Mumbai is a religion. South Bombay (SoBo) is a sacred prayer for its aficionados and loyalists for it adds zing to lives, adorning the city like sweet and pure desi ghee. I bring the second part of SoBo, narrating places for its larger than life character and appeal that never stops growing on us. South Mumbai is an obsession, right from shopping like crazy at Colaba to trawling for novelty at VT, cozying at Churchgate, gliding through Peddar Road or Kemps Corner and the trilled notes of waves at Chowpatty Beach. The dock of life just never stops in Mumbai and more so in our SoBo. It’s an obsession that never halts. It forms such a potent character in our lives and jaunty existence. We may carp about pot holes but we love the city to death.
There is no second thought about it: Colaba is one, if not, the most frequented place in South Mumbai where people living in the western part or outskirts of the city make it a point to throng in droves every single day or week. You name it, you get it! It’s a haven for everything where you haggle among the swarm of crowd at the Colaba Causeway for a steal.
It’s the destination where branded shops snuggle with street hawkers who haven’t left any space left or stone unturned to give wind to their imaginations. Fake Gucci bags, chains, fancy wrist watch with decorations or cover, perfect imitation of designer shirts or tees, lockets or bracelets where you can scribble the name of the special someone, colourful bangles in all hues and size, wristband, clocks, beads, fancy bells, lamps, goggles, unique toys, belts, bracelets, handcraft made elephants and Goddesses and Kohlapuri chappals for women. The list is endless.
It’s the place to shop ‘cheaply’ for your favorite items as you are transported in a fancy world and lanes of the extraordinary and magnificent items to cherish over time. Your eyes and mouth want to scoop up everything as if it’s the last plate of yum biryani. Strolling leisurely at the Causeway and shopping for small items was one of my favorite activities where I would visit Colaba every two days to whine time or gape at everything ‘marvellous’. It feels like an invisibly mysterious force that sucks you inside some Chamber of Secret. I remember bagging my prized toy, the iconic black, and white taxi for 70 bucks after much haggling.
There is no dearth of eateries such as Picadilly, Cafe Churchill, New Apollo or Sahakari Bhandar that serves one of the best vegetarian foods, be it Pulao, Biryani or Pav Bhaji. One of my best places for breakfast was Olympia to gorge on the caramel custard and flavored cake, decorated in various colors, green, yellow, Orange, and pink coated with cream exuding a flavor of exquisite ice cream. I call it the cheap man breakfast served with amazing Indian chai or coffee. Of course, bread and Kheema are always something to die for. It’s delectable.
In the mood for yummy and mouth-watering non-veg food at an affordable price, Baghdadi which is behind Colaba Causeway and minutes away from Gateway of India and the grand Taj Mahal Hotel is the place to be. Beef and mutton fry masala were priced between 25 to 30 bucks in those days with a jumbo naan worth 5 bucks that fill the stomach to perfection. Of course, Bade Miyan serves a multitude of legendary food such as Seekh Kabab, Mutton Seekh roll, and Chicken Reshmi Tikka. The tables are set and spread on the bustling street as you relish your food with cars zooming behind you. It’s truly a jewel in South Mumbai.
There are so much to do and see in South Mumbai, stretching your legs at length wading past Regal cinema and entering the world of Colaba Causeway where you can spot small jewelry shop. Believe it or not, once I landed myself a decent room for 100 bucks in 2004/05. The room was enough to move luggage, legs and sleep with two beds, a small table, and chair. It’s no shady place but was quite cozy which translates the spirit of Mumbai finding expressing and giving an identity in cramped space showing seamless happiness.
Waltzing at the Gateway of India for the first time becomes an enthralling affair where you set on a path of discovery and indulge in a squinting exercise. It’s marvelous, the deep water at the bridge, admiring the boats on all four sides and taking a walk where visitors and couples strike a pose. Be wary of photographers who hound you and pressing for money in advance for hunting them may be quite a task. Not quite so in today’s times where everyone has a smartphone with camera. Monsoon is one of the best times to visit Gateway of India and the waves crashing and water splashing behind your back as you stand with your back firmly entrenched to the bridge propel you to jump or feel the cold waves with the wind blowing in your direction. One of my favorite past time was to bend my body on the bridge and watch the deep water, spritzing walk, the caress of the sea waves, breeze, and water accompanying me as a protective force. The Taj Hotel is one of the city’s monuments and an architectural marvel that your eyes doesn’t want to leave since it’s a tale of glittery gold. I enjoyed walking in the concrete pathway where Taj is housed, admiring the branded shops on the ground floor and the marbles where the bricks are done with an aesthetic taste that makes it a blissful moment in life.
Drinking in Colaba and clubbing finds echo the spirit with much-frequented places like Leopold, catching a cricket or football match at Sports Express Bar and guzzling beer at Cafe Monde. Of course, Gokul is always a cheap option but worth visiting in a lifetime.
