How to enjoy sights and sounds of Mumbai, at no cost all
Keep your eyes open and your wallet closed. We’re showing you a Mumbai you’ve never seen before. From crumbling facades, humble havelis of Kalbadevi-Bhuleshwar to viewing the city’s oldest Art Deco building at Sewri and spotting pretty pink flamingos from Sewri Fort, the city so much to offer and it’s absolutely free!brunch Updated: Jan 19, 2014 16:25 IST
Sunday is for coffee in bed, a late breakfast and curling up with a good book.
But today, we want you to break your boring regime and step out.
Why? Because Mumbai has much to do, much to see and much to talk about. And it doesn’t cost the earth either. In fact, it can cost NOTHING.
The city’s riches we covered here are all free. Pick the area you’re least familiar with, see our checklist alongside and get going. We promise a day of fun and a billfold untouched!
Bhuleshwar, the neighbourhood of crumbling facades, humble havelis, clusters of temples and urban labyrinths, is the perfect place to get lost in on a Sunday. The crowds are less harried, the sounds muted and the place just a smidgen less confusing. Little zones reveal their own history: Bhangwadi, the one with the massive elephant atop its entrance, is where the opium trade once flourished. Baroque, neo-Gothic and local Gujarati-style architecture all stand higgledy-piggledy through nukkad bazaars, chawls, shops and 100-odd temples.
Make your way from the south end of Kalbadevi Road, marked by the 95-year-old India Photo Studio (it’s walking distance from Marine Lines station). Its walls gleam with old portraits of Mumbai, monuments and institutions, all shot by the current owner’s grandfather. Browsing is free, but if you do want to spend money, a good way to do it would be to use the fake books and vintage camera as props for a studio shot of your own.
A little down Kalbadevi Road, the shops and restaurants will give way to the bright pink Dwarkadhish temple, one of Mumbai’s oldest haveli-style buildings. Play ‘spot the difference’ with the many stone carvings on the structure – the eight rishis at the entrance are each engaged in a different activity, while stone monkeys sit in brackets, and there are fruits, milkmaids and Krishna legends carved in stone.
The Mumbadevi temple, which gives Mumbai its name, is only a few steps ahead. Drop in, pay your respects and be sure to check out the rooster-perched Bahuchaar ma, the goddess of eunuchs, carved on the temple’s door as you leave.
Down in Bhuleshwar, stop at the blindingly white 115-year-old Suryanarayan temple at Suraj Wadi; its biggest attraction is an idol of the sun god, riding a chariot driven by a seven-headed horse. Nearby, at the extravagant Swaminarayan temple, the big draw (apart from the divine presence) are the three spires and dome.
Walk in any direction – you’ll pass more temples, flower markets and shrines. But find your way back to Bhuleshwar’s bazaars. At the Madhav Baug and CP tank markets, try to make sense of the paraphernalia on sale – they have handpainted ornaments, unusual jewellery, and even little clothes for all your Hindu gods.
The last stop of your Sunday pilgrimage is the nearby Panjarpole, a cow ashram, as perhaps the last of its kind in the city. Feed the cows – it will probably be your only expense in this vibrant neighbourhood.
These old neighbourhoods are actually a hub of diversity, with monuments, parks, museums and lots to do on Sunday.
If this is the stretch you pass (and curse) on your daily commute between town and the suburbs, stop here on your day off. The areas are traffic stoppers in more ways than one, and you have all the time in the world to stop and stare on Sunday.
For Worli, start early. Not just because it rhymes but because the Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji temple right at Worli Naka holds its prayer session between 6.30 and 7.30am. It’s a rare chance to see the bustling locality at peace. The Buddha idols, paintings, scriptures and the massive holy drum inside are a must see. We can’t promise nirvana, but you will definitely feel better. Don’t forget to talk to the friendly monk, Bhikshu Morita, the caretaker for the past 37 years (He hardly looks 37!). Staying true to his purpose in India, this monk walked the streets during the communal riots of 1992 with his drum, chanting – NaMu MyoHo RenGe Kyo – a message for peace.
When the mind’s been calmed, it time for the body to take over. Jog down the Worli Seaface like so many others till you pass Worli Dairy. Then, go up Worli Hill to find the Lal Bahadur Shastri Udyan. It’s the best place for a rest stop before you head to Dadar.
Past Siddhivinayak temple (drop in, if you can handle the crowds) and down Veer Savarkar Road, make your way to Chaitya Bhoomi at Dadar Chowpatty. This memorial to Dr Ambedkar, who did much to fight for the upliftment of India’s lower castes, is a quiet place for a stroll (or a quick post-lunch nap). But if you’re a couple, be warned – there’s a sign on a wall saying it’s a "Strictly Prohibited Area for couples". Twosomes, however, are free to walk along the seashore.
