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  • Shila Desai

Mumbai Meanderings

Early arrivals into Mumbai (Bombay)

Here are some of my personal Mumbai favourites, no order of preference really. You will not be able to take all this in, particularly if you are recovering from jet lag, but you can pick and choose. Mumbai is a city you either love or hate - I love it! It has a cosmopolitan, can-do vibe; food choices are truly amazing; shopping is excellent, and the architecture is a treat. Numbers 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and even 5 are all in South Bombay, the same part of town where E.Y.H.O. groups stay at Trident Nariman Point.

1. Visit the beautifully maintained Ballard Estate area, and go to The Britannia Restaurant. This is a Bombay establishment run by a Zoroastrian family, more commonly referred to as a Parsi, whose ancestors came to India from Iran in 900 AD to continue to practise their faith rather than convert to Islam. They established several tea/coffee cafes, and served traditional food. Many have now closed as Parsi families quickly worked their way to prosperity. The Britannia still stands. It is traditional and serves good food. The original owner still holds court. They have the funniest signs, like "Do not argue with management", a quirky little spot. It is NOT fancy. And you can just have a coffee and dessert and chat with the owner. The Britannia is an establishment. If you plan to go for lunch, arrive before 11.30am, they are likely to be sold out of favourites after.

2. Dhobi Ghaat, where households give their washing over to dhobis, who do them out in the open and lay things out to dry. The scale and complexity of the laundry institution is difficult to describe, you have to see it to believe it!

3. Churchgate station around 11 am, you may see the dabba (lunchbox) wallas. They gather up the tiffin boxes prepared for office workers, do a massive exchange at Churchgate and then deliver them to various offices. The system is manual with little scrawls on the boxes, and dabbawallahs are tested before they are allowed on the job because they have to be really efficient. Prince Charles invited a couple of them to his wedding, and top management schools have studied their Sigma 6 level of operation. An improbable error is the subject of the hit movie "Lunchbox". Today, there aren’t too many stay at home housewives cooking meals for their office-going husbands. But their mamas probably do!

4. Sassoon Docks around 6 AM is when the fishermen (and women) bring in their catch. Bidding for huge fish that are still thrashing, and immaculately groomed women shelling mountains of shrimp. Strong smelling, wear flipflops to be scrubbed thoroughly, but worth the early morning hit!

5. Zhaveri Bazaar for jewellery. Depends on your interest, jewellery is ornate, and the gold is very yellow, 22 carat for the most part. If you want to buy, Jamshedji Jivanji is a reputable shop.

6. The Taj Hotel is a must see, and they have a touching tribute to memorialize the employees who perished in the Bombay bomb attack. Have a light lunch or afternoon tea in their Sea Lounge, the menu includes Indian street food items, a more hygeinic source for sure!

7. If you want to buy saris, stores on Marine Lines—Kala Niketan is one; they are all in a row so check them out. We will visit a sari shop on the first day of the tour, this is incase you wish to visit a second store on your own.

8. Get a jump on your India shopping at Fab India—good for clothes and gifts, as is The Bombay Store.

9. Fort District Heritage walk and Kala Ghoda Arts District are easy walks from our hotel. Guided tours available: Mumbai Magic Tours. You may book directly.

10. Alternately, walk the Fort District on your own. Get to Regal cinema, walk all along Mahatma Gandhi Road to check out the Victorian architecture including the clock tower of Bombay University, then walk back along the Oval Maidan and see the rear of the buildings and watch the locals play some leisurely cricket. Art deco buildings are a treat.

11. In terms of markets, Crawford Market is the biggie but not my favourite. However it’s easy to navigate with interesting sights and sounds and scents. I prefer Matunga Market for its cultural diversity and nearby flower market but it’s further out. Chor (Thief) Bazaar is a neat place where they sell antiques. Swati Foods is a safe and hygienic place for lunch if you opt for Crawford.

Crawford Market mangoes

12. From our hotel at Nariman Point, you can take a cab ride and have the driver take you on Marine Drive, then up to Walkeshwar Road, and ask them to drive you through Nepean Sea Road, back through Warden Road (now called Bhulabhai Desai Road) and back. The problem is that Mumbai traffic is crazy, and this can take longer than you would like. You may want to do this really early in the morning to escape the traffic. Or you can go as far as the end of Walkeshwar Road and simply turn back.

13. Mumbai has a ton of fabulous restaurants, the ones in hotels are also really good - not quite what we expect here, where a hotel restaurant tends to be on the ordinary side. If you see Bombay Duck on the menu, check whether it is fresh (not the pickled dry kind), and try it out. I love it, it is a very delicate fish, almost translucent. Make sure it is served hot!

Do’s and don’t of getting around in Bombay

  • The city is quite safe to walk in. However, as in most large cities, leave valuables behind, wear a money belt if you must carry cash/credit cards, and avoid going out when dark. Let your hotel know where you’re headed and when to expect you back.

  • Taxis are plentiful and cheap. Ask your hotel to call you a taxi. They will also give you an idea of what it should cost. Most taxis are metered, and most taxi drivers are honest – there is simply too much business in Bombay for them to take you around needlessly when they could pick up another fare. Take the hotel card with you for the return trip. Be warned taxi drivers may have very little English.

  • Add 25% more time to duration of journeys on Google Maps. Traffic can be very heavy depending on time of day.

  • Street food can be tempting. Eat it if it’s piping hot and cooked in front of your eyes. Avoid chutneys and salads.

  • Markets: feel free to bargain but local markets often have set prices for both locals and tourists.

Have a great time in Bombay!

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