Monday 28 April 2014

My A-Z of Mumbai Places

There has been a blogging challenge going on this month which I did not take part in - called the 'A-Z Blog Challenge', which requires the writer to post every day (except Sundays) thematically.  Because I had been travelling quite a bit, I was not able to commit to this even though it sounded fun.  But I did later wonder to myself, whether I would be able to write an A-Z Guide to Mumbai Places all in one go. So, after jotting down a list of Mumbai related sights (with only a teeny-weeny bit of help from Google), the answer was a simple yes. Anyway, scrolling through my Directory, I realised that I had already completed 75% of the list!  So here is my A-Z of Mumbai Places (follow the links for pictures):

One of my favourite places in Mumbai - Aarey is a little bit of English countryside heaven in the middle of the city.  An early morning stroll will provide you with bucolic scenes and interactions with local dairy workers. Beautiful!  Near Powai.

B  Bhau Daji Lad Museum
My favourite museum in the city for its beautiful Victorian colonial building and spotlessly clean, well laid out artefacts and dioramas.  An absolute must-visit in Byculla.  You may find the diorama of the Parsi Towers of Silence particularly fascinating.....

C  Chor Bazaar
The place in Mumbai that most satisfies my antique hunting habit.  On Mutton street in particular, browse for solid teak antiques and reproduction furniture, lighting and artefacts.  Good luck haggling with the store owners!

D  Dabbawala & Dhobiwala
Mumbai is probably the only city in the world where as a tourist, you can watch lunch delivery men and washermen at work. At around 11.30am at Churchgate, catch the Gandhi-capped Dabbawalas who haul huge trays of tiffin boxes off the trains and then sort them for delivery outside the station.  Watch as they cycle off, their bikes laden with carefully coded lunches for around 200,000 Mumbai workers. Similarly, stand on the bridge next to Mahalaxmi station and look down into the world's largest outdoor laundry, Dhobi Ghat.  Go down the stairs and pay a guide for a more in-depth tour of the Ghats.  Try not to get in the way of hundreds of Dhobiwalas (washermen) as they clean 250,000 items daily. Fascinating!

A Dhobiwala
Take the 150 Rs 'deluxe boat' trip to Elephanta Island and you won't be disappointed.  Only seven miles out to sea from the Gateway of India, the Island is home to some interesting caves, shrines and temples. But beware of the monkeys who will try to steal your lunch!

F  Flora Fountain
Flora Fountain perfectly suits the colonial environs of Fort where it is situated.  Constructed in 1864 out of Portland stone, it was designed by Richard Norman Shaw and sculpted by James Forsythe.  And is now home to lots of crows.

G  Gateway of India 
The Gateway is described as 'Mumbai's most important structure and tourist attraction'. It was built during the British Raj as a landing place for important folk. Ironically, the last British troops to leave India following Independence, passed through the gateway on their way back out in 1948 - signalling the end of British rule.

Constructed in 1431 in memory of Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari - a rich Muslim merchant who gave up all his wordly possessions - the Dargah is quite an impressive sight from the coast road. However, the causeway leading to the Mosque is lined with disfigured beggars including tiny children which can make the stroll to the end rather uncomfortable.  It is at its most busy on Thursdays on Fridays when up to 40,000 Muslims come to receive blessings from the saint.

Right next to Juhu Beach, the ISKCON temple (ISKCON being an abbreviation of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness - or the Hare Krishna Movement) is the most beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Krishna in Mumbai. Built in 1978, the complex is one of the most visited in the country - and is a spiritual oasis from the 'dry and demanding material life of the financial and commercial capital of India'.  Here you will find a pure vegetarian restaurant, a bakery and a guest house. Follow the link here for all timings and information about the temple.

Juhu beach is the nicest beach in Mumbai - it is long, wide and relatively clean and many visitors flock there every day to dip their toes in the (probably not so clean) water.  The stretch of beach is lined with fancy hotels and bungalows belonging to Bollywood stars. If you were to walk your dog here first thing in the morning, you don't know who you might bump into!

