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Off Beat Mumbai – 12 Must Do Things in Mumbai

Mumbai is not an easy and relaxing city to visit and is not exactly filled with typical tourist destinations. But as a city it offers rich cultural, gastronomic, and off beat experiences and these are a few things you should definitely do to really get an inkling of this amazing city and to soak up all the sights and the sounds the city has to offer (please bear with the wordy post; I tried to cram in as much information as possible J )

1.       Ride a local train


Life line of Mumbai


The first thing you notice about Mumbai is how unbelievably vast and how unbelievably crowded Mumbai is. The best and the fastest possible way to travel in the city, is to use the extremely well connected local train system. Not only is it the fastest mode of transport but it will also serve as an amuse bouche for your Mumbai journey tingling your senses for more of this addictive city. You can feel the electric Mumbai buzz and forge friendships that might last a lifetime!

For first timers I would suggest making your maiden voyage during off hours (between 10 AM and 4 PM). Or alternatively you can try to beat the crowd by traveling in opposite direction of the crowd by travelling away from CST or Churchgate in mornings and towards them in the evenings!  There is an exclusive compartment for ladies and it is quite safe to travel in local trains quite late into the night J

Psst solo women travelers; Mumbai is quite safe and I have taken the Thane train from CST alone even at 10.30 PM without feeling wee bit uncomfortable though being alert and being in crowded places is advised. You could also hop in the general compartment if the ladies compartment is scarcely occupied during late hours.

2.       Open deck bus ride through Marine Drive


Colourful night life!

City Lights!

Maharashtra Tourism (MTDC) conducts a one hour open deck bus tour on weekend evenings through the heart of the city starting from the Gateway of India making its way through some iconic heritage buildings scattered across South Mumbai and back to the Gateway again. The cool sea breeze and the twinkling lights are a sure shot recipe for a perfect romantic evening.
Tickets are available at the MTDC counter at Gateway of India (Tel.No. 022 2284 1877)
Timings – 7 PM to 8 PM and 8.15 PM to 9.15 PM every Saturday and Sunday

Unfortunately this service is not available during monsoon but we found out another even better alternative. Just take the public bus (BEST) route no. 108 from CST station depot to Kamala Nehru Park in Malabar Hill for a spectacular drive through the vintage South Mumbai, the cool Marine Drive, the laid back Walkeshwar and the posh Malabar Hill. The frequency is quite good and it the best way to explore these areas but obviously no open air deck :D

3.       Heritage Walk in South Mumbai


Heritage buildings in a row :)

Flora Fountain

As you can see, I am totally smitten by South Mumbai and its vast treasures of heritage buildings each associated with an interesting story or anecdote and each with exceptional architectural features. There is an abundance of gothic style architecture with CST station as the prime example with its imposing, regal yet distinctively gothic elements of pointed arches and overhanging eaves. I spent quite a few afternoons exploring these rich architectural treasures walking through the shady by lanes of South Mumbai, chit chatting with the security guards who had their own masala to add to the original history. Weekends or even better Sundays are the best days to explore this hypnotic concoction of history, architecture, design, mystery, gossip and urban legends. So just set off with a map on foot and delve into this heritage paradise. Don’t miss CST station (obviously but just saying :P), GPO, David Sassoon library , Elphinstone college, Afghan Church, Flora Fountain, Asiatic society and Rajabhai Tower.  There are many more like the Watson hotel, Dhanraj Mahal, Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Holy Name Cathedral etc; the list goes on as long as your patience and interest lasts :D

You can again make use of public transport and take the Fort Ferry buses from the CST station depot which are hop-on-hop-off fixed fare buses plying in a circular route through the fort area or again take the 108 route number.

4.       Shopping at Chor Bazaar


Chor Bazaar or Shor Bazaar?

Bewildering array of items

There are various theories and stories on how the “Shor Bazaar” (shor means noisy) of yesteryears became the present day Chor Bazaar (chor means thief) from the simple explanation that the British mispronounced Shor as Chor to the more intriguing alleged recovery of Queen Victoria’s stolen violin. But whatever be the case, be it stolen goods or second hand goods or genuine antiques or knock offs, the bewildering assortment of goods sold here make it the best flea market I have ever seen. As you traverse through the tightly packed alleys spilling over with all sorts of odds and ends being sold here, it might all come across as junk, but each and every piece has a story and a history and its makes for interesting conversation. And of course it a paradise for a vintage and junk hoarder like me and I had an amazing time rummaging through the tiny but never ending stores selling anything and everything from old mariner’s compasses to cuckoo clocks, furniture and decorative objects, film memorabilia, and a baffling assortment of other goods. And of course goes without saying, you have to put on your game face and bargain like a pro if you intend to make a good buy here!

And while you are here, drop in at the 120 year old vintage ice-cream parlour I wrote about here for some yummy handmade ice cream.

