What to see in Mumbai, India
The game of names
The names of Mumbai‘s monuments tell us the story of which way political winds were blowing when they were built. In the late 19th century the British named everything after their Queen, so we had Victoria terminus, Victoria Gardens, and the Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute (built in 1887 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Her Majesty’s coronation). In the early 20th century, they named everything after the Prince of Wales.
After independence the colonial names could not be retained of course, so they were renamed. Depending on whether the city was suffering from bouts of nationalistic pride or Marathi pride at that time, they were.
For a traveller, the practical problem would be that many places have multiple names. Multiple places are named after Nehru, Shivaji, or Jijabai, so you need to be careful about specifying which place you need to get to.
Few important names changes to remember are:
- ‘Victoria Terminus’ is now ‘Chhtrapati Shivaji Terminus’
- ‘Jacob Circle’ is now ‘Saat Rasta’ or ‘Sant Gaadge Maharaj Chowk’
- ‘King’s Circle’ is now ‘Maheshwari Udyyan’
- ‘Kurla Terminus’ is now ‘Lokmanya Tilak Terminus’
There is a lot to see in Mumbai, but the typical “tourist” sights are concentrated in South Mumbai.
By Indian standards, Mumbai is a young city and much of the land comprising the city did not exist until it was claimed from the sea over three centuries ago. It is therefore, a pleasant surprise to find rock cut caves such as the Elephanta, Kanheri, and Mahakali within city limits.
The British built a magnificent city within the walls of Fort St. George, which lies at the southern extremity of the city. Some fine examples of the Gothic revival, Neo-classical style and Indo-Saracenic style are seen within this area. To get the best [South Mumbai] experience, stroll around the wide streets of the area right from Churchgate to Colaba. These areas are all beautifully planned and have wide and clean pavements unlike the rest of the city. Famous monuments to be seen in this area are the Gateway of India, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus) building, the Municipal Corporation and Police Headquarters and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sanghralaya (formerly, the Prince Of Wales museum). The famous Taj Mahal hotel is located just opposite the Gateway of India. The Mumbai University buildings and the High Court are also excellent examples of colonial architecture in the city.
There are a lot of other modern structures to look at in this area. The area known as Marine Drive (right from Chowpatty beach to NCPA) is home to a large number of buildings built in the Art Deco style. Mumbai is second only to Miami in the number of Art Deco buildings. Some famous buildings in this style are the Eros and Regal cinemas.
Museums and galleries
Some of the most famous museums and art galleries in India are found here. The Kala Ghoda area in South Mumbai teems with them, particularly the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum), and the National Gallery of Modern Art. Once again, most of them are concentrated in South Mumbai. Also worth planning a visit is Jehangir Art Gallery, also at Kala Ghoda, displays changing exhibits by notable artists. The plaza next to the gallery also regularly displays exhibits of various artists.
Situated in Nehru Complex in Worli is Nehru Centre Art Gallery at Worli, a gallery dedicated to young and promising talent along with established artists. Also within the complex is located a permanent exposition, Discovery of India, which attempts to cover every aspect of artistic, intellectual and philosophical attainment of India through ages. The exposition spreads across 14 galleries and reflects true identity of the country. On the other end of the complex, Nehru Science Centre – which has a separate entrance from Mahalaxmi race course road, has a permanent exhibition on ‘interactive and exciting’ science related exhibits highlighting science principles in fun yet educational way.
Mumbai has a few beaches, including one in the downtown area. But they aren’t that great and the water off Mumbai’s coast is extraordinarily dirty. The relatively better ones are in the Northwest Mumbai area. However, they are a great place to see how the locals spend their Sunday evenings, with various food and game stalls.
There are other beaches to be found such as the Girgaon Chowpaty in South Mumbai, Juhu beach in the western suburbs and Aksa Beach in Malad. The currents don’t seem strong, but particularly in the rains, lots of people die from drowning, so avoid getting in the water (especially at Aksa Beach). A word of advice to women: Bombay beaches are not the kind you can wear swimsuits to, particularly two-pieces.
Zoos, parks and gardens
Mumbai has a justified reputation as a concrete jungle, but there are some nice pockets of greenery within the city. It is also one of the rare metropolises to have an entire national park within its borders. (Borivali national park also known as Sanjay Gandhi National Park. You will not visit Mumbai for them, but if you are already here, they make a nice escape from the din and bustle. It also houses the ancient Kanheri Caves crafted out of rocky cliffs, which dates back to 2,400 years.
