Ravi is a traveler and foodie who loves to visit off-the-beaten-track places and understand the culture, history and customs behind them.
Places to See in Mumbai
If I were to describe my vibrant hometown Mumbai in three letters, they would be MAD—maximum, amiable, and daring in that order.
It is called maximum simply because everything happens to the maximum here— maximum fame, maximum money, maximum failure, and even maximum disappointment. The city is amiable because behind the cold, materialistic exterior lies resilient people, supporting, helping, and motivating each other in times of distress and whenever the city is under siege by anti-social elements.
And of course, one needs to be daring here to survive the maddening crowds, the rush-hour trains, and strenuous struggles every day to eke out a living and come out winning against all odds. The maximum city is just not everybody’s cup of tea.
The Soul of Mumbai Isn't Found in Its Iconic Landmarks
That said, enough has been said and written about the iconic landmarks of the city like Marine Drive, the Gateway of India, or even Juhu beach. They are breath-taking and fantabulous, no doubt about it.
But if you happen to be one of those travelers who want to decipher the hidden soul of any city, you need to visit the unexplored, offbeat places where the city shows its true colors and vibrancy.
5 Places to Get Off the Beaten Track in Mumbai
Here are five of the top offbeat places to visit in order to bring you closer to the soul of Mumbai.
1. The Chor Bazaar
The Chor Bazaar, or the “thieves” market, is the largest flea market in India. It is said that if somebody loses anything in the city, they can buy it right back from the bazaar. From iPhones to Persian carpets, there is nothing you cannot get from the bustling marketplace packed with shops and kiosks in narrow lanes.
There is a bit of history behind the bazaar, which is believed to be more than 150 years old. The British called it “Shor Bazaar” due to the incessant noise the vendors used to make to entice customers to buy their goods.
It is also said that even Queen Victoria herself lost her favorite fur coat and had to buy it back from the bazaar. Getting around the crowded market takes time and a lot of patience but it is a shopping paradise and you can strike a lot of good bargains at reasonable prices.
The Art of the Bargain
The art of bargaining is of paramount importance at the bazaar. For example, on one of my last trips to a small, unnamed curio shop at the end of Mansoori Suleiman road, I was able to snare two solid Burma teakwood tea tables for one-sixth of the market price. On another outing, I was able to get an intricately carved stone idol of Ganesha, the elephant god, for 2000 INR after incessantly bargaining down from the original price of 20,000 INR.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to your negotiation skills. The more you know about the stuff you want to buy, the better deals you get; simple as that!!!
- Timings: 11:00 AM to 07:30 PM IST (closed on Fridays)
- Entry Fees: None.
- Best Time to Visit: Anytime
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2. The Dharavi Slum
The Dharavi Slum is the world’s largest slum, covering more than 520 acres of land and having more than 1,000,000 people staying in matchstick-type residences. However, this is not like any other ordinary slum of poor people.
The slum has an annual turnover of more than USD 1 Billion and is packed with entrepreneurs who have reached the zeniths of success from fields as diverse as music to IT and medicine. The Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire was inspired by the little huts of Dharavi.
Dharavi was started by the British in the 19th century to accommodate the migrant workers who had come to the city in large numbers. At that time, the area in and around Dharavi was full of mangroves with only a few fishermen occasionally living there. The British allowed the workers to stay in Dharavi and gave a 99-year lease to encourage development. Within a short span of time, a bustling metropolis was created within it replete with schools, mosques, temples, factories, and others.
A walk in the narrow by-lanes of Dharavi will help you to understand the industrious underbelly of Mumbai, where you will see locals at work making leather, firecrackers, musical instruments, pottery, soap, and even computers. Dharavi is one of the best multi-cultural and secular destinations you can find in Mumbai.
- Timings: Any time
- Entry Fees: None if you wish to explore on your own. However, if you are taking a guided tour, the tour guides may charge INR 2000 per trip for a 2–3-hour trip. (It is not recommended that you visit the slum without a guide.)
- Best Time to Visit: Oct–March. Winter is the best time to visit Dharavi.
Is Slum Tourism Ethical?
In recent years, tours to Dharavi have become very popular, but they are not without their share of controversy; the biggest question being asked is whether it's ethical to visit the impoverished slums and "exhibit" poor people eking out a living like animals in zoos.
Critics against slum tourism call it a grave disregard for human respect and dignity, while supporters of tourism say that it has helped slum dwellers make money from tourist inflow and also improve their living conditions for the better.
