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  • Writer's pictureMary Ann Issac

Mumbai-The ONLY guide you need!

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

The city of dreams has a lot to allure any traveller. Estimated to have the most number of art deco buildings in the world after Miami, Mumbai is an absolute delight for architecture buffs!

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Mumbai Municipal Corporation Building

1. Walk down Marine Drive

The perfect place for an evening stroll or morning run along the sea. It is also close to many of the Art deco buildings of Mumbai. The walkway along Marine drive has seating which is the ideal spot to watch the sunset. When all the apartment & office buildings around the crescent shaped marine drive is lip up at night, it is stunning, and rightly called the Queen’s necklace.

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2. Be touristy at Gateway of India

The Gateway of India overlooking the Arabian sea, is a landmark in the city that is of utmost importance. It was constructed in 1924 to commemorate the 1911 landing of King George & Queen Mary. It is always crowded, with a mix of locals and tourists gathering here at any time of day. In the evenings, it is especially crowded, but a fun place to be- you can spend a lot of time people watching! There are plenty of street vendors selling snacks, and toys & balloons, and even photographers who eagerly follow you around requesting to take your picture.

3.Splurge on a meal at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

This historic & majestic hotel was built in 1903 in Saracenic Revival style. Jamsetji Tata is said to have commissioned the construction of this hotel after being refused entry into one of Mumbai’s luxury hotels at the time, (on account of him being Indian). If you think it is stunning from the outside, the interiors will take your breath away! Splurge on a meal there to get a glimpse of its interiors, or just get coffee if you aren't looking to spend much.

4. Take the local train

The local trains of Mumbai are infamous for being overcrowded, and dangerous ( because of the crowd), and I was skeptical of giving it a try. But, my tour of Dharavi included a ride in the local train, and I was dreading it. But probably because it was much past peak time, and also because it was a second Saturday (many government offices are shut on second Saturdays), it was not crowded at all! It was a comfortable ride! So if you want to give the local trains a try, and not be jostling with the crowds, avoid peak times in the morning and evening. (though it is the peak time human traffic that the local trains are famous for)

5. Fall in love with the architectural splendour of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

It was previously known as Victoria Terminus, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The railway station built in 1878 is one of the busiest in the country and serves local as well as long distance routes. Photography is prohibited inside the station. It was one of the main locations of terror attacks of 2008. Its architecture is awe inspiring, and is truly a place in Bombay that you shouldn't miss!

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Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus

6. Go on a tour of Dharavi

The Dharavi slum, featured in the Oscar winning movie Slumdog Millionaire, and Gregory David Roberts’ best selling book, Shantaram, is completely unlike what you might imagine a slum in India to be like. There are many tours that take you into Dharaavi to show people just that. Dharavi is home to thousands of small businesses that contribute significantly to the city’s revenues. The industries in Dharavi generates an approximate $1billion/ year. The main industries are plastic recycling, pottery, & leather goods. Dharavi is densely populated, and has tiny by-lanes that are difficult to navigate if you don’t have someone who knows the area with you. The tour takes you through the residential and commercial areas of Dharavi-the lanes dedicated to pottery, leather processing, finished leather goods, plastic separation, plastic recycling, handmade soaps & cosmetics, handmade textiles, & so much more!

At the end of the tour, we were taken to a home in the slums for lunch. You can peek into the homes of Dharavi as you explore the slums, and though I feel it is quite the invasion of their privacy, the guides urge you to do it, just to show outsiders that the people here live well, even though they are official residents of a slum. The homes are kept clean, and doors always left open to most of the houses.

But there is the side of Dharavi that stays true to all of the stereotypes that we have all heard, where the homes are extremely small (the guide said to me, that every step that I take is a different home, meaning the houses are only as wide as an adult’s stride), and often cramped with multiple residents. Sanitation is a problem here as well, where many families together use a single public toilet. But we didn’t spend much time in this part of the slum, and there was no need to, as poverty is not a tourist attraction, and that shouldn’t be the reason that anyone chooses to take a tour to Dharavi.

Go to Dharavi to see how a slum has become an integral part of Mumbai, contributing massively to its revenues, and creating millions of jobs for those who live within and around.

Overall, I enjoyed the tour to Dharavi. I wasn’t sure of what to expect when I signed up for it from my hostel, but, I was pleasantly surprised by everything I saw.

7. Explore Dhobi Ghat

At Mahalaxmi train station, the Dhobi Ghat is the world’s largest open air laundry. They wash 500,000 pieces of laundry from homes, hotels, & hospitals every day. Walking through/ exploring Dhobi Ghat is easier if you have a guide or someone who knows the area with you. Else, you might get lost in the maze of washing and drying areas. Though walking through Dhobi Ghat on your own is completely safe.

The guide took me through most of Dhobi Ghat, explaining the process from sorting, washing, and drying. It was my first time at an open air laundry, so the experience was very interesting. The people who work at Dhobi Ghat are so used to tourists walking through in awe of the work that they do, that they smile and say hello as you pass by.

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A scene from the famous Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai

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Clothes put out to dry at Dhobi Ghat

8. Visit Haji Ali Dargah

The beautiful mosque was constructed in 1431 on an islet in Worli bay, and s home to the tomb of Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.

It is connected to the Mahalakshmi precinct by a 1km causeway. The Dargah is accessible only during low tide, the causeway is submerged during high tide.Visit on a Friday evening to listen to live Sufi music.

