The Mumbai transportation tour in 2015 was one of the most unique tours I’ve experienced in a big city. Most tours in large cities involve hoping on a large bus with 50 or so other tourists and stopping at four or five must see tourist sites and the obligatory stop at a gem, handicraft or other business where the tourists are forced to shop or sit in the corner for 45 minutes or so.

This tour was unusual and refreshing because its focus was not on the places we would visit. Instead, it promised to introduce tourists to all of the modes of public transportation in Mumbai, India a city with a metropolitan population of of over 21,000,000 at the time. The tour would utilize walking, taxis, buses and rail transportation to reach some of the sights of the central city.

I rendezvoused with the guide and other members of the tour at the Gateway of India monument located on the Arabian Sea waterfront. The tour consisted of myself, three young ladies from Australia, and the guide and his girlfriend. The guide and his girlfriend were students at a local university and life-long residents of Mumbai.

Gateway of India
Gateway of India

Construction of the Gateway of India was completed in 1924.  The monument was used as a symbolic ceremonial entrance to British India for important colonial personnel.  Gateways serve exits as well as entrances.  This monument was also the location where the last British troops departed India in 1948, following Indian independence. 

The Gateway of India is located across from the Taj Mahal Hotel which was one of the sites of the 26/11 terrorist attacks in 2008 that killed around 166 people.  Our guide didn’t bring up the attacks, but I remembered this hotel from the TV coverage. 

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Taj Mahal Hotel

This post covers the forms of transportation experienced and some of the sights covered in this tour.  Many of the prominent buildings in South Mumbai date from the colonial period.  The general architectural style is referred to as Mumbai Gothic, a blend of Gothic, Victorian, and Art Deco. 

One of the largest and most interesting looking buildings that we stopped at at the end of the tour was Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST)  (now known as  Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus) or Victoria Terminus.  This building is a historic train station and UNESCO World Heritage Site.  By its appearance I would never have guessed it was a train station.

The Mumbai Municipal Corporation Building (BMC)is across the street from the CST.  The BMC houses the municipal government of Mumbai.

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One part of our walk took us through a large park with numerous cricket fields.  I believe this is Shivaji Park.  Keeping the matches separated seems impossible yet no one seems to be concerned about potential interference from other matches. 

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Cricket fields in central Mumbai

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If I recall correctly, this building was used primarily as offices for attorneys.

Lawyer's building
Lawyer’s building

Dhanraj Mahal is the residence of the Dhanrajgir family in Mumbai, India.  It was the residence of the legendary actress Zubeida Begum Dhanrajgir, who starred in the first Indian talkie movie Alam Ara (1931).

We also walked past the main museum in Mumbai, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.  This building is constructed in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture.

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Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the name of this stately building.  Can anyone fill me in?

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One stop that I found particularly interesting was Ghandi’s home, Mani Bhavan. He lived and worked here from 1917 to 1934. Coincidentally, the tour took place on January 15, which is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the American civil rights icon. King’s civil rights movement in the United States was largely patterned after Ghandi’s theory of nonviolent protest.

Guides at Gandhi's house
Our guide and his girlfriend at Mani Bhavan.Β  Their interaction added a bit of humor to the tour.

The house is a museum and library filled with displays and dioramas related to Ghandi’s life and works.Β  He must have been a prolific reader as the house is filled with books.

Gandhi library
Gandhi library

The room that Gandhi used during his stay is on the second floor. You can see two of his spinning wheels, a book and his bed on the floor. 

Gandhi spinning machines
Gandhi spinning machines

Surprisingly few high-profile people have visited this museum. Martin Luther King, Jr. did in the 1950s, and President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama paid their respects in 2010. And there was also me (ha ha).

As far as transportation, we used taxis to get to some of the sights. Mumbai is famous for its small black nd yellow Santro Xing Hyundai taxis. They are pretty small and could fit a driver and two passengers comfortably. Our guide usually had to secure three of them to accommodate our tour.

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We also used public busses. Our guide handled payment. We didn’t travel at rush hour so the buses weren’t crowded and were fairly comfortable for short trips.

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We walked through some markets and residential areas.

Neighborhood market
Neighborhood market

The transportation highlight was the rail system. These trains can become ridiculously overcrowded at times. It was reported that in 2013, 901 people died after falling from local trains in Mumbai. We did not try it at rush hour.

Train entrance and balck and yellow taxiss
Train station and black and yellow taxis.

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Mumbai train on a non-crowded day
Mumbai train on a non-crowded day

One of the train plaforms overlooked and area where our guide said the population was dedicated to performing laundry services. The rates he wuoted were amazingly low.

Mumbai laundry
Mumbai laundry

Final Thought

This was a unique tour in which the methods of getting to the sights to see were also highlights of the tour. Using public transportation for the first time in a foreign country can be a daunting task but is a great way to get a feeling for what life is like for regular people. This tour was a great introduction to public transportation in Mumbai with a population of over 21,000,000 and an infamously dangerous rail system. Going with a guide provided the confidence to experience walking, taxis, busses and the rail system like a local.