K  Koli Fisherfolk
I've encountered the tribal Koli Fisherfolk in several places in Mumbai.  Sassoon Docks; Worli Fishing Village and Khar Danda Market. Still, these are only a few of the locations that they inhabit around the city. They are the most ancient and original inhabitants of the city, existing in Worli 2,000 years ago when Mumbai was nothing but a cluster of seven islands. 

Linking Road is a long stretch of shopping heaven starting almost just after the Sealink turnoff in Bandra and ending in Juhu.  Not only are there western branded shops, but hundreds of small street stalls selling shoes, clothes and jewellery. In between you will find street-food stalls and restaurants as well as the big electrical shops, Croma and ViJay Sales.

M  Malabar Hill
Malabar Hill in the south of Mumbai is the poshest part of the city.  Not only does it house the Chief Minister of Maharashtra's bungalow and various official residences of 'VIP state officials', but you will also find Banganga Tank and the Hanging Gardens there (where you can get a fabulous view of the Queen's Necklance - see 'Q' below). You won't find much in the way of night-life or dining-out options in Malabar Hill's a bit boring to be honest!

At the very outer reaches of the city is Navi Mumbai (Navi meaning 'new') - one of the world's largest planned townships to the east and over Vashi flyover.  Mostly built on reclaimed land, Navi Mumbai was planned as a way of decongesting Mumbai - an island city where expansion can only take place upwards, and not sideways. A self contained area of about 344 square kilometres containing 95 villages, the redevelopment seeks to provide not just homes, but also jobs/offices, sophisticated transport links and all social facilities and amenities. Building work started in 1972 and still goes on....

My second favourite place for antiques hunting in Mumbai is the Oshiwara antiques market in Jogeshwari (neither have anything to do with the Japanese!) Like Chor Bazaar, find antique and reproduction furniture in teak and rosewood and lots besides.  Haggle with Muslim antiques dealers - mostly named Khan.

Phoenix Mills (and it's posh Annexe Palladium) is an oasis of air-conditioned shopping calm in Lower Parel. Find international brands such as Jimmy Choo, Paul Smith and Gucci at Palladium as well as lower end Zara and Tommy Hilfiger.  There is also a Hamleys, Nikon and Canon camera shops, Big Bazaar and loads of fashion brands.  For the tourist shopper, head to The Bombay Store or Fabindia. 

Q  Queen's Necklace
So called because it sparkles like a string of pearls at nighttime, Marine Drive is the most elegant street in Mumbai.  C shaped and 4.3 kilometres long, this boulevard houses the second most prodigious selection of Art Deco architecture in the world (after Miami). It is a romantic stretch - starting at Chowpatty and ending at Nariman Point - where you will find couples sitting on the sea wall canoodling at the weekends.

A picture of the sparkling Queen's Necklace (Marine Drive) taken from Malabar Hill.

The famous Radio Club (full name Bombay Presidency Radio Club Ltd) is located in the Bay area of South Mumbai, 100m down from the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.  Established in 1932 as a place to do radio hamming (!!) and sailing, it has since become second home to paying members from upmarket South Bombay.  If you are lucky enough to get invited in, you will find restaurants, sports facilities, a health club and entertainment activities.

The first thing that strikes you about Sassoon Dock is the smell!  But then it would, as it is the main fishing port for the city. Built in 1875 by Albert Abdullah David Sassoon (son of the Baghdadi Jew David Sassoon who built the historic Sassoon Library in Colaba), the docks were originally used to unload valuable cotton. Since the decline of the cotton industry, fishing became the main activity at Sassoon Dock, employing thousands of Koli Fishingfolk ('K' above).  Worth a visit for photogenic scenes of fisherpeople at work (but makes sure you get permission to carry your camera first).

T  Thane Creek
Thane Creek is an inlet in the shoreline of the Arabian Sea that separates the city from the Indian mainland.  It has been recognised as an Important Bird Area by the Bombay Natural History Society and is home to various bird species.  Although you will see more flamingos at Sewri between January and April, you will also find them here - as well as several other migratory and wading birds (eg egrets, herons, painted storks and spoonbills).

