Mumbai with Kids
This post Mumbai with Kids is part 1 of our India Itinerary .
Mumbai was our first point of entry to India. We arrived around midnight and checked into our hotel. We were here for 3 nights.
The Dhobi Ghat
Up early the next day, one of the first places we visited was the Dhobi Ghat. If you have laundry done in Mumbai, chances are it will be done here. Officially the largest outdoor laundry in the world, this is a famous stretch of concrete water tubs where laundry from all over the city is done. Rows of men in calf deep muddy water punish the clothes against stone slabs. Hospitals, hotels, restaurants and the middle classes all have their laundry passed through this enormous human washing machine.
This is not the place for a “delicate wash” (In fact if you send shirts to be laundered you can fully expect them to be returned with the buttons smashed!). As well as the concrete washing pits, look up and see acres of washing waiting to dry. Vast swathes of white uniforms, hang from washing lines in one area, beside thousands of legs of jeans, sheets, and every other item of laundry imaginable.
Every day thousands of items are collected, washed, dried and ironed before being returned to their owners. In the chaos and piles of clothing it seems astonishing that mix ups don’t take place – but this institution has been going for over 100 years, and they seems to know what they are doing.
The Dhobi Ghat is next to the Mahalaxmi railway station, and you can get a great view from the flyover there, though you will have to run the gauntlet of children selling postcards and bangles. If you want to go into the laundry area (and its well worth doing so) – pay a guide a few hundred rupees to take you in (you can’t go in without one – but be prepared to haggle). We were taken in and out of the washing and ironing area, with the guide pointing out proudly the machinery and the volumes of washing, as well as some of the high profile hotels and the hospital laundry.
Its all very low tech, and in this age of automation, all the more charming for it – some of the men were ironing with vast metal irons warmed with coal. Its a hugely labour intensive site, men only – and these guys work extremely hard. It provides employment for around 800 men we were told.
A lot of the men were washing themselves as we were being shown round. Its worth remembering that this is where people live and work before taking photos that are too intrusive, or without permission.
Mani Bhaven, Gandhi House
Next on our itinerary was the Gandhi museum. Set in the house that Gandhi stayed in while in Mumbai from 1917 to 1934, and the location of his focal point for his political activity – especially home rule during this time, its a charming place to visit.
The museum is free (funded by donations). On the ground floor is a library, with inspiring quotes and phrases around the walls. Plastering the walls up the stairs are photos depicting Gandhis life, and on the first floor are more photos and correspondence. The most interesting are letters written to Hitler and President Roosevelt, urging them against war.
On the top floor are some strange little dioramas depicting momentous moments in his life through miniature models of people. A couple of rooms with his very sparse personal possessions are also on display. Personally I found this museum really interesting. – though if you already know a lot about Gandhi it may not provide you with much information.
It was less interesting for the kids – a brief visit is probably best, but a great place to pay your respects to a great man.
The Hanging Gardens (Ferozeshah Menta)
We were advised to visit here by our hotel, and given the name, were expecting so much more. Granted its peaceful and tranquil in a city thats pretty busy, but given that we visited during the monsoon you would expect it to be lush and green.
It was not.
Possibly at some point it was beautifully kept, but when we visited it was in pretty poor repair, with nothing of note to look at. I can’t understand why this is listed as an attraction, as its really not worth the effort.
The Taj Palace Hotel
The Taj Palace Hotel is a Mumbai institution. It was the subject of a BBC documentary a few years back, the site of a terrorist attack in 2008 (lasting 4 days in which 164 people were killed), and takes an imposing position overlooking the Gateway of India and the Arabian sea.
This is the jewel in the crown of the uber luxury Taj Group of hotels. (So popular that if you google Taj Mahal, the Taj Group rates higher than the Agra Monument). But this luxury comes at a price. Originally we planned to stay in this Grande Dame of Mumbai hotels, but we just couldn’t justify the rates they were charging. Despite this its worth heading to the hotel for a drink or a meal.
We visited for lunch. There are a number of restaurants in the hotel (I would have chosen the pool side bar, but I was over ruled by my family who wanted the (ludicrously overpriced but very delicious) Chinese restaurant.
The hotel is on the Colaba area of Mumbai – on a separate visit, we visited the very popular Leopold Cafe a few streets away from the Taj Palace. It was caught up in the attack of 2008, and in a demonstration of their resilience, reopened 4 days after the shooting. Some of the bullet holes are still visible in the walls.
