The country's first railway, the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, was born in the city of Mumbai on April 16th,1853. Thousands of people lined both sides of the track from Bori Bunder station to Thane at half past three that afternoon and watched with wonder as the train chugged along with 400 passengers.
The Bori Bunder station, an old rickety wooden construction, was replaced by the beautifully architectured Victoria Terminus(now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) at the spot where the temple of Mumba Devi, the patron goddess of Mumbai originally stood. The temple was shifted 3km away.
From Mumbai city to Elephanta across the harbour, is a short journey by motor launch.There are no elephants on Elephanta, only monkeys! When the Portuguese first set foot on the island sometime in the 16th century, they saw a large stone statue of an elephant on the beach. So they named the place Elephanta. The stone elephant was shifted to Victoria Gardens, now known as Jijamata Udyan, during British times and can be still seen there.
After alighting from the jetty and walking about half a kilometre, a steep flight of steps lead to a set of Siva temples, all of which have been hewn out of solid rock. The most impressive of these caves is the Great Cave. Facing one of the three main entrances to this large man-made cave is a magnificent 5.45m high three faced bust of Siva. This is the Trimurti whichshows Siva as creator, preserver and destroyer. The stone friezes on the walls of the cave unfold a celestial drama, of which the most dramatic is that of Ravana trying to shake Kailasa, while a completely unperturbed Siva, continues to play the game of dice with his wife, Parvati, and holds the mountain down with his toe.
The caves come to life on Sivaratri and other Saiva festivals, when fairs are held during the day and cultural shows late in the evening.
South of Elephanta, along the Konkan coast, lies Alibag, the favourite beach resort of Mumbaikars. Alibag was a port town, named after a rich Mohammedan who constructed wells and gardens in the 17th century. These gardens exist even today. The coconuts and grafted mangoes that grow here are among the best in Konkan region.
Miles south on a rocky island, stands the Fort of Janjira, whose walls rise abruptly from the water's edge to a height of 15 m. It was built in 1707 by an Abyssinian named Malik Ambar. How did an Abyssonian (Abyssinia is the old name for Ethiopia) establish himself on an island in Maharashtra? The story goes back to 1489. In that year, an Abyssinian adventurer posing as a merchant obtained permission from the ruler of the island to land 300 boxes on it. Little did the ruler realise that the boxes contained soldiers. The Abyssinians seized the island and retained their power till the final integration of the Indian states in 1947. They called themselves Sayyads. But this soon got corrupted to Siddi and their descendents are called 'Siddis'. The name Janjira too is a corruption of the Arabic 'Jazirah' which means 'island'.