Alright, so here I’m with my latest blog post and this time I’m going to talk about my city — the city that never sleeps, the city of dreams and the city of magic.
People living in the past glory still prefer to call it Bombay. This was the name given by the colonial rulers. The city that has gone metamorphoses like none other; almost. From a separate group of seven islands to one of the biggest cities in the world, this city has seen it all, shown it all. In 1782, a colonial project united all the seven islands into one, and in 1995 a political party — a parallel Government — changed it to end the colonial legacy.
This is the story from Bombay to Mumbai in a nutshell.
But this is not the agenda. The agenda is to talk about a magical heritage tour I gift my guests. This tour is memorable and I doubt if anyone can show you the city this way in a limited period.
Although there’re hundreds of tour operators in the city this is my exclusive tour specially crafted for a guest on a tight schedule and low budget. I’ve gifted this tour to many guests across the globe.
If you want to take this one-day tour, you’ve got to be my guest. This isn’t a professional paid tour rather an amateur tour — where I also learn and explore my city — and it’s a selfless GIFT of out of my love for you and Mumbai.
PS: The images used in the blog post are from the internet.
We start in the early morning by taking the local train to the area I fondly call SOBO — short for South Bombay.
Some even call this area TOWN because it was the only developed part of the city in the olden days. In the past, the south part of the city was the main city and areas farther were suburbs that were later brought inside the jurisdiction of the main city.
Anyway, coming out of history, the train is the cheapest and fastest to travel in Mumbai. Besides, if you haven’t been on a local train, you haven’t seen Mumbai.
The traveling is interesting as you see and meet a variety of characters. The train has two sections; the first class and the second class. The first class — that is almost the same as the second class during peak hours — costs ten times more than the second class. But it’s fund traveling in the second class.
We get down at Sandhurst Road railway station that’s the gateway to our magical heritage tour. It’s an old railway station surrounded by slums and a railway yard. This railway route was started in 1888 and it’s the first railway route of India.
As we walk through the narrow streets of this part of the city, we cross Dongri Children’s Home that is a juvenile prison. It was built by Britishers more than a century ago. Children who commit a petty crime or who are lost and found, are kept here. The situation inside is pathetic with a dearth of even necessities of life. I’ve volunteered here several times with a group that works for the inmates.
Dongri is one of my favorites places in the city. It’s a universe in itself. It’s an old and huge area and the birthplace of some the underworld kingpins; namely Dawood Ibrahim. He started his journey of crime from this place and then created D-Company in the 1970s. But the place is full of lovely people as you walk through its heritage and colorful streets.
On the way, you’ll find a more than 100 years old Persian bathing center that serves only men. It’s still functional and one can enjoy a nice hot-water bath here at a specific time of the day.
After a little walking past the streets of Dongri, we enter the Chor Bazar. This is an old flea market where you can get all sorts of stuff. It’s open full day and you can spend the whole day here and still feel unsatisfied. The thieves market is a popular tourist attraction of Mumbai. Despite this reputation, it’s said to sell mostly second-hand goods rather than stolen goods. The market is now famous for antique items and I like to bargain at this place.
No one ever leaves Mumbai without visiting here.
The journey into the flea market is always quite tiring and hence, we take our iconic kaali-peeli taxi to our next destination. The route is enchanting as we pass through heavy traffic — and noise — in a heritage Muslim dominated area. On the way, you’ll notice several old structures; including a beautiful mosque and the grey-area of the city. It’s here in Musafir Khana that one can find cheap electronic goods without a bill. I ain’t sure about the quality because it’s mostly duplicate and smuggled.
We’ll reach the first marketplace of the city that was built in 1869. One can buy a variety of things in and around Crawford Market. Some of them are ready-to-stitch clothes, dress material, toys, party products, artificial jewelry, travel bags, fruits and vegetables, shoes, belts and cake making and decorating equipment and toiletries. Also, varieties of animals, birds, electrical light fittings, and carpentry fittings are available here.
After a little exploration inside the market, we’ll walk our way through the 100 plus years old office of Mumbai’s police commissioner. This is a high-security area and so we have to behave ourselves — no photographs.
By this time, it will be lunch-time and what’s more nostalgic other than eating on one of the heritage Irani restaurants in the city. We’ll walk our way to Kyani Bakery that is more than 100 years old and serves a large variety of food and drinks.
My favorite is brun-butter, caramel custard and a cup of special Irani tea. The prices are affordable and the taste is unforgettable.
Diagonally opposite the restaurant, we can see one of the oldest single screen cinema houses of Mumbai. The Metro Cinema was built in 1938. I’ve seen several films here.
