Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra, the southwestern state of India and the commercial hub of the country. But Mumbai extends way beyond these official designations, with an allure as vast and magical as the Arabian Sea surrounding it. This mega port city is where dreams come alive on celluloid (home to mainstream Indian commercial movies or “Bollywood”) and beyond, a city which is filled with mad energy and is always on the go, a metropolis teeming with people from all over the country and the world (such is the magic of movies) and where languages, cultures, lives and aspirations collide, meet and swirl beautifully in this brownian motion called life. Mumbai resonates of a cacophony that symbolizes life itself and is every bit the “Maximum city” that its touted to be. After years of using it simply as a transit point, I finally got an opportunity to explore this magnum opus of an urban space for seven glorious days. I was lucky to have excellent recommendations from some fierce Mumbai-ites (my brother BB) and my local partner in crime SM (a super talented graphic designer), who made my Mumbai travel experience magical and memorable. Part 1 of Mumbai travel is where I will be sharing some of the things that I did and saw, aka my guide to exploring Mumbai whereas Part 2 of Mumbai travel will see my showcase some of the excellent meals that I had during my stay. The infamous Mumbai traffic really tested us but I still managed to fit quite a few things in my exploration kitty during my visit, again thanks to the selflessness of my awesome friend who showed me around her city. So here is a glimpse of my Mumbai travel trip and a few pointers for your future adventures!
A) MUMBAI TRAVEL: SEA, SAND, ARCHITECTURE
Mumbai and the salty sea water are synonymous. Although the city boasts of a beautiful coastline where one is never far away from the water, don’t forget to take a break or indulge in some romance like true blue Mumbaikars on the rocks either at Bandstand or the glamorous Nariman point, which was once touted as the most expensive piece of real estate in the world! When is Mumbai check out the art deco buildings or the other crown jewels of architecture from the British Raj, namely the Chatrapati Shivaji terminus (formerly, Victoria terminus or VT) which is a historic railway station and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India which serves as the headquarters of the Central Railways. This is one of the busiest stations in India and witnesses hundreds of thousands of people coming into the city everyday in order to claim a piece of their sky. Equally impressive is the Mumbai municipal headquarters building across from it which stands tall and proud, showcasing its beautiful Victorian Gothic architectural style. Mumbai has several famous places of worship of different religions (temples, mosques and churches) and irrespective of your religious affiliation or lack of it, they are well worth looking at. The Mahalakshmi and Siddhivinayak temples and the Mount Mary Basilica, Bandra as well as the St. Thomas Cathedral churches are well worth a look.
B) MUMBAI TRAVEL: BEYOND THE BANDRA-WORLI SEA LINK
Once, a conglomeration of seven islands, Mumbai is essentially the result of extensive sea dredging and landfilling to make these isolated land masses come together. The result is a large snout like landmass jutting into the sea with the spiffy Bandra-Worli sea link dividing the “suburbs” from Central Mumbai and “town”, the latter being the place with all the major attractions and the Mumbai Stock Exchange. Zip across the spiffy sea link and you will have a gala time exploring the southern most part of this bustling mega-city. We got our fill of culture via the many art galleries (Jehangir and Tao) and the quaint, artsy neighborhood of Kala Ghoda (black horse), Mumbai’s art district and home to the famous annual Kala Ghoda art festival. A small collection of lanes with quirky and madly creative boutiques and shops, Kala Ghoda instantaneously stole my heart. In its small lanes, stands the beautiful blue Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue, an orthodox Jewish Synagogue built in 1884 and is the second oldest synagogue of the city. A sephardic synagogue (Sephardic jews were businessmen from Baghdad), its peeling blue exterior gives way to an even more beautiful interior, complete with chandeliers and a central place of worship with the Torah, and can be entered free of charge upon showing photocopies of ID (there is extra charge for photography and videography).
C) MUMBAI TRAVEL: MUSEUM MANIA
Being a museum freak, no trip of mine is complete without combing local museums and Mumbai was no different. We had a great time checking out the exhibits at the National Gallery of Modern Art, the Chatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly the Prince of Wales museum) and my favorite, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (formerly Queen Victoria and Prince Albert museum). The Vastu Sangrahalaya had a very cool show on Egyptian Mummies with an actual mummy from Cairo along with several other permanent exhibits, which would frankly require a few good days to peruse properly. Of the different historical and cultural artifacts on display, my favorite gallery was on miniature painting in India and its different styles. This is a beautiful, yet dying art form in India and the intricacy and beauty of this traditional art form was simply stunning to view. The Bhau Daji Lad museum in Byculla, Mumbai’s oldest museum, was a revelation with beautifully curated exhibits on the first and second floor. The first floor showcased India’s traditional art forms depicting scientific advancements and aesthetics, which were exhibited in London during the time of Prince Albert to reveal the bounty of the British colonies to the western world. The second floor gallery has exhibits on the history and origin of Mumbai, its humble beginnings to one of the world’s biggest cities. We were lucky to catch a guided tour of the museum (offered at 11:30 AM on weekends) that made our visit even more enjoyable.
