Asia · Five Month Trip · India · Travel

Mumbai, India – Bombay Dreaming

Mumbai is the capital of Maharastra state, located on India’s western coast. Until 1995, it was also called Bombay; you will still have your airline bag tagged with BOM.

Mumbai is India’s richest city, but is also home to Dhavari, one of the world’s biggest slums. It is home to almost 1,000,000 people. You will find some of the poorest members of society sharing the same streets as Bollywood movie stars. Maybe this diversity is what gives Mumbai’s its vibrant spirit.

 

What To Do – A Selection of Flying Fluskey’s Favourites

You will find most of these sights in the Colaba, Fort and Churchgate areas,in the south of the city so they can all be reached by foot or a very short cab ride.

People Watch – Walk the Sea Wall

In India, it is not the done thing to walk around town holding the hand of your significant other when unmarried. Young Mumbai couples who just can’t keep their hands out of each others, head to the mile long waterfront for a stroll and to sit, watching the waves. You aren’t going to see anything raunchier than a quick peck on the cheeks, and the odd arm over a shoulder of their girlfriend, but it very endearing. It is a wonderful place to sit and enjoy the sunset whether you are clutching your loved one, or just going solo.

Heading down to the sea wall for a walk
Join the Crowd – Visit the Gateway of India

Not to be confused with the similarly named India Gate in Delhi, this vast building, centred by a giant arch was built to celebrate the landing of King George V on his visit to India in 1911. It became the ceremonial entry point for Viceroys and royals into India from the sea after its completion in 1924. The last British troops to leave the sub-continent after India’s independence left through here in a final ceremony of farewell.

These days, you can’t actually go through it, but instead, circumnavigate it. You will surrounded by huge numbers of tourists from elsewhere in India, and f you are as rubbish at tanning as I am, you may be asked for a photo on more than one occasion. I was in a good few family photos!

We took a photo back of this chap who kept filming us.
Live the High Life – Take Tea at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

Mumbai’s elite will be very familiar with this stalwart of Mumbai high society. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was finished in 1903 and has played host to the great and good since then. The tower was completed in 1973, personally I’m not a fan of the aesthetics, but I wouldn’t turn down a free stay!! I bet the views from the high floors are stunning.

The facade of the main building hides a collection of expensive designer boutiques.Venture further down the corridor and you emerge into a lush, green garden with a pretty blue lap pool. It feels a million miles from the dust and heat outside. The courtyard used to be entrance to hotel, as oppose to the lobby on the roadside. The sea view rooms still have a view of the water, but passed the reclaimed land of the area surrounding the Gateway to India.

The Sea Lounge does an afternoon tea which allows you sip on some of India’s finest tea leaves, sample some of India’s famous street food (without worrying about Delhi Belly) and nibble at some fine, fresh patisserie.

On a tighter budget…?

Toast the Day – Pour You Own Beer at Leopold’s Cafe

Made famous by the ever-popular backpacker’s book, Shantaram, this Iranian cafe has been on S.B.Singh Road in some incarnation or another since 1871. That’s as old as the Royal Albert Hall in London. It is open from first thing in the morning to last thing at night, serving Indian and international food.

My favourite thing about this place, even though I don’t actually drink beer, is the beer towers. A big plastic tower is brought to your table and you can pour you beers from there.

Relax on the Cricket Green – The Maidan

The unique sound of leather on wood cracks across this 22 acre green section of land, just South of Churchgate.

The idea of groups of white clad players in the Indian sun may be a cliche but it really is a very popular spot. There are 4 official cricket pitches on the oval maidan, and more unofficial games abound. These take place on the large swathe of grass, but it wasn’t always so.

It was once used for large rallys during the fight for Independence. It is now illegal to hold political or religious events there…I mean cricket is almost a religion but they get away with it. Oh, and in the rainy monsoon season the whole area is used for football instead.

Waiting for their turn at bat
Join the Rush – Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus

Known as Victoria Terminus when it was reconstructed in 1887, this High Gothic Revival building was built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. It was on a site of a previous railway station in the Churchgate area, just North of the Maidan. The new building wasn’t just functional, however, it was much more aesthetically pleasing. It bears a resemblance to St Pancras Station in London which was built in the same period; so “on trend”.

