Landmarks of Mumbai city: your insider guide

 

Electric. Dynamic. Chaotic. The maker (and breaker) of dreams – Mumbai city, India is a pulsating metropolitan city that’s filled with the best of the best (restaurants, hotels, eateries, shops), and the worst of the worst (weather, garbage, crowds). It also just happens to be our home. With our ongoing Landmarks of Mumbai series, we’ll explore small areas of the city, piece by piece, lending our insider knowledge and expertise to each area – so you, traveller, tourist and fellow Mumbaikar – know exactly what landmark to visit, where to stay and where to eat.

Gateway of India
This arch-shaped monument has been standing tall, (and pretty-much graffiti free) since 1924, when it was built to welcome British officials into the city. While the English left us a while ago, we’re not complaining about what they left behind—architecturally gorgeous, built in the Indo-Saracenic style, this imposing gateway is pretty much synonymous with Mumbai, and Bombay before it. Unmissable.

Why you should see it: The best time to ‘see’ this spectacular English-constructed landmark is just as the sun rises—the crowds at the lowest and you’ll get views against a spectacular skyline. While you can see the Gateway from the promenade nearby, it’s officially open for business between 7am-5:30pm, all days of the week, when it gets crowded with everyone from click-happy tourists (Look Ma, I’m holding up the gateway) to frenzied professionals going about their daily commute. But if you get there around sunset, the area comes alive with hordes of people taking walks along the seafront and meandering the nearby streets for food and drink spots, popular in this area. Walking around here is the best way to get a feel of the city as a local.
Tourist haunts: Around the corner from the gateway sits Colaba Causeway—practically as popular as the former; the popular go-to food stops for out-of-towners tend to be The Leopold Café, Café Mondegar, Bade Miyan (a food truck-turned-restaurant), Theobroma, Cafe Churchill and Delhi Darbar (for biryani). This area is extremely famous for Mumbai’s street shopping that includes artificial jewellery, bags and clothing. (Make sure to bargain)
GYG picks: A whole in the wall old-school Indian-styled Chinese restaurant Ling’s Pavillion, Bagdadi,a little Irani-styled eatery best known for their range of pulaos, fried fish and caramel custard,Le 15 Café for its quaint English-café charm, Colaba Social for a fun-well-priced drink and Bombay Stock Exchange’s terrace-top bar, Cafe Churchill for old school continental cuisine and freshly bakes pastries.
Hotel recommendations:
Basic: Abode Bombay
Breaking the budget: Taj Vivanta, Taj Mahal Palace & Hotel

Taj Mahal Palace & Hotel
The resident ghost of Taj Mahal Hotel is an urban legend that dates back to 1903. While the building was commissioned to three Indian architects, the main architect passed away whilst it was still under construction and was replaced by English engineer WA Chambers. Rumour has it, when he discovered the building had been constructed facing the opposite direction to his intent, he committed suicide and haunts the halls, even today. A ghostly tale not enough to entice a visit to the gorgeous India-Saracencic styled building?

Why you should see it: Go for the incredible hospitality at any of its great restaurants (The Golden Dragon is a personal favourite) – or just to marvel at its incredible architecture (tourists are allowed to walk in and explore the lobby and stores). You can also get gorgeous images against the beautiful building.
Tourist haunts: The Sea Lounge coffee shop at the Taj, overlooks the Gateway of India and offers the most sublime tea time service. (think layers of coffee cake and finger sandwiches). Around the corner are little sugarcane juice vendors to get through the heat that a day in Mumbai is bound to impress upon you.
GYG picks:
While we love all the restaurants at the Taj hotel, venture to causeway where Piccadilly has the best shawarma’s we’ve had in the city, Gables for unique Goan cuisine, Olympia Coffee House for their old-world charm, keema pav, caramel custard and Mumbai-staple chai. The Strand Hotel rooftop bar for gorgeous views along with your drinks.
Hotel recommendations:
Basic: Abode Bombay
Breaking the budget: Taj Vivanta, Taj Mahal Palace & Hotel

The Asiatic Society of Mumbai
Home to more than a hundred thousand books, of which 15,000 are classified as rare and valuable, this heritage structure influenced by Greek and Roman architecture with its pristine white exterior is better known as a venue for loved-up pre-wedding photo shoots and general photo ops. We kinda like it for both, as you can see. Hehe. Asiaticsociety.org.in for details of accessibility and opening hours.

