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World’s Greatest City: 50 reasons Mumbai is No. 1

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World’s Greatest City: 50 reasons Mumbai is No. 1

Pachyderms, produce and perseverance — you can find it all in the streets of India’s commercial capital, along with some of the most colorful culture imaginable

Tell others what you think!


This list was compiled and written by Mumbai cool hunters Kanika Parab and Mansi Poddar, founders of the Brown Paper Bag website


1. Most romantic home furnishings

Since the 1950s, the old corner couch at the posh Taj hotel’s Sea Lounge has been where moneyed Mumbai introduces suitable boys and girls for marriage. The lucky velvet sofa is no ordinary love seat — it’s big enough to couch mummy, aunty and whomever else is in on the plot.

Sea Lounge, Taj Mahal Hotel & Palace, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, tel +91 (0) 22 6665 3366

2. The amazingest race

Spanning 1,900 kilometers from Chennai to Mumbai, the Rickshaw Challenge is an “amazing race for the clinically insane.” The 13-stage event requires auto rickshaw drivers to navigate hills, valleys, beaches and, of course, jam-packed city streets. Those seeking to learn how to operate the two-stroke workhorse of the Indian commuter system — the ‘beautiful beasts’ first rolled off Indian assembly lines in 1957 and have barely changed since — can take lessons and register for free at the link above.


3. Women travel handprint-free

It might sound like the title of your next book group novel, but the Ladies Special local train pulls into the Gothic-style Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station (which noobs mistake for a huge cathedral) at 10:09am every morning. Of the thousand trains that run daily through the historic station, the Ladies Special is a sanctuary for some 35,000 working women who don’t fancy being groped on their way to the office. On the 5:55pm ride back home, the Ladies Special turns into a portable kitchen with mums peeling vegetables, a communal office for laptoppers, a mobile shopping center, a meditation and prayer room and whatever else it need be to accommodate the endless demands placed on India’s tireless working women.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Road, Fort, tel + 91 (0) 22 269 5959

4. Porn the whole family will love (to scurry past quickly)

Pressed between the brothels and skin and sex therapy clinics of Grant Road, the Pila Haus cluster of colonial-era cinema halls — such as the Theatre Royal, Alfred Cinema, Gulshan Cinema and New Roshan — screen Bollywood films from the 1980s and 1990s for as little as Rs 15 a pop. Originally playhouses for the British, they were named ‘pila’ because locals couldn’t pronounce ‘play.’ Following independence, the stately halls showcased Parsi theater and Marathi tamashas. But these days, amid pulsing red-light distractions, the main draws are tales of puppy-love romance, such as Sanjay Kapoor’s “Sirf Tum.”


5. A million-dollar baby … elephant

This infant is 12 feet tall, his name is Lalbaugcha Raja and he is the king of Mumbai’s annual 10-day Ganesh festival in September. During the festival, more than two million Hindu devotees throng to see the wish-granting idol of the infant elephant god, which was insured for 25 million rupees this year. Devotees collectively donate Rs 5 crore and more than 5,000 sacks of coconuts each year, then follow the Raja on a procession toward Chowpatty beach, where he’s immersed in the sea.

Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal, G.D. Ambedkar Marg

6. The original Cavern Club

Each February, an antiquated ferry runs from the Gateway of India to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Elephanta Caves on an island in the Sea of Oman. That’s where music fans gather for the annual Elephanta Festival, where Indian classical music maestros such as Zakir Hussain and Ravi Shankar rock on amid a collection of ancient rock art dedicated to the cult of Shiva.


7. A brand new paint job

People are always grumbling about making Mumbai prettier. On Independence Day 2009, the graffiti artists of The Wall Project did it, covering a 2.7-km stretch of wall along Tulsi Pipe Road with colorful spray-painted art mixed with slogans promoting social causes — all with the municipal corporation’s cooperation. Chronicling Mumbai’s contemporary culture, the Tulsi Pipe graffiti joins the vibrant seaside mural adorning Sassoon Dock’s high-cement boundary and Mario Miranda’s caricatures of Mumbai beer drinkers on the walls of Café Mondegar.