One of my best places at Colaba is Barista off Hanuman Mandir. You can reach there either by walking through the Gateway and Taj Pathway or on the main road at Colaba Cause where you take a left just after the Hanuman Mandir. It’s quite big and spacious. There are two sides to the coffee bar, one is the AC room and the other compartment gives a colonial ambience since it’s an open-air shelter made of mortar bricks and spacious with wooden structure where you can enjoy your thick cappuccino, smoke and watch the traffic swirling outside with the cars and buses screeching their way. In short, it’s cozy, comfortable and super friendly.
2. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST)
Originally and famous as Victoria Terminus, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) is one of the biggest central railways in SoBo for the Central Lines and translates into the culture enshrined by Mumbaikars. Trains are our lifelines chugged to thrust us on our feet. Every single day, 6.3 lakhs commuters travel on the iconic station that was built in 1887 and bearing the imprint of British architects Frederick William Stevens and Axel Heig. The Gothic structure and the huge clock make it a very thematic and aesthetic marvel that finds its way among the gems in South Mumbai. It has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage which is never shy in attracting tourists in drove.
The iconic station was earlier named Bori Bunder before it was christened VT and now CST, has two main lines, one is local Central Railway and the second is, Indian railway traveling from one destination in India to the other. The booking counter for traveling outside Mumbai is enshrined in a large, spacious and amazingly done Gothic structure adorned with huge steel pillars. The window and dome structure is crafted in a half circle, circumference form coupled with dotted and shiny window structure which bears its signature design, owing to the Raj era. The booking is super efficient with the token system as you sit and admire the delightful structures and in no time, the job is done. At night, the station shines in iridescent colorful lighting that sparkles in all corners and forms where the place becomes truly alive.
The CST area is one place which is no short on entertainment, be it the nonveg food on the street stalls, cheap restaurants and semi-luxury or comfort for foodies. You name it, you get! There was a small, dingy non-veg place as one get out of CST station and scything past the bus terminus which was the place to be for me. It’s a small and cramped place but bearing a homely feeling where the mutton curry or Biryani was available during those times for 15 bucks.
Taking a detour, the bus terminus at CST was always a favorite for the fruit salad, Bombay sandwich, bananas, Vada Pav for cheap and the delectable taste quenched the hunger raging in the growling stomach.
Off you walk past CST towards the JJ school of Arts which is one of the landmarks to your right and keep walking at a stretch and sweating it out in the heat, you come face-to-face with the Maharashtra Police Department which is not far away from Crawford Market. It’s another iconic and colonial building made of brick in the hustle-bustle of city life. There is more to the entire sprawling space when I had a chance to zoom my way inside to see the numerous police chowki and police quarters. Trust me, you can zigzag and lose your way if you don’t ask for directions from the cops stationed inside their vans. There are the north and south wings, grand entrance floor where the panel teak ceiling will grab your attention. It’s called the nerve centre where major decisions and planning are taken to ensure Mumbaikars sleep peacefully at night and the city breath.
Time to get a peek into the crowded and popular Crawford Market nestled between CST station and the Mohamed Ali Road. The market was built during the British Raj and has been renamed Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandi but is still apparently known by its iconic name. The market has a charm of both the old and new world, boasting of its old colonial structure, cone building that reminds one of the traditional Bombay at a time where every city is losing its spark to the new, superficial structure and every old legacy is being razed off. The Crawford Market stands tall as you enter the world of birds, parrots, fresh fruits, imported chocolates, cosmetics, dry food, spices and goodies, garments and every imaginable thing under one single roof where you will never be tired of shopping and visiting. It brings to the mind the ubiquitous charm and simplicity of the old Bombay days at Mohammed Ali Road.
Everything vintage Bombay is sprawled in this part of the city merging branded and small, modest shops, old flats in the buildings dating back to ages. Taking a ride on JJ Fly is a wondrous trip snuggled between the old, decrepit buildings and apartments. Of course, Eid is one festival where this part of the city sparkle with the best food, deserts, and delicacies cooked spicy hot on the streets, restaurants serving unique dishes and shopping for garments, kurtas and salwar. The uniquely amazing crowd throng during Eid showcases the cosmopolitan culture of Mumbai. Tootle your way below the JJ flyover and you are chaperoned by a line-up of hotels and restaurants where you should absolutely try the Chicken Sanju Baba at Noor Mohammadi Hotel on Mohammed Ali Road. The recipe was given by superstar Sanjay Dutt who visited the place late at night and entered the kitchen to concoct this amazing dish.
Of course, CST boasts of several cinema theaters right from Sterling, New Excelsior, and New Empire. One of my favorite hang-out was at Barista which is minutes away from Mc Donald and New Empire Theatre where I was a regular almost every day sitting with the gang outside, having coffee, chatting and smoking.
3. Chowpatty Beach
Girgaum Chaupati our famous Chowpatty beach off Marine lines is one of the biggest city attractions with the crystal clear white sand and various food outlets, Vada Pav, Pav Bhaji, Pani Puri, Bombay Sandwich, Masala Dosa, Bhel Puri, Papdi Chaat steamily cooked right in front of your eyes and the Bombay Falooda or Gola sipping at the beach. It takes the Mumbai spirit to a whole new level. The beach always teems with children running and prancing, lovers stealing a silent intimate moment at dawn to watch the magnificent sunset. There are balloon sellers set to make a killing to the children’s delight and you can sit on the beach and plod the naked feet watching the waves crash. It celebrates the spirit of Mumbai in all its forms and colors.