Why you should see it: One of the prettiest buildings in Mumbai has gone through extensive refurbishments to stay perfect. The interiors with their winding staircases, long columns and antiquated-style are perfect to take you back to Bombay of the past.
Tourist haunts:
Horniman Circle Garden down the road from the Asiatic is the perfect spot of greenery in the midst of the bustling city, and if you saunter around in the afternoon, you’re likely to find a bunch of snoozing men under the shade of the tress. It’s also home to popular Indian-style stores like The Bombay Store, Chumbak and FabIndia for touristy (and quality) memorabilia.
GYG picks:
The Nutcracker veggie restaurant for its delectable pancakes, Kala Ghoda Café for those who love being healthy on holiday, Trishna (arguably the best seafood restaurant in the city) and Ayubs (a hole-in-the-wall roll guy) who went from operating out of a car to having his own little space in Kala Ghoda. He’s also open until 3-4 am for late-night cravings. Britannia & Co. Restaurant a is synonymous with serving the best Parsi food in the city with its berry pulav (his berries are imported all the way from Iran) and salli boti (mutton gravy) are definitely not to be missed. You also get live entertainment from the kind old owner who dishes out tales from the British era. 
Hotel recommendations
Basic: Ascot Hotel, Residency Hotel Fort, Grand Hotel
Breaking the budget: Trident Nariman Point, The Oberoi Mumbai

Hanging Gardens of Mumbai
For endless, unfettered views of Mumbai’s iconic marine drive promenade and gorgeous aerial views of the city, and sunset views over the Arabian Sea, head down to this terraced garden, settled comfortably in a residential area of South Mumbai. From morning walkers to busloads of tourists, they all descend upon the garden for a look at ‘The Old Woman’s Shoe”. Sitting in Kamala Nehru Park complex, the shoe structure is inspired by the nursery rhyme, ‘There was an Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe” and makes for a great whimsical photo-op.

Why you should see it: For the gorgeous sunset views of the city’s famed Queen’s necklace, for the quietude in the middle of this chaotic city and to take a quiet breath.
Tourist haunts:
Banganga Tank an ancient water tank part of the Walkeshwar Temple Complex.
GYG picks:
Dakshinayan, an authentic South Indian restaurant with high quality food and the best filter coffee; China Garden, an old-school, award winning Chinese restaurant, Narayan’s Dosa, grant road (a little hard to find, but Zomato should help you out).
Hotel recommendations
Basic: The Regency Hotel, Nepensea Road
Breaking the budget: The Shalimar Hotel, Mumbai

Outfits: https://www.6ycollective.com/

To book accommodations we recommend: https://www.booking.com/

For more information on food: https://www.zomato.com/mumbai

Photographed by: Chail Shah Photography

Find your escape at Anchaviyo – a two-hour drive away from Mumbai

 

 

Traffic. Loud screeching noises. Your face in someone’s armpit. Mumbai may be our hometown, and we love it but it can be too crowded and chaotic even for us sometimes – especially in the slick summer heat. So when we found out we could drive 2-hours away (an hour and 45mins, if you leave early enough) to enjoy ten acres of seclusion, spa sessions and silence at Anchaviyo Resort – we jumped in a car and took off. In the Palghar district of Maharshtra, its strategic location through a nearly 7km long isolated path of vegetation makes it an ideal hidden, yet accessible gem.

Trek to the highest point at SGNP, Mumbai

Like human version of sardines squashed in a can, Mumbai’s crowded streets are overflowing to the brim. The high-rises far outnumber the trees, or so it appears. And while forced interactions on streets, chosen communications in person or frivolous contact via social media may lead us to believe we’re connected, loneliness isn’t too far even in this age of over-communication.

Solitude, on the other hand, is far more difficult to achieve as we solder on in our desperate attempt to be more, achieve more and feel more connected 24/7. But there are places in the city, certain experiences, that are just a car ride away—reminding you that walking the tightrope between loneliness and solitude – and disconnecting might be the best way to connect with the most important person in your life – you. And one of those places is Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai.