Café Mondegar, Metro House, near Regal Cinema, tel +91 (0) 22 2202 0591

8. Our chefs don’t want you to die

Mumbai may be cuckoo for sushi and fugu, but many still bow down to traditional fare, eating well to live well. At Swadshakti Café, Mumbai’s only Ayurvedic restaurant, the Panchakarma Thali, with five saatvik vegetarian dishes is cooked with healing herbs — and without oil, garlic or onions. Designed to detox, the menu was created by Dr. Smita Naram to put her chunky husband, Pankaj, on a healthy path — and it’s a proven winner.

Swadshakti, Bhadran Nagar Cross Road 2, opposite Milap Cinema, Malad (W), +91 (0) 22 2806 5757


9. Illiterate business gurus

Prince Charles and Richard Branson have met with Mumbai’s famous dabbawala lunch deliverymen to learn how 200,000 identical steel lunch canisters (‘dabbas’) are transported by 5,000 mostly illiterate deliverymen from the homes where the humble lunches are made to offices and workers around town — daily, punctually and with barely one error in every six million deliveries. Dabbawalas now give management lectures at top Indian business schools, explaining how the 125-year-old dabbawala industry continues to grow at a rate of five to 10 percent a year.

The Dabbawala Foundation is currently developing software that will allow users to book dabba lunch delivery online. In the meantime, you can email info to sign up for service.

10. Most prolific film industry in the world

Compared to Hollywood, the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai produces nearly 200 more films a year, each almost 50 percent longer, on a fraction of the budget, with more color, more melodies and more melodrama. And Bollywood’s even starting to steal stars from its Western counterpart. One billion moviegoers can’t be wrong.


11. Potatoes are religion (and politics)

They’re fast, cheap and political. Every day thousands of vada pav (potato dumplings) are fried and deftly placed in pav bread quickly enough to keep up with Mumbai’s voracious appetite. The fiery red chutney that goes with vada pav can be risky — not unlike Shiv Sena, the local political party that has made Mumbai’s five-rupee signature street snack its mascot. It’s hard to go wrong with vada pav, but we love the ones at a stall called Ashok, off Cadel Road, Kirti College Lane, Prabhadevi.

12. Yoga for the face

If you live near a rare patch of park in Mumbai, chances are you’ll wake up to the sounds of laughter. That’s because every morning, members of the city’s 87-odd Laughter Yoga clubs gather in green spaces to guffaw. Founded by Mumbai physician Dr. Madan Kataria in 1995, laughter yoga is based on scientific research that shows the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. You get the same physiological and psychological benefits whether you find something funny or not.


13. A bridge worth its weight in elephants

Our brand-new Bandra-Worli Sea Link bridge took 10 years to complete, but now that it’s here we can hardly remember the near-hour it once took to travel between Mumbai and the western suburbs. For the 25,000 vehicles that use the bridge each day, the trip now takes about seven minutes. With main towers as high as a 43-story building, the 4.7km bridge weighs as much as 50,000 African elephants and the steel wire used can nearly wrap around the circumference of the earth. The Times of India described it best: “Heavy-duty beauty.”

14. Stickiest wickets

The Dr. H.D. Kanga League combines two of Mumbai’s greatest loves — cricket and heavy rain. Perhaps that’s why the league has never taken a season off since being founded in 1948. Touted as the only tournament to be held during the monsoon — heroic batsmen with muck-splattered faces, valiant fielders slogging through flooded outfields — the Kanga League has been the muddy battleground beginning for some of India’s biggest cricketing stars, including Sachin Tendulkar.


15. Art deco cinemas

Talk to anyone who lived in Mumbai before the multiplex deluge and they’ll get all gulpy about the single-screen art deco cinemas that once dominated the movie scene here. With its rococo artwork and ethereal lighting, Liberty Cinema is the most popular and publicized vestige of bygone Bombay elegance. But we’re suckers for the soaring entryways, peeling powder-blue walls and delicate white-and-gold scrollwork at Bharat Mata theater.

