Photo essay: Mumbai Local

Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai, India, local tour

Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai. Photo courtesy Andrew Adams.

Experiencing Mumbai on a “local tour”

Mumbai (Bombay) is a frenetic city, a city that never sleeps, never even really slows down. It is liquid reality, hot and humid most of the year, built on a series of connected islands that jut into the Arabian Sea. Mumbai is India’s economic engine and its glamour factory. It is also home to Asia’s largest slum. Mumbai is a poet drunk on life and howling at the moon. It seduces you with a promise of dreams and romance and then its mood shifts and you tumble from hopeful to heartbroken. Mumbai is a grand place, there is nowhere else remotely like it. And Mumbai’s citizens know it. Through tragedy and triumph they stick together in their own unique way and show an unmatched resilience of spirit. Though I live in Delhi when I am in India, I have a soft spot for the maximum city, and try to vist every time I am in India.

Last winter, when I was staying in Mumbai with my friend, photographer Andrew Adams (who specializes in Indian wedding photography), we went on a very unique tour called Mumbai Local with Mumbai Magic. The two things unique about this tour are: it is guided by students and it takes you around Mumbai “like a local,” on buses, trains and taxis.

Mumbai, India, local tour, photography Andrew Adams.

Our guide Eshwari.

Living local in the maximum city

Our tour was guided by a student named Eshwari, who wants to be a professional guide. She was delightful — warm, knowledgeable and very personable — and I am sure she will make a great professional guide when she graduates.

Andrew was living in Mumbai at the time of the tour, and I have lived in Delhi, so we were actually two “locals” going on the tour. Yet we both found it fascinating. We went to a few places we had never been and learned a lot about the city we never knew. Altogether a wonderful day in an exciting city. Note: All the photos on this blog are by Andrew Adams (using an iPhone 5).

Flower Market, Mumbai, India, local tour, photography Andrew Adams.

Flowers for puja, Mumbai. Photo courtesy Andrew Adams.

Mumbai Local Tour itinerary

  • Met guide (Eshwari) at Gateway of India, where she gave us a brief history of Mumbai/Bombay, the Gateway of India, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the statue of Shivaji Chatrapati
  • Walked by many of Mumbai’s most historical buildings, such as the Yacht Club, Police Headquarters, Prince of Wales Museum, Victoria Terminus, Watson’s Hotel, the High Court, the Clock Tower and the Oval Maiden
  • Took a bus to Mani Bhavan, Gandhi’s home in Bombay
  • Took a taxi to Swati Snacks where we feasted on delicious and top-quality Bombay street food in a hygienic environment. We ate: baked masala kichidi (spicy lentils and rice), panki chatni (rice pancakes in banana leaf) and dahi sev puri (potatoes mashed with onions and spices) and more
  • Walked through a bustling vegetable market to the Grant Street train station
  • Took the train to Mahalaxmi Station where we watched the men doing laundry at the famous Dhobi Ghats (top photo)
Market, Mumbai, India, local tour, photography Andrew Adams.

Vegetable market, Mumbai. Photograph courtesy Andrew Adams.

Street scenes and landmarks

The Mumbai Local tour takes you past both scenes of everyday life unfolding on the busy streets as well as momentous landmarks. Mumbai’s rich history is told in buildings both frayed and modern, and so many stories are born at the intersection of cultures. Watson’s Hotel was the grand old hotel of Bombay — named after its original owner, John Watson. It’s India’s oldest surviving cast iron building: it was fabricated in England and constructed onsite between 1860 and 1863. As legend has it, this was the hotel that Jamsetji Tata was barred from entering, as only British were allowed. In 1898, in retaliation, he built the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which still stands in magnificence on the seafront, while Watson’s is sorely dilapidated.

Many luminaries stayed at Watson’s during its heydey including Mark Twain, in 1896. His book Following the Equator describes the scene at Watson’s. “The lobbies and halls were full of turbaned, and fez’d and embroidered, cap’d, and barefooted, and cotton-clad dark natives … in the diningroom every man’s own private native servant standing behind his chair, and dressed for a part in Arabian Nights.”

Watson's Hotel, Bombay, Mumbai, hotel,

The site of Watson’s, the grand hotel of old Bombay. Photo courtesy Andrew Adams.

The freedom fighters

Jamsetji Tata was an early advocate for home rule in India. But the subcontinent’s most famous freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi, also lived in the city — and was famously arrested from his home in Bombay, Mani Bhavan. It was from here that Gandhi initiated the Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi and Khilafat movements.

Mani Bhavan is located on a relatively quiet, leafy side street and is now a museum and memorial to the father of independent India. We were moved to quiet introspection as we toured the building’s exhibits, library and especially his room, it’s stark yet elegant simplicity preserved behind glass. Both Andrew and I walked out onto the balcony outside this room, and for a moment just watched the street scene below in silence together, thinking about how Gandhi stood on this very balcony. The home is a testimonial to the power of one man’s convictions, which changed the course of history and have lived on and on.

Gandhi, Mani Bhavan, Bombay, Mumbai

Gandhi’s room at Mani Bhavan, his home in Bombay. Photo courtesy Andrew Adams.

A city of foot-path poets

And of course, Mumbai is not just all about five-star hotels, famous landmarks and saintly heroes. It is in fact a city of “foot-path poets,” to paraphrase Suketu Mehta who wrote one of my favourite books about Mumbai, Maximum City. Everywhere Mumbai swirls with people on the go. The dhobi wallahs (laundry men) of Dhobi Ghat, pictured above (top photo), have become a tourist attraction for the way they laboriously wash and dry laundry in open pens — an urban concession to the traditional method of washing clothes in the river and beating them on rocks. Only the dhobi wallahs of Mumbai are all men, whereas laundry as a chore is traditionally done by women.