Today, Dharavi slum tours draw thousands of visitors every year and a substantial number of residents are working as tour operators, caterers, and slum guides. The profits coming out of the tourism are given back to the community for further improvement. So it is a win-win situation for all involved.
In a nutshell, there are no right or wrong answers to this question. If slum tourism makes you uncomfortable, avoid it.
3. Taraporewala Aquarium
Taraporewala Aquarium is India’s oldest aquarium. The aquarium was established in 1951 and underwent renovation in 2015, when it reopened with a brand-new look and new species of sea life.
One of the attractions of the aquarium is a 12-foot-long glass tunnel offering a 360-degree view of the fishes. There is also a special pool for children where they can touch and feel the fishes that are harmless. The Taraporewala Aquarium houses 2,000 fishes of more than 400 different species. Recently international exotic species of moray eels, sharks, stingrays, turtles, and starfishes have been added to the collection.
For the sea lover, there is also an amphitheater with seating for up to 50 people where the management screens interesting documentaries about marine life and the ecosystem.
Noted that photography is not allowed inside the aquarium. If someone wants to take photographs, there are different rates for photography done through different cameras that are mentioned at the ticket counters.
- Timings: The aquarium is open from 10:00 am and 1:00 pm after lunch it is open again from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The aquarium is closed on Mondays.
- Entry Fees: INR 30 for children and INR 60 for adults. Photography and videography charges are extra. The ticket is valid for one hour.
- Best Time to Visit: October to March.
4. Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary
Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary, also known as the Airoli Flamingo Sanctuary is India’s first Flamingo sanctuary. It consists of more than 1600 acres of mangroves, mudflats, and water bodies.
The area was declared a flamingo sanctuary in 2015 and is currently home to thousands of flamingos, both residential and migratory. The mudflats are also home to marine biodiversity species of crabs, lobsters, and other sea species.
Every year during the migratory and the breeding season the sanctuary plays host to two of the most beautiful species of flamingos—Greater Flamingo, the species with a pink, black-tipped bill, and Lesser Flamingo, smaller species with a brown bill. Some of these flamingos arrive from Gujarat and Kutch while others come from as far as north Siberia and central Asia.
There are a lot of interesting things one can plan in a day’s outing at the sanctuary.
- Take a boat ride to the mudflats where you can watch the migratory birds in close action.
- Visit the Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Centre where you can learn all about the marine life in the creek through stunning video and audio displays. You can also shop in the souvenir stall inside the museum
- Just take a walk up to the mangroves to see the other species like pied avocets, black-headed ibis, and plover birds.
- Timings: The sanctuary is open from 10 am to 6 pm.
- Entry Fees: INR 50 per head for adults, INR 25 per head for kids
- Best Time to Visit: From end of February to the beginning of May is the best time to visit the migratory birds in the sanctuary.
5. Mumbai Dadar Flower Market
The Mumbai Dadar Flower Market, or the Dadar Phool Galli as it is called colloquially, is the biggest and only wholesale flower market in Mumbai.
Every day, hundreds of trucks and other vehicles enter and exit out of this market laden with flowers from roses to mogra (jasmine), from gerbera daisies to orchids. The consumption of flowers is humongous, with over 1000 kgs of flowers transacted every day, by weight, length, and numbers.
The sights of the vibrant colorful flowers are a feast for the eyes, and the intoxicating fragrance and the hullabaloo of the vendors and customers engaging in conversations, arguments and even the animated discussions of the usage of various flowers ensure that you would never spend a dull day at the market.
It is no surprise that the market is home to numerous amateur and professional photographers wanting to capture mesmerizing concoction of human emotions juxtaposed with natural beauty. There is chaos, confusion, and camaraderie amidst a riot of colors and fragrances, the experience of which will remain forever unmatched should you decide to visit.
- Timings: The market opens from 5.00 AM and it is advisable to go early to snatch in the best deals and bargains. Photography is allowed, but ask for permission before clicking photos.
- Entry Fees: No entry fees
- Best Time to Visit: Any time of year. Visiting during monsoons, although tempting might be a bit messy due to the humidity, potholes, and stagnant water at places.
- Exploring Mumbai like a Local
- Top 15 Unexplored Places to Visit in Mumbai
- 11 Off-Beat Places to See in Mumbai
- Top 12 Attractions and Places to Visit in Mumbai
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Ravi Rajan