Monthly Archives: February 2013

Experiencing Mumbai in 1 day…Mission Impossible??!!

A few years back, while on a flight to Mumbai, there was a Frenchman seated next to me. Like most inane conversations that start on a flight with people seated next to you,  this one too started with the usual ‘So, where are you based’ to weather or work related discussions. However, during the course of the conversation, the Frenchman asked me something that stumped me and left me with a loss for words. No! Don’t let your imagination go wild (You know, with the French connection and all!). The question simply was ‘I have an entire day to spare in Mumbai before my flight to Paris- Where do you suggest I go tomorrow if I wish to experience the real Mumbai?’

Now I am a hard core Mumbaikar, who takes pride in knowing the city very well. I can provide suggestions at the drop of a hat to my friends and family about Mumbai and its whereabouts. But if someone I just met asked me this in good faith- I didn’t know what to say!How can a person experience Mumbai in a day? And then again, there is a question within the question- what is the “real” Mumbai experience? But maybe the answer to this deserves a book in itself- so I’ll park that for now.

So coming back to my dilemma- What would I suggest to someone who wants to experience Mumbai in one day? I have been thinking about the answer to the question once again these days. I have tried putting together 1- day itinerary which can help in these situations. But an overt caveat- this is heavily influenced by my definition of the ‘Mumbai experience’ and one is free to make variations. And of course- there are individual interests/personality types that will influence the day. There is indeed a lot one can do in a day- but I have tried to keep it as real, practical as possible; with a conscious emphasis on it being experiential and not so much as a tourist guide book. I am not a stickler to time myself, hence the mentioned timings are strictly for reference purposes.

9:00-10:30 – A fast way to break your fast!

Be prepared to forgo the predictable complimentary breakfast at your hotel/hosts house in the morning and head towards Central Mumbai at Matunga circle. The original hub of South Indians in Mumbai, Matunga circle is ‘circled’ with restaurants or cafes loosely referred to as known as the ‘Udipi hotels’. Started and run by people mostly belonging to Udipi district in Karnataka, these restaurants can be found in every nook and corner of Mumbai .These are mostly budget restaurants which are packed with people at anytime of the day(don’t be shocked if asked to share tables with fellow eaters!). The food is cheap, fresh, delicious and served at lightening speed. Take a look around and choose a café you like- my pick would be the Mysore Café- but then the others are good too! Take your pick from the regular south Indian breakfast items like idli, dosa, uttapam, upmaas also some lesser common dishes like Pongal, Idiappams etc. So take your pick from these interesting options and gulp it down with some delicious South Indian filter coffee. Enjoy your most important meal of the day to your fullest potential. No matter how much you eat, you will not burn a hole in your pocket. These restaurants can be credited with keeping the energy levels of Mumbaikars high at any given time and at any given place!

10:30-11:30: Ride the Lifeline of Mumbai

Once you are done with burping after the heavy breakfast, you may want to walk upto the Matunga  railways station. If you don’t wish to burn your breakfast calories, you can easily hail a cab or take a bus. Once at the station, figure your way around, buy a ticket and board a suburban train to the Chhatrapati Shivaji station- the terminating railway station along that route.

Suburban trains are special to Mumbaikars. Having to spend the best time of their day in trains- there is a train tale that every Mumbaikar can share with you. You will never be short of company or observations or even shopping! Yes- this will be harsh journey- physically and even emotionally for some-but you will get a first-hand feel of the lifeline that keeps Mumbai ticking.

Having travelled in trains in other countries, I can confidently say that no other railway station can evoke awe – as much as this does. Not just in terms of the Anglican architecture but also the sheer volume of trains and people that it holds. Don’t let the crowds scare you. These are just thousands of average Mumbaikars going about their daily routine.

11:30-13:30: Blast from the past

After gathering yourself – quite literally- after your train journey, ask the locals for the road towards Regal Cinema or Colaba causeway.  There is no real agenda in these couple of hours – no destination as reach. Let this be a slow paced walk. The route essentially takes you along old buildings and structures which remind you of Mumbai’s colonial history. Today this is also a popular office hub. Try and ignore the ugly signboards which have now sprung on them and it can give you a glimpse of the old glory of Mumbai. Give yourself sometime to walk around this route to actually appreciate it.  Some popular landmarks en route are The Price of Wales Museum, Jehangir Art Galley and Kala Ghoda, Asiatic Library (in one of the bylanes near Kala Ghoda). Once you reach Regal Cinema, be sure to ask for directions to the Gateway of India. Built as a tribute to the King George V and his queen, during their visit to India in 1911, the Gateway of India is now the  most popular postcard picture of Mumbai.  Seeped in history, you will always find drama around this place. Just opposite the Gateway is the famous Taj Mahal hotel. A lot of people know it as one of the unfortunate targets during the Mumbai terror attacks- but there is so much more to it. The gateway of India is a must do for every tourist or traveller to Mumbai and you will never find a dull moment around here!

