Having lived in Mumbai for the entirety of my life, I have come to realise, this city isn’t just about places, but about people in these spaces.
It never fails to amaze me how this city I call my ‘forever home’ has moulded every part of my being in the last 23 years. I remember how delighted we would be as kids to escape the hustle and bustle of this ever-buzzing hub to spend time in Mangalore. But just three days into the vacation, we would yearn to be back.
If you were to ask different people to describe Mumbai, you’d get all kinds of answers and stories. From a commercial capital to an incubator for India’s top-grossing Hindi film industry, from the glitz and glamour of her nightlife to how cruel she can be to young people who leave their hometowns to set up an independent life, Mumbai means different things to different people who decide to call her home.
But for me, my best experiences in this ‘Sone Ki Nagariya’ have always centered around the people I met. I don’t know if I am the best person to talk about the best sights to visit or places to eat in my city, but if you are looking for the little joys some unconventional activities/trips in the city could give you, then you can count on this personal narrative to come handy.
When in Mumbai, taking a local train is a must.
Listen, you haven’t arrived in Mumbai until you’ve taken a crowded local. It isn’t just about the free massages you get or the times you were sure you heard your bones cracking. It is how the tiny space of a compartment turns into a meaningful space of memories for people, especially women who board it daily. From the melodies of bhajans sung to Vitthal by dabbawalas to the roaring laughter that young women break into, it is an ever buzzing space. But sometimes our compartments are quiet too, especially when storage racks serve as dupatta hammocks for sleeping babies.
From knitting sweaters, helping your co-passenger roll the yarn to playing garba to the sound of a Bluetooth speaker during Navratri, our train journeys are never devoid of excitement. So if you ever visit Mumbai, don’t forget to board a train!
Watch DDLJ’s daily 11:30 show at Maratha Mandir
Since its inception in 1958, the 1000-seater Maratha Mandir Cinema Hall created a record of screening the iconic Bollywood movie Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge for 1009 weeks since its release in 1995 (As of 19 February 2015).
The film still runs daily at 11:30 in the morning. A two minute walk away from Mumbai Central railway station, it is one of the most known valued theatres for Bollywood’s Box Office. At a meagre price of Rs 15 for stall seats, Rs 20 for dress circle seats and Rs 25 for a balcony ticket, this historic cinema hall is the place to be for all Shahrukh-Kajol lovers and cinema lovers.
Eat food but from local eateries!
Around the nook and corners of every busy street, you’ll find a stall, hot deep-fried vadas and potato, onion and moong bhajjis. Especially, if a humble looking couple sells it, believe me, it will taste delicious. (Just my individual experience!).
Our mornings outside railway stations start with a plate of hot steaming mini idlis and medu-vadas by a bicycle-riding anna. The rhythmic sound of potatoes being smashed on the tava for a quick butter pav bhaji is sweeter than most tunes. From greasy Chinese from stalls in the suburbs to regular rounds of chai at tapris, we get through the day without burning a hole in out pockets – because we don’t run out of pocket-friendly and scrumptious food options.
Visit the fishing villages of Mumbai
The strong smell of fresh bombil drying in the sun along a stretch of beach and a host of boats stationed or sailing against the harsh wind are a welcome sight when one enters Bhatebunder’s fishing village in Uttan.
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The shore is a busy place at all times of the day. Kolis yell directions from the shore to the ones moving the oars in perfect synchronisation at sea. Groups of young kids play lagori and football on the beach as kolins dry and sort fish. The Kolis are a close-knitted community but nonetheless extremely warm to every outsider who visits their wada.
On a photography visit, I remember how at least five households in one lane offered me a drink of kokam juice or a snack to eat because I had travelled a long way.
It isn’t just Uttan though. Built in 1875 and situated off Cuffe Parade in South Mumbai, Sassoon Docks is one of the oldest docks in Mumbai, and only one open to the general public. The 142-year-old dock is also one of largest fish markets in the city. If you do visit the city, don’t forget to interact with the fisherfolks of these beautiful forgotten spaces.
Watch flamingos at Sewri
Every year thousands of flamingos fly from Kutch in Gujarat and stay in Mumbai for around six months. They arrive in November and leave by June – but the best time to see them is from January to March. Out of all the spots in Mumbai, Sewri is the best to see them. Various other birds like Black-Headed Ibis and Black-Tailed Godwit, Western Reef-egret, River Tern, Sandpiper, Green Shank, Herons, Egrets, Cranes, Wagtails, Swallows etc are a delight to watch.
Go have a midnight chai at Marine Drive
The 3-km long, six-lane concrete road in south Mumbai stretching north along the coastline and forming a natural bay has always been a buzzing yet serene space in the city. Whether it was celebrating an academic win or crying over a sour heartbreak, the view of the sea soothed me and continues to do so, even today.
Known as Marine Drive, also called Sonapur by the locals of the city, thousands of people are seen strutting along the beautiful walkway, sometimes alone, with their partners, their families and even pets. The scenic beauty of the ‘Queen’s Necklace’ is unmatched. Besides, the starry midnight sky, as you lie down on the concrete with the fading sounds of hawkers selling kulfis and chai, will soothe your soul.
Visit Dhobi Ghat
Dhobi Ghat is called the world’s largest outdoor laundry. For 18 to 20 hours each day, over 7,000 people flog, scrub, dye and bleach clothes on concrete wash pens, dry them on ropes, neatly press them and transport the garments to different parts of the city. Over one lakh clothes are washed each day.
Located next to Mahalaxmi railway station on the Western Railway’s Saat Rasta roundabout, the space has an annual turnover of around Rs 100 crore.Though some of the wealthier dhobis have turned to large mechanical washing and drying machines, the traditional families in the ghat continue to clean, wash and dry clothes manually.
From stationery to linen to toiletries, to foodgrains to wedding dresses. Name one thing under the sun (okay, a slight exaggeration), and you’ll find it here. The art is to bargain, buy in wholesale and bulk my friend. Situated opposite the Mumbai Police headquarters, just north of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station and west of the J.J. flyover, this treasure trove houses a wholesale fruit, vegetable and poultry market.
Most of the sellers inside the market sell imported items such as foods, cosmetics, household and gift items. One end of the market is a pet store, but it is a place I won’t personally recommend you to go – it’s heart-wrenching.
As cliché as it sounds, the truest essence of living in this city and loving her are the lyrics of the C.I.D song, “Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahan, zara hatke zara bachke, yeh hai Bombay meri jaan. ”
Feature Image Credit: Pixabay