Mumbai is a city that has a lot to offer. I really believe that; I’m not just partial. But it’s also true that a lot of people dismiss the city; seen that happen on thorn tree repeatedly. I think that largely happens because of three reasons: traffic, density of people and concentration of visible heritage sites only in one part of the city. and once you’re done with that then what else!
Mumbai makes you work hard to discover. It makes you set out on your own, it makes you find. It doesn’t give it to you on a platter of UNESCO preserved sites or ASI maintained monuments or with a story of ‘generations of history’ like Delhi does… in mumbai, you need to find them. and at times, you might need to even find the charm for yourself… it tends to be hidden!
Now, isn’t that the true reason for travel – discovery? some of my suggestions to make your stay here more than ‘indo-sarasenic’ architecture!
1. Go name – place hunting: with different ruling dynasties over the years and confused, forgotten origins… names of roads, streets, lanes, areas are at times corrupted versions of the original, or if not corrupt, they just make NO sense at all. what can you do on a weekend – walk around and check the name of a road, area, find the old name and google. try to see where it came from, the discoveries make for very interesting stories. let me give you a few examples…
bandra – coming presumably from vandre or bandar meaning port in Marathi and hindi, respectively
mazgaon – assumed to have origins from two marathi words – maz or my and gaon or village / area.. :)
fort area – simply part of the fort that existed in mumbai earlier
churchgate – after the gate near a church in the fort, similarly bazaar gate
chinchpokli – sounds funny right. well, this was the place with all the tamarind (chinch) trees.
pydhonie – or py meaning feet, and dhone meaning wash – in marathi.
hornby vellard – non-indian sounding right? thats the name for the causeway and comes from the word ‘vellado’ – portuguese for fence or embarkment.
or the amusing horniman circle, no it didn’t come from a horny man, but was named after benjamin horniman, a great supporter of the indian freedom movement and if you’re feeling upto an old song about mumbai then listen to this song ‘Sion aaya’: just do it! caveat – you need to know mumbai sufficiently well to get a good laugh.
2. Discover the villages of mumbai (quite a pet subject of mine, but i do love them) i am not talking slums, but rather villages. these are active hubs just behind arterial roads, hidden below expressways and squashed between two suburbs. in these villages you will find the original settlers in bombay… way before you, and way before me. but highly likely that they’ve also migrated to bombay at some point of time as the original inhabitants of bombay were the kolis or fisherfolk.
In these villages you will find clubs, village squares and maybe even bump into people who knew all the original residents of the said village. having grown up in a large city, i find knowing all the inhabitants of your town rather cool! don’t you?
Where to go: In the island city (7 islands of bombay and not the suburban parts) visit kotachiwadi, mazgaon in bandra: chimbai village, from bazaar road to reclamation – the closely knit roads with graffiti, old bungalows and a few bakeries too.
3. The second-class museums a.k.a second class citizens! not that the prince of wales museum is that popular, but it’s always mentioned as ‘the’ museum in Bombay.
I think dr. bhau daji lad museum rocks. i seriously do. it’s not just a beautifully maintained building but the exhibits are also lovely. my main picks are the statues in the garden just outside the main building, the model of the tower of silence, the model of the games played in mumbai years ago and of course, the building itself with its candyfloss colours!
Mani bhavan – think it’s a little dusty but brush over that and it’s got some brilliant photographs and exhibits of one of the most interesting men of the 20th century: mahatma gandhi.
4. My personal favourite – it’s just a simple train ride. and this one is probably just MY personal favourite. (find your own in this city maybe!) take the train from dadar or mumbai central heading towards churchgate, stand on the right hand side of the train and look out… apart from the beautiful buildings you ‘discover’ lining the railway tracks.. keep a look out post charni road. station… you will see an old, dilapidated building and after that you see the sea for the first time. from andheri and even beyond, the train journey is with land on all sides, at bandra you cross the mithi river where you hold your nose, close your eyes and shudder. you don’t even realise you are in a city with the sea to one side and then, you hit charni road station, old building, and the blue-grey sea. that’s always a high for me.