These days people pour through the station, disembarking trains full to the brim, arriving from the wider Mumbai area. Men with their shirt sleeves rolled up, briefcases in hand, go toe to toe with school children in starched white uniforms. Women in saris march purposefully with shopping in one arm, and a baby in the  other. It is another excellent spot for a little people watching out of the Mumbai sun.

Feeling Fishy? – The Seafood Market and Restaurants

Mumbai’s Bhaucha Dhakka (or Ferry Wharf) fish market is a lively working market in Colaba. Here, the public and local restaurants buy the daily catch as it is unleaded from the boats. Come first thing in the morning to see the huge variety of species and shopper. If you come later, in the heat of the day, be prepared for a very strong seafood pong that can be slightly overwhelming.

What is even better than visiting a seafood market,? Eating its salty treats!

That is a full size fork…take me back!

We had dinner in a restaurant that we stumbled upon by accident. I cannot find the name despite a couple of hours of googling…maybe it is not there anymore…that would be a shame. I digress, the point is, even a place that was on its own, and not recommended in a guidebook had the most excellent seafood! Upstairs was a fancy AC room, we chose to sit downstairs and just enjoy the good food. I had a prawn biryani and it was absolutely delicious. I’m pretty sure it still ranks as the best biryani I’ve ever had. Just look at the size of that prawn…..!

Take a Breather – Girgaum Chowpatty

Mumbaikars (Mumbai’s residents) love to relax at Chowpatty Beach. This doesn’t usually consist of sunbathing and swimming. A bikini would draw lots of the wrong kind of attention, and the water here is thoroughly polluted. It’s not such a nice place to take a dip, but it is an ideal place to come for a celebration. or just a break from city life. Every year thousands gather to celebrate a huge ten day festival. This isn’t quite such a relaxing time to visit, but it is a lot of fun.

On our first first visit, we had been wandering in the expensive area of Malabar Hill (seriously, some of these properties go for US$25000/m2). The huge gated residences didn’t allow for a lot of respite and so it was a real relief to sit on the sand and let a gentle breeze cool us down as the sun set. We had our noses stuck in a book, and when we looked up again, we were surrounded by a circle of faces. In just five minutes, we had attracted quite a crowd of curious teenage boys. We said our hellos and then walked further along the sand, indulging in the feeling of the sand between our toes, massaging away the aches from the long walk.

We came across a small funfair that had been set up celebrate Diwali three days before. Yet more teenage guys drove small children around on small electric cars. A small Ferris wheel, stuffed full of kids, was being enthusiastically flung round by a young man., He was balancing on the frame and pushing it by hand; I have never seen such speed on a big wheel. India really is the land that health and safety forgot.

Munch Through Mumbai – Go on a Food Tour

We visited Chowpatty once more, on a subsequent visit, as it was the first stop on our food tour. Before leaving for Mumbai, we had  booked through Reality Tours and Travel as a special treat for my mum’s birthday. The tour started off by catching a short train to the beach. The street food stalls were set up right next to the area of beach that had housed the funfair. We tried such wonderful little treats that we may not have been brave enough to try alone; Pani Puri and Pav Bhaji.

From Chowpatty, we ventured on to the predominantly Muslim area of Mumbai,  Mohammed Ali road. Here we tried some lamb koftas and other grilled meat dishes. Finally we tried two different sweet courses. We had ice cream and then vivid orange jalebi.

Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya

In a leafy street in the Gamdevi area, an airy two-storey house houses a small museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle towards India’s freedom. For seventeen years, this house was his base in Mumbai. It’s a really interesting place to poke around. My absolute favourite display item was a letter that Gandhi wrote to Adolf Hitler in 1939. You can read it here.

Spend the Day Looking Up – Take in Some More of Mumbai’s Architecture

Around Colaba you will see wonderful examples of Victorian architecture.

The Municipal Corporation Building is built in a similar style to the nearby Victoria Terminus. It is the base for the municipal body that runs the city of Mumbai. You cannot go inside but its nice to take a quick look at.

The Asiatic Society of Mukbai is a huge library. It is a base for study relating to Asian nations. It is housed in a huge Greco-Roman style building constructed in 1830.

Just around the corner you will find the St Thomas Cathedral. This is even older, having been built in the 1700s in a typically European style. It is this church that gives its name to the Churchgate area. Inside you will find lots of memorials to British residents of Bombay.