Liberty Cinema, Marine Lines, +91 (0) 22 2203 1196 Bharat Mata, Parel, +91 (0) 22 2470 9181

16. Maximum panorama

Opening in November 2009, the rooftop bar at the Four Seasons hotel offers an amazing vista of the iconic Mahalaxmi Racecourse, the Arabian Sea, Haji Ali, the Worli-Bandra Sealink and acres of slums and old mill areas. Maximum city in a single eyeful.

Four Seasons, 114 G Babu Sakpal Marg, tel +91 (0) 22 2481 8000


17. Buy your stolen stuff back cheap!

From a replacement for your chipped antique Wedgewood demitasse cup to the Mercedes Benz hood ornament that was yanked off your car, the most bizarre jumble of antiques, spare parts, Bollywood posters and electronics in Mumbai can be found at grimy Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market), so called because it’s assumed many of the goods for sale are stolen. Take along your bargaining skills and leave your claustrophobia (and morals) at home.

Get started at Mini Market, 33/31 Mutton Street, Chor Bazaar, Mohammed Ali Road, tel +91 (0) 22 2347 2427

18. Drinking holes that don’t dry up

Pretty relics of Mumbai’s colonial past, the Willingdon Sports Club and Cricket Club of India have always laid an elegant tea. Patrons sit in cane chairs by the lawns where cricket and golf are played, old money talks and the waiters are hard of hearing. Along with five-star hotels, these old Mumbai institutions are the only places that serve alcohol on ‘dry’ days — and, best of all, at prices that, too, have not kept up with the times.

Cricket Club of India, Brabourne Stadium, Churchgate, tel +91 (0) 22 6659 4252

Willingdon Sports Club, K Khadye Marg, Tulsiwadi, tel +91 (0) 22 2354 5755


19. Sweetest 200-rupee tourist view and dessert

Sesame-sprinkled honey noodles with vanilla ice cream at the Bay View Terrace Bar sweeten the already rich view that takes in the curving bay, the Taj hotel’s heritage wing dome and Mumbai’s most famous monument, the Gateway of India, right at the tip of our narrow island.

Bay View Terrace Bar, Hotel Harbour View, Kerawalla Chambers, opposite Radio Club, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, tel +91 (0) 22 2282 1089

20. Party like it’s 1909

Mumbai’s textile mills were an important part of India’s manufacturing history. And in the Lower Parel district, factory commerce is still alive, albeit with music and mojitos, in the stretch of bars that has sprung up inside converted mills. At Shiro, Hard Rock Café, Blue Frog and Zenzi Mills, the sound is banging (that’s good), because each venue has preserved the industrial-sized ceilings and post-modern factory feel. After all these years, it’s still the best place to spin.

Shiro, Bombay Dyeing Mill Compound, Pandurang Budhkar Marg, Worli, tel +91 (0) 22 6615 6969

Hard Rock Café, Bombay Dyeing Mill Compound, Pandurang Budhkar Marg, tel +91 (0) 22 6615 5959

Blue Frog D/2 Mathuradas Mills Compound, N.M. Joshi Marg, Lower Parel, tel +91 (0) 22 4033 2300

Zenzi Mills, Todi Mills Compound, Tulsi Pipe Road, Lower Parel, tel +91 (0) 22 4345 5455


21. World’s most expensive home

Soon, Mumbai will house the highest-priced residence in the world. Local tycoon Mukesh Ambani’s US$2 billion, 27-floor skyscraper Antilla will reportedly have three helipads, six floors of parking and 600 full-time staff. That beats even Marine Drive’s three-kilometer strip of land where, at Rs 40,000 per square foot, one jewel in what’s known as the Queen’s Necklace can cost Rs 100 crores.

22. Complete and utter silence

Mumbai never stops squawking, but inside the walls of the Dhamma Pattana Vipassana Centre, conversation is completely verboten. The center’s newly built Global Pagoda stores important relics of Buddha and hosts a meditation camp that forbids participants from speaking — or watching TV, listening to music or reading — for the entire duration of the 10-day beginner’s course. ‘Vipassana’ means “to see things as they really are.” Founder S.N. Goenka — a Burmese sugar and textiles entrepreneur born in 1924


Written by gaybombay

October 13, 2009 at 12:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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