If you have three days in Mumbai, you can try this itinerary.
Gateway of India
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.
Regal Cinema Circle
Just after the Gateway is the Regal Cinema circle. 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 Mondegar for beer, and wander the street markets. Lots of neat stuff to be bought – jewellery, footwear, leather, and gifts – but remember it takes bargaining!
- Next is Madam Cama road that goes to Nariman Point, past the Institute of Science. This road leads to Mumbai’s modern business district and reminds you that Mumbai is the commercial capital of India. Phillips Antiques at the corner has wonderful old maps of Mumbai. They’re expensive, but worth a look.
- Next, past the National Gallery of Modern Art, is the road to the art district of Mumbai and into the heart of the old British Fort Area. The Prince of Wales Museum is to your right on this road. You can spend a happy couple of hours there, if you’re interested in history, sculpture, painting and art.
- 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 up to two 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 from Regal Cinema Circle 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.
Once past the fishing village, take a drive through the historical Fort District. 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 are fruits, vegetables, 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.
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.
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.
- Elephanta Island
Elephanta is a World Heritage Site, showcasing legends of Lord Shiva carved in rock cave temples.
The cave complex is a collection of shrines, courtyards, inner cells, grand halls and porticos arranged in the splendid symmetry of Indian rock-cut architecture, and filled with exquisite stone sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
The island is about an hour’s boat ride from the Gateway of India. There are government boats that will ferry you to the island and back. You will need three hours to complete this trip, so you can go in the morning and then come back in time for lunch.
- Mani Bhavan
After lunch, take a taxi to Mani Bhavan, Mahatma Gandhi’s home in Mumbai.
This little two-storied house is now a small, but engrossing museum that shouldn’t be missed. Gandhi’s simple room remains untouched and the story of his life is told in a series of doll tableaus.
There is also a wonderful photographic record of his life, along with original documents such as letters he wrote to Hitler and US President Roosevelt.
- Haji Ali and Dhobi Ghat
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!).
- Banganga Tank
Take a look at the Banganga Tank (and old and quaint pilgrimage area), where life still moves to a slower rhythm. On the way, you will pass the Hanging Gardens (make a brief stop for a panoramic view of Mumbai).
You will also drive past the quiet and green environs of the Parsi Towers of Silence. The Parsis do not cremate or bury their dead, but leave the bodies in dakhmas, or wells, for scavengers and birds or prey.
- Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market) and other options
This is Mumbai’s famous Thieves Market where the bargain-hungry can rummage for antiques and curious at throwaway prices. There are little antique shops that offer authentic old furniture, maps, brassware, woodcarvings and assorted bric-a-brac.
The essence of Bombay is in its streets and markets, so spend an evening wandering Chor Bazaar and the adjoining areas of Mohammed Ali Road.