I recently started reading ‘Shantaram’, Gregory David Roberts’ masterpiece about his time in Mumbai, and I fell in love with the city all over again. It took the author almost 100 pages to describe his first hours in the city and while reading you can feel the intense humid heat, hear the noises of honking horns and smell the dirt of the gritty streets. Mumbai is a place of extremes: you can meet the very rich of the Indian Subcontinent, a stones throw away from this would lie dirt and poor slums of the not so lucky ones. The beautiful architecture, it’s fascinating diversity, the intense weather conditions and the mouthwatering food options…..Mumbai has taken a firm place on my personal top 5 list of favorite cities.
Bandra is our new ‘favorite’ neighborhood
Since my first visit in the 80’s until recent visits, I have always had a pleasant time visiting this immense city. Having been here a couple of times, I have already covered a lot of the city. Last year, we had been to Mumbai on two occasions. During the first one, we mainly focused on the older part of Mumbai: the Fort area, Colaba and the area around Marine Drive. Recently, we had spent some time in Bandra. This upmarket area has a much more historical presence than one would expect, and we loved wondering around here. I don’t get excited by looking at the gate of Shah Rukh Khan’s residence, but the invisible presence of a lot of Bollywood actors certainly contributes to some extra excitement.
Top ten of the must visit-places in Mumbai: just walk around
We’ve had some senior managers over in India and they wanted to spend some time in Mumbai, asking me for some tips. I’ve advised them to spend some time at Colaba and the Fort Area. They also came up with the Dhobi Ghats, which is also a must visit place in Mumbai, especially if you’re a first-timer. If one has some more time, it’s pretty easy to expand the areas and to visit neighboring places. However, my advice is not focus too much on a checklist of highlights as you will then miss the regular street life. Take enough water with you and just walk. This is the ideal way of exploring the city.
Things to do on your second or third visit: consider going to Crawford Market
Have you already been to Mumbai? Thought you’ve seen it all? You probably haven’t and it’s easy to create a list of potential must-visit places during follow-up visits. There is an area in South-Mumbai which is on my list and I have been going back there during multiple visits; Crawford Market.
Visiting markets is fun
I like markets. The vibrant atmosphere, the noisy sellers, the fresh produce…..Wandering around in a market feels like being in the center of the traditional economic heart of a city. You will see the principles of supply and demand in action just in front of you. Various methodes that were initiated decades ago are being used as long as there are people on this planet. I have been exploring markets all over the world, reaching from Mexico to the Philippines and from Morocco to Oman and there are some similarities and many differences. Customers are treated the same in markets all over the world: everyone in the market is equal, your social status – unless you are a king or a famous rockstar – will not help you to get any extra service. And some of the tricks are also the same; buy two products and get a third item for free is an almost universal pricing mechanism that is being used in almost every corner of the world. Living in India gives me the opportunity to visit some great markets. Pune has some very attractive markets, like Tulsi Baug or Shivaji Market in Camp.
Mumbai’s fish wholesale market; a gritty place
However, if you want to visit some ‘serious’ markets, you need to take the train (bus or car) to Mumbai. As mentioned earlier, I’ve visited the economic center of India during previous trips so there was no reason for me to start with a Mumbai must see-list – the Gateway of India, The Dabbawallas, the Dobhi Ghats, Elephanta Island – but to directly explore some of the more unspoilt parts of the city. We went to the very south end of Colaba, where we visited Mumbai’s fish wholesale market, an uninspiring gritty place where you can see hundreds of woman day laborers that clean shrimp under unhygienic conditions.
Crawford Market; an introduction
We headed to Crawford Market, an area that is a definitely a must-see attraction for food- and market fetishists. Its setting is a huge labyrinth of small streets where sellers display their goods. Walking around will give you a real Indian flavor and it’s easy to get lost; the busy crowds prevent one from walking in a firm pace and every sub-area has its own special flavor, because a lot of similar shops or factories are centered around each other. There is a wood work area, a steel area and even a second hand goods area. One of the most gritty area’s is an auto dump, a huge area with discarded auto parts; oily men are working to remove all the valuable parts of lost or stolen cars, to end up with a skeleton-car that will be handled by a second group of sunseekers. They will remove the iron and other valuable materials, until the car finally ends up in the graveyard. A lot of stuff for your house, car or motor cycle is being sold in the Crawford Market area. Name a product and it is more than likely to be possibility for one to find it here.