There are numerous coffee shops such as CCD opposite to the beach, popular branded shops such as Levis but also Wilson College just opposite the sea. As you walk towards the beach, you can spot the restaurant owned by actor Sunil Shetty H20 and of the course, the beach is walking distance from Nariman Point and Marine Drive which makes for good 20 to 25 minutes exercise. But, you also get the BEST buses from Marine Drive that ferries passengers to Chowpatty beach. Of course, the Taraporewala Aquarium and the Savitri Phule Girls Hostel are very near to the beach and keep walking off Girgaun Chowpatty, there is a sea of discovery that awaits you. One of the best place to visit is during the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi to witness how Mumbaikar come together, singing Ganpati Bappa Morya and immersing the idols of Ganpati in the sea.
Whether it’s the Marine Line flyover where vehicles storm the way in a rush as you make your way to Bombay Hospital or Liberty cinema at Marine Line or Inox Metro, it gives a feel of life moving at blistering pace.
There are a couple of landmarks very near to Chowpatty and one of them is Walkeshwar Road which you can reach by turning right after Wilson Collge and keep driving. There are several interesting spots such as Walkeshwar temple and the Hanging Gardens as well as St Elizabeth and Kemp Hospital. Aditya was one friend who stayed at Mumbai Central with whom I would initially stay in my earlier days and at night, he would drive me on his bike. The night drive is dazzling with the lights adorning the city. Of course, Dhobi Ghat which is the spot of washer men cannot be missed in the city to get a feel of the real Mumbai.
4.Kemps Corner, Nepansea Road and Cuffe Parade
The posh, high flyer and most expensive localities in the suburbs boast of city heavens like Kemps Corner, Peddar Road and Nepeansea Road that lie at the crossroad, offering breathing taking views. High-end shops, hair parlors, upmarket shopping outlets, banks, coffee shops frequented by the creamy crowd have found a place in the frame of filmmakers capturing the city to perfection on celluloid with the wide roads amid fanfare, frenzy, and chaos of a city life. Make no mistake, property prices of sea facing ostentatious flats and bungalows start above Rs 8 to 10 crores. The sloppy roads are a treat to walk in the monsoon and admiring the vehicles swarming their way and honking can blow your ears like splitting glasses.
It makes the city life a tale worth captured in your memory box. Of course, Cuffe Parade makes for a joyous outing to one’s aesthetic senses, appreciating everything grand and marvelous in an opulent fashion. It wouldn’t be ludicrous to state that Cuffe Parade bears the great divide in the city where on one hand you have the rich and famous snuggled in palatial sky rises and swearing by obnoxious wealth but on the other hand, slums dwellers of Ambedkar Nagar surviving on morsels and living in match box, which was partially demolished this year.
No wonder Mumbai is a city where folks crave for the extraordinary, opulent, simple and below ordinary in the same fashion. Elphinstone Road is your go getting place for everything electronic be it mobile, laptop or repairs. The world impossible simply doesn’t exist on Elphi and ask it, you get it.
Back to sashaying one’s way to Churchgate as promised and you can read the earlier post here. This part of the city has never ceased to fascinate and intrigue me at the same time, be it the fashion street for cheap stuff or Khau Galli off the station. Churchgate station has always remained a favorite spot which I made home eons ago for two years. It seemed like a life time. The Biryani sold outside Churchgate station for a measly 20 bucks, paperback books and the uncle who sells all of the wares from China, be it fancy gas lighter, scissors, newspapers, and magazines, imported cigarettes during those days-aha the Marlboro pack of ten from Malaysia. You will find him under the umbrella near LIC building. Take a walk towards Baroda Bank and there is this shop I call magic, Enkays with its fancy lighters, zippo and imported cigarettes were a luxury in those days off Dinshaw Vacha Road.
Of course, the guy making anda burji at night was the place to visit, and soothing drinks like Mango which was a favorite, rose or chikoo flowing in a huge container. Mango drink was always a favorite for me that soothed and cooled the heels in the hot summer.
Our real treat started past midnight outside Churchgate station gorging on the yummy bun maska and sipping hot tea. It’s one of the road stalls that concocts a delicious serving of bun maska at nightfall as we admired the city, right from the Rajabhai Tower at Fort when the clock struck and Bombay High Court or the last train siren at 1.40 a.m
Strolling around ITC and Ambassador Hotels off Marine Drive is always a pleasurable activity where we would be spending our time in the cafeteria past one in the morning and in those days, a coffee worth 70 bucks came with a refill, enough to keep our body and brain well oiled to study till the wee morning hours.
Discover a fancy world in Asiatic Department that has everything for you as your body temperature sizzles to the ac, flitting your steps from one place to the other, boasting of snobbery, simplicity and jazzy where you get everything in this ‘fairyland’. It was my feeling when I first entered this haven for the first time in 2002 which became my favorite that displayed home wares, spices, dry fruits, food, medicines, footwear, cards, flowers, memorabilia and anything your mind can ever imagine.