9. Watch the Dabbawalas in action

The Dabbawala, is an institution of Mumbai, that delivers home cooked meals to offices. It was established in 1890 by a Parsi banker who wanted to have home cooked meals at his office. In the afternoon, in Mumbai, you might notice men dressed in white, wearing a ‘gandhi’ cap, pushing along carts filled with lunch boxes, or carrying them on cycles- these are the Dabbawalas. They have a unique system to identify the boxes from each home, and is delivered to its rightful owner at their workplace. Their system is six sigma certified, and is referred by goal multinational companies, to understand the accuracy of their unique coding system, that has had an extremely low rate of mistakes. It is estimated that they make only one mistake every 16 million deliveries.

To see them prep for lunchtime service, head to Churchgate station around 12 PM, they will be sorting out the boxes to head out for delivery.

This has become quite the tourist attraction, as everyone gathers here to see the Dabbawalas prep their carts with lunchboxes from the different parts of the city. The Dabbawalas are so used to this attention, that they seem absolutely undisturbed by the attention that they are getting as they go on with their routine. Head to their website to know more about them or to shadow them for a day.

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The dabbawalas getting ready to make deliveries

10. Explore Dadar Flower market

It is Mumbai’s largest wholesale flower market, and is a fantastic place to come to if you want some stunning pictures, and a peek into local life. This market is frequented mostly by locals, barring the few tourists looking for an offbeat experience in Mumbai.

Dadar Flower Market like most flower markets in the world start operating at around 4-4.30 AM, and will be crowded by 5AM with local florists collecting flowers for sale for the day.

All varieties of flowers are available here, from local and popularly used marigolds & roses to imported peonies & tulips.

If you want to buy flowers, or just want to experience a buzzing local flower market, head here early in the day.

11. Shop at Chor Bazaar

If thrift shopping & antiquing are things that you enjoy, you have to come to Chor Bazaar in Mumbai. There are streets lined with shops selling antique furniture, brass utensils, and handicrafts. Chor Bazaar is on Mutton Street, & the closest local railway station is Grant Road. Shops are open only from 11AM, so keep that in mind when you head out to explore this area. The timings for some of the shops may differ on Fridays.

Like at any Indian market- be ready to bargain to get things at a more reasonable price.

12. Visit the Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount/Mount Mary Church

The history of the church dates back to 1570, when an oratory was established here for private devotion.

The colonial architecture of the church, and its frescoes are well maintained and make it a worthwhile visit for those interested in architecture, or colonial churches.

13. Make a quick stop at the Cathedral of the Holy Name

Located in Colaba, this Roman Catholic Church from 1905, has beautiful frescoes that could pique anyone's interest. If you visit during mass, or like I did, during a rehearsal for a wedding, you can hear their beautiful choir! Make a quick stop here if you are doing an architecture walk around Colaba!

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The stunning ceiling of the Cathedral of the Holy Name

14. Visit the Prince of Wales Museum/ Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya

This art, archaeology, & natural history museum has exhibits from around the world. The architecture of this majestic building is reason enough to pay a visit. It was built in 1915 to commemorate the visit of King George V, the Prince of Wales.

15. Go on a tour of the Jewish synagogues of Mumbai!

Gate of Mercy Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Mumbai, built in 1796 in Esplanade in South Mumbai, and then shifted in 1860 to its present location. Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue, was built in 1884. The Magen David Synagogue in Byculla was built in 1864, is the largest synagogue for Baghdadi Jews in Asia. The Tiphereth Israel Synagogue was established in 1896, and consecrated in 1923.

Attend a service at one of the synagogues, but do check in advance if it is a day that they allow visitors to partake in the prayers. The Magen David Synagogue serves breakfast for all who partake in the service.

16. Shop at Colaba Causeway

For your street shopping fix- come here, and be prepared to haggle! I bought a lot of jewellery (bracelets & earrings ) from here, that lasted me a long time- so the quality is quite good. There are stalls that sell home decor, clothing, shoes, and more- it is definitely worth a visit when you are in Mumbai!

17. Walk around Colaba

Take a leisurely stroll around Colaba, along tree lined streets that boast of colonial architecture, with your camera in hand for a perfect evening!

18. Look for art at Kala Ghoda

The art district of Mumbai houses several art galleries & museums, designer boutiques, & cafes. Keep your eyes peeled for interesting artwork on walls.

Every February the Kala Ghoda Arts festival brings together people from around the world.

19. Visit the Jehangir Art Gallery

Established in 1952, Jehangir Art Gallery, boasts of art by India’s great. Entry is free of cost. The Art shop in the foyer of the building can be your source for buying some unexpected souvenirs for friends & family. Check the official website of the gallery to find out about events /exhibitions during the time of your visit.

20. People watch at Juhu beach

Juhu beach is extremely crowded, and is worth a visit if you want to see all of Mumbai in one place! It has a great vibe with Bollywood music paying from pushcarts, and a lot of street food, (ice creams, flavoured crushed ice, corn on the cob), kites, balloons & other toys.

21. Go for an evening stroll at Bandstand promenade/ Bandra Bandstand

If you can’t go all the way to Marine Drive for a seaside jog, consider checking out Bandra Bandstand. Though it isn’t as scenic as Marine Drive, it does serve the purpose!

22. Get photoshoot ready when at Chapel Road!

Chapel Road has colourful art on most of the buildings & houses, some even way above eye level, so it pays to look up when walking around. The colourful, quirky walls are great for photoshoots, even if it is for your personal Instagram! Take a break from the busy itinerary that you might have planned to do something fun, and unexpected when in Mumbai the next time!


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