5.       Visit the heritage village of Khotachiwadi


Near the community Church

Winding pathway to a different era

Mumbai is like a puff pastry with its multiple layers of history and cultures fused to form one delectable dish to be savoured with the refined taste of a true global connoisseur. Khotachiwadi is one such hidden layer of Mumbai and tracing its fascinating history will; in a way give you the story of the evolution of the city from a collection of small villages to the megacity that it is today. This quaint hamlet close to Girgaum chowpatty was initially inhabited by Portuguese Christians and eventually East Indian Christians (when the Portuguese gave Bombay away to the British as part of a gift to Charles II of England in the dowry of Catherine de Braganza, the sister of the Portuguese King in 1661). It derives its name from Dadoba Waman Khot, a Pathare Prabhu brahmin who developed it and “wadi”, which is a traditional name for plantation or garden.  The Portuguese influence is unmistakable with the tiny lanes dotted with charming villas with airy verandahs, wooden staircases and sloping red tiled roofs. There were 65 villas originally of which only 28 have survived. The remaining have fallen prey to redevelopment and given way to ugly high rises. The residents are fighting a battle for conservation and protection of the remaining villas against the builder mafia as well the municipal authorities. A visit to this place is akin to slipping into another dimension where time has been suspended. The residents are passionate about the history and the culture of the place and are a closely knitted community and have developed this website for keeping alive the dialogue on Khotachiwadi.

The nearest railway station is Charni Road station and Khotachiwadi is on the lane opposite Mohan Building on Jagganath Shankar Seth Road. 

6.       Pay your homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Mani Bhavan


Great words of a great man


Mani Bhavan, on Laburnum Road was Mahatma Gandhi’s abode from 1917 to 1934 and has witnessed many a campaign and protests like Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi and Khilafat movements being initiated from there during India’s fight for independence. The residence has now been converted into a museum which highlights Gandhiji’s life through dioramas, documents, photos, books, letters, short films and memorabilia. I was fortunate to be in Mumbai on 2nd October (Gandhiji’s birth date) and made it a point to visit this iconic building to pay my respects to the man whose ideals of Truth, Ahimsa, Trusteeship and Constructive Action are as relevant today as they were then. There were quite a few parents acquainting their kids to Gandhi and his ideologies. The place also houses an exhaustive library on life of Gandhiji and the Gandhian philosophy. Definitely worth a visit to rekindle faith in humanity! 

7.       Evening aarti at Banganga



The pole in the middle signifies the exact location the arrow was shot

City of contrasts

Banganga is a sacred ancient water tank surrounded by four hundred year old temples and modern skyscrapers. Nowhere are Mumbai's paradoxes more evident than at Banganga. It is one of the oldest surviving structures in Mumbai and dates back to 1127 AD, to the time of the Silhara dynasty. Part of an ancient temple complex, the water in this tank is believed to come from the Holy Ganges. It is said to have sprung forth when Rama, the exiled hero of the epic Ramayana stopped at the spot five thousand years ago, in search of his kidnapped wife Sita. Overcome with fatigue and thirst, he asked his brother Laxman to bring him some water. Laxman instantly shot an arrow into the ground, and water gushed forth from the ground, creating a tributary of the Ganges, which flows over a thousand miles away. Hence the name Bana (which means arrow in Sanskirt) Ganga. The atmosphere here during the evening aarti time is surreal and soothing with the myriad temple bells chimes creating an entrancing effect.

Banganga music festival which is a classical music extravaganza, is organized by Maharashtra tourism in the month of January every year where big wigs of Hindustani classical music perform at the banks of this pious tank.

The best way to go here would be to take the aforementioned 108 bus from CST bus depot.

8.       Explore the quaint village of Ranwar in Bandra


Multiple Optics :P

Graffiti on chapel road 

Bandra is synonymous with street shopping on linking road and hill road but there is more to Bandra than that. Ranwar village is a sleepy quaint village close to Hill Road which is kind of caught in a time warp. It was one of the 24 pakhadis of Bandra and was originally a rice and vegetable producing village when the Portuguese gave these lands to Jesuit. Here crumbling double storied Portuguese style cottages with Mangalorean tiles rooftops recount and narrate of better times when the doors of these cottages would remain open early morning till mid night, afternoon siestas were a way of life and when the road was not a thoroughfare for traffic. But even with the rapid development in Bandra, this pocket has remained oblivious and retained its village character with a strong sense of community spirit much like Kotachiwadi. A leisurely stroll through this neighborhood will transport you to a different era.  Also the graffiti all over this village with its sharp wit and poignant messages will keep you entertained. End your day with a sunset view of the Bandra Worli sealink from the Bandra fort and then proceed to the bandstand for a quick round of bhel and kulfi to wrap up a perfect day!

Best way to go there is to ask for Chapel Road or Waroda Road from Hill Road.