After a sumptuous lunch, we quickly pass one of the oldest colleges in the city — St. Xavier’s College. This college is often seen in films and television commercials due to its neo-gothic architecture and campus. It’s a popular choice for young students due to the beautiful crowd.
In a short while, we reach the place seen in almost every Bollywood film. The main railway station of central-line Mumbai. It was named Victoria Terminus and later changed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus. It was built in 1888 and the first train in India started from this railway station.
On the left side, we’ll be able to see the world’s wealthiest municipal corporation’s building. The corporation was set up by the Britsh in 1893. It’s a magnificent sight from where we’ll be seeing it, surrounded by the breathtaking fragrance of the popular-all-women-run Canon Pav Bhaji Corner. Too bad we can’t eat it because we just had lunch but we’ll understand what is a Pav Bhaji — and even eat it — later in the evening.
BTW, they make around 5,000 plates of that in a day — that’s a world record. After enjoying the external visual treat of these heritage buildings, we’ll go to the railway station.
The interior design of the railway station will take your breath away. It’s beautiful and I can spend hours together in this place. It’s still intact after all these years. Of course, a lot of repairing and touching are always going on.
We keep walking through the street market on either side of the road. The market offers a variety of stuff including clothes, footwear, stationery, mobile phone accessories, cameras, food, sex toys, aphrodisiacs, and pornographic films.
Then, we reach Flora Fountain. This is a place to take a pause and rejoice the neo-gothic structures around it. SOBO is filled with neo-gothic structures. Most of the buildings are at least 80-100 years old.
As we cross Flora Fountain, we have to taste the most important fast-food of our city culture — Wada Pav. The dish consists of a deep-fried potato dumpling placed inside a bread bun. It’s delicious, inexpensive, and a one time meal for thousands across the city. I eat it almost every day.
I can’t imagine my life without one!
As we proceed a little ahead, we land up in an area called Kala Ghoda. The place has a statue of a black stallion and is a place for many cultural festivals that keep happening across the year. This is also the place where there’s the famous Jehangir Art Gallery. Many legendary artists — like MF Hussian — have exhibited their paintings in this art gallery.
FYI, If any artist wants to book a room here, the waiting period is at least five years!
For a special treat for our loved ones, we’ll stop at this place to write some names on a grain of rice. It’s a novelty for all those who’re visiting this side of the city. I suggest keep the names ready in your mind so that we don’t waste time there.
And then, we move on!
We walk towards the extreme south of the city and pass through one of the oldest single screen-cinema houses in Mumbai. The Regal Cinema was built in 1933 and is still a happening place for the citizens.
Gosh, I remember watching so many films here. I used to come here with my parents as a child and my college was also nearby.
Just next to the Regal Cinema is the most iconic bar in Mumbai — Cafe Mondegar. It must be around 80 years old but I challenge if you get a seat here without waiting for at least half-hour; on a regular day. On the weekend, forget about it. You might have to wait for a couple of hours as there’s no reservation system. The walls were painted by famous artist Late Mario Miranda on special request by the owner.
This was the first bar in Mumbai to have a juke-box.
Close to Cafe Mondegar is the oldest bar in the city. Established in 1871, the Leopold Cafe is an exotic place to hang out as well.
Just behind the Cafe Mondegar is the icon of Mumbai. The work of the Gateway of India started in 1911 to welcome King George V. This is the coastal part of the city. You can sit here for some time and enjoy the Arabian Sea. This is the place to catch a ferry to go to the ancient Elephanta Caves.
The ferry is also available for a personal get-together, but only in summer and winter season. Monsoon is quite risky and hence it’s not easily available unless you pay them a bomb, or you’re a VIP.
As soon as one reaches the Gateway of India, you can see these magnificent structures on the opposite side. The horizontal one is the old Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the vertical one is the new Taj Mahal Hotel.
The old hotel — the first 5-star hotel of India — was built in 1903 by the popular Tata family. It’s grand and we’re fortunate, we can go inside and take a stroll in areas allowed to the general public.
If we’ve got some time on hand, we’ll visit Sassoon Dock that’s one of the oldest ports on the city. This fishing port features a lively marketplace for fresh-caught seafood. Let’s see if we can make it!
Even if we can’t make it to the port area, we’ll take a drive through the Marine Drive area to our next location. This is the most exciting part of the southern part of Mumbai.
The plan is to witness the sunset on the beach. It’ll also be evening by the time we reach here. The famous Girguam Beach offers an enchanting view of the sunset and the city. It isn’t a clean beach but it’s fun to play with the waves here.