D) MUMBAI TRAVEL: SUNSET, SHOPPING AND MORE
Mumbai has unbridled creativity in terms of local boutiques and shops selling everything from Indian pop-art/kitsch in terms of prints to quirky apparel. Plus you have the government funded cottage industries stocked with Indian handicrafts and traditional weaves. A visit to stores such as Filter (a most adorable gift shop in Kala Ghoda), Play Clan, Good Earth (the famous Bombay Electric in Colaba seemed to have closed permanently) , Kulture Shop (a curated design store exhibiting the works of of freelance graphic designers in India), The Bombay store (where I picked up gifts for friends back home) and the cottage Industries close to Gateway of India is where we stopped for some much needed retail therapy. We also walked along Colaba causeway market (a stretch of street with lots of stores), stopped by to breathlessly admire apparel designer Sabysachi Mukherjee’s dazzling apparel store in Kala Ghoda and picked some snazzy earrings from Sia, Santa Cruz. We managed to catch a few beautiful sunsets as well, with one at the Kamal Nehru park right across from Mumbai’s famous Malabar Hill Garden, from where one can see a part of Mumbai’s skyline along with the Chowpatty beach. Finally, I got to watch a play (Hindi adaptation of Harold Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter”) at the famous Prithvi Theatre at Juhu.
E) MUMBAI TRAVEL: MEET THE ICONS
No trip to Mumbai is complete without a glimpse of the iconic monuments in the city, such as the Haji Ali Dargah (mosque) standing on the shimmering waters of the Arabian sea (we saw it from afar), the Gateway of India and the regal Taj Mahal Palace hotel right across from it. We had the most surreal experience visiting the Gateway, where the intention was to pop by La Patisserie, the pastry shop inside the Taj and then jostle with the crowd at the Gateway right across from it. To our surprise, we found the police clearing off the thousands of people who normally throng the streets, to make way for a Naval parade. By a weird stroke of luck, we were the only two people (and I mean ONLY two) let in from the other side and so we were literally the two lone human beings in front of the iconic 20th century monument for a good 5 mins. My friend screamed that this was a very rare opportunity since the view is never this unobstructed and so I clicked away like crazy to get my coveted shots. In that one instant, Mumbai made me feel like a celebrity, as if the streets were emptied just for me. The Taj Mahal Palace hotel is a visual treat with its domes and regal British architecture. This hotel was thrown in the spotlight in 2008 (26th of November to be exact) when terrorists attacked Mumbai in multiple locations around Colaba, Apollo Bunder and Nariman point and stormed the hotel. The courage and valor shown by the hotel staff in saving the lives of tourists and the people of Mumbai is what represents the never die attitude of the city, which has weathered many such acts of terrorism but has emerged stronger after every incident. I caught sight of several posters of “Remember 26/11″ all over the city to recall and celebrate the stories of valor on that day of humanitarian crisis, where Mumbai showed the world that it would not backdown or give up in the face of fear and intimidation. The indomitable spirit of this city is palpable and alive to this very day.
This, in a nutshell, was how I spent 7 magical days in Mumbai. I am sure there are many other things to do and see, but I had a great time savoring the different sights and scenes from this trip which have made me thirsty for more. And when everything was seen and done, I loved spending a quiet moment or two sitting with my friend on the solid bank overlooking the sea, savoring the cool evening breeze.
December, as I found out, is the best time to visit the city owing to its hot and humid weather that persists throughout the year and although the sun scorched us during the day, the mornings and nights were cooler with a gentle breeze. Like many Indian cities, Mumbai has its chaos and traffic and so its best to be with a city dweller who knows all the neighborhoods and streets. My trip would not have been half as amazing as it turned out to be, had it not been for the generosity of a stylish, creative and extremely savvy Mumbaikar who also happens to be my friend who opened up her home, heart and car for me. Part 2 of my Mumbai travelogue is also my favorite, because it again is a guide to eating your way through India’s most charismatic city.
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