9.       Trace Mumbai’s history at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum


 The grand entrance

The majestic chandelier

If you are the kind of person who loves to spend an entire day in a museum (high five btw J), then Prince of Whales Museum will definitely be on your list but there is another lesser known but equally fascinating museum called Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum. It is Mumbai’s oldest museum and the third oldest in the country. It was the first colonial building to be built for the specific purpose of housing a museum. The display majorly consists of fine examples of the various handicrafts and artwork that were being exported from India along with detailed descriptions on the origins of the craft, the special skills of the artisans and the procedure demonstrated through clay models. An entire floor is dedicated to the history of Mumbai and its rich demographic versatility. I am super impressed with this museum as the upkeep and the display of artifacts is impeccable and it is the only museum I have seen where photography is allowed. The museum building has been restored recently and I am in awe with the grand façade with the rich Victorian interiors and especially the chandelier which was specially imported from England. Must visit for a quick dive into the history of Mumbai.

The museum is in Byculla East and is walking distance from Byculla station. They also conduct public tours where you can explore the museum with the curatorial team every weekend.
Time: Saturday and Sunday
11:30 am English Tour
12:30 pm Hindi/Marathi Tour

10.       Go bazaar hopping


Crawford market or Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai

Way to Mangaldas market

Bhuleshwar market, Zaveri bazaar, Mangaldas market, Dadar flower market, Crawford market, Lalbaug market, Colaba Causeway, Tamba Kanta, Mirchi Gully, Linking Road, Hill Road, Fashion Street and of course chor bazaar, Mumbai is bustling with dozens of markets each specializing in its own wares. It is a shopper’s paradise and a bargain buff’s dreamland. Mumbai being a port city and the financial capital of India gets the latest and the best in everything; be it clothes, gadgets, food, or even toys. Even the local trains have vendors selling innovative life hacks like four in one pens and solar torches! I still have and cherish my Rs.5 earrings I bought during college :D. Dadar foot over bridge is the best place to find fancy knick knacks and long before world food stores started flooding our markets, Crawford market had all the fancy exported ingredients. And if you are looking for the latest Manish Malhotra or Sabyasachi (rip-offs :P), then look no further than the tiny alleys of Bhuleshwar market; all customized to your size and budget! ;) But my favourite after chor bazaar has to be Mangaldas market (near Crawford market). Here reams and reams of fabric in each and every latest material, print and texture is available and is a fabric lover’s heaven. It is so rich in inspiration that you will be bombarded with ideas the minute you step into this place (now if only I got a tailor who could execute my ideas! :D). Even if you are not a serious buyer, exploring these markets is always fun and there is no harm in indulging in some window shopping!

11.       Hog on street food


Much needed quenchers

Bombay Sandwich

Along with shopping, Mumbai is also a food lover’s paradise. Every gully, every nukkad has some guy dishing out the most simple but tasty food. From the humble vada pav to customized sandwiches, from crunchy bhel to spicy noodles, from buttery pav bhaji to roasted peanuts, there is a humungous gastronomic treasure waiting to be sampled. And why just food, there is a whole range of quenchers ideal for Mumbai’s heat from fresh fruit juices to aam panna to kokam juice to lassi. Of course there is no missing the famous golas (crushed ice lolly) in every flavour possible, my favourite being rose. Of all the golas I sampled, the best was from the stall at Girgaum Chowpatty. If its lassi on your mind, then you must visit the hole in wall lassi shop in Dadar called Krishna lassi for tasting the creamiest lassi and for witnessing the most unique service system ever! And if its juice you are craving for then do not miss the sharbat stall (Kala Khatta Cold Drinks House) opposite CST station beside Cannon pav bhaji.

12.       Acknowledge the cogs in the machinery that is Mumbai


The hero of Chor Bazaar

Aatmaram, the dabbawala

Yeah that’s right; Mumbai is like a giant machine working at clockwork precision and consistency; relentlessly and tirelessly. From the chai wala to the dabba wala to the kulfi wala and the gola wala, it is the people of Mumbai that add soul and character to this juggernaut. No wonder foreign tourists are drawn to Dhobi Ghat and the dabba walas as they are fascinated by the people who keep the city going. Their humility and contentment is as touching as their philosophy and way of life. We really can pick up some life lessons from them. As Aatmaram, a dabba wala I spoke with near Churchgate so simply put it, “I know only this and I will continue to do this till my body cooperates, we will see later what happens.” He had the calmest dispositions I had ever seen and we had a wonderful conversation about life in general. Similarly my conversations with the shopkeepers in chor bazaar, random people I spoke to on the streets when I asked for directions, the interesting kitchen tips I picked in the local trains; these conversations will always stay with me long after the sights and the sounds of the city fade away. It is the people that make this city and the best way to know this city is through the people of this city.

Check out my other posts on Mumbai:
Ode to Mumbai
2 Vintage Ice Cream Parlours in Mumbai

4 comments :

  1. Thalli super overview of amchi Mumbai by a Mumbaicha mulgi! Loved the text and the captions. The number of places you have covered is amazing! Now if people dont take inspiration to visit Mumbai even after they read this, then they are certainly missing out on a roller coaster ride! I wish I was with you on that trip! Maybe some other time?For now I enjoyed the virtual trip down memory lane, though I myself have not visited some of the places when we were there! Why? Koi mujhe dande se maro :-) ! Once again, good job and hope to see more activity on the blog!!!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Moma, yes it indeed is a roller coaster ride. We will go there again, I am not quite done with Mumbai! :)

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