If you’re in Mumbai for a day, and wondering what to do, here’s a list of must-see places!
Gateway of India
Walk around the Gateway of India complex. Pass through the security check on the Northern end to enter the complex. On weekends and public holidays the lines (especially the men’s line) to enter the complex can be long. As you enter the complex you will be greeted by the massive yellow basalt and reinforced concrete arched gates. The complex is bustling with locals and tourists alike. Walk around the monument, look into Mumbai’s deep harbour and look the ever-growing collection of yachts. Turn around and enjoy the majestic beauty of the Taj Mahal Hotel.
You will many photographers that offer taking pictures of the Gateway of Indian and you, and will instantly print the photographs on their mobile printers. Also, there will be many vendors selling souvenirs and light snacks.
Trivia: This of course, is the logical place from where to begin your tour. After all, you’re following in the footsteps of royalty! The English King George V landed in India in 1911 at this very spot, and the citizens of Bombay pooled money and ideas to build this grand memorial to him. After Indian independence, the last British soldiers departed through this arch. But the most important thing about the Gateway is not the arch at all, but the sea beyond it. It was this deep and safe harbour that first attracted the Portuguese, who called it “Bom Bahia” – Good Bay (that’s where the city’s name comes from). The Portuguese later gave away the island to the English as part of the dowry of the Portuguese princess Catharina Braganza. And the English East India Company developed Bombay into a major shipping and trading harbour. So, you see, the city’s very existence is because of this stretch of calm water.
Regal Cinema Circle
Exit from the North of the compound and keep walking straight down Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Marg for around 450m and you will find Regal Cinema to your left and Regal Circle in front of you. Stand at the parking lot in the centre of the circle, with the Police Headquarters behind you and look around – the roads that lead away from this circle each show you a unique facet of Mumbai.
- To your left, starting at the art deco Regal Cinema, is Colaba Causeway. This road is linked to Mumbai’s physical history – it was built by the British to connect Colaba island to Bombay, as a part of the city’s expansion drive. You can still see fisher folk if you drive further down this road towards Sassoon Docks. Drop in at Leopold or Cafe Mondegar for beer, and wander the street markets. Lots of bargains are in the offing – clothes, jewellery, footwear, leather, and gifts.
- Next is Madam Cama Road that goes to Nariman Point, past the Institute of Science. This road leads to the Mantralay (the state’s upper and lower houses of legislation). Phillips’ Antiques at the corner of this road has wonderful old maps of Mumbai. They’re expensive, but worth a look.
- Next, the National Gallery of Modern Art, do have a look at what exhibition is on. This road leads to the art district of Mumbai and into the heart of the old British Fort Area. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangaharalay (Prince of Wales Museum) is to your right on this road. You can spend a little over an hour there, if you’re interested in history, sculpture, painting and art. Walk 100 meters northwards along the Museum road and you will find Jehangir Art Gallery to your right. As you approach Jehangir Art Gallery, at Kala Ghoda, you will see the road flanked with paintings on either side and artists painting portraits under the canopy of trees. Walk into Jehangir Art Gallery and the galleries around the area. Have a snack at Kala Ghoda Café or The Pantry or sit in for a meal at Trishna, Copper Chimney, Chetna, Mamagoto or Irish House.
- The road to your right is the one that goes to Bombay’s docks. Bombay started out as a shipping port and harbour in the 1600’s. So this road is a link to the city’s traditional business history. If you walk along this road, you will see the Old Custom’s House, where goods were taxed, and the Asiatic Library, which served at the old Town Hall.
- Exploring the areas around Regal Cinema can take you upto two to three hours if you exclude the Museum.
Koli Fishing Village, Cuffe Parade
A trip to Bombay is not complete without a look at the city’s original inhabitants – the Koli fisher folk. Take a taxi to Cuffe Parade. On the way to your right, you will see colourful fishing boats. This is a little Koli village that has kept its traditional occupation and culture. You’ll see salted Bombay Duck, hanging by the dozen, drying in the sun. You’ll see fishermen mending nets. Walk into the village and you’ll see the women selling fish at the markets. You’ll see little kids flying kites and playing cricket. There’s a village temple, a barbershop, a goldsmith, a grocer, a tailor, a small jewellery store – all in a little 10-minute walk. The fishing community has a clear division of labour. The men go to fish, while the women take the fish to the markets. So the fisherwomen – the Kolins – hold the economic reins of the household. Nobody messes with them!
Once past the fishing village, take a drive through the historical Fort District. Walk around Horniman Circle and see Colonial architecture at its best. There are several things to see, but I recommend you don’t miss the following:
- Victoria Terminus – a magnificent building. Don’t miss the Indian peacock motifs, or the logo of the GIPR (the Great Indian Peninsular Railway).
- Bombay University – honestly, this building is lovely! Check out the carved figures of various communities of Western India.
- The Asiatic Library and Town Hall – this is the historical place from where, after the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, the proclamation of India reverting to the Crown was read out.
Bazaar Walk at Crawford Market
The British Fort district ends at Victoria Terminus, and past that, the old “native” bazaar areas begin. Jyotiba Phule Market is the official name of this must-see market – but of course, no one calls it that! Crawford Market it was, and Crawford it remains. The market is housed in a building that looks like something out of Victorian London, but over-run with a crazy riot of local colour. There’s a 50-foot awning, which lets in light, and in the natural light, you will see little shops and stalls everywhere. Go during the daytime. You’ll stumble across lots of fruits and vegetables – there are mounds and mounds of them on display, not just an orderly stacking of a few dozens! There are tiny knick-knack shops that sell masalas, pickles, chocolates, toothpaste and lots of other stuff that people want to buy. Lots of things to photograph if you are a camera-addict. There’s also a meat section and a pets market – but if you’re squeamish, you should avoid this area. Pets are housed with a casual disregard for their well being, in cramped conditions. But then, this is a city where even humans live in very tiny cramped huts. From Crawford Market, you should walk into the nearby lanes, to see the traditional bazaar areas. It’s highly recommended. After all, Mumbai is a city that lives not in its monuments or buildings, but in its streets and markets and people. The Jama Masjid is nearby as well as the Mumbadevi Temple.
Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach
From the bazaar areas near Crawford Market, drive through the Princess Street Flyover to Marine Drive. Ask your driver to stop at the top of the flyover, from where you’ll see your first panoramic view of Marine Drive and the sea. Nariman Point is at one end of Marine Drive, and Chowpatty Beach at the other. While the Gateway of India is on the sheltered harbour between the island of Mumbai and the mainland, Marine Drive is on the other seaward western side. As a result, in the evening, you’ll see glorious views of the sunset on the Arabian Sea. In the late evenings, the streetlights come on, lighting up the curve of Marine Drive in what locals call ‘The Queen’s Necklace‘. Evening is also a wonderful time to spend at Chowpatty beach, just watching local families out to enjoy the evening breeze. There’s a lot of colour at the beach. Take a peep at the food stalls selling local favourites – pavbhaji and bhel puri.
Lots more to see
If you have more time, drive down to Haji Ali, to see Mahalakshmi Temple, Haji Ali Mosque and Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai’s unique laundry system!). And you can drive to Malabar Hill, to take a look at the Banganga Tank (and old and quaint pilgrimage area), the Hanging Gardens, the Bandra Wori Sea Link, and the Parsi Towers of Silence. Take a ride down to Lower Parel or Bandra and visit the various bars and choose from some of the hippest restaurants.