Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is the capital of Maharashtra. // © 2013 Thinkstock
Mumbai is India’s most populated metropolis, filled with far too many attractions to fit into a single visit. On my recent trip through the state of Maharashtra, I had less than 24 hours to cram in the highlights of the city formerly known as Bombay. What follows are my top picks for those who find themselves short on time — not curiosity.
Spice It Up
Follow your nose to the Crawford Market, where the scent of nag champa incense mixes with dried coriander, garlic and curry. The market occupies a historic colonial building and is named after the first Municipal Commissioner of the city, Arthur Crawford. Locals come here to buy everything from ripe Alphonso mangos and masala curry spice to children’s toys and household pets.
Be the Change
Learn about the man behind the message at the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum, a private-residence-turned-museum that celebrates the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi. The two-story home served as Gandhi’s Mumbai residence from 1917 to 1934. During this time, Gandhi initiated the Non-Cooperation Movement as well as the Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi and Khilafat movements. Visitors can see Gandhi’s room and work place — which has been preserved as close to its original setting as possible — his trademark Charkha (spinning wheel) and the terrace where Gandhi was arrested on Jan. 4, 1932. There is also a library featuring approximately 40,000 books and periodicals about Gandhi and Gandhism.
Lunch at Leopold’s
If these walls could talk, they would never shut up. Established in 1871, Leopold Cafe has gone through many incarnations, from a meeting place for gangsters and a seedy backpacker’s hangout to the setting of the 2003 cult novel, “Shantaram.” The cafe was hit by the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008 but famously reopened four days later as a sign of the city’s resilience. Come to this mainstay in the Colaba neighborhood to sip a Kingfisher beer from the tap, scope out other world travelers and browse its dizzying menu of Indian, Continental and Chinese cuisine.
Chances are that if you have stayed in a hotel in Mumbai in the last century, you have slept on sheets washed at the Dhobi Ghat. This open-air laundry facility is the largest in the country and is still the go-to laundry depot for many of Mumbai’s hotels and hospitals. Remarkably, the Dhobi Ghat does not use electricity, meaning that there are no laundry machines or dryers in sight — just rows of concrete wash pens and multicolored sheets hanging on clothing lines for as far as the eye can see. The Dhobi Ghat employs approximately 600 Dhobis (male washers), who can be seen whacking wet clothes against flogging stones or even taking a cool dip in a wash pen.
A Rosy Outlook
Giraffes, lions and camels live together in harmony at the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai — well, sort of. On the terraced grounds, visitors will find dozens of topiary animals, a gorgeous rose garden and all manner of plants living on top of a 30-million-gallon reservoir, which feeds the city’s water supply. Right before sunset, head to the Kamala Nehru Park for spectacular views of Marine Drive and the Arabian Sea.