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Mumbai: Attractions

Mumbai doesn't have the wealth of historical attractions of, say, Kolkata or Delhi. Rather, it is a city that revolves around its commerce, its manic pace, and the head-spinning energy exuded by the millions of diverse people who have settled here. This is a city you experience rather than sightsee, and sampling from the fantastic restaurants described later in the chapter should be highest on your must-do list. That said, Mumbai does have a few attractions you should make time for; and be sure to set aside time to explore at least part of the Colaba/Fort area, described below, on foot -- do this at the beginning of the day before the heat becomes suffocating. Another good area to explore on foot is the Marine Drive/Chowpatty Beach stretch, possibly after a boat trip to Elephanta Island. Finally, you may wish to visit Malabar Hill, also in the South Mumbai area and home to two top attractions , as well as the Hanging Gardens (also known as Ferozeshah Mehta Gardens). Laid out in the early 1880s, the terraced park at the top of Malabar Hill covers (or "hangs over") the city's main water reservoir, but unfortunately it fails to live up to its spectacular-sounding name. The best reason to visit here is to wander over to Kamala Nehru Park (across the road from the Hanging Gardens), from where you have a great view of Nariman Point's skyscrapers and the sumptuous curve of Marine Drive.

My Bombay/Mumbai -- All of Mumbai's contrasts and paradoxes are characterized for me on a trip to the Banganga Tank at Walkeshwar. There's a ring of old temples, and with it, houses where people whose families have served as priests for these temples for generations live. Residents still perform priestly rituals in the morning and then go off to their computer jobs, returning in the evening to be priests once again. Standing on the steps of the Banganga Tank, I look up and see skyscrapers that represent some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and alongside them, shanties. For me, this encapsulates the Bombay story.

I like to walk around The Oval (maidan, in downtown Mumbai) for another kind of contrast. On one side you have beautiful neo-Gothic buildings that look as if they've been transplanted from another continent, albeit with typically Indian flourishes and intricate carvings. Walk over to the other side of this huge field and you see Art Deco buildings from the 1930s and '40s with nautical and tropical motifs, again embodying a distinctive Bombay quality. Only Miami has something close to this. Within the downtown center is this great maidan (field) where the cricket training academy has groomed some of India's best cricketers. And on Sunday, besides the numerous cricket matches, you can come and watch a group of Nigerians descend here to play a game of football. Chor Bazaar and the adjoining Mohammedali Road with their shops is another great place I like to wander. Chor Bazaar in particular is filled with a jumble of interesting things, and you can snag some good vintage finds -- furniture, posters, coins, records -- or just window shop and laugh at some of the ridiculously naȹve copies of old objects and artifacts. -- by Naresh Fernandes, Editor, Time Out Mumbai. As told to Niloufer Venkatraman.

Exploring Colaba & Fort

If you're at all inspired by Gothic Victorian architecture, then a jaunt through Mumbai's older districts is essential. Most tours kick off at the Gateway of India , but a more authentic place to start, given Mumbai's origins, is Sassoon Docks (aka the Fisherman's Market; daily 4am-noon except in the monsoon when weather dictates whether trawlers go out or not), which lies just south of the Gateway, off Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg (near Colaba Bus Station). Most of the delicious seafood dishes in the city's finest establishments start out here, where Koli women in rainbow-colored saris whip the shells off prawns while others gut and sort fish. Get here early (5am), when the boats return with their first catch, for the vibrant, communal spirit as baskets full of fish are moved around the dock through various stages of processing. It makes for absorbing viewing.

From here, catch a cab or walk to the Gateway, possibly stopping for a refresher at the Taj Mahal Hotel, situated directly opposite. From here it's a 15-minute walk north to Fort, Mumbai's cultural center, where you will find the superb Prince of Wales Museum , nearby Jehangir Art Gallery, and the National Gallery of Modern Art, as well as a host of Raj-era Gothic architectural highlights. From the museum you can either head north along M. Gandhi Road to Flora Fountain, hub of downtown Mumbai, or travel southwest down the famous Colaba Causeway.

Surrounded by colonial buildings that testify to the solid architecture of a bygone era, Flora Fountain has, since 1960, had to compete for attention with a Martyrs' Memorial that honors those who died in the creation of the state of Maharashtra. As you head toward the fountain, take in the impressive High Court building (which overlooks the Oval Maidan [also called The Oval], where aspiring cricketers practice their paces), the neoclassical Army & Navy Building, and the 78m (256-ft.) Rajabai Clock Tower, which towers over the Mumbai University complex. East of the fountain lies Horniman Circle, where you will find the Town Hall, a regal colonnaded building with original parquet wood floors, wrought-iron loggias, spiral staircases, and marble statues of leaders associated with Mumbai's history. The major drawing card here is the Asiatic Society Library, which has a collection of around 800,000 valuable texts. You can join the seniors and students who fill the library's popular reading room to peruse local newspapers and check out the public book collection, but you'll need special permission if you're interested in looking at some of the priceless treasures.

