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The Spices of Indian Food

Dear readers,

After a scrumptious Dharavi Cooking Experience, getting hands on and learning how to make Indian dishes, we thought: why not pay homage to the ingredients that make the cuisine unique–a post in appreciation of some of India’s most beloved spices?

India boasts a diverse range of regional cuisines where varying spices and ingredients are used. Indeed, the basis of all dishes is the masala (which means “spice” in Hindi). The richness, the layers of bright, full-bodied and powerful flavours that a medley of spices brings is unbelievable. The ratio of each spice in a masala mix is tailored to one’s taste: it can be blended to evoke balance, or to enhance and emphasize particular flavours. Here are some essential spices found in Indian cuisine:

Turmeric

Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its characteristic yellow hue. It is loved for its potent antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  The chemical compound cucurmin is present in turmeric, which lends this spice its medicinal powers. Studies have shown that curcumin can suppress inflammatory molecules and stimulates one’s antioxidant enzyme capacity. Many Indians swear by turmeric boiled in milk as a home remedy to fight colds and infections.

Chili peppers

What really gives Indian dishes that “spicy” kick? None other than the chili pepper. Chilis are high in vitamins and minerals, particularly in vitamin A and C, immunity boosting nutrients. Also, capsaicin, an active compound of chili, is effective of relieving pain and congestion (that all too-familiar feeling of a runny nose after consuming a dish with chilis). Chilis are also known to have antibacterial and anti-fungal effects, good for ridding harmful bacteria in the stomach.

Cumin

Cumin, a spice native to Egypt, is one of the world’s most loved spices. It’s a spice that is versatile and can be used in various kinds of dishes, with its peppery, nutty  flavour. Rich in iron and fiber, cumin boasts a myriad of health properties–particularly in reducing inflammation and gas as well as aiding digestion. Here in India, jal jeera (cumin water) is commonly consumed to promote digestion; simply boil cumin seeds, let the mixture cool, and drink on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.

Black and white peppercorns

The peppercorn: a familiar spice that is used not only Indian cuisine but also in Asian and Continental cuisine. In fact, records show that the peppercorn has been used in Indian cuisine since 2000 BCE. Peppercorn contains piperine, a chemical property which is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Cloves

This flavourful spice is known for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties, being used in various forms of ancient medicine. It is filled with nutrients, aiding digestion and reducing inflammation. (In fact, my mother swears by cloves as a means of curing tooth infections.) Did you know that cloves were transported in the 13 and 14th century to China, India and many more places? It’s no surprise that the spice is a culinary basis in Indian cuisine.

Black and green cardamom seeds

Cardamom (my favourite spice) is found in either black or green varieties. They come from the same plant family but are processed differently: green cardamom is taken whole and harvested before reaching maturity, while black cardamom seeds are extracted and dried. Generally, green cardamom is preferable to flavour sweet dishes and black cardamom is preferable to impart a stronger, deeper flavour.

This powerful spice is also known to help reduce blood pressure, improve breathing (by relaxing airways), and aid digestion (and potentially heal ulcers)!

Cinnamon

Ah, there is nothing quite like the aroma of cinnamon. Its use can be raced back to ancient Egypt, and its medicinal properties have been valued for centuries. What’s at the heart of the health benefits and soothing scent of cinnamon? Cinnamaldehyde: an active compound that is responsible for cinnamon’s potent health benefits. This particular compound has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon is also believed to aid in controlling sugar levels by reducing one’s resistance to insulin (a hormone integral to regulating blood sugar as well as energy levels and metabolism)

Mace

Not many people know what mace is: mace is a spice derived from the outer coat of a seed of nutmeg. It’s a flavour that can been described as a mixture of pepper and cinnamon–more aromatic than nutmeg itself. Records indicate that mace had been used by the Romance in the 1rst century A.D. It was so valuable that in the 14th century, half a kilogram of nutmeg was worth as much as 1 cow or 3 sheep!

Bay leaf

A particularly fragrant spice, bay leaf hails from the Mediterranean and is known for its distinctive aroma. The Greeks and Romans used bay leafs to crown accomplished and revered individuals. Besides flavouring stews, curries and more, bay leaf is also commonly used in cosmetics, soaps, and medicine. Its numerous health benefits include aiding digestion, reducing swelling, and fighting fungal infections to name a few.