But everywhere you go in Mumbai you will see people in various stages of industry, from the prosaic and traditional Bombay wallahs to the ultra-modern Mumbaikers. And the Mumbai Local tour gives you a taste of the spectrum of life in Mumbai.

Barbers, Mumbai. Photo courtesy Andrew Adams.

Barbers, Mumbai. Photo courtesy Andrew Adams.

Barbers, Mumbai, India, local tour, photography Andrew Adams.

Barbers, Mumbai. Photo courtesy Andrew Adams.

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19 Responses to Photo essay: Mumbai Local

  1. Prasad Np July 18, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    Mumbai is indeed the most magical city in India. I am glad you have showcased the common people of Mumbai doing their day to day jobs. The last pic with Toothless man smiling behind is really great.
    Prasad Np recently posted..My First Snake picture in the WildMy Profile

  2. Destination Infinity July 20, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    “Mumbai is hot and humid” – Haven’t you been to a city called Chennai?? 😛 I guess this tour should have been different from the other normal tour to touristy destinations. I heard that they organize ‘slum tours’ in Mumbai!!

    I have now come to realize why I have not built a hotel – Nobody refuses me when I request to stay in their hotels – they just say give money and stay!! 😛

    Destination Infinity
    Destination Infinity recently posted..Why shouldn’t I write using a Pen-name called JK Rowling?My Profile

  3. Shalu July 21, 2013 at 2:59 am #

    I have been to Mumbai on two occasions once as a child and once to see a friend. I wish to go back as I haven’t been there in recent years. These pictures remind me of the place.
    Shalu recently posted..My India travel survival guide for women ebook now available on AmazonMy Profile

  4. USA Holiday Packages Tours July 24, 2013 at 7:08 am #

    Last year i was in mumbai.It was the most wonderful time to spend those9-10 days in mumbai.Love to see some famous places of mumbai and will again come in next month for my meeting.

  5. deejTHtraveller July 26, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    Beautifully written, got to appreciate the ‘beholders’ eye for a different mumbai.

    And nice pics too 🙂

  6. Hogga July 29, 2013 at 3:45 pm #


  7. Jenn July 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    What a great idea for a tour! It’s so interesting how, even living or regularly visiting a certain place, there is always more to be learned. Every person has their own perspective and their own take on the city. Looks like tons of fun, and great photographs too!

  8. Alana - Paper Planes July 30, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    I love how you described the city as ‘liquid reality’, very poetic and I can totally see it.
    Alana – Paper Planes recently posted..>> Discovering: Seattle’s Pioneer Square >>My Profile

  9. kebhari July 31, 2013 at 4:30 am #

    Last year i was in Mumbai. It was the most wonderful time to spend those 4-5 days in Mumbai. Love to see some famous places of Mumbai and will again come in next month.

  10. Chetan Chaudhari August 8, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Hey Mariellen,
    The article is beautifully written.Its truly said beauty lies in eye of beholder.
    I didn’t see mention of Colaba Causeway in the article. Did you miss mentioning it or didn’t get chance to see it which is rare possibility as it lies nearby the area you explored Taj, Police headquarters and all
    Chetan Chaudhari recently posted..Follow These Tips for an ultimate Travel Tour to IndiaMy Profile

  11. Samantha August 27, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    It’s so interesting that you could live in one place for along time but still discover new things about your home! Even on a tour where you think you know all the places. Love the pics!
    Samantha recently posted..How Traveling Increases Confidence – My ExperiencesMy Profile

  12. Adam P. November 4, 2013 at 2:31 am #

    So many interesting facts about Mumbai in a great poetic package! I guess nobody comes to Mumbai for rest and relaxation..It seems like to come here is to be overwhelmed by chaos, smells and crowds…This must be an ultimate experience for all your senses! I´ve heard it´s one of the most expensive cities to live in, and not only in India but in the world. If that´s true then it´s really a city of extremes..on one hand, one of the most expensive cities, but on the other hand, the biggest slum in Asia..
    Adam P. recently posted..Top 10 November Events in TorontoMy Profile

  13. Sandhya Menon February 19, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    nice post. felt the same while traveling around the city

  14. Preethi October 1, 2014 at 3:05 am #

    good post certainly mumbai is a big city and a land of opportunities

  15. Khushbu February 13, 2015 at 5:22 am #

    I love Mumbai – beautiful city and people.

    Next time I am there – I will explore few places you have mentioned

  16. cam August 25, 2015 at 10:39 am #

    Hi Mariellen, do you have a contact for Local Tour? The link in your blog doesn’t work. I’m looking forward to visiting Mumbai very soon and would love to have a,local connection. Thanks for all your excellent stories and lovely photos.

    • Mariellen Ward August 25, 2015 at 10:52 am #

      Hi Cam, I just updated the link. No idea why it wasn’t working. Here’s a tip: it you delete the last part of an URL, and just keep the root (until the end of .com) you can usually fix a broken link yourself.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Celebrating 6 years of BreathedreamgoMy Profile

  17. Ami (Yearful of Sundays) August 29, 2015 at 11:58 pm #

    Loved reading this post. I’ve never lived in Mumbai for too long, but I love the city and all that it is. And it’s an experience like no other to experience the city you think you know through a great localized tour! I had something of that when I took a guided walk around Old Delhi – thought I knew my city, but big, breathing, living cities have so much more to tell you than you can ever get to know in a lifetime. 🙂
    Ami (Yearful of Sundays) recently posted..Weekly Photo Challenge: Beneath Your FeetMy Profile

  18. Mridula Agarwal May 30, 2016 at 3:48 am #

    A Great city. City of Hopes for lot of people. Their Unique way of living, love spirit of city. Love Mumbai. Mumbai – Live Life

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