Mumbai, Meri Jaan: Love Notes to Maximum City

Finding happiness in chaotic, frenzied Mumbai. | By NGT Staff  
CST VT Mumbai
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus—then Victoria Terminus—was built over a 10-year period from 1878. Centuries later, the magnificent Gothic structure still makes locals stop in their tracks. Photo: Ajay Goyal/Dinodia Photo Library

Mumbai can be exhausting. The traffic is often mind-numbing, local trains are bursting at the seams, and there are crowds everywhere. But the City of Dreams also has beautiful seaside promenades, quiet cathedrals, and ancient reservoirs that are oases of calm for its 20 million residents. These are the places that bring joy to the writers of Nat Geo Traveller India.

Bandra Bandstand

Like many long-time residents of the city, commuting in Mumbai invariably turns into a nostalgia trip for me—the church where I sang in the choir with my family, the first theatre where I cut class, the many streets on which I had a home. My happy places in the city shift with the vagaries of my erogenous zones, but my one constant is Bandra Bandstand. This is where I watched a storm blow in from the sea, huddled with a dear friend under a battered umbrella, and where I go when I have rare bouts of insomnia. But more than anything else, this is a stretch that never ceases to surprise me.  I once saw a blink-and-you-miss-it wire installation twisted in the shape of Batman, lovingly put up by an anonymous artist. Another time. I watched a fight break out only to hear a youth with a handheld camera yell, “Cut!” Among my most cherished memories is the time I walked to the promenade after being cooped up for days with the flu only to find a beautiful sunset and speakers rigged up and playing “Guantanamera”. Unlike Batman, these have happily stayed put. I have just two words for Bandra Bandstand: Play on. —Saumya Ancheri, Assistant Web Editor

Double-Decker Joyride

One of the first double-decker routes in the city ran from Colaba in the south to Mahim in central Mumbai.

One of the first double-decker routes in the city ran from Colaba in the south to Mahim in central Mumbai. Photo courtesy Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking & “The BEST Story” by S.N. Pendsay.

My happy place in the city is the top deck of a double-decker bus. It’s odd, I know, but to me, these lumbering, red beasts operated by the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking (BEST) offer a way to simultaneously escape and explore Mumbai. Once I climb up to my lofty perch and grab a seat (hopefully in the front row), it’s like a new city unfurls below me. Perched above the crowds and traffic, I see things I would otherwise miss: The old Parsi uncle enjoying his morning cup of chai on the balcony, colourful parrots digging into bird feeders hung outside someone’s window, the stern faces carved into South Mumbai’s colonial buildings. I also love these buses because of gravitas they add to an outing. They have always made me feel like I’m going somewhere important: A hulking machine rolling up to the bus stop, honking through traffic and navigating around pesky autos trying to get me to my destination. Never mind that it was maths tuition on a Saturday morning. The fact that these buses are now disappearing off the streets makes a ride on them even more special. Because they truly are BEST. —Kamakshi Ayyar, Web Features Writer

Moonlit Marine Drive

Having grown up in Kolkata, my impression of Mumbai was like a Lego city, pieced together from the movies: an ever-shifting megalopolis of skinny towers rising from the waters. The ocean always played a starring role in this celluloid version of Mumbai, and when I finally moved here and settled into the rat race, it was on these seaside promenades that I remembered my own dreams. Every time I walk or drive along the graceful arc of Marine Drive, my spirit gets a boost. Something about the salt in my hair, the wind rushing past my ears, and the fishy smell that pervades my olfactory senses feels like a hug from the sea. Over the last year and a half, I have found myself returning often, both with and without reason; on jubilant days and on despairing nights; on evenings when all I wanted to do was listen to Nina Simone’s smoky jazz voice by the sea; on rainy afternoons with my husband, when we skipped over the incoming tide and tried to outrun the fat droplets of rain. I have spent hours at nondescript coffee shops downing gallons of insipid coffee, lulled into wellbeing by the sight of the lovers walking hand in hand against a moonlit sea. I may still be a newcomer, but it seems like these little strips of Maximum City will be perpetual band-aids for my heart. —Diya Kohli, Senior Associate Editor

St. Thomas Cathedral

Thomas Cathedral Mumbai

Fort is one of the few neighbourhoods in Mumbai where the views have remained unchanged over the centuries, including this one of St. Thomas Cathedral. Photo: Ajay Goyal/Dinodia Photo Library

I discovered St. Thomas Cathedral at Horniman Circle on a heritage walk around the neighbourhood of Fort a few years ago. It was a revelation of many kinds: I learnt that it is the city’s oldest British-era building (finished in 1718), constructed to serve the colonials settled in the area. I’m not a religious churchgoer, though I’ve visited many chapels to marvel at their architecture. This is what I expected to do here as well. So when I entered the quiet cathedral, I was taken aback by how moved I was. I put it down to the marble angels and carved tombstones that line the walls, with poignant plaques dedicated to men lost at sea. I’ve gone back many times, and I am still bowled over by the stilling force I feel when I’m there. Sitting in a weathered, wooden pew in the empty cathedral feels like I’ve hit pause on life. Time stops. In a city filled that thrives on chaos, St. Thomas Cathedral is a rare, sweet spot of calm. —Fabiola Monteiro, Web Features Writer

Jogger’s Park

I discovered Joggers Park in Bandra years before I came to live ten minutes from it. I found it a great spot to grab 20 minutes of me-time while waiting to pick up my young daughter from day care or a birthday party. I’d walk a brisk round or two. Then I’d find a spot in the far corner, swing my legs over the wall and sit there facing the open sea. With the warm breeze on my face, and the rise and swell of the mesmerizing grey water, it was easy to shut out all thoughts of the day gone by or even the hours ahead. It was a place that created a gentle optimism, a recharge point while speeding down the racetrack. Strangely, now that I live closer, I don’t go as often I would like. But when I do, I like its many facets. Sometimes I can just stand on the bridge and watch ducks and geese. At other times I like sitting on the rim of the children’s play area and watch kids sliding down, climbing up, shouting, crying, laughing, looking for the resident bunnies. I like to meet a friend there or walk a few rounds with my husband and daughter. Sometimes I’ll just grab five minutes of gazing-at-the-sea time before I head off on my next errand. Whichever option I choose, it always makes me smile inside. —Niloufer Venkatraman, Editor-in-Chief