Besides, at Andheri in the North there is a nice little Bhavans Nature Adventure Centre offering nature trails, animal care sessions and adventure activities, interesting for children and youngsters; 5 minute walk from Azadnagar metro station and 15 minute walk from Andheri station
The city zoo (Veermata Jijabai Udyan) is in Byculla and is a colonial relic which is surprisingly well-preserved. The animals may look rather emaciated, but the sheer diversity of trees on this lush zoo is worth a trip.
Some city parks are very well-maintained and combine history as well. The “Hanging Gardens” on Malabar Hill offers stunning vistas of the Marine Drive. Opposite the Hanging Gardens, there is another park which is known as Kamla Nehru Park, famous for the striking shoe-shaped structure which has been filmed in various Bollywood movies
Further in South Mumbai, the Mumbai Port Trust Garden is another hidden gem. This is set off a small side street off the Colaba Causeway 2-3 kms south of the main section. Once again, lovely views of the port, the naval yards, and sunset.
In central Mumbai, there are the Five Gardens. Mainly used by walkers in the morning, it is a mess in the evenings. But the gardens encircle some historic, art deco residences.
Markets and crowds
Mumbai is probably worth visiting just for its street markets, the hustle of vendors, and the madness of the crowds. If you are interested in buying handicrafts, brass items, crystals or jewelry, then, you should head to Colaba market or can visit Silver Centre by Sangeeta Boochra inside cottons at kemps corner for authentic indian jewelry.
Modern buildings and malls
Once the British left, the zeal to wipe away the traces of colonial rule was, unfortunately, not matched by the enthusiasm to build a new city that matched the grandeur of the British-era buildings. Now, while the shabbiness of the socialist era is thankfully being replaced by architecture with an eye on aesthetics, the new malls, multiplexes, and office buildings that are coming up are indistinguishable than anywhere else in the world. Still, they are worth a look, especially if you want to have a look at India’s success story. Skyscrapers exceeding 60 stories now dominate the skyline.
For long, Inorbit Mall was the only mall offering a lot of variety for shoppers. Palladium, built within the High Street Phoenix, broke the monopoly of Inorbit Mall. From state of the art interiors to international brands, the Palladium has everything. Nirmal Lifestyles Mall (now defunct) in Mulund and Metro Junction Mall in Kalyan used to be two of the largest malls in Mumbai. R-City in Ghatkopar is now the biggest and best mall in the City. Located in the central suburbs, they are quite popular in the city.
Powai is a modern central mumbai suburb with European looks. Powai houses the Indian Institute of Technology and is built around fabulous lake. Most of the construction is in a township format and is privately built. It houses twenty top of the line restaurants, two large convenience stores, a handful of coffee shops and entertainment areas. Initially built as an upmarket self-contained township, Powai has now grown into a business process outsourcing hub in Mumbai. The township reflects both characteristics; you will often find families shopping and twenty somethings hanging out in tables next to each other.
Mumbai has temples, mosques, churches, Parsi agiaries, and even a few synagogues reflecting the diversity of its citizens. While these are naturally of interest if you are a believer, some, like the Portuguese church at Dadar are worth visiting just for their unique architecture.
Haji Ali Dargah is one of the most visited places in Mumbai. The Dargah Sharief is built on a tiny islet located 500 meters from the coast, in the middle of Worli Bay, in the vicinity of Worli. People from different religion and places visit this place. More than 80,000 people visit dargah every week.
One notable monument in the northwest suburbs of Mumbai is the Global Vipassana Pagoda (Global Pagoda), Gorai, Mumbai. It is a meditation centre that can seat 8000 people. Vipassana literally means meditation, and the centre runs 10-day meditation courses and 1 day mega course on Sundays. The courses are free of cost but you would have to register for them in advance on their website.
Siddhivinayak temple of Mumbai is very famous. It is located in Dadar and you can easily get a taxi to go to the temple from the Dadar railway station.
The city also boasts of Jewish places of worship predominantly in the area called Byculla. In this area the three prominent sub castes amongst inhabiting Jews of Mumbai lived . They were Bagdadi Jews, Bene Israelis and the locals who had converted over a period of time and lived in the hinterland.
There are two Hare Krishna (ISKCON) temples located near the Juhu beaches and Chowpatty beaches. They are very popular tourist attractions ranking in the top 5 Mumbai attractions. The devotees perform active worship of Lord Krishna and one can hear and participate in the sacred Hare Krishna chanting.