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Travelogue: 24 hours discovering Mumbai's hidden side

A&K travel specialist Brandon Clements explores the hidden corners of Mumbai during a whirlwind visit.

Mumbai is a sprawling city of seven islands, buzzing with energy, people and culture. I visited this metropolis over a decade ago, and ticked off many of its must-sees. So, for my recent 24-hour Mumbai stopover, I was looking forward to exploring its lesser-known corners. 

It was late evening by the time I arrived in Mumbai, which meant the adventure would have to wait until tomorrow. Spending a night at The Taj Mahal Palace made this rest stop a wonderfully indulgent one. The Taj group's first property in India is still a flagship for what the luxury brand has to offer. This 115-year-old building sits right on the waterfront in Colaba, with The Gateway of India just a few hundred metres away. 

After my night spent in opulence, I embarked on one of the best-kept secrets for tourists visiting Mumbai – the Mumbai at Dawn tour. Organised by a local family-run business, it aims to introduce visitors to the most interesting, overlooked areas of the city. The first stop is Sassoon Dock to see the activities of the early morning fish market. Inhabited by the Koli people, the original fishing folk of Mumbai, this area is a real eye-opener. You witness the nightly catch being brought in, sold to middlemen then transported around the city by a team of Koli ladies – all with woven baskets piled with seafood, carefully balanced on their heads. 

The next part of the tour is a visit to a newspaper sorting area near the Victoria Terminus. Wholesale dealers sort the myriad newspapers into dialect order for resale to individual vendors, who then stack bundles of newspapers onto their bicycles, rickshaws and motorbikes ready to deliver to their daily customers. It's also a great place to stop for chai – very sweet and mildly spiced tea. 

The penultimate stop on the tour takes you to one of the many wholesale fruit, vegetable and meat markets. Despite being noisy and crowded, you'll have an authentic experience browsing the weird and wonderful items being haggled over, before they’re sold to the highest bidder. Our last destination was the Dardar herb and flower market, an unofficial market which appears every day on the roadside with hundreds of vendors selling flowers, garlands and various herbs. It’s a dazzle of colours and aromas.

After breakfast back at my hotel, I headed off on a tour of the Dharavi neighbourhood, famous for featuring in Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. Touring this suburb of Mumbai is for those wanting to see the daily lives and struggles of Mumbai’s poorest residents. Although it is referred to as a slum, Dharavi is not full of people begging, but rather an industrial hub of the city. Many homes have been converted to accommodate small-scale industries such as plastic recycling, fabric dying, garment and leather production and pottery. There are also schools, hospitals, temples and food markets, as well as areas devoted solely to housing the one million or more residents of this 217-hectare site. It is essentially a city within a city, with most inhabitants coming from India’s poorer rural areas to work and send money back home to their families. This tour is not for the faint-hearted, but a really rewarding experience if you want to see what real life is like for the city’s least fortunate.  

To begin planning your own visit to India, whether it’s to see the popular sights or the hidden gems, speak to one of our India specialists today, or browse our suggested India itineraries