Coriander

Ground coriander is included in many Indian spice mixes for its distinct flavour. Coriander has also been touted by various cultures over the centuries for promoting digestion. It is known to have diuretic properties, alleviating gas and promoting smooth digestion. Did you also know that coriander was believed to prevent food poisoning? In fact, coriander seed oil has antimicrobal and antibacterial effects.

Has all this spice talk inspired you to use a few (or all) in your next meal? Get hands on and learn more about how to use them in classic Indian dishes on our Dharavi Cooking Experience!

 

mumbai sight seeing tour

Top Things to Do on a Mumbai Sightseeing Tour

Mumbai is known as one of the most popular tourist destinations of India. Because of the unique seaside location, this city has expanded to fill the surrounding seven islands. It has also become one of the biggest trading hubs of this world. Traveling in this city can help people to understand modern Indian culture. Full of festivals, entertainment, historically-significant places, and authentic cuisine, Mumbai offers something for everyone!

So, if you are planning to visit Mumbai soon, then here are the top things that you can do on the Mumbai sightseeing tour.

  1. Sunset at Bandstand: Bandstand is a long rocky walkway in Bandra beside the Arabian Sea. And this is known as one of the most popular hangout places and one of the most popular romantic hotspots. Visiting this place while being in Mumbai is a must to enjoy the photogenic sunset and to stroll hand in hand.

  2. The night view of Marine Drive: Your Mumbai sightseeing tour will be incomplete without visiting Marine Drive. In fact, it is a great experience to see the Mumbai skyline while sitting beside the Arabian Sea. While the lights lit up along the road in the evening, Marine Drive converts into the “Queen’s Necklace”-pretty, sparkling and curvy. Another thing that you can do in Marine Drive while enjoying the night view is to taste the amazing food for different budgets.

  3. Visit the Haji Ali Dargah: Situated in the backdrop of Arabian Sea, the Haji Ali Dargah is known as one of the most popular religious places in Mumbai. This Dargah is developed in 1431 by Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. This beautifully designed Dargah includes Indo-Islamic architectural details. The main shrine of this Dargah is placed in a beautiful looking marble courtyard. Millions of people visit this Dargah on a regular basis. So, visiting this Dargah is a must during your Mumbai darshan.

  4. Check out the Parsi Cafes: In case you are planning to try out the authentic delicacies of Mumbai, then visiting different Parsi and Irani cafes and restaurants is a must. Some of the most popular examples where you can pamper the taste buds include Café Military, Britannia and Co, and Parsi Youth Assembly’s Snack Centre.

  5. Take part in the Bombay heritage walks: If you want to be familiarized with the past of Mumbai during the Mumbai sightseeing tour, then you can opt for the Bombay heritage walks. This walk begins from the ‘Fort’ area. And during this tour, you will cover the areas like the Town Hall, Ballard Estate business district, Asiatic Society Library of Mumbai, the Flora Fountain Circle, the Horniman Circle Garden, the Gateway of India, Indian Naval Dockyard, and the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel. Besides, this tour also includes some of the most iconic and oldest buildings of Mumbai including Bombay Stock Exchange, Bombay House, CST or the former Victoria Terminus.

Conclusion:

These are just a few things that you can do while visiting in Mumbai. There are many more things on the list that you can give a try.

Planning Your Trip to India?

Happy New Year everyone! A new year means more opportunities to explore, new destinations to visit. And of course, India should be on your list!

To make your trip to India easier, we’ve put together a few helpful resources to aid you in choosing transportation, finding accommodation, and more nitty-gritty elements needed to build the perfect itinerary.

1) This is not a secret but we love Lonely Planet. Use this as a guide to learn about different cities, the must-see attractions, the best restaurants and more.

2) What’s our favourite, affordable way of interstate travel in India? Travelling by train! Train travel in India is organized, reliable and fairly simple to navigate. This is a great way to experience typical local means of transportation as well. Avoid paying extra to booking agents and book your train tickets directly here.

3) Looking for the lowest flight rates within India? Make My Trip is our search engine of choice here in India. They always have promo codes you can take advantage of at any time of year.

