The centre of Mumbai, beyond Malabar Hill, is mostly made up of working-class neighbourhoods: a huge mosaic of dilapidated tenements, markets and industrial eyesores left over from the Victorian cotton boom. For relief from the urban cauldron, residents travel west to the seashore to worship at the Mahalakshmi Temple (if they’re Hindus) or the island tomb of Haji Ali (if they’re Muslims). Both make great excursions from south Mumbai, and can be combined with a foray across town to the recently revamped Dr Bhau Dadji Lad Museum in Byculla, calling en route at the Mahalakshmi dhobi ghats – one of the city’s more offbeat sights.
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Mumbai’s busy Mahalakshmi Temple, dedicated to the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity – the city’s most sought-after attributes – stands on the shoreline off the frenetic Bhulabhai Desai intersection. The approach is via an alley lined with stalls selling spectacular floral offerings and devotional pictures. A heavy security cordon has to be crossed before entering the main shrine, where a statue of the devi glittering with gold jewellery and bangles, and seated astride a tiger and demon, is propitiated by a constant stream of worshippers. Donations pile so high that the temple pujaris run a money-spinning sideline reselling them. While you’re here, find out what your future holds by joining the huddle of devotees pressing rupees onto the rear wall of the shrine room. If your coin sticks, you’ll be rich.
Haji Ali’s Tomb
Haji Ali’s Tomb
Occupying a small islet in the bay just north of the Mahalakshmi Temple is the mausoleum of the Muslim saint, Afghan mystic Haji Ali Bukhari. The site is a great place to head on Thursday and Friday evenings, when large crowds gather around the promontory to watch the sunset and listen to live qawwali music.
The tomb is connected to the mainland by a narrow concrete causeway, only passable at low tide. When not immersed in water, its entire length is lined with beggars supplicating passers-by and chanting verses from the Koran. Non-Muslims are welcome, but all visitors need to keep well covered (a headscarf should be worn by women).