Sometimes I feel that Mumbai is famous for all the wrong reasons. There's much more to the city than Bollywood or Marine Drive or the overcrowded railway system and the seashore at Marine Drive. Also, as someone who has spent all her life in India's most populous city, I can vouch for the fact that not every nook in Mumbai is defined by squalor and trash-strewn beaches. Here are five new reasons to visit Mumbai and none of them involve lurking outside Shah Rukh's home for a glimpse.
1. Secret green pockets
Mumbai and greenery aren't all that oxymoronic. The city may not yet have a garden of Hyde Park standards but it still has the lush Aarey Colony at Goregaon, the inconspicuous Maharashtra Nature Park at Sion and the vast Sanjay Gandhi National Park at Borivali. At Aarey Colony, you can walk down tree-rimmed lanes, have a picnic at the quiet gardens, go paddle boating at the lake and pay a visit to the Aarey milk plant. Maharashtra Nature Park is best visited in the morning when you will be privy to several species of beautiful birds and butterflies. Sanjay Gandhi National Park is home to the marvellously hewn Kanheri Caves, tiger safari and woodsy walking trails.
2. Stand-up comedy gigs and karaoke nights
Credit: Jason Lam
People who say there's nothing to do in Mumbai apart from watching movies and going shopping don't know the first thing about the city. Be on the lookout for cultural festivals and theme nights at pubs and cafes in Bandra, Andheri and South Mumbai. You can spend an interesting evening attending a Tall Tales storytelling session (Kitab Mahal, Fort), a bold stand-up comedy act at Canvas Laugh Factory (Lower Parel) or a karaoke night at Three Wise Men (Santa Cruz). Many popular bookstores cum cafes such as Kitab Khana at Fort and Title Waves at Bandra have poetry readings and travel meet-ups where you will encounter an eclectic crowd.
3. Caves and forts trail
The city's rich and varied history is evident in various caves and forts that deserve to be explored. You can take a ferry to Elephanta Island from Gateway of India and discover the caves which are actually part of an ancient cave temple complex dedicated to Lord Shiva. Kanheri Caves at Borivali are a collection of awe-inspiring rock-cut Buddhist monuments. Also worth a visit are the Buddhist Mahakali Caves in Andheri. The most famous fort in Mumbai is Castella de Aguada, better known as Bandra Fort. Located at Land's End, it was built by the Portuguese in 1640 as a watchtower overlooking Mahim Bay, the Arabian Sea and the southern island of Mahim. Other forts with interesting architecture are the ones at Worli, Sion, Mahim and Madh Island.
4. Surprises in South Mumbai
South Mumbai is already every tourist's darling, what with its striking Victorian architecture and stately museums, churches and art galleries. But there are things to do apart from visiting the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalay, David Sassoon Library and the Jehangir Art Gallery. Venture deep into the entrails of Malabar Hill and Walkeshwar and lose yourself in the network of alleys surrounding Banganga Tank and Walkeshwar Temple. Later, relive the childhood rhyme 'There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe' at Kamala Nehru Park, home to a giant sized shoe and railings that offer glorious views of the city. Phirozeshah Mehta Garden or Hanging Garden is a mellower garden with beautiful landscapes that come alive at dusk.
5. Speciality restaurants for every budget
Food is a great reason to visit Mumbai but on your next trip here, give the usual vada pavs and pav bhajis a miss and try the city's quirky speciality restaurants. From the atmospheric North Indian and Mughlai restaurant Jyran to the stylish French café Artisan (both at Bandra Kurla Complex), Mumbai's restaurateurs have created spaces that are wonderful amalgamations of great food, eclectic interiors and innovative concepts. Bar Stock Exchange, The Village, Rainforest, Irish House and Diva Maharashtracha are some well-known restaurants whose names are quite self-explanatory. Masala Library at Bandra is a unique restaurant based on molecular gastronomy.
Where to stay: Sofitel at Bandra Kurla Complex is great among the five star hotels and centrally located. Or go for The Abode, a quaint three-star boutique hotel at Colaba.
When to visit: Mumbai is most pleasant between October and March. But if you can battle it out in the rains, monsoon is a great time for excursions.
Getting around: The local trains are cheap and tolerable during off-peak hours. You can also try the metro line which runs from Ghatkopar to Versova. Other alternatives are buses, cabs and autos.
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