Where To Stay?

I’ve always stayed in Colaba. I love to be within walking distance of the big sights.

Red Shield Guesthouse

This is the quintessential budget option. The guesthouse is one minute’s walk down the road from the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. It has the most fabulous location. The rooms vary from a light and airy dorm, to dark and dingy smaller rooms. It can be hit and miss. Mind you, if you are just there to sleep, you won’t feel too hard done by. You will get a simple breakfast included in the price.  One little niggle; there is no wifi so you’ll need to find a nearby cafe for that.

YWCA

This guesthouse is a five minute walk from the Gateway to India and fort areas. It is more expensive than the Red Shield but I believe it is worth every penny. The rooms are large, ensuite and clean. There are two meals provided a day and it was delicious. Even Mr Fluskey managed to wolf down his curry breakfast (normally being a coco pops boy). I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here and would recommend it 100%.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel 

OK, so I am not pretending that I can afford this option, or that I have ever stayed here….but wouldn’t it be nice! Heritage, grandeur, duplex suites and a cooling swimming pool relax in. It sounds like a dream come true right in the heart of Mumbai.

The Attack

In November 2008, Mumbai was the location of a horrendous terrorist attack. Gunmen in small boats disembarked and began a terrible killing spree. They struck in 12 co-ordinated attacks throughout the city.

The First Attack

Two gunmen entered the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus and began to shoot people. A very brave station announcer told passengers to leave. In their attack, which lasted just under two hours, they slaughtered 58 people and injured 100 more. They were intending on attacking Cama Hospital next but they were thankfully thwarted by the staff. From there they killed a group of policeman and fired into a waiting crowd. They were finally stopped in the Metro Cinema area.

Narmian House

Narmian House, a building owned by the Jewish Chabad Lubavitch movement, people were drawn to the windows by a large explosion at a near by petrol station. There they were picked off by waiting gunmen who then took the building. They held several people hostage including a rabbi and his family.

Colaba Hotels

A third group of attackers peppered the Leopold Cafe with bullets. These can still be seen on the walls. The terrorists then stormed down to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and so began a three day fire fight. Explosives were detonated in the hotel and then the terrorists went in, guns blazing. They started out by the pool, and then moved through the hotel killing people and taking hostages. A fire ravaged the hotel’s roof and many of the guests were killed or injured in the three day ordeal.

The final attack was the Oberoi Trident, another high end hotel on the opposite side of Colaba. The last two gunmen entered the lobby and made their way through the bars and restaurants shooting their victims.

Aftermath
 We were so nervous to see how this terrible attack had affected the city. It is not easy to recover when over 500 people were killed or injured. We visited, for the first time,  just 11 months after it had happened. There were security checks everywhere and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was surrounded by sandbags. There were army lookouts carrying machine guns at each corner. Five years later, and just the metal detectors arches remained. Mumbai has bounced back, and the revenue it receives from tourists has been a good part of that recovery.

 

Final Thoughts

Mumbai is a wonderful, thriving city. It’s seaside location gives it a relaxed air down by the water. The central business district is India’s financial powerhouse. I really enjoyed my time in this city of contrasts and I would happily go back tomorrow.

Rosie xx

10 thoughts on “Mumbai, India – Bombay Dreaming

  1. So many cool things to do! I’m obsessed with tea culture and different tea traditions around the world, so taking tea at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel would probably be right at the top of my list!

  2. You had me at beer tower and food tour! Really enjoyed your view of the attacks too. I still remember when that happened. Glad to see the city has recovered since.

  3. Loved how you captured the essence of Mumbai. So many beautiful and candid moments, speciallh the ones along the beach.
    On another note, I am fascinated by your blog name. How did you come across it?

  4. Mumbai really sounds like a city to experience with all the senses. Tea at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel sounds great and I would really love to sit at the Maidan and watch a few cricket games.

  5. I have not made it to India yet, but when I do, I most certainly will check out that food tour! I love the way they allow you to taste so many different dishes, and I try to do food tours wherever I go. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  6. wow there is ALOT going on in Mumbai- crazy on the socio-economic diversity (Plus I never really knew if Mumbai and Bombay were the same!) Anyway, the palace looks amazing I want to go there! But I can also roll with a pour your own beer, we should have more places like that in the US!

Leave a Reply