Vada Pavs, Shantaram, Aarey Milk Colony- and some hidden treasures from the crazy cosmopolis
Sometimes the best way to look at a place you know so well is with the impressions of an outsider looking in. Inundated as we’ve been with the same images of Mumbai on loop, Bombay Jules‘ descriptions of her temporary abode are delightful. What we love most about her columns is their refreshing candour- she doesn’t condescend nor extol the virtues of the place but instead chooses to immerse herself in all its experiences. And just like any self-respecting Mumbaiyya, there are parts of the city she likes, and others that she doesn’t like quite as much!
We’ll let her share these experiences with you here:
What is the absolutely first memory you have of Mumbai?
Within 20 minutes of getting out of the airport on my first visit to Mumbai, we had a car crash! We were in a queue of traffic and our driver had to stop very abruptly. Unfortunately the car behind us was not so quick to react and went into the back of us. Like a domino effect, several more cars and a truck crashed behind that car. Our driver got out to argue with the owner of the car behind us and then all of a sudden – they drove off! I was most surprised as in the UK, we would exchange names and addresses and insurance details so that we could claim compensation. But that didn’t happen – they just wanted to escape and not be liable for anything. Then we drove off leaving a trail of destruction behind us on the road. None of it was our driver’s fault but I did feel shocked about the whole situation! That was my first taster of how things can work in India
Your favourite place in Mumbai to explore on foot
Having explored many places in Mumbai, I have to say that my favourite place by foot is Aarey Milk Colony - especially first thing in the morning when whisps of sunlight shine through the trees casting lovely shadows on the farm buildings. It is like a little piece of England right here in the city (except for the heat that is!). As a keen amateur photographer I love to take snaps of the farmworkers and the cows and children. It really is very picturesque.
Your favourite building in Mumbai
My favourite building in Mumbai is the beautifully kept Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla. It is a fine example of colonial architecture and the collection inside is beautifully curated. Unfortunately, so many colonial era buildings and monuments are not kept as they should be in the city but I find that this building is still exactly as it should be (and litter free!).
Your favourite place in Mumbai to buy books
I just love to make book purchases at Kitab Khana in Fort (near Flora Fountain). Again, it has a colonial feel with its beautifully polished wooden bookcases and a peaceful library atmosphere pervades as you browse for chunky reference books, classic novels or contemporary Indian literature. There is even a little cafe at the back!
Your favourite art gallery in Mumbai
I have only been to one or two national art galleries in south Mumbai and I am afraid I wasn’t too impressed by them. I do not like the amateurish art that is usually on display (and for sale) at the Jehangir. Back home, our public art galleries do not sell art – they are a showcase for our national treasures. However, I did recently go to an excellent exhibition of contemporary classic Indian art at The Delhi Art Gallery in Kala Ghoda and I was blown away by the quality of the paintings. It was called ‘Mumbai Modern: Progressive Artist’s Group 1947-2013‘ and I learnt a lot about some famous contemporary Indian artists. Again it was all for sale – but of course, I was too frightened to ask about the prices!
The places you’d recommend to someone who’s stayed in Mumbai all their lives and likely not seen
I am always completely amazed by the number of Mumbaikars who contact me through my blog to give thanks that I have informed them about places in Mumbai that they never knew about! Aarey Milk Colony would be one of the places I would recommend (as mentioned above) but I would also tell them to see the Flamingo migration at Sewri between February and April. Bandra-ites should go and check out the street art of Ranwar (Waroda Road). Also – and I find this is a bit controversial with locals – I would recommend people do the Reality Gives tour of Dharavi. It is fascinating and overrides peoples’ perceptions about what goes on the in the slums. Dharavi in fact generates $650m income a year from commercial activities. People should go and see how over 80% of Mumbai inhabitants actually live! (And all proceeds go back to funding community projects in Dharavi)
Your favourite trail for a run/morning walk in Mumbai
Apart from Aarey Milk Coloney which you have to take a hour’s drive to you can forget this! I detest exercise and I find that it is almost impossible to go anywhere without spraining your ankle on Mumbai’s badly constructed pavements. I also recently adopted a street dog and it has been challenging to find a nice walk where you are not attacked by other street dogs. Leafy Nargis Dutt Road is just about do-able and Carter Road/Joggers park I hear is a good place for joggers. It is one thing I miss most about the UK – the ability to walk anywhere unhindered and I miss our lovely green countryside for day long rambles.
Some of your favourite food haunts
I love Soam near Chowpatty and Swati Snacks in Tardeo for trying out classic Mumbai streetfood in a safe environment. My husband and I are also big fans of Pali Bhavan in Pali Naka, Bandra – with its beautiful interior and excellent curries which appeal to the Western palate. For western style food, the best executed dishes are to be found at The Table in Colaba. Truly excellent! We often eat at Royal China for its authentic and beautifully cooked Cantonese dishes and Dim Sum. Our favourite take-out places are Caravan Serai for North Indian curries and again, Royal China for Chinese. I am a big fan of Sushi but haven’t yet found a really good place to eat it – although Shiro isn’t bad.
Your favourite place to grab a cup of coffee/tea in Mumbai
I am not a coffee snob but I was quite pleased when Starbucks came to Mumbai. I also pick up the odd cappuccino takeout from Costa Coffee in Pali Naka. Tea is best made by my husband – he brings me a cup at 8am every morning before he goes to work!
Your favourite book with Mumbai as a back drop
I loved Shantaram(although a cliche!) – I really could picture life in the slums through his eyes but I was repulsed by the description of his stint in Arthur Road jail…especially the toilet part!
The best place in Mumbai to see with a young child/toddler
We don’t have children so I can’t answer this well. But I know from a friend who has a toddler that it can be challenging to go anywhere in this city – as children are not well catered for. I imagine a morning at Malabar Hanging Gardens could be quite pleasant – and you could let your child go up the giant boot there!
And finally a question all non-Mumbaiwallahs wonder about Mumbai. Have you had any exciting (or even not-so-exciting) celebrity sightings/encounters while you’ve been here
I think I am the most clueless expat there is when it comes to Indian celebrities. I would not recognise one if they came up and slapped me in the face! Apparently I sat right next to Shoba De in Serafina one time. I also walked right past a Bollywood couple in Pali Village Cafe recently without realising who they were (still can’t remember their names!). I have also been stuck in traffic behind Sachin Tendulkar in his Nissan GT-R. I recently saw the whole Indian cricket team walk through Nagpur airport – including MS Dhoni. When I went to Jodhpur with friends, we tried to crash Akshay Kumar’s party at Umaid Bhavan. But we were unsuccessful (just as well, as I don’t have a clue who he is either!). (Editors Note: Bombay Jules is not lying!! She referred to him as Akash Kumar in the first draft. Maybe Ranveer Singh will help change her mind??)
All images from Bombay Jules’ blog