Mumbai is unlike any place I’ve ever visited! It’s such a busy, bustling city crammed full of people, cars (and even animals) everywhere you look. The way people drive is … interesting to say the least and it’s definitely a 24 hour city that never sleeps. Although there are buses and trains (and they are building a Metro), for tourists, it’s one of those cities that’s not that easy to navigate on your own.
Sure, you can hire a driver who will drive you wherever you want to go – and we did that one Sunday – but you won’t get any of the history. So we decided to do two tours that we booked through our hotel so that we could soak up as much of the history and culture as we could. The first was a half-day tour ‘Mumbai like a local’ and the second was a full-day tour ‘Mumbai by day’.
The ‘Mumbai like a local’ tour matches you with a student tour guide who shows you the hustle and bustle of Mumbai as locals see it every day. You even take local transport – something you don’t see many tourists doing.
We met our guide, Salman, at the Gateway of India, which is a very important historical monument. It was built in the 1920s to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay (what Mumbai used to be called). It was built by British architect George Wittet and was opened to the general public in 1924.
The Gateway to India is across the road from another significant building, the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which opened in 1903 – before the Gateway of India. It was built by Jamshedji Tata and was the first building in Bombay to be lit by electricity. It has hosted royalty and dignitaries from around the world and the hotel itself provides tours if you’re interested in seeing it and learning more about its history.
From here, we walked all around the British Heritage District where Salman pointed out significant buildings, such as the Prince of Wales Museum (now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya), Bombay University, the High Court and more.
We then hopped on a local bus to take us to Mani Bhavan, the house where Gandhi lived and which is now a museum. It’s quite small and can easily be done in 30 minutes or less. As Gandhi spent so many years in South Africa, it was particularly interesting to me.
After visiting the museum we had lunch at Swati Snacks, where we asked Salman to choose the dishes for us. My favourite was the panipuri – a common street snack, which was delicious!
After lunch we walked through Bhaji Gully, which is a small vegetable market. It was only one street long but there were so many stalls selling different vegetables, pulses and one was dedicated entirely to garlic!
The market was close to a train station where we hopped on a local train to see Dhobi Ghat, which is Mumbai’s unique open air laundry system. To me it didn’t look that big but Salman told us that 5,000 men lived and worked in the Dhobi Ghat, which was mind boggling!
The men wash and then hang up the clothes, sheets etc using a unique rope system that doesn’t use any pegs. They can even dye material too. It looked like a hard job – particularly in the heat.
We then hopped in a taxi to go to Mumbai’s busiest train station – Victoria Terminus (now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus). It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its outstanding Victorian Gothic Revival architectural style, which mixes themes from traditional Indian architecture.
It was built in 1878 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria – hence being called Victoria Terminus (although it was renamed in 1996). It’s one of India’s busiest train stations and serves as a long-distance terminus, with two suburban lines. It featured in the 2008 film, Slumdog Millionaire.
We absolutely loved the tour and our guide, Salman, was fantastic. We booked it through our hotel but you can book them independently through Mumbai Magic. I’d really recommend booking a guided tour if you visit Mumbai – you won’t regret it.