A short walk towards Shivaji Park is where you’ll find the Veer Baji Prabhu Udyan at Shivaji Park. Settle in for the evening, or if you still want to see the sights, head back to Worli. The Nehru Planetarium will let you enjoy an hour with the telescope for free at 7pm. See the stars and lose yourself in the heavens!
|Which Bandra are you familiar with? The one of Hill Road and Linking Road, with it’s shopping stalls and Bangkok-maal shops? The hip by-lanes with their organic cafes, expat stylists, film-star penthouses and creative types? Or the modest Catholic Bandra of churches, cottages, local buggers and seaside cemeteries? While you walk, listen to the sounds of 90.8FM, a community radio station from a local residents association. |
West of Bandra station, take a bus going down Hill Road to catch the last morning service at St Peter’s Church at 10am so you can check out the magnificent interior. Built of yellow Rajasthani stone, the church is designed in the Romanesque style. Two windows depict scenes from the life of St Stanislaus and the other stained-glass windows look splendid in the sunshine.
Back down Hill Road, keep a look out for the entrance to little Waroda Road on your right. It leads to one of Bandra’s oldest neighbourhoods: 400-year-old Ranwar village. Unlike the chaos just a street away, Ranwar is happily lazy. It’s conducive to a slow stroll, with views of single-storied cottages, tiled roofs, open balconies, public crosses to ward off the plague of the late 1890s, and at least one backyard garden with the sign ‘Beware of the dog’.
There’s also some cool graffiti on a few walls in the neighbourhood – a huge portrait of Madhubala, Rajnikanth holding a water gun, a nerdy Mona Lisa and then some. This cheerful street art is the product of a local group called the Wall Project.
Come back out to Hill Road, and make your way to St Stanislaus School. Why? Because the school’s 150th-anniversary celebrations include the opening of the Casale Museum, named after the former school principal and geologist. Escape the midday sun to see samples of ancient rocks (some have fossils on them), coins from over 90 countries (including one from 160 BC), different wood varieties and other curiosities.
Next up, a new view. Take a bus terminating at Fr Agnel Ashram, and walk up ahead passing the the Taj hotel to get to Bandra Fort. Castella de Aguada (the old Portuguese name, which means ‘castle by the sea’) is the vantage point from which to see just how high central Mumbai’s skyscrapers have risen and how magnificent its Sealink looks against Mahim bay and the skyline.
If not, see Bandra’s bookish side. Cut across to D’Monte Park Road to get to the Maharashtra Mitra Mandal or MCubed library (right next to the Bandra Gym) to browse through great books for kids and adults. But be warned: to borrow a book to take home, you’ll have to open your wallet (though the sums are nominal).
Need some action? It’s off to Carter Road, where Mumbai’s BMX riders practice along the promenade. Once you’ve had your fill of their thrills, walk on to the Ram Mandir side of Khar Danda to see the colourful boats moored by the edge of the sea. Wait for the fishermen to bring in the fresh catch. Or just watch the sunset.
The city’s east coast is the zone that built the city. This is the location of Mumbai’s famed harbour, the one that attracted the British and grew the city’s fortunes. Make a few quick stops to see the sights.
The historic Sewri Christian Cemetery on Jerbai Wadia Road is walking distance from Sewri station’s west exit. Roman Catholics and Protestants lie separately here, refusing to mix even in death. Look at the gravestones and you’ll find how several generations of a single family have come to rest in the same plot, the more wealthy in proper tombs. There are angels atop graves of children who saw so little of life. Gravestones also mark Mumbai milestones as the cemetery houses the graves of FW Stevens, who designed Victoria Terminus, and George Wittet, the architect of the Gateway of India. Italian prisoners of war are also buried in one section. Once a garden, this area was turned into a cemetery in 1865, after the plague epidemic in the last years of the 19th century.
Sewri station’s east side, however, is dominated by sandy lanes, petrochemical industrial units, the Sewri fort, and mud flats that attract birders and photographers. A few metres from the Colgate factory, near Messent Road, you’ll find your first pit stop: Sewri Fort. Landlocked on three sides, perched on a 60-metre cliff, and facing the creek, the fort served as a strategic watchtower for the British, a house for prisoners and a warehouse for the Bombay Port Trust. While on top, look out to the creek to spot pretty pink flamingos. Take lots of photos!
For a closer look, make your way through the grey and murky mudflats along the crude jetty road. The birds, upright with their batch or flapping wings to create a beautiful mosaic of white and pink, are a sight worth the dirty shoes.
On your way back, visit the dargah of Hazrat Jalal Shah and Murad Shah Baba on a nearby hill. Make the hike if you like – it’s fairly easy. The view of the sea, the mangroves and the mudflats (and the breeze) is breathtaking.
Come back to Sewri station and hop on to a CST-bound train. Before the next station arrives, you will see a magnificent beige and brown building to your left. It’s the city’s oldest Art Deco building, the Cotton Exchange Building of the Cotton Association of India. Built in 1924, it was the tallest building in the neighbourhood for decades.
And before the train chugs into Reay Road, on your left, another little-seen heritage treat awaits. You’ll spot a dome-shaped water fountain, a gift to the city from one Mr Lowji Megji, J.P., in memory of his daughter Kusumbala in 1924. Why is it relevant? Water fountains, though vandalised today, are very germane to Mumbai’s history. They were commissioned in England by wealthy Parsis and were donated to the working public.