13:30-15:00: Time for a break

Afternoons in Mumbai are very hot and humid for most days in the year. So it is best that you find yourself a good restaurant, while keeping the Mumbai experience running! And this where the street near Regal Cinema- called Colaba Causeway comes into picture. A popular destination with tourists, Colaba has things tailored to please tourists. Two of the most popular restobars are on this street-viz., Café Leopolds and Café Mondegar. Both serve Indian, Chinese and continental cuisines. Perfect places to spend the early afternoon indulging in your favourite cuisine while gulping it down some Iced Tea or Beer!This is  your time to put your feet up and relax. If you are the talkative type, you may also get some interesting fellow travellers to share your meal with.

15:00-16:30- Streetwise

I am not much of a souvenier shopper, but I like to collect things which are typical of the place in food, clothes, accessories etc. And here is where Colaba causeway, comes in handy.  A long street filled with small shops selling everything under the sun-this is the place where your bargaining skills can come in handy. However, even if you are not much of a shopper, just a stroll down the causeway can be as interesting. It is colourful and energetic at any time of the day!

16:30- 18:30 – Soaking in the sunset

After picking up things for yourself and your loved ones, prepare for a short walk once again. This time to the most romanticised part of Mumbai–the Marine Drive.The walk from Colaba Causeway to Marine drive is also an interesting one as it takes you through the dominating University of Mumbai building and the Oval Maidan. Perfect for photography!If you don’t feel upto it, there are buses and taxis galore, operating on that route. Facing the western part of Mumbai, this seafront has been picturised in many a movies! All stories with dreamers have a scene in this place! This is a place where the romantics, dreamers, solitude seekers come to find themselves. There is nothing to do except sit on the promenade and gaze- at the sea, at the tony buildings and watch the traffic whiz by. You will also be rewarded by a splendid sunset on most evenings.

An alternate place to this, providing a similar experience is the Chowpatty beach stretch that lies at the northern end of Marine drive. Although, this has a feel of a ‘fun fair by the beach’. The beach water is muddy and browned with pollutants, so a dip is not advisable. This small little beach stretch is lined with food stalls and toy sellers, making it very popular with Indian tourists and local people alike. This is also one the best places to sample the junk food or the street food of Mumbai! A steaming hot plate of PavBhaji with Rose Falooda is what I would go for at any food stall here!

18:30 onwards–Party time baby!

After a day of walking, observing and soaking in Mumbai, you have finally earned your right to let your hair down!Irrespective of the class, social stature and definition of ‘party’, mumbaikars definitely know how to have fun!

Hail a cab or a bus from Marine drive towards the queen of suburbs- Bandra. Although it is convenient to reach Bandra by train and you run the risk of heavy suburban traffic- I still suggest road travel to Bandra. The drive takes you through some of the streets of Mumbai where the rich and famous live! Although you may wonder what makes it command a price even higher than Manhattan. But that is not reason enough for braving peak hour traffic! Apart from the comfortable commute, it also takes you on the Bandra-Worli sea link. This bridge is a symbol of the times to come. Symbolic of Mumbai and India overall, wanting to keep pace with the world.

Now Bandra deserves an article in itself! Apart from its Soho appeal- Bandra still maintains some old world charm with a small but well restored fort, old bungalows and quaint streets. As it has the perfect mix of the old and new, apart from the obvious logistical advantage, Bandra has emerged residential choice of many expats and celebrities.

Spend your evening in one of the pubs or nightclubs here and there is a chance that you  would have rubbed shoulders with the who’s who of Mumbai. You will be spoilt for choice as far as food and drink options are concerned as there are dozens of options to suit everyone’s choice and budget. If pubbing is not your style, head to Bandstand or Reclamation and enjoy a walk down the promenade after sipping coffee in one the cafes around. Whatever, you choose, Bandra will give you options to unwind. If you are feeling overwhelmed and need a spiritual outlet, you will not regret a visit to the Mount Mary Church !

This itinerary is merely indicative and definitely not exhaustive. And of course, depending on one’s taste and interest, one can choose an altogether different day and yet get a glimpse of the city. Mumbai is a city that does not boast of much physical beauty- at least not now. But it is a city of character and grit. There are enough and more supporters and detractors of the ‘Spirit of Mumbai’. It would be difficult to experience it in a day- irrespective of what you do or where you go. But maybe you can attempt to get a glimpse of this gritty city! All you need is a good sun block lotion, some water, comfortable shoes, a curious eye and an open mind!

(Also published on http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epapermain.aspx?pgNo=6&edcode=820009&eddate=2013-02-25 )