This was a very welcome place to come and cool down, as we were still acclimatising to the heat.
The Gateway of India
Opposite the iconic Taj Palace Hotel is the equally iconic Gateway of India. (Not to be confused with the India Gate in Delhi). It was built in Mumbai harbour to commemorate the visit in 1911 of George V and Queen Mary (though they only got to see a cardboard model, as it wasn’t built at the time of their visit).
Completed in 1924 it served as the ceremonial entrance for important dignatories, and served as an entry and exit point to Mumbai. Following Indias independence in 1948, British soldiers past through the gate, signalling the end of British rule. Its been the subject of a number of terrorist attacks, most recently the landing point for the terrorists who ambushed the Taj Palace hotel, so security to access the site is tight, and causes long delays when its busy.
Stupidly we visited on a Sunday afternoon, and the queue to get through security was enormous (The locals were pretty good queue jumpers which did not help the situation!). Once past the security gate, it was not that busy, but other than looking out over the Arabian sea and taking your obligatory snaps, there not a lot to do here. There was no information explaining the monument, photos or historic plates. That said, its a very impressive structure.
It would have been nice to take a ferry out to get a view of the Gateway from the sea, but as we were travelling during monsoon season, ferries were sporadic, and none were running at the time we visited. This also meant that there were very few other western travellers around. We had the surreal experience of being inundated by indian families who wanted to take our picture with them.
Initially the kids found this perplexing (and embarrassing), but as we weren’t in a hurry, we tried to be obliging.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
The railway station in Mumbai is a stunning mix of Victorian gothic and traditional Mughal architecture. It was built to commemorate Queen Victorias Golden Jubillee, and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. This is one of the busiest railway stations in India.
We visited hoping to see heaving trains with people hanging off the roof and riding the plates. I guess we went at the wrong time, because when we visited at around 8.30am, it was far less busy than one of the central London stations that we see every day.
This station features in the closing scenes in the film Slumdog Millionaire and is very central, so not much of a detour to check out.
Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach
Marine Drive is a 4.3km long boulevard referred to by locals as the Queens Necklace because at night viewed from above the lights resemble a strong of pearls. Our hotel was located on this street, so each night we would stroll along the seafront. Its a popular with families, who saunter, or sit and watch the sea pounding against the sea wall. A few brave souls go in for a dip, but the water is pretty filthy, so be prepared to take the consequences if you fancy a dip!
The cool breeze coming in from the sea is a great antidote to the oppressive July heat.
At the far end of Marine drive is Chowpatty beach. This was clearly a very popular area with locals, with lots of street food vendors. We did try the Pav bhaji (mistakenly thinking it was an onion bhaji)
But on the whole the beach was a huge disappointment – strewn with litter and debris, the water is heavily polluted. Further along the beach was a large area of families sleeping in makeshift tents.
Crawford Market has been central to market life since the days of the Raj.
A large part of the market sells fruit and veg – some stalls specialising on only one fruit. This is all local produce, so seasonality affects what is on sale. The market also sells spices, dried foods, rice, lentils and packaged foods including lots of recognisable international brands. Household items (brooms and buckets) and clothes and fabric stalls are also here.
Rather upsettingly there is also a corner selling pets (I hope they are for pets). Kittens, guinea pigs, songbirds, rabbits, fish and parrots. These animals don’t appear to be treated particularly well, and are in cramped crowded cages, so avoid this area if you or your children are likely to be upset.
This market is teeming with activity, and we liked just wandering around watching the comings and goings. We came to sightsee rather than to shop, but we stuck out like a sore thumb, and were harangued constantly by people trying to get us to “just look” at their stall. It was all very friendly, but honestly a bit of a pain. We did succumb to some spices. But otherwise we had to be quite firm.
We stayed in the Oberoi while in Mumbai – it was an amazing location, and the hotel was fabulous. The kids room was discounted by 50%, so our room was £190, and the kids room was £95 – not the cheapest, but Mumbai is one of the pricier cities in India. We had free wifi, breakfast and airport transfers included in the package.
We were lucky enough to be upgraded to a suite for our stay, so were given a room on the top floor overlooking the ocean. I would strongly recommend this hotel (its no 1 on trip advisor for Mumbai) if its in your budget, as it was fantastic and considerable cheaper than the Taj – but there are plenty of other decently priced hotels in the city.