Also facing Horniman Circle is the late-19th-century Gothic Venetian Elphinstone Building and, opposite it, on Veer Nariman Road, St. Thomas's Cathedral, thought to be the oldest colonial structure in Mumbai. (Note that if you head west along Veer Nariman Rd., lined with restaurants, you will come to Marine Dr.) St. Thomas's Cathedral is a stark contrast to the pink and blue neoclassical Kenneth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai's oldest and loveliest Sephardic synagogue, located off K. Dubash Marg, on Forbes Street. North of Flora Fountain, up Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Road, is the Art Deco-style Parsi fire temple, Watcha Agiary. Built in 1881, it features carvings in a distinctly Assyrian style.

If you prefer shopping (albeit of a tourist-trap nature) to architecture, opt for the famous Causeway (now officially renamed Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg, though, thankfully, no one refers to it as such). Budget travelers have long been drawn to this vibrant street, but in recent years Colaba and its side streets have begun to slip into an increasingly urbane and upmarket second skin. Hip bars, swinging clubs, and tasteful restaurants are drawing the smart crowd. Anything and everything seems to be available from the hawkers on Colaba's sidewalks and back alleys, whether it's fruit, cheap cigarettes, currency, or hashish. Shop in exclusive boutiques or rummage through heaps of cheap trinkets sold on the sidewalks, where you can bargain for everything from imitation perfume to piles of cheap, tasteless T-shirts, all the while avoiding the advances of streetwise beggars and con artists sporting half-moon smiles and incongruous American accents.

Beyond the southernmost end of the Causeway (that's if you manage to get this far south before grabbing a taxi and heading for the peace of your hotel room!), in the restricted Navy Nagar area, you will see the neo-Gothic Afghan Memorial Church of St. John the Evangelist. Dating back to 1858, it memorializes those who fell in the First Afghan War -- proof yet again of Mumbai's mosaic past.

Markets

Mumbai has more than 70 markets, and it's worthwhile to spend a couple of hours exploring at least one, not so much for the shopping as for the human spectacle of it all. Flowers are an intrinsic part of Indian culture, and Bhuleshwar Wholesale Flower Market (CP Tank Circle; dawn-noon) is the best place in the city to witness the Indian romance with color and fragrance. Note that according to Hindu beliefs, if you touch or sniff the flowers, you'll ruin them -- so don't. Chor Bazaar (Thieves' Market) (Mutton St., off Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rd.; Sat-Thurs 11am-7pm) conjures up Arabian Nights' cloak-and-dagger intrigue and visions of precious rings sold with the finger of the former owner still attached, but in reality this is a fun place to rummage through an extravagant assortment of antiques, fakes, and junk and get into the rhythm of that favorite Indian pastime: bargaining.

If you visit only one market, make it Crawford Market (Lokmanya Tilak Marg and Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Rd.; Mon-Sat 11:30am-8pm), Mumbai's quintessential fresh-produce shopping experience, now officially known as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market. Dating back to the 1860s, it combines the traditional Indian bazaar experience with both Norman and Flemish architecture. (Note: Above the main entrance is a bas-relief frieze designed by Rudyard Kipling's father.) Admire the colorful pyramids of heavenly mangoes and ripe bananas, but steer clear of the disturbing pet stalls.

Clothing is one of Mumbai's major exports, and at Fashion Street (Mahatma Gandhi Rd., across the road from Bombay Gymkhana), a motley collection of shops and stalls, you will pay a fraction of the prices asked in foreign stores. Much of what is here is surplus stock; other garments have been rejected by quality controllers. Start your haggling at under half the quoted price.

Taxi drivers get nervous when you tell them you want to visit Zaveri Bazaar (jewelry market) (Sheik Memon St.; Mon-Sat 11am-7pm). You'll soon discover why. Shoppers and space-fillers shuffle and push their ways endlessly through narrow gaps in this cluttered, heaving market, and it's often impossible to inch forward by car -- or even on foot. Behind the street stalls and milling masses, glittering jewels are sold from family shops. If the glitzy accessories don't fascinate you, perhaps you'll be drawn to packed Mumbadevi Temple, where the city's namesake deity is housed. Activity around the temple is chaotic, with devotees splurging to prove their devotion to the powerful goddess.

Catch a Bollywood Blockbuster

You can't say you've properly done the biggest film-producing city on earth if you haven't gone to the cinema to catch a blockbuster, or tried to. Listings are found in daily newspapers, where you can also determine quality and even figure out the storyline by reading reviews written by contenders for the world's bitchiest critic; alternatively, ask your hotel concierge for recommendations. Of course, you can always get completely into the swing of things by picking up a copy of one of Bollywood's gossip magazines. Filmfare and Stardust not only fill you in on what's hot or what's not, but are crammed with glossy, airbrushed close-ups of silver-screen idols. Even though the growth of multiplexes has killed virtually all the old cinema houses, some still offer historic Art Deco appeal. Get tickets to watch a film at the once wonderful but now run-down Eros Cinema (opposite Churchgate Station; tel. 022/2282-2335) or lovely Liberty Cinema (tel. 022/2203-1196, a short walk from Eros, near Bombay Hospital), where upper-stall (at Liberty) or dress-circle (at Eros) tickets (the best in the house) still cost under Rs 100 ($2/ţ1). Besides the Bollywood melodrama, you get to admire the wonderful Art Deco interiors, with majestic high ceilings, white cedar and teak paneling, '60s-style soda fountain, magnificent huge etched mirrors on the stairwells, mock fountains, and old movie posters.

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