For a first-time visitor, the sheer size of Mumbai can be intimidating. However, since so many universes coexist in every suburb of the city, it is always possible to find your own niche here. Which is why in part one of our definitive newbie's guide to exploring Mumbai, we looked at the heritage institutions and the classic landmarks of Mumbai. For the second instalment of this guide to the city maximum, we look at a mix of hip up-and-comers and perennial tourist favourites, along with sections on eating out and shopping—help yourself.
Horniman Circle Gardens
Horniman Circle Gardens were once the location of the old Bombay Green, a vast open space in front of the Town Hall. It was used as a meeting point for cotton traders, and bales of cotton were transported from here to the docks and shipped out.
Following the demolition of British fortifications in the 1860s, urban improvement and planning of new districts became a priority. Among the first projects undertaken was the restructuring of Bombay Green between 1869 and 1872. The area between two landmarks, the Town Hall and St Thomas’ Cathedral, was laid out as a circular public garden with a fountain at the centre.
Forming two elegant crescents on either side of this garden came four Neo-Classic buildings designed by James Scott. Completed in 1873, these buildings share identical curving façades with continuous pedestrian arcades and decorative terracotta keystones from England. Representing the city’s first planned business district, it was named Elphinstone Circle. Post-Independence, it was re-christened in honour of Benjamin Guy Horniman, former editor of the Bombay Chronicle and supporter of India’s freedom movement.
Original street furniture still used in the garden include the wrought-iron fencing stands, and the ornamental gates with handsome street lamps. A modern iron sculpture stands in place of the fountain, within the central water feature. Horniman Circle Gardens, maintained by the Tatas, also provides a beautiful setting for open-air performances and cultural events, such as the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.
This dargah is amongst Mumbai’s most important places of worship, connected to another – the Mahalaxmi Temple – by a small path that goes into the sea, accessible only at low tide. Built in 1431 or thereabouts, it is the tomb of Haji Ali, a merchant who renounced his wealth before setting off for Haj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Legend says he died on the pilgrimage and his casket was found floating near the isles of Mumbai, where the dargah now stands.
Cross the long causeway and enter the marble courtyard. Offer a chadar at the silver-framed tomb, supported by ornate marble pillars on which are engraved the 99 names of Allah. Haji Ali’s picturesque location has a certain romance attached to it; jutting out to sea, its face turned towards Mecca, the mosque is highly revered. Over the years, it has been known to have fulfilled the wishes of the numerous devotees who come here in large numbers.
St Thomas Cathedral
This Anglican church, which gives Churchgate Station its name, stands opposite Horniman Circle Gardens. Churchgate was the station that terminated outside the Fort gate closest to St Thomas Church, a gate whose location is now occupied by Flora Fountain. The church took four decades to build, with work starting in 1672 and the main structure completed in 1718, with cow dung floors.
In 1816 it was dedicated to St Thomas, and in 1838, the tower and clock were added and it was declared a Cathedral. The chancel was built in 1863. The church became the centre of the British ruled city of Bombay, and was the point from where distances in the city were measured. The church also serves as a museum of Indo-British history, making it an unmissable monument for seekers of this city’s heritage.
It houses a chalice gifted by Gerald Aungier, the city’s third governor, and memorials honouring Col John Campbell for his successful engagement against Tipu Sultan. Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Readymoney dedicated the church’s fountain. St Thomas still sees an influx of visitors. Crowds of all faiths turn up here at Christmas to see the beautiful displays and decorations.
Mount Mary Church, Bandra
On 8 September, all roads in Mumbai lead to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount, simply known as Mount Mary. Established by converted Kolis, made accessible and rebuilt by Parsis, worshipped by all, Our Lady of the Mount is the most miraculous testimony of Mumbai’s secular character.
Legend claims the statue of Our Lady was fished out of the sea by Koli fishermen in 1556, who installed her in a thatched hut chapel in the Portuguese Castella de Aguada Fort at Land’s End, Bandra, and worshipped her as the mother of the seas. In 1640, the Portuguese upgraded the structure to the Nossa Senhora de Monte Church, but it remained relatively obscure, since it was accessible only by a small pathway from Bandra fort.
Few ruins of the fort remain today, but the chapel has become greater and grander and towers over all it surveys. When pirates attacked the church in the 1700s, they chopped the right hand of the statue of Mary, mistaking the painted wooden spectre for gold. The arm was restored in 1761, this time, holding baby Jesus.
A famous story of the church's eminence is as such. After the demise of his infant daughters, famous Parsi philanthropist Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy and his wife vowed at the church, in 1833, that if a daughter of theirs lived beyond seven years, he’d build a causeway at Mahim. In 1834, Pirojbai was born. When she lived beyond the desired age, her father kept his word. And thus came into being the Mount Mary Steps going up the eastern side of the hill, and Mahim Causeway, both to ease the pilgrim’s passage and built on the condition that pilgrims would be charged no toll.
Later, the church was also upgraded by a Parsi, Shapoorjee Chandbhoy, and consecrated on 11 May, 1902. The present crown that lies on Mother Mary’s head was personally sent by Pope Paul VI from the Vatican in 1970.