SGNP, Mumbai
The starting point of our trek at SGNP, Mumbai

The terrain: Formerly known as Borivali National Park, it is 104km large protected area in the northern part of Mumbai city. Being one of the major national parks existing within a metropolis (India’s most populous) limit makes it one of the most visited parks in the world. And 27 years after living in the city, I finally traipsed down there. Resplendent in flora and fauna, it’s home to Vihar and Tulsi Lake, more than 1,300 plant species, a range of reptiles, wild mammals that include hare, hyena, spotted deer, the lone sambar and even the infamous leopard while bird watchers can find everything from the Whitebellied Sea Eagles to the Paradise Flycatcher. That’s right, fellow Mumbai citizens, you don’t have to fly to Gir or Ranthambore to get a whiff of nature. Or trek to Kheerganga to get your juices flowing. All you have to do is find a trek, book said trek, book a guide and get on your merry way (early in the am if you’d like to miss the waterfall loving, transparent t-shirt wearing crowds).

SGNP, Mumbai
Heart shaped leaves seen on our trek at SGNP, Mumbai

The trek: While there are a number of trek routes within the park, we decided to aim for the top. A trek that went from the historic Kanheri Caves all the way to the highest point in the park. According to our enthusiastic guide Jagdish Vakale, (biology professor for 11th-12th graders, so much adept at dealing with teenagers with short attention spans and a propensity for silly questions, or 20-something year olds who refuse to grow up and spend the trek comparing hiking stick lengths) these Buddhist carved caves are allegedly the largest in the world to be carved out of a single block of stone. This group of caves and rock-cut monuments contain Buddhist sculptures and relief carvings, paintings and inscriptions, dating from the 1st century BCE to the 10th century CE. From the caves, the top is an easy 2hour walk uphill, where you’re likely to stumble upon all variety of spiders, anthills, birds, the odd monkey and a somewhat uneasy sense that no matter where you going you’re being watched by the predatory leopard. While a bit slippery in the rain, the clouds rolling in every few feet make the uphill walk easier. Once at the top, you climb a watchtower and marvel at the sublime view of the two lakes and the silent stillness of being surrounded by foliage while in the maximum city of Mumbai.

SGNP, Mumbai
A moment of solitude at SGNP, Mumbai

The taleteller: Trails can be found via the SGNP website, and guides can be booked via the NIC (Nature Information Center). Since we trekked in the monsoon, a busy period, we booked a guide in advance (recommended) and got lucky with Mr Vakale. A father who worked in the forest department meant he had fostered 26 cats, 6 owls, one cuckoo and a leopard cub named Krishna (who lived with them for a year and a half) that loved dairy milk chocolates and was petrified of one of the older cats. Vakale also spent a few years tracking leopards within the park, and spoke of the wild cats as a friendly neighbourhood puppy, trekked in slippers and mimicked bird calls so adeptly that the birds were fooled enough to reply. While Mumbai is well-known for its chaotic night life and endless range of city-related activities (monuments, heritage walks, bar crawls, the famed human-traffic), there is a whole new world closer to city limits — while from the second highest point you can still see high rises emerging from the clouds, if you turn your head to the other side, you’ll find endless skies and the kind of stillness that hills tucked far away from humanity offer up. A testimony, perhaps to Mumbai’s dichotomy – and the promise than no matter how well you think you know the city, if you let it – it will surprise you, and envelop you in that solitude you so desperately seek.

Fact file

  • Getting there: car, bus or train ride to Borivali
  • Kanheri Caves are a substantial walk up from the main gate (approx. 6km), so you can rent a car from the NIC office, catch a BEST bus or cycle your way up and down from the caves.
  • Summer isn’t ideal to trek in, as it gets terribly hot. The monsoon season (June-Sept) will give you misty clouds to trek in while Mumbai’s short, mild winter (Nov-Jan) is ideal to trek in
  • Make sure to carry a change of clothes, a rain-cover for your bag and be prepared for no phone coverage for most of the trek
  • The NIC organises nature trails, bird-watching excursions, butterfly watch, treks and overnight camps led by experts, so reach out to them in advance to select a trek. Book a week in advance – approximate rates are INR 300/person

This article is part of our series on Mumbai. Follow the link to read on our winter visitors: the flamingos

Bird watching in Bombay: the fort of the flamingos

I like getting drunk over the weekend like any other self-respecting corporate slave that’s usually attached to her desk. But my Grab Your Globe alter-ego basically can’t sit still – and that makes settling for knocking back brunch-time margaritas, every Sunday, difficult. Even when I’m stuck in the city, I’m itching to “do things”  – beyond bar nights and book clubs, flying all the way to flamingos.

And that’s how I agreed to wake up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning (hungover) to chase certain long-legged blushing hotties. Yep, I’m talking about the flamingos that live in the mud flats of Sewri. And if they can fly over 600km to get to their winter home, I could wake up pre-sunrise to meet the flaming feathers, right?