueling race multiple times and subsequently Amit has become the Indian Ambassador for Comrades, written a captivating book about his journey leading up to and including the race ( “Dare to Run”, available on Amazon) and been awarded the “Spirit of the Comrades” award in 2016.
Neepa is absolutely incredible, having paved the way for female ultra runners in India to participate in this race!
We all share a similar desire for travel combined with running adventures, to test our mettle and keep ourselves fit for living our best life.
Neepa met us at the airport with Khwaja , who has become quite famous amongst their friends after he was mentioned in “Dare to Run” as their driver who helped them train ... ( read the book to find out more)! Right now Amit is in his peak training period for this year’s Comrades Marathon coming up in about 7 weeks or so.
Our stay with them has been a magnificent introduction to Mumbai and India.
Over the past month we’ve visited temples and churches of many religions and learned so much about different cultures which has been fascinating and illuminating. We’ve even had the opportunity to feed the sacred cows at a temple.
Khwaja drove us to the Kanheri Caves in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, located on the western outskirts of the city. Along the way he pointed out the billboard with the picture of Namrata on it ( the beautiful daughter of Amit and Neepa who is becoming a successful model).
It was almost debilitatingly hot and humid as we walked through the park to see these 2000 year old caves and monuments cut into a massive basalt outcrop. They have been dated from the 1st century BC to 11th century AD, an era that saw the rise and decline of Buddhism in this region and these 100 plus caves are precious insights into history.
Most of the caves were designed for simple living in a monastery setting.
A large Buddha, a Bodhisattva who represents compassion and an evolved water management system in the form of water cisterns left us in awe.
A visit to Swami Narayan Temple and the Krishna Temple, followed by a walk up to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount in Bandra gave us as broad overview of some of the different religions practiced in this area.
Next up was a fun filled day in South Mumbai and the Colaba district. Beautiful architecture abounds in this area and it really is the place to shop, eat and visit museums and galleries. It was here that we enjoyed a thirst quenching glass of sugar cane juice from a street vendor and devoured wheat free chocolate cake that melted in our mouths at one of the numerous quaint cafes near Khala Ghoda ( Black Horse) Square.
We popped into the stunning Taj Mahal Palace Hotel facing the Arabian Sea and Gateway to India. It was sobering seeing the wall of remembrance, tastefully and discreetly positioned adjacent to the lobby area, dedicated to those killed on the 2008 terrorist attack.
Lunch was enjoyed at the iconic Leopold’s Cafe, also attacked on the same day in 2008, as well as being mentioned in the novel “ Shantaram”.
A ferry boat ride to the island of Elephanta ( or Gharapuri), 11km out to sea, is a fabulous day adventure. Here we found a series of ornately sculpted, 5th century caves and a main temple cave dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
These caves have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the residents of the island run small restaurants, market stalls and offer their services as guides.
We decided to hire a local guide who turned out to be very enthusiastic and informative and we learned so much about the subject.
During the Portuguese Colonial era, the name “ Elephanta “ was given to the island because of a large elephant sculpture found there. It is no longer there, but there are most certainly lots of brazen monkeys trying to steal food and drink from tourists, by snatching items right out of your hand.
Unfortunately many of the sculptures were destroyed by the Portuguese who decided to test their canons in the caves. As a matter of interest the Portuguese colonized India in the 1500’s.
We’ve gained so much from our visit to India, first and foremost the opportunity to reconnect with our friends.
It has been fantastic to experience the rich and diverse culture and history and majestic architecture, especially of the Bombay region. In addition, it has been a gastronomic delight, where we’ve been exposed to the delicious tastes and nuances of local and regional cuisine and I’m lucky enough to have been taught a few recipes from Neepa which I can’t wait to add to my vegan blog!
We’ve been staying in the lovely area of Juhu near the beach, which is apparently also the home of some of the Bollywood stars.
The adventure started with a backpack each and we are leaving with an additional suitcase packed to the brim with all kinds of wonderful items ranging from brass elephant head door handles to a custom fitted sari for me and kurta for Dreadknot.
Over the past month we’ve traveled on planes, trains, automobiles, rickshaws, ferries, horseback and on foot, experiencing different climates, terrains and cultures.
I realize how fortunate I am in this life and a feeling of gratitude permeates my being.
The fact that I am able to test my personal limits by embarking on fairly challenging physical adventures around the globe is a real privilege. I am eternally grateful for all my opportunities to interact with so many different people and cultures from around the globe, expand my world vision and nurture my understanding that we are all in this together. Rather than focus on our small differences we would do better to focus on our abundant similarities with respect and a willingness to learn.
From India with love.