On the second day in Mumbai, we got up before sunrise to catch a glimpse of local life in Mumbai’s northern districts. To get the most out of our time, we booked an early morning city tour with our hotel – Abode Bombay. An experienced guide showed us some fascinating corners of the city.
Early morning on the markets
First, we stopped close to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, where the vendors sort newspapers written in all languages of Bombay. It is a bustling place already at 5:30 in the morning. Papers fly around, newspaper-trucks honk on their parking-spot search while vendors concentrate on the sorting process.
Afterwards, we headed for the markets close to the Dadar Station. We walked through the vegetable market (Dadar Sabji Mandi).
Observing the colours, the variety of vegetables, the rushing Mumbaikars with their friendly facial expressions is an overwhelming experience.
A couple of blocks down the street located directly at the Dadar Station, you’ll find Mumbai’s biggest wholesale flower market (Phool Gali Market).
People from all over Mumbai come here to get the most beautiful flowers for colourful décor, wedding festivities, religious celebrations and offerings. It’s crowded, vivid, yet welcoming atmosphere makes it heaven for city photographers.
We visited the markets with a local guide, but you can visit on your own. We never felt unsafe. However, it was a lot easier to get around with a guide.
A word of advice: Always ask for permission before shooting photos. Carry some change on you (10-, 20-, 50-rupees notes) in case you want to buy a small flower bouquet.
Visit early. The markets open between 4 and 5 am. We visited around 6 am, and there still was much going on.
After the markets, we headed south to Jacob Circle to get an aerial view of the biggest outdoor laundry in Mumbai – Dhobi Ghat.
On our way back to Colaba we stopped at Sassoon Docks, one of the oldest docks in Mumbai and the city’s largest fish market.
The scent was pretty overwhelming. One also gets quite mixed feelings when seeing young girls cleaning shrimps in the darkness of wet dock hangars.
Our last stop was a walk through a smaller outdoor laundry, which is a part of the Colaba slum located close to the World Trade Centre. Ambivalent thoughts crossed our mind when we caught a glimpse of the shiny skyscrapers from the slum’s shore.
That is what Mumbai is also about. Substantial visible differences between the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. While the wealthy carefully select flower arrangements for an upcoming wedding on the flower market, the children of the poor sell banana leafs for less than 5 rupees.
While men working in a laundry scrub jeans with an almost bloody brush, ladies in high hills get picked up by their drivers in BMWs after a shopping tour in the shiny World Trade Centre. While tourists and businesspeople sip cocktails at the Harbour Bar, the workers on the scaffoldings outside paint the façade of the Taj under questionable conditions 24/7.
It made us very thoughtful and even sad. Nonetheless, Mumbai is a fascinating metropole, and we don’t regret one bit, that we visited.
Exploring the cafes in the afternoon
After the tour, we headed back to our hotel for breakfast, had some rest and wanted to take a ferry to Elephanta Island. When we arrived at the ferry terminal, we learned that it was closed due to security reasons. Apparently, it happens now and then, and there’s no way of knowing that in advance.
So, we got back to the streets. We took an Uber to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (former Victoria Terminal) and admired the beautiful UNESCO Heritage Site. There is a little island for pedestrians in the middle of a busy roundabout.
A word of advice: The sun starts illuminating the beautiful façade around 2 pm. Consequently, the afternoon is the best time for pictures.
After that, we went back to Colaba and explored the nice cafes, bars and restaurants. The neighbourhood has plenty to offer. Get a cold Kingfisher at the famous Leopold Café – a hub for backpackers from all around the world.
Try a delicious risotto from the fusion kitchen of Indigo Deli. Enjoy the tremendous atmosphere and contemporary music together with a Bombay Sapphire based pre-dinner drink at Colaba Social. Dine stylishly at The Table. Or just stroll around the streets and pick a place you like.
Where to stay
Abode Bombay is a fantastic hotel to stay. The stylish, elegantly furnished room with vintage furniture made our Mumbai trip a full success. The décor and location are not the only reasons why the hotel sticks out. It’s the attention to detail and spotless service are the things, that make it great.
The staff greets and remembers every guest by name. They use a small cell as room phone, which you can use as your Indian phone number. This is really helpful. For example, you need the number to activate internet connection on public Wi-Fi in many restaurants and cafés.
For what is more, the hotel cares a great deal about sustainability, environment and empowerment of the local community. The furniture is locally sourced. Instead of plastic, they use re-fillable steel bottles for bathroom amenities. Airport pickups are handled by local women, who need help to become self-sufficient. The hotel offers a variety of city tours with local guides. The early morning tour we did was one of them.
If you want the ultimate anti-chain hotel experience with a hint of luxury in Mumbai, stop looking. Abode is the place for you.
In our opinion
Mumbai is a fascinating metropole where Victorian buildings of the British Raj mix with the modern architecture. It is a city where slums and shiny expensive apartment buildings lay just across the street. It is a city of very rich and very poor. It indeed is the city of dreamers.
Mumbai is not a place where you go to relax. But it is a place where you will see, experience and learn a lot.