The sunset looks something like this and I forgot to mention that the sea is the great Arabian sea.
If you’re on the beach and you don’t eat street food, there’s no fun. This beach offers a large variety of food and drinks you can eat.
Ice gola, Pav Bhaji, and Paan are them most popular food to eat here. But don’t stuff too much, we need to save space for dinner. The food isn’t only delicious but also as per the safety standards.
Post sunset, we’ll travel to the Malabar Hill area and reach a point from where we can see the coastal stretch. We can see the Marine Drive that’s fondly called The Queen’s Necklace from the newly opened observatory. The stretch is C-shaped and the lights on the building, in the evening time, make it looks like a shining necklace.
It’s so incredible that anyone gets an acute inner calling to walk on this coastal strength. We’ll also do it, but a little bit.
We’ll come back to the beach and take a long walk to the end of the Marine Drive. It’s a romantic one-hour walk to the endpoint. This area is also seen in many films and television commercials. The buildings are mostly residential and quite old.
We’ll walk through our college and enjoy the fresh winds. By this time, we’ll be super tired and thirsty.
You know what I mean right?
If you’ve understood it right, this is my personal choice to quench your thirst and have chilled beers. The Capitol Bar is one of the oldest bars of Mumbai and sits exactly opposite the CST Railway Station. The location is apt and the prices are affordable. There might be a slight waiting as it’s a small place and people are always thirsty. This is one of the few bars in Mumbai that is full even in the mornings and afternoons.
There is also Majestic Bar close to Capitol, in case there’s no seat available. Both of them offer two rooms for drinking; one with white light and another with golden lights.
I love the room with golden lights on.
Our next destination is a paradise for food lovers. We’ll take the iconic kaali-peeli taxi or a bus to an area called Nagpada. This part of the city is Muslim dominated and hence you get delicious non-vegetarian food. We’ll pass through the famous Mohammed Ali road that is a must-visit during Ramadan.
Nagpada and Dongri are close to each other and together I call it THE DEN OF THE DONS. Many heinous underworld gangsters grew up here or had their mafias operating from here — Dawood Ibraham, Chhota Shakeel, Noora, Asif Batla, Karim Lala, Haji Mastan, Arun Gawl, Amar Naik, etc.
Times have changed and Nagpada is a quiet neighborhood inviting food lovers from across the globe.
My favorite restaurant is Al Rehmani. One can enjoy delicious food in a reasonable process. They mostly serve non-vegetarian food but the street is filled with small and medium restaurants.
The most interesting thing about this place is that it’s open till late at night and is always crowded. By this time it will be midnight and the end of the first phase of our heritage tour that is primarily people of all ages.
PS: After this begins the late-night tour that’s for adults only and is completely optional.
As the sun goes down, the different colors of Mumbai come up. Mumbai’s nightlife is one of the best in the world. There’s so much to see!
We’ll take the iconic kaali-peeli taxi and explore the deep secrets of the city. We’ll visit some of the areas that were once a playground to Mumbai’s underworld gang-lords. Dawood’s home in the Temkar Street has become a tourist attraction and Arun’s home — Dagdi Chawl — is a castle that one can’t afford to miss.
And if we’re fortunate to get a seasoned taxi driver, he can tell us some spicy stories from the past glory.
After we’re done with the underworld, we’ll visit the red-light districts of Mumbai. One such area is Kamathipura. It’s one of the oldest biggest red light areas of Asia. One can find a huge variety of sex workers ranging from INR 100 – 5,000 at this place. This place was set up by the Britishers to satisfy their soldiers; more than 100 years ago.
A similar place is called Congress House.
The narrow streets of this part of the city are quite sleazy and we need to be careful while exploring the area. Prostitution is not legal in India but such places run right under the nose of the administration.
All said and done, the red-light areas of Mumbai add a different flavor to the city. It’s a different world altogether. If you want to enjoy some cheap drugs, this is the place where you’ll get it all.
Buy the time we finish this phase of our heritage tour, it will be very late and night. This is the last leg of our tour and we’ll take a cab to go home.
If we’ve to go to any western suburb, we’ll take the Sea Link and if we have to go to any central suburb, we’ll take the Eastern Express Freeway. Both routes offer incredible sight at nighttime.
This magical heritage will take around 12-15 hours to complete but you would have seen a beautiful glimpse of the city’s heritage on a low budget. I don’t think there’s any other better option to go around the city in such a tight schedule.
Although there’s so much to see in Mumbai, this tour can set the tempo, and then you can explore many things on your own or with other friends. Google can offer random information but a loving local company has different magic to it.
I invite you to my city!