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Bombay’s Culture & Chaos - Colaba Causeway

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

Growing up in the city of Bombay, the metropolitan ‘Big Apple’ of India, long promenades interspersed between streams of traffic were a sparse sight. Locals are familiar with many avenues and walkways, scattered around the city, some well-known and others carefully hidden in the nooks and crannies of the crowded city. It is difficult to narrow down my favourite walk to a single spot, but the most understated walk of the city and a must-visit spot for tourists, is Colaba Causeway.

Nestled in the heart of Bombay, Colaba Causeway is a three kilometre stretch, near the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea. The causeway is a downtrodden market in a seemingly upmarket neighbourhood and is known as the ‘Culture Square’ of Mumbai, due to the diverse and vibrant nature of the market.

The market represents the cultural diversity and vivacity of India, and interacting with the locals around gives you a taste of Mumbai city. Along with lavish showrooms and small shops dealing in electronics goods, cosmetics, music and antiquities, there are street stalls and sidewalk outlets selling carpets, slippers, clothes, accessories and jewellery. The area is also scattered with eateries, restaurants along the roadside which serve authentic Indian street food at attractive prices. Eating at shambled restaurants on the street whose walls are adorned with graffiti, is a unique experience for tourists.

The market is the perfect place for backpackers, tourists and locals due to its affordability. Excluding the plush shops and eateries, Colaba Causeway is the perfect place for people looking to shop, eat and enjoy on a budget. Meshed together in a jumble of noise, chaos and people, Colaba Causeway perfectly captures the life and spirit of Mumbai city.

Entering the market is an attack on all the senses. The colours, noises and smells are overwhelming and make you forget about the traffic and humidity of the city. The tumbledown market consists of sellers screaming and hollering, trying to attract roaming customers who want nothing more than to haggle and negotiate prices. There is an overarching canopy of cloth and tarp made from leftover bamboo which serves as shelter in the rain and shade in the summer. In the throng of people, you can often spot old buildings, reminiscent of Indo Western architecture, enclosing the madness of the market. Walking in the narrow alley, one has to wiggle their way around people whilst being careful of roaming pickpockets, waiting to rob unsuspecting tourists. The smell of sweat and large crowd may seem unappealing but are an integral part of the experience.

After multiple visits to the area, you become familiar with the norms of the market. You find out when the caches of hawkers and sellers are going to be replenished with new stock, how to pinpoint pickpockets and negotiate prices. The skill of haggling is one that takes some time to master but is an essential norm of the market.

Lost in the chaos of the market, you often forget just how fast time passes. Before long the sun has set and the market is lit up with lights. Despite the dark, the vivacity of the market lives on as a popular hangout spot for locals, hub for upcoming artists and drug muling. Like the city of Mumbai, the market never sleeps.

The most unique feature of the market is its lively atmosphere. There is a sense of calm in the chaos, which is the perfect escape from the monotony of life.

In recent times, when the world seems to have come to a standstill, the market seems to have lost the vibrancy it once exuded. The lonely causeway seems no different from any other walkway in the city. Abandoned and lifeless. The market is a ghost town, deserted by its loyal inhabitants, desolate and stripped of all its vivacity. The silence is deafening and you can almost hear the calls of desperate vendors and the tinkering of unstable tarps and wires echoing in the wind. If you didn't know the market once existed, you would never be able to tell it had. You can spy the occasional piece of counterfeit jewelry strewn on the sidewalk, trampled over by an occasional unsuspecting person, rushing to get home before the curfew. It seems like only yesterday that the market beckoned people, luring them in with its flourishing lights and infectious excitement, yet all that remains today is a graveyard of what it once was. It seems like no one is immune to the current situation and though the market fought well against the looming danger plaguing our world, it fell prey and eventually succumbed. Yet all hope is not lost. The market, such an integral part of Mumbai’s culture and heritage, will be reborn like a phoenix out of its ashes and will emerge more glorious than ever.

Surviving the sands of time and a relic of India’s colonial past, Colaba Causeway is a must-visit location of Mumbai for all tourists and locals, looking to emerge themselves in the spirit and zeal of the city.

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