Stretching from Nariman Point to Malabar Hill in the north, Marine Drive (Netaji Subhash Chandra Road) is Mumbai’s iconic thoroughfare. This 4.3 km long boulevard runs parallel to a wide sea facing avenue, and is the link between Mumbai’s suburbs and prime commercial areas. At night, when the street lights illuminate the entire semi-circular stretch, it resembles a glittering string of pearls and thus is aptly called the “Queen’s Necklace”.
Most of the buildings lining the drive flaunt an Art Deco flavour, which became very popular in Bombay in the 1930s and '40s and is now is UNESCO World Heritage Site. The avenue by the sea is a favourite haunt of Mumbai citizens, who flock here for their morning and evening walks, or just come here with their families to sit on the parapets and enjoy a sectacular view of the sea.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Nature enthusiasts must not miss a trip to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), squeezed between Mumbai and Thane, the only national park in the world that falls within the municipal limits of a metropolis. Read our detailed guide to this haven of biodiversity to find out more.
Mumbai offers some of the best shopping in India. From fish to fashion, bread to books, attar to auto parts, murabbas to matkas, everything can be found within the precincts of its bazaars.
Cuffe Parade, Colaba
On the opposite side of Colaba from Sassoon Dock is the Cuffe Parade stretch. Near the Taj President Hotel is Maker Arcade, among the first shopping centres in Mumbai, which continues to offer a wide range of cosmetics, confectionary, designer clothes and shops selling knickknacks. The World Trade Centre just a little ahead houses several state emporia that display the range of hand-crafted fabrics, carpets, brassware, papier-mâché trays and bowls. WTC also hosts exhibitions all year round, including Comic Con, Gift Expo, travel and festival exhibitions, especially during Diwali.
Colaba Causeway, Colaba
Heading north from Sassoon Dock, Colaba’s famous tourist shopping avenue, Colaba Causeway, opens up before you. The major shopping stretch lies between Apollo Bunder and Regal Cinema, with many boutiques on the lanes leading off the causeway. Home to everything from top fashion labels to cheap junk jewellery, Colaba Causeway is a great place to strike bargains, window shop, or just take in the heritage sites around one of Mumbai’s defining streets.
The Lower Parel Strip starting from Raghuvanshi Mills to Kamla Mills is simply the hippest place in Central Mumbai to shop, eat, watch a movie or just hang out. This stretch is known for both apparel shopping and home decor. The High Street PhoenixPalladium Complex with entertainment from bowling to gaming, a massive Hamley’s store, an eight-screen multiplex and an excellent clutch of restaurants, has become the place where Mumbaikers go to hang out. Some of the apparel stores here include Marks & Spencer, Provogue, Wrangler, Levi’s, FCUK, Black Soul, Ed Hardy, Zara, Emporio Armani and DKNY.
Mumbai’s eternally popular address for high fashion on a really low budget, Fashion Street or FS owes its success to the coming together of a few hawkers selling export reject clothes and shoes in the late 1980s, and broke collegians looking for good deals. Today, the hawkers have graduated into makeshift shop owners and the collegians are still coming.
The latest trends in jeans, skirts, tops, T-shirts, capris, jackets, shoes – you name it and Fashion Street has it at bargain rates. It is expected that you will start bargaining at half the quoted price. At festive times such as Navratri, you’ll also find ghaghra cholis and other traditional outfits here.
On the edge of Cross Maidan along MG Road, opposite Bombay Gymkhana
You can't come to Mumbai and not savour the bun maska and chai at its famous Irani cafes. The aroma of filter coffee in Matunga’s Cafe Madras to the piping hot Sindhi kadhi in Ulhasnagar, the financial capital has got it all.
Among the local legends, you have the deified vada pav at Vaidya’s, outside Dadar Station, Colaba’s Bade Miyan for non-vegetarian rolls, Shiv Sagar at Juhu or the Bollywood wannabe-favourite Urban Tadka at Andheri West. Unmissable institutions – all on Colaba Causeway – include Café Leopold, overflowing with foreign tourists; Café Mondegar, with Mario Miranda on the walls and a jukebox as famous as the draught beer; and Olympia, an old joint for inexpensive, authentic Chilla Muslim fare.
Apoorva, near Horniman Circle, is great for Mangalorean seafood. For lip-smacking neer dosa and crab, there’s Mahesh Lunch Home, Fort. Trishna Restaurant at Kala Ghoda serves great crab. Swati Snacks in Tardeo is the place for excellent Gujarati fare. Their panki chatni is great, the methi roti with peru shak is outstanding, and their fada ni khichadi is very popular. Britannia, a lovely, old-fashioned Parsi eatery in Ballard Estate, has delicious berry pulao and caramel custard. Jimmy Boy, off Horniman Circle, also serves Parsi cuisine. Paradise at Colaba Causeway serves Parsi, Chinese and Continental cuisine.
Indigo near the Gateway of India and Indigo Deli at Apollo Bunder offer varied Continental choices in lovely surroundings. Try Theobroma’s bakery products in Colaba Causeway; Moshe’s Café, Kala Ghoda and Ideal Corner, Fort; and drop in at the open-air café at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu for Irish coffee and brownies.