No matter how much you write about Mumbai, the city takes you by surprise each day. Every day is eventful in Mumbai or its new counterpart Navi Mumbai. The city is a dream for array of people ranging from hard labourers to celebrities to gangsters to artists to servants to fisher folks to millionaires to stray dogs and exotic birds as well. You will find every element in Mumbai – a prolific film industry, Asia’s biggest slum, largest tropical forest, financial powerhouse, and fashion capital.
The city has so evolved that they have their own language – Bambaiyya Hindi, which is a mix of Hindi, English, Marathi, and it goes on. You need to know certain lingo thoroughly before approaching a local here. You may believe you are celebrating or weeping or getting frustrated alone. But Mumbai knows it all. It is aware of all your emotions. It sometimes, celebrates or weeps or lifts your mood when angry. Here is how –
Local trains: It is the heartbeat of Mumbai. Travelling by local trains here is an art that you master eventually, especially if you are a first-timer. Before learning about how things work inside the local train, you should know about the different railway lines. There are four railway lines that interconnects the different regions of Mumbai – Western Line (Virar-Churchgate and vice versa), Central Line (Kasara-CSMT and vice versa), Harbour Line (Panvel-CSMT and vice versa), and Trans-Harbour Line (Thane-Vashi and vice versa).
Every railway line have some instructions after getting inside the local train. You need to adhere to them, else be prepared for a verbal spat. This verbal spat rarely turns to a physical clash and the surrounding people consider it rather a fun event. Some local train journeys are fun. You become part of a group, especially if you travel at particular time every day. These groups celebrate your birthdays and festivals, and listen to your patiently when in distress. Soon you will have a new WhatsApp group called ‘Train Friends.’ Other times, local train journey is also a ‘me time’ – reading books, enjoying some music, or taking a short nap.
Yes, everything happens inside a local train! Train travellers are fearless at times. Why so? They take the train during heavy downpour, they are aware of some overhead bridges being wonky and yet, millions stomp over them every day, or wait for hours despite knowing the trains are late.
Being touristy: I remember in one of my Instragam posts during World Tourism Day, I mentioned how much fun it is to be a tourist in your city. After living in Mumbai for 29 years, this place still makes me feel like a tourist. Be it the suburbs or central or South Mumbai or Navi Mumbai, every region has its charm. There is something new to look up to every day. My personal favourite spot in Mumbai is South Mumbai, not because it is closer to the Arabian Sea but because Mumbai made home amidst the ruins of the British architecture. There are travel groups that conduct heritage walk on weekends early morning in South Mumbai. It is when the roads are empty and you walk as a free bird.
The charm of South Mumbai is unmatched be it the famous Victoria Terminus or Horniman Circle or Fort or Kala Ghoda or the famous Wankhede Stadium or Nariman Point or Azad Maidan. You also have some age-old restaurants, cafes, and movie theaters that make you come back to this part of the city.
The other part of Mumbai where you can get all touristy is the Parsi colonies. The Parsi community, originally from Iran, is said to have created Bombay as it is today. Besides, they have also given Mumbai some iconic buildings that adorn the streets. The Five Gardens is what I looked past for years but saw it closely during their New Year called Navroze.
Festivals: Considering there are people of every caste and religion living in Mumbai, all festivals are celebrated with pompous. One of the festivals that sees entire Mumbai city coming together is Ganesh Chaturthi. Some of the famous pandals like Lalbaugh, GSB, Andhericha Raja, Parelcha Raja, begin their preparations for the next year as soon as the 10-day festival comes to an end. Dusshehra is also the festival where Mumbai’s bongs throng the pandals. Diwali is another intense festival in Mumbai. The Festival of Lights is a time for positivism and joy. You can view the entire city lit up from the Chowpatty Beach or Marine Drive. Festivals like Ramzan and Bakr Eid are also celebrated at a large scale.