4) Don’t feel confident in haggling with auto-rickshaw drivers? Have no idea what is a reasonable rate? Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Ola are your best friend. Simply download the applications on your phone and you can book a ride in any major city to take your straight to your desired destination:

4) Looking for authentic, locally-guided tours in Mumbai, Delhi, all over India? We have you covered. Not only does your money go to fund our educational programmes via Reality Gives, but also your guides are trained to provide you with the best experience, showing you the real India: www.realitytoursandtravel.com

Should you go North, South, East or West? Have no idea where to even begin? We’re happy to do all the planning, organizing, booking, and more for you. Simply fill out this form–http://realitytoursandtravel.com/plan-your-trip/

We’ll put together your dream itinerary, catering to your tastes, needs, and budget. Let us make your trip to India memorable.

A Practical Packing List for Your Trip to India

Hello travellers,

We’ve curated a shortlist of things that may not necessarily be on the top of your list of things to have on hand while travelling. We are certain that these items shall prove useful—whether you’re in accessible or remote areas, travelling in a group or solo, irrespective of your situation.

Charcoal tablets:
We swear by these pills that have, many a time, been life-savers for inopportune/ unfortunate stomach bugs caught on the road. Just take one or two and within a few hours, you’ll be feeling just fine. The charcoal binds to toxins and pathogens so that they get flushed out of your system quickly. They are also affordable and widely available.

Mosquito repellent:
These buggers are everywhere, whether you’re travelling during monsoon season or dry season, up in the hills or in the bustle of cities. Ensure to apply repellent generously, to prevent yourself from catching Dengue fever or from scratching yourself silly. From our experience, the strong kind (not the natural oil-based repellents aka citronella oil) work the best.

Hand sanitizer:
Sometimes you’re in a hurry, sometimes you’re somewhere without full toilet facilities. Especially if you’re eating with your hands, it’s essential to carry some form of hand sanitizer. Maintaining hygiene shouldn’t fall on the back-burner while you’re travelling.

Toilet paper:
If you’re planning on taking public transport, long bus rides, train rides etc, carrying a roll of toilet paper will enhance your sense of comfort. You’ll be hard-pressed to find toilet paper in public washrooms; if you don’t fancy using a bucket of water to cleanse yourself, then just do it! (Wet wipes are also a practical option.)

Appropriate attire:
This may seem like a no-brainer but we’re giving you a gentle reminder about dress code in India. India is home to temples, mosques and religious sites galore. Hence, we recommend travellers to err on the side of caution and dress modestly, to ensure you can visit places without hassle. Ensure to bring scarves, shawls, long sleeved tops, and long pants to cover up when needed (also to fend off mosquitos!)

We know this is not the most enticing of packing lists, however, it is a valuable checklist for those “you-never-know” or “did-not-think-this-would-happen” moments. So without further adieu, happy packing!

What Is It Like Travelling Solo as a Female in India?

“Wait, you’re all alone? I could NEVER travel all by myself.”

I can’t relay the number of times I’ve heard people say this to me, a solo female traveller. And every time, I return their question with a smug smile and respond: “but of course you CAN!”

India can be a daunting country to visit: the disorienting traffic and number of people, the (at times) overwhelming smells, the astounding beauty, the hospitality and warmth, the sheer diversity. It is nothing short of an exhilarating and rewarding hodgepodge of experiences.

But is it truly safe? Yes it is—partially because there will always be people around. You’ll find that you’re actually hardly ever alone.


SURPRISES AND KINDNESS

As a lone female traveller, I’ve found that time and time again people go out of their way to point me in the right direction. Several strangers have taken me or dropped me off exactly where I needed to be, out of kindness and concern. Strangers will offer you food and snacks on trains and public waiting areas. Meandering about the streets of different towns, you’ll likely get invited by families to join them for chai and a snack, even homemade mealswhich are always authentic.

I remember while I was travelling solo around North India, in the pink city of Jaipur, I stopped by a popular neighbourhood chai stall. Only locals were milling about, shouting their orders from all corners of the space. I was staring up at the menu painted on a board and could not read a thing.