The UoM was established in 1857 during British rule and is one of the first three universities in India. It has two campuses - one at Vidyanagari and one in Fort (housed in a beautiful gothic building). Further sub-campuses can be found in Ratnagiri, Thane and Kalyan and in total there are 56 departments and 691 affiliated colleges!  When I first came to Bombay, I had considered doing a course at UoM - but their website was so bad and so hard to navigate that I gave up in the end.  Probably just as well!

Probably Mumbai's most famous building after The Gateway of India is Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) - formerly known as Victoria Terminus (VT).  Designed in a Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival style by Frederick William Stevens, VT is a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in 1887.  Obviously a colonial building, it commemorates the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  Supposedly the busiest railway station in all of India, VT serves as a terminus for long-distance trains as well as commuter trains coming in from the suburbs.  

To avoid a red face, please pronounce it correctly....Venkerdy! Built in 1974 and was then redeveloped in time for the ICC World Cup Cricket in 2011.  The first Test Match played there was between India and the West Indies in 1975.  Architecturally, the thing to note is the suspended cantilever roof covered in lightweight, heat resistant Teflon fabric.  The spectators therefore have a better view as there are no beam supports blocking the way. Capacity is 45,000 and the coastal situation of the stadium means that swing bowlers get assistance during the early part of the day. Red soil is used on the pitch - which ensures consistent bounce.  I didn't realise cricket was quite so scientific!

Named after Francis Xavier, the 16th-century Spanish Jesuit saint, this college is one of the most prestigious liberal arts centres in India (A+/5* rating).  It was actually founded by German Jesuits in 1869 with just two students.  The college is now run by Indian Jesuits with special consideration being given to Roman Catholic students. On offer are undergraduate and post-graduate courses in the arts, sciences and commerce. Built in an Indo-Gothic style, St Xavier's stands on a beautiful three acre campus in Fort (near VT station above). Go here for a 360 degree view of the campus!

Closely related to 'Z' below, Yazdani is one of several fading Iranian Parsi Bakeries in Fort.  I first came across it when I went on a Finely Chopped Food Walk of the area.  The Brun Maska (hard buttery croissant) is a particular highlight, as well as the soft, pillowy bread-buns slathered with butter. If you visit, ask the rather geriatric owner nicely, whether you can take a look at the engine room around the back.  I loved to see the bakers in their vests, toiling away at kneading and baking bread.

Z  Zoroastrian
I could have written about the Parsis for P but then what I have written about for Z?  The Parsis of Mumbai are one of two Zoroastrian communities to be found in South East Asia (named after the Iranian prophet Zoroaster).  The Parsis (literally meaning 'Persians') fled to India to avoid persecution by the Muslims in the 8th century. A well defined community, they live mostly in Bombay (with a few in Karachi and Bangalore), having orginally settled in Gujurat and staying there for over 800 years. My favourite Parsi related hang-out is the Britannia Cafe which serves up its famous Chicken Berry Pulav or Yazdani mentioned above.

A group of Zoroastrian priests at a Navjote I recently attended (Coming of Age ceremony)

Come back another day for my 'Alternative A-Z Guide to Mumbai!'


  1. pretty nice blog, following :)

  2. Been reading your blog for a while and love it, but I will have to STRONGLY disagree on Juhu beach being the nicest in Mumbai, do head to Aksa Beach in Malad West in the morning, it is super clean, huge, and I crowded with nice clean water. Juhu is cleaner than chocolatiers but it is still utterly disgusting a place. It is just a very popular one.

    1. Cynthia - completely happy for anyone to dispute what I say as I have not been to Aksa sounds great I will have to take the dog there! Thank you so much for let me know if you have any other great Bombay recommendations ;-)

  3. Definitely take the dog there, this is a long stretch of sand for people and pets to get a good workout, the last time I went there there was an adorable little pug that was really into Swimming and just could not get enough of the sea

  4. Nice post. thanks to sharing this. Actually Mumbai is one of the best touristplaces in india. I went to coloba, Chowpatti, Gateway of India, all these places are very awesome. Every one want visit tourist places in Mumbai.



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