Religious places: Be it in good times or bad, one place where people seek solace is the religious places. Some of the prominent religious spots in Mumbai are Siddhivinayak Mandir, Mahalaxmi Temple, Haji Ali Dargah, Mahim Church, and Mount Mary. Tuesdays are auspicious for Siddhivinayak, Friday’s are Jummah Mubarak for the Muslims, Mahim Church on Wednesdays, and Mount Mary is particularly famous during the Mount Mary fair which takes place every year around September or October.
Traffic: A recent study in Times of India revealed that the motorists in Mumbai face the worst traffic jam, not only from the city perspective but also at an international level. In the financial capital, people spend 65 per cent longer time on the roads during peak hours on an average than when the roads are free. The peak hours are typically in the mornings and evenings, i.e. when people commute for work. Mumbaikars have found solution to this as well. Nowadays, thanks to the assistance from Mumbai Police on Twitter, the traffic woes get resolved instantly.
Weather: Mumbai have literally learnt the art of weathering the storm, sun, and winters (oh, that does not exists in Mumbai). While people wait for the monsoons after a sultry summer, an extended one is what brings the city to a halt. Sometimes, floods force you to stay indoors. The July 26, 2005 rains tested Mumbai’s patience. Three days the city witnessed no electricity, no network connection, and every local transport stood still. People returned home on trucks the next day while others returned from their workplace and schools only after the flood receded. The spirit of Mumbai was lauded as those indoors, reached out to the ones stuck around their area and provided them food, from day to night. It still gets appreciated, thanks to the unusual weather.
Then you have sky porn, the weather beaming with joy and spreading happiness around. Makes you want to drop everything and dance with the clouds.
Food: Mumbai and food go hand-in-hand. The food ranges from street food to high-end multi-cuisine. You head to a Muhammad Ali road and you will find authentic Muslim and Turkish food items all day long. On the eve of Ramadan, they are open till 4 AM. Heading straight to Khau Galli in Ghatkopar and Mulund, you will find array of Maggie recipes, wada pav, varied types of sandwiches, etc. A food connoisseur should head to South Mumbai for trying restaurants and cafes such as Bademiyan for some awesome biryani, Cafe Mondegar and Leopold for burgers and Chinese food, Cafe Excelsior for their egg items, Haji Ali juice centre for their yummylicious falooda, Delhi Darbar for Indian meals, Cafe Noorani, Kyani and Co for its Kheema Pav, Britannia for some excellent Irani tea.
Come to the suburbs like Andheri, Bandra, Vile Parle, Khar, Santacruz, and Juhu, you will mostly find high-end restaurants as well as affordable cafes offering multi-cuisines (Italian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, and American). Even central Mumbai (Lower Parel, Shivaji Park, Dadar) has become a prominent spot for lunch and dinner scenes, right from fine-dining to affordable lounges.
Navi Mumbai: One of the areas that is slowly and steadily matching the standards of Mumbai is Navi Mumbai. You can find all the restaurants, cafes, malls, and soon an international airport, as you would find in Mumbai. Navi Mumbai too is closer to the Arabian Sea and also near to holiday spots within Maharashtra such as Lonavala, Khandala, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Pune, and Nashik. A road drive from Navi Mumbai to these places is what makes holidays worthwhile. Navi Mumbai also has awesome road connectivity taking you to places like Thane, Mulund, suburbs such as Bhayandar, Mira Road, Dahisar, Borivali, Kandivali, in a span of two hours.
Anyone would be a fool if they do not mention Marine Drive while writing about Mumbai. For me Marine Drive is a place where I find all my answers by just listening to the waves splashing the rocks. I find calmness with the warm wind in my hair. The sea, I believe, is the final piece of every Mumbaikars puzzled life.
So, when you visit Mumbai for a long-haul, give yourself time to soak in these facets. Appreciate its lilting cadences, its harmony of excess and restraint. Sit back, develop the equanimity, and dance to the tunes of Mumbai.