A kind man with his family noticed me and quickly stepped in, taking me under his wing. Before I could protest he had ordered tea along with a plate of buttered bread for me. Standing in front of his family, I sheepishly obliged. When we had finished off our chai and bun-maska (a buttery, creamy centre enveloped by a warm soft bun), I thanked him profusely, and he scoffed at melooking almost insulted that I had even thanked him. “Enjoy the rest of your trip around India,” he replied.  Then he walked off with his kids in a hurry. This is just one of several examples of benevolence I encountered.

SELFIES AND STARES

Yes, you’ll be stared at and approached by all sorts of people. Staring can be responded in two ways: smile or ignore. I find that smiling opens a window of opportunity for conversation and connection. Ignoring is effective if don’t want to engage. Do draw attention if their stares make you uncomfortable. Making a scene is always effective at warding off unwanted action.

This also means that you shouldn’t be surprised when asked to take selfies with groups and strangers. I find that most people who do approach, do so out of curiosity towards foreigners. Some have rarely if ever seen a lone female travellerlet alone a foreigner.

Again, two things can happen: you can accept their request and share a few laughs. However, if you’re uncomfortable or tired of it, don’t be afraid of refusing with a polite “nay.” People will respect your wishes.

As in any other country, any other city, any other community, take note of behavioural norms and safety precautions. General safety precautions include being wary of how you’re dressed (cover up or dress according to where you are), avoiding being out alone at odd hours in an unknown neighbourhood (common sense, no?), letting people know where you are (always).

For example: in a city like New Delhi, unfortunately reputed to be an unsafe city, make a point to dress conservatively and avoid venturing out past a certain hour alone. Even if you do, be sure that you have safe and reliable means of travel, that people know where you are going and can reach you.

Do your research, know your options:

On that note, these days ride-sharing apps like Uber and Ola make travelling around cities simple: just book a ride and you’re on your way. No need to haggle, no need to worry about safety, a straightforward solution to ensuring you get to where you want to go.

I know, you’re thinking “I can just take Uber everywhere?” The answer is a resounding, “yes!” I find that cities in India are at times more technologically savvy than other places in the world. You can order anything to be delivered to where you are. Everything is now at your fingertips: you’d likely have connectivity in all cities and even in remote areas up in the mountains.

But don’t shy away from taking trains and public transportation! In New Delhi, the metro system is an absolute life-saver. Air-conditioned, cheap, reliable, it makes travel easy (especially if you want to avoid traffic). There’s also a women’s only compartment, which is heavily enforcedby women within the compartment and officers alike.

In Mumbai, riding the local trains is an experience every visitor needs to partake in. This way, you circumvent the city’s notorious traffic, making getting around faster. Moreover, auto rickshaws in Mumbai run by the meter, at any time of day (note that you can’t take an auto down South).

Lastly, hiring a local guide is an amazing way to navigate and explore a city. You’ll get insider information and the security of being guided by someone from the area: all the contextual details to enhance your adventures and exploration.

What are you afraid of?

Sureyou may get caught, as in any other part of the world, in an uncomfortable situation. In these cases, don’t be afraid to reach out to security or policemen. But trust that people in India will treat you as a guest, always ready to lend a helping hand.

Follow your “gut” feeling and err on the side of caution. Be wary of scams, be wary of your surroundings, but ultimately be open to new experiences. Take an auto-rickshaw, learn to haggle prices, fend off shop vendors. Be open, but be firm.

Travelling alone will teach you to learn the art of balancing being kind and open, to being assertive and brave. It’s an artful dance between adventure and sensibility, a life skill that travelling alone as a woman in India will also impart.

So come ready to be taken spontaneously through the streets by a well-intentioned stranger, come ready to be treated to copious amounts of food, come ready be asked to take selfies.

Come ready to be swept away by the nation: teeming with love, with historical and natural beauty, full of contrasts and contradictions, but consistent cups of sweet masala chai.

Welcome to Mumbai: Getting from the Airport to the City Centre

Finally, you’ve made the decision to visit Mumbai and explore all it has to offer!

