With sandy toes, salty air and spicy food- Mumbai will make any quirky romantic feel right at home.
I wrote this article a couple of months back for ‘The College Tourist’ but I also wanted to share it here with my readers. So here it is!
Reputed for being a city of melodious chaos and unfulfilled dreams, Mumbai- the financial capital of India, is a spectacular mixture of traditional methods and modern viewpoints. A confusing maze where you will see eunuchs brushing shoulders with corporate officials in the crowded trains and grown men in tailored Armani suits turn into excited children when playing cricket- Mumbai offers a variety of unique memories. If you don’t want to be one of those unfortunate tourists who visit the city hoping to unravel the inner workings of the everyday Indian life but only get to witness the city superficially, here is a list of the 10 things you must do in Mumbai in order to experience the local culture.
Watch a cricket match at Wankhede Stadium
There are a number of sports stadium’s in Mumbai but Wankhede is considered ‘the Holy Land’ because international legends have scored runs and deadly pacers have took wickets in the mystical mud of Wankhede. It is the home stadium of ‘Mumbai Indians’, Mumbai’s team in the Indian Premier League and holds a reverent spot in the heart of any dedicated Mumbaikar. Even if you don’t enjoy the sport or are ignorant about the rules, attend a match for the unprecedented enthusiasm of the crowd.
Attend Christmas Mass at Mount Mary Church
In Mumbai, you will find everyone from a Buddhist Monk silently crossing the road to noisy Hindus loudly chanting the name of a Goddess while obstructing the traffic. There is a church on every street in Western Mumbai as most of the Christian population is concentrated there but Mount Mary’s is considered the holiest. If you are not able to make it on Christmas, visit the church any other time and the quaint beauty will not disappoint. If you go a little before lunch time (1 pm) you can have the whole church to yourself and spend enough time admiring the paintings on the wall and the breath-taking architecture.
Eat the road-side food
Sorry to all the health-conscious people who frowned at me, but you are missing out on the mouth-watering variety of food the streets of Mumbai offer. Not all road-side stalls are unhygenic but all of them have ridiculously yummy food. Trying a hot ‘vada pav’ with chutney (a mixture of potatoes fried golden brown), a ‘cutting- chai’ (a small glass of tea), ’gola’ (an ice-lolly mostly sold near beaches) and ‘butta’ (roasted corn) is mandatory.
Go for a drive on the Sea-Link in the rain
Mumbai has a passionate love affair with monsoons, they are an integral part of the books we lose ourself in, the movies that we remember and the music we listen to on our way to and from work. Rain defines everything, decideds everything. Therefore if you want to experience rain like a local go for a long drive on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, stick your head out of the black and yellow taxi cab and witness the magic unfolding before your eyes. You can see the entire city of Mumbai from this bridge and with your car at 80 kmph, the rapid wind in your hair and the sweet raindrops on your lips- I swear in that moment you will certainly be ‘infinite’.
Read any book based on Indian mythology
It is extremely difficult to read the original Ramayana, Mahabharata or Bhagvat Gita for someone who did not have an Indian upbringing but you can still immerse yourself in the religious culture by reading books by Indian authors based on these legendary Sanskrit epics. Read books by Amish Tripathi, Anand Neelakantan and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni as their writings are a modern re-telling of stories told to Indian children at bedtime but are mesmerizing and bound to intrigue readers of all ages. Ruskin Bond (my personal favorite), Jhumpa Lahiri and Shobha De also write books with an Indian backgrounds and have celebrity status in India.
Eat at Leopold Cafe
Although this is not where the locals hang-out (it is usually crowded by tourists and foreigners living in Mumbai), this is a fantastic place to enjoy the mouth-watering delicacies of the city alongside a can of beer. They provide tasty local food as well as a range of inter-continental dishes. If you get tired of eating the spicy, oily street food- come here to eat something familiar and interact with people from around the world.
Visit a Ganesh Temple during ‘Ganesh Utsav’
The city prepares itself like a bride gets ready for her wedding to welcome Lord Ganesha- the remover of all obstacles into the homes of Mumbaikars. This son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati is the city’s favorite deity as a staggering range of mouth-watering sweets are prepared in every house-hold. The idol is made of mud but is treated with great devotion and reverence- like a divine guest and for 10 days the city bathes itself in Ganesha’s admiration. On the last day of ‘Visarjan’ thousands take to the street to bid farewell to their beloved Ganpati and immerse the idols in the sea at Girgaum Chowpatty. This is the one time of the year when people of Mumbai forget their pain and worry and immerse themselves wholeheartedly in worship of the Elephant God.
Take a ferry ride at the Gateway of India
The most local way of celebrating New Year’s Eve is to head to the ‘Gateway of India’- a historic building that marks the place from which the British entered India and take a ferry ride. There are a number of other historic buildings such as the enormous Taj Mahal Hotel, the Prince of Wales Museum and the stunning white British Library in the vicinity. Grab a seat on the deck of the ferry, head into the endless Arabian Sea and welcome the New Year with spectacular fireworks and new dreams.
Participate in the Holi celebrations
The festival of Holi which is usually in the month of March signifies the purification of the atmosphere by burning stacks of wood and grass in a triangular form representing negative energy. There are many mythological stories associated with this tradition but one ritual that is still carried out after thousand of years is covering each other in colour and water the day after. On this day all the school, colleges and offices are closed as people of all ages smeared in sticky colour and drenched in water capture the streets and throw water-balloons at friends and strangers alike.
Visit Marine Drive
There is always that one spot in every city than every local has a fond memory of and in Mumbai’s case it’s the curved coast-line called ‘Marine Drive’. This is the place where eyes meet, poems are written, letters are exchanged, lips are tasted, jealousies are expressed and hearts are broken. People usually come here with their families, closest friends or significant others but even if you go alone (like me) you will always have the melodious waves and mysteries beyond the sea for company. This place will encourage you to question your purpose and seek the truth, it is responsible for pulling out the innermost poets and philosophers hidden deep underneath the stressed locals stuck in a rut.
With endless opportunities to discover something new everyday, whether it’s a finger-licking dish that reminds you of your childhood, a local graffiti artist who hates the government or a side of your personality that you weren’t aware of, Mumbai is the place for anyone who values freedom, knowledge and harmony above all.
Have you ever been to Mumbai? Would you like to visit our magical city? Tweet me your experience or expectations here. If you like this article read my other works at ‘The College Tourist Website’ here.