Here, The concepts of ‘south Mumbai’, ‘suburbs’ and ‘downtown’ are pretty fluid. People bustle on, paying no heed to their west-coast neighbours, as they delight in local gardens, wide roads and better- planned neighbourhoods. Everyone is out on Sunday, which makes it great for people watching too.
Y ou may think you have seen all there is to see in this area, but give it a chance. A Sunday is the perfect time to linger at famous monuments and discover hidden gems.
Five minutes from Masjid station, on Samuel Street, is Mumbai’s oldest synagogue, Gate of Mercy. The six-pointed Star of David marks the entrance of this two-century-old Jewish temple, distinguishing it from the other buildings in the vicinity. Inside is a burning lamp, intricate wooden panels and the books of the holy Torah. The synagogue is best visited before 2pm.
Next, take the train to CST. Instead of rushing out as you would normally do, soak in the architecture. The second most photographed building in India (after the Taj Mahal), CST is emblematic of Bombay’s commercial success of the 19th century. Look for the lion on the left pillar of the entrance gate, which represents Britain; the tiger, on the right, represents India. The female figure on top of the central dome, holding a torch in her right hand and a spoked wheel in her left, symbolises progress. There’s also a peacock with outspread plumage on the façade, and the old ticket booking office is called the Star Chamber, because of the design on the ceiling.
Now, walk down DN Road to Flora Fountain. Usually, people are too intent on crossing this busy junction to stop and admire both the heritage fountain and the modern memorial to the matryrs of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, but they’re well worth stopping for. Where you’re standing is also where one of the gates to Bombay Fort stood, called Church Gate, which brings you to your next pit stop...
Walk towards Horniman Circle and stop at what used to be the city’s tallest structure. The city’s first Anglican church, St Thomas Cathedral [the church responsible for the name Churchgate], housed a Zero Point. It was a point inside the cathedral, from where all distances in Bombay were calculated, until it was shifted to the General Post Office in 1913.
The interior, with elaborately carved memorials and tablets, is as beautiful as the Neo Gothic and Neo Classical architecture of the building. You can attend the Holy Communion service here on Sundays at 8.45am.
Take your snack break at the next stop. As you munch away in the 141-year-old Horniman Circle garden, you can admire the view of the Asiatic Society, which is just across the road. Or you can walk along the pathways of this garden, which frequently hosts musical performances and plays.
By now, you’re probably sick of being in the sun. Step into the air-conditioned RBI Monetary Museum on PM Road and admire its impressive collection of ancient Indian money. This is the closest you can get near it without paying anything. Open 10.45am to 4.30pm.
Take a bus to Ballard Estate, north from Horniman Circle Garden. This (was and still) is one of the premier business districts of Mumbai, built between 1908 and 1914 by George Wittet to decongest the Fort area. Wander around old buildings like the Customs House and Port House and stop at the World War I memorial near Darabshaw House laid in memory of Port Trust soldiers. Ballard Estate is serenely quiet and rewarding on a Sunday.
Far away Bhayandar is still close enough for you to take in a green mini-vacation without really leaving the city. Plus, there’s a dose of spirituality in store too.
Santa Cruz-Juhu Andheri
Sure, sure, the western suburbs are just full of harrowed people, rickshaws that refuse to go anywhere and strange Bollywood types. But Sunday morning is the best time to see their softer side. The one that encompasses bungalows from a more relaxed age, an ancient hill, great art, a date with the divine and even some peacocks.
Start just off SV Road at Santa Cruz West, amidst the quiet cottages of the century-old Willingdon Colony. Take in as much as you can of the Portuguese-style architecture, the crucifixes on the front doors, the green backyards, the idols of Mother Mary at the windows and the sunny Vespas parked outside for a quick zip through the labyrinth of lanes. The area is soon to be razed to make room for concrete high rises, not a very comforting Sunday thought.
Happier times are in store at the next station, Vile Parle. Head to Juhu’s 10th Road, and look for the Mad Over Donuts store. Then, just follow the sounds of the peacocks! A pet enthusiast in the neighbourhood owns several birds, including our plumed dancing friends. They are known to roam around, park themselves appealingly on the road and use the neighbouring gardens like their sanctuary.
More action is in the vicinity. Pass Lokhandwala Circle and Chandan Cinema to reach the Iskcon temple, where the Krishna devotees hold a procession every weekend at about 5.30pm. They move from the temple to Juhu beach, singing bhajans and are happy for company. Skip, dance and prance with them to the beat: Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare!
Make Andheri your last stop. And Gilbert Hill, near Bhavan’s college your last triumph over the concrete jungle. Just over 200 feet (but still impressively tall) the 66-million-year old monolith has been damaged by quarrying, drilling and temple constructions at the top, but it’s still a sight to see – and see from. Take the stairs, take your time. It’s a tough ascent. But once you reach the top, the view of suburban Mumbai and the cool winter breeze will rejuvenate you. If you still have some energy after you’re done, perhaps a nice view of the sunset at Versova beach?
Illustrations by Siddhant Jumde
From HT Brunch, January 19
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First Published: Jan 17, 2014 22:42 IST