We’ve put together a summary to help you decide how to get into the city upon arrival at Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport:

1) Taxi

This is a straightforward method to get into the city. There are two types of taxis you can take: pre-paid or normal metered taxis. Normal taxis be distinguished by their black and yellow exteriors, whereas the pre-paid taxis are equipped with air conditioning (sometimes referred to as “cool cabs”).

We recommend taking pre-paid taxis over metered taxis to ensure you get a fair rate into the city, irrespective of traffic conditions/travel time.

  • Cost: The average rate is around INR 500 – 600 for pre-paid, INR 625-700 for metered taxis
  • Travel time: 25 minutes to 2 hours

*Note that the time of day you arrive/depart and traffic will affect the length of time it takes for you to get in or out of town.

2) Ridesharing apps: Uber and Ola Cabs

Oh the wonders of technology and ride-sharing apps! Travelling via this option is seemingly effortless: the airport has designated pick-up points for Uber and Ola riders, as well as signage to direct you to these pick-up points.

Ask for the Uber or Ola Cabs counter upon exiting any terminal premises and you’ll be directed accordingly. In case you don’t have either application downloaded on your phone, Uber or OLA representatives at these information counters can help you book a ride. Rates are fair, fixed, and you can rest assured that you’ll be dropped off exactly where you need to be.

  • Cost: The average rate is around INR 250-500
  • Travel time: 25 minutes to 2 hours

3) Auto Rickshaws

These are the beloved black and yellow, compact three-wheelers that roam Mumbai’s streets. We daresay that autos are the most popular and cost effective means of travel around the city. Moreover, Mumbai’s auto-rickshaws are always metered, so there is no need to fret about price negotiations.

Auto rickshaws in Mumbai, however, only operate in the suburbs and cannot enter South Bombay (Colaba, Fort area). The only terminal where you can catch an auto to reach the suburbs of Mumbai is from Terminal 1B, domestic departures. If you’re thinking of catching an auto from Terminal 2, the only way you’d be able to get one is to get to a nearby train station first.

4) Bus

This would be a difficult to navigate if you aren’t familiar with train travel in Mumbai; however, there are bus services that connect both international and domestic terminals to  train stations nearby—making it a cost effective means of getting into town.

BEST- Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport

  • Bus Route number 312: stops at Vile Parle (East) and Andheri (East) railway stations
    – Opening hours: 04:50 am to 22:50 pm.
  • To Vile Parle Railway Station include: Bus route 2, 35, 39, 322, 330, 374 and 384
  • To Andheri (East) railway station: Bus route 308
    – Opening hours: 05:10 am to 22:10 pm.
  • Vile Parle East: Bus route 321

*Note that buses do not run overnight. So, if you arrive at odd hours in the morning/night, you’ll have to take a cab/Uber/Ola.

5) Train

Unfortunately, Mumbai’s airport isn’t directly connected to any train station. But if you’re adventurous and would like to make your way into the city centre via Mumbai’s local train system, you can do so by travelling to the nearest station via auto/taxi first. Train travel is the fastest way to get into the city centre during peak traffic hours.

Here are some helpful points of reference:

FROM TERMINAL 1

  • Vile Parle Railway Station: only 2.1 kilometers from Terminal 1, which is about 20 minutes away
  • Other stations include: Asalpha Railway Station (8 km), Sakinaka Metro Station (12 km), Marol Naka Station (6.4 km), Airport Road Metro Station (6.2 km)

FROM TERMINAL 2

  • Andheri East Railway Station: 6 kilometers from Terminal 2, which is about 30 minutes away
  • Other nearby stations: Santa Cruz Railway Station (6 km), Khar Road Railway Station (8 km), Karla Junction Railway Station (13 km)

Happy travels, and hope to see you soon in Mumbai.

My Mumbai Ramadan Tour With Reality Tours & Travels

Mumbai is known to be a fast city, where life just passes you by. Hailing from Mumbai, there are still various facets of our city which we are not exposed to. Mohammad Ali Road, one of the oldest quarters of the city, is one such facet most Mumbaikars have never experienced. Throughout the year, the bustling area is home to traders, merchants, labourers, overcrowded roads and a bevy of restaurants and many people do not venture into this neighbourhood, unless for work.
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Five TED Talks We Love, And Why We Love Them

Since 1984 ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’ (more commonly known the world over as ‘TED’) have been sharