Mumbai Moments: Insider Culture
By Cosmo Brockway
The city of Mumbai has many hidden gems for the culturally inquisitive traveller. Actor Julian Sands describes the metropolis that never sleeps as ‘an incredible cavalcade of life’, and it is a richly rewarding place to explore day or night. Artists, filmmakers, authors and adventurers have been drawn for centuries to Mumbai’s raffish charm contributing to a vibrant arts scene that grows more exciting by the year. We at Ampersand Travel never tire of discovering the hidden corners of this most stimulating of cities and have hand-picked a few of our favourite cultural highlights for both new and seasoned visitors to enjoy.
ROYAL OPERA HOUSE MUMBAI
Old world glamour is back. Last year’s exciting re-opening of India’s only surviving opera house set the city’s chattering class abuzz. The grand colonial-era building fell into disrepair over several decades until owner, the Maharaja of Gondal commissioned its restoration to former glory. Architect Abha Lambah has sensitively re-created the original design, complete with gilded boxes and chandeliers. It is once again a thriving centre for performing arts. Curator Asad Laljee oversees a seasonal calendar including film festivals and opera masterpieces calling it the ‘cultural jewel of Mumbai’. A children’s programme is also underway.
T: 022 2369 0511
HELICOPTER RIDE, SOUTH MUMBAI
Inhale the magic of Mumbai from the skies with a private helicopter ride. Aman Aviation operates 30 minute journeys from Juhu Aerodrome. Take off at sunset and look down on the glistening Arabian Sea, landmarks along iconic Colaba harbour and the romantic string of lights ‘Queen’s Necklace’ adorning Marine Drive. Take a chaat-laden picnic basket and a bottle of fizz for a celestial experience over the ‘city of dreams’.
BANDRA ART TRAIL
The centre of ‘Bombay cool’ while still retaining echoes of the fishing village it once was, seaside suburb Bandra is perhaps best compared to Brooklyn or Hackney in its avant garde energy. There is a plethora of happenings on any given day. Read love letters aloud to room of strangers at art space The Mumbai Assembly, schmooze a private view at the strikingly modernist Bombay Art Society, vogue the house down at bollyfusion dance workshop House of Wow and work your way through the annual Bandra Food Festival with over forty stalls of innovative ‘desi khanna’ (Indian food).
Nine nautical miles from the famed Gateway of India lies an island renowned for its temple caves and Hindu carvings. Each February this fascinating location hosts a two-day classical dance and music festival. Set against the backdrop of ancient pillars, statues and a giant illuminated Lord Shiva, the extravaganza takes places under an open sky and has a timeless appeal. A folk dance from the local fisherman (koli) opens the event and India’s leading artists captivate with varied performances. Enjoy a delicious regional feast – no celebration of India is complete without lashings of food!
SYNAGOGUES OF SERENITY
Step out of the heat and haggling into a soothingly cool atmosphere of Mumbai’s historic synagogues. Both recognisable by their distinctive blue facades, Knesset Eliyahoo in downtown Khala Ghoda and the lesser known Magen David synagogue in Byculla are relics of the city’s exotic heritage. Both the building’s decorative interiors boast 19th century stained glass windows and ornate Burmese teakwood flourishes. They each served the city’s historic Baghdadi Jewish community and were funded by the powerful Sassoon family. For an intimate glimpse into Mumbai’s surviving Jews visit on Saturday morning to be greeted with the traditional ‘Shabbat Shalom’ and a delicious three-course meal with members of this proud and gentle community. Don’t be deterred by the security guards, visitors are very welcome.
Sir Jacob Sassoon Synagogues | T: 022 23682296
One of Mumbai’s best known theatres, Prithvi was started by legendary actor Shashi Kapoor, of the famed acting dynasty, and his wife Jennifer Kendal (sister of Felicity). Each February sees the annual memorial concert where legendary maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain holds classical performances. There is a flourishing flotilla of plays, workshops and festivals. The theatre has even had its own commemorative stamp issued by the government to mark 50 years of contribution to Mumbai’s artistic life.
W: prithvitheatre.org | T: 022 2614 9546
DR BHAU DAJI LAD MUSEUM
It could be in Rome or Florence – a Renaissance Revival villa that is also Mumbai’s oldest museum dating from 1855, situated in lush Jijamata Udyan gardens. Showcasing India’s decorative arts with a focus on the city’s 19th century heritage, this treasure house holds archaeological finds, historic images, artworks and textiles that reveal an ever-more intriguing and complex heritage. Take in the Minton tiled floor and ornate ceilings. The plaza area boasts a good cafe and shop and hosts contemporary dance and film events. A new 11,000 square metre wing is due to open in 2018 to great fanfare.
W: bdlmuseum.org | T: 022373 1234
Mumbai played a leading role in India’s freedom movement and figurehead Mahatma Gandhi’s spirit lives on at this preserved heritage building. The nerve centre of the outspoken activist’s campaigns between 1917-1934, Mani Bhawan is a poignant homage to a man who fathered a nation and proudly displays his iconic words ‘Truth alone will endure, all the rest will be swept away by time’. The second floor contains Gandhi’s unchanged room and a photographic exhibition of his life and work. Recordings of his speeches are played on request and biographical film screenings are regularly held.
W: gandhi-manibhavan.org | T: 022 23805864
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