City Guide

Four hours in Mumbai 2007

23 Aug 2007 by business traveller

1 - Jain Temple

Jain Temple, Walkeshwar Road, Malabar Hill, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Formerly known as Bombay, the Indian city of Mumbai has a population of around 18 million people and is the home of Bollywood.

Start your journey at the highest point in downtown Mumbai, Malabar Hill, where you will find the Jain temple. Jains believe every human is responsible for his or her actions, and all living beings have an eternal soul (jiva). They are totally against all violence, which means Jains
are strict vegetarians; some are even vegans.

Although Jains represent a very small section of the Indian population (less than one per cent), they are heavily involved in education and encourage their monks to study and improve themselves, and so are well known in Indian culture. The courtyard is a pleasant, shaded area, a quiet place to sit and contemplate inside the temple gates, with gold-painted tigers guarding the entrance. As you enter the temple you must leave your shoes outside, and there is also a sign which forbids women who are menstruating from entering. Photos, however, are permitted.

In the central chamber, there is a marble statue of one of the Jain prophets, and then, if you take the steep stone stairs up to the second level, you can walk around and look down on the people leaving rice offerings and praying. The walls are adorned with paintings and mirrors. You can then continue people-watching out on the balcony, which offers a good view of the busy streets from the shade of the stunning painted ceilings.

2 - Malabar Hill

Dungar Wadi Rd, Babulnath, Simla Nagar, Malabar Hill, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400006, India

A few minutes north of the temple on Malabar Hill, overlooking Back Bay and Chowpatty Beach, the Hanging Gardens are a popular place to have a stroll or eat lunch (but take an umbrella if you are there at midday as there is little shade from the sun). The gardens are well kept with gravel paths, but there are trees in the shape of animals and strange plastic penguin bins, which make for an odd mix. More interesting than the gardens, but not accessible, are the Towers of Silence. It is here that an old tradition continues an ancient practice in the modern world.

Malabar Hill is used by the Parsi, who dispose of their dead by leaving them on the hill to be eaten by the vultures. It is supposed to be the best way to cleanse the body on death, but recently, because there are fewer vultures around, the Parsis have had to resort to cremations. You cannot visit the towers (dokhmas), as only the dead are allowed in – apart from the pall bearers – but you can catch a glimpse of them over a high wall through the trees.

3 - Gandhi Museum

Mani Bhavan Mahatma Gandhi Museum mumbai

An excellent introduction to the eventful life of Gandhi, this small inauspicious house, just north of Chowpatty Beach, is where he lived with his family when in Mumbai between 1917 and 1934. The old building is filled with Gandhi’s books and writings. His bedroom is preserved behind glass, with a simple mattress on the floor, a wooden headrest and his weaving materials and machines – as he continued to support the cottage industries from his own home.

There is a wonderful display of Gandhi’s life with models and short English descriptions of each major event. It takes around 20 minutes to shuffle past each display but by the end you should have a clear grasp of what Gandhi means to India. One room has many of Gandhi’s letters on the walls, including one that is to Adolph Hitler. Gandhi is asking Hitler to forgive him for being so rude as to ask if he [Hitler] could treat people differently. Informative and well set out, this was by far the most enjoyable museum I have been to in a long time. Mani Bhavan can be found at 19 Laburnum Road and is open 9.30am-6pm daily. Entrance is by donation.

4 - Crawford Market

Crawford Market, Ramabai Ambedkar Marg, Dhobi Talao, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Further into central Mumbai is Crawford Market, an amazing old British building built in 1871 and designed by William Emerson (who is also responsible for the magnificent white marble Victoria Memorial in Kolkata). Over the entrance there is a stone relief carved by Rudyard Kipling’s father, which depicts market scenes. The market has 3,000 tonnes of fresh produce a day, including fresh fruit and vegetables, raw meat hanging in rows down busy aisles, herbs and spices, and tea. The vibrant colours and light spilling through the old building’s roof create some excellent photograph opportunities.

It’s also the perfect opportunity to get your hands on authentic Indian food. If you are interested in architecture, head over the road to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly the Victoria Terminus) – described as the most impressive example of British Gothic architecture in India. This is not a palace, it is a train station, and an extraordinary one at that. Designed by Frederick William Stevens and completed in 1888, it sees two million passengers a day. It has stained glass windows, vaulted ceilings, a dome, carvings and sculptures.

5 - Gateway of India

Gateway Of India Mumbai, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Completed in 1924, this huge gateway on the port side of south Mumbai commemorates the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. It was supposed to be the gateway for passengers arriving in India, but it actually ended up becoming a symbol of the British leaving India as the last British troops left from here in 1948. It’s a pleasant place to see the colourful fishing boats on the water and stroll up and down. The Gateway is right opposite the impressive Taj Hotel, which is a welcome relief from the heat if you want to pop inside for a cool drink.

Taj Mahal Mumbai

6 - Chowpatty Beach

Girgaon Chowpatty, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

What better way to end your day than a walk along Marine Parade in the early evening to Chowpatty beach, as the sun sets over the bay. Swimming is not advised (although I did see some boys having tremendous fun in the water), but the beach is clean and full of life, with food stalls, head massages and families enjoying a stroll.

Beach Mumbai
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