The immense, sprawling city of Mumbai is full of contrasts. Apart from the rich-poor example that the world is fond of emphasizing, there are several others: the national park within the city, Gothic and Victorian buildings named after Maratha kings, and industries thriving within slums. Here’s how you can get the best of Mumbai.
This neighbourhood in South Mumbai is the prime tourist spot of the old city. The Taj Mahal hotel and Gateway of India are located opposite each other, by the sea. Every half hour ferries from Gateway take passengers to Elephanta islands, where you can explore ancient cave temples from the fourth century AD. Once back on the mainland, head to Colaba causeway for some cheap street shopping (be ready to bargain!). Some popular restaurants on the street are Café Mondegar and Leopold Café, the latter having been one of the sites of the terror attack of November 2008. You can still see the bullet marks in the wall and one pane on the top floor is cracked and has a hole from a bullet.
Towards Fort, the architecture blends into Gothic and Victorian. A lot of the older constructions remain, though the pavements are thick with hawkers and makeshift stalls. Stop by at Jahangir Art Gallery in Kalaghoda to check out the latest exhibition. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (commonly known as the Prince of Wales Museum) merits a visit if you like history, culture and art. Further north lies Flora fountain and beyond that, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST for short, formerly known as Victoria Terminus). The building itself is worth viewing for its architecture. Inside the railway station is constant motion and if crowds don’t bother you, it’s a nice place to people watch.
Mohammed Ali Road
North of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus lies Mohammed Ali Road. There are some interesting bazaars in this area, like Crawford Market which is located within a main building, and the more congested and bigger market across the road from it. In these lanes you can find pretty much anything — each one is dedicated to a particular commodity. Stationery, party goods, beauty products, cloth, and spices can all be purchased in retail or wholesale amounts. Mohammed Ali Road has some great eateries, and if you visit during Ramadan, it has the best biryani and kebab joints running late into the night. For some interesting souvenirs, head to Chor Bazaar, literally meaning “Thieves’ Market,” where you will find shops selling antiquated items like gramophones, LPs and EPs, flasks, and metal boxes. These vintage items might or might not be genuine but be prepared to bargain intensely with proprietors anyway.
Chowpatty & Malabar Hill
For a proper view of the sea, head to Marine Drive, a 3.5 kilometre stretch beginning at Nariman Point. The promenade has a low wall to sit on and evenings are quite pleasant, if a little crowded. Towards the other end of Marine Drive lies Chowpatty Beach which is another popular spot with the locals. You can try street food like pav bhaaji and pani puri here. Onwards, the road leads to Malabar Hill, one of the posher neighbourhoods of South Bombay. At the top of the hill are the Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens, more commonly known as the Hanging Gardens, from where you get a great view of Marine Drive and the Arabian Sea.
North of Malabar Hill lie the more commercial and industrial suburbs of Worli, Mahalaxmi and Lower Parel. Off the coast of Worli, the Haji Ali Mosque and Dargah stands on a little islet. Also consider stopping by the world’s largest open laundromat, Dhobi Ghat, located close to Mahalaxmi railway station. Nehru Science Centre and Planetarium not far from there has interactive exhibits and is a popular field-trip destination for schools. Further north and a little inland are some savvy malls with shops, restaurants, multiplexes, and boutiques. Most of these shopping complexes are old mills that have been converted to malls and some restaurants still retain the old metal walls and interiors or high ceilings of the mills.
Asia’s largest slum is also the most diverse locality in Mumbai. It is home to many industries like leather, textile, embroidery, and pottery that export goods around the world. It is advisable to take a guided tour through this area rather than going on your own as certain areas within Dharavi have sanitation issues.
The posh northern suburb of Bandra is a combination of its Indian and Portuguese heritage. The beautiful Mount Mary Basilica is worth a visit for the views of the Arabian sea. Bandstand Promenade stretches for a kilometre along the west coast. Bandra Fort stands at one end of it, on the strip of land known as Land’s End. You can get a postcard view of the Bandra-Worli sealink from here. All along Land’s End are mansions belonging to celebrities, so it’s not uncommon to see throngs of people staring up at houses. Grab a bite at Candies Cafe, one of the popular eateries of Bandra. Cheap shopping can be found at Linking Road, a street market with apparel, footwear, and jewelry for sale.
Goregaon and Borivali
Two of the furthest suburbs of the city have two of the biggest attractions. Filmcity Goregaon is a large studio complex where many major Bollywood movies are filmed. The premises have various sets and natural locations for filming. It lies right next to Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the only national park in the world to be located inside city limits. Leopards are frequently spotted in residential complexes that practically hug the boundaries of the park. Quite apart from spotting wildlife, you can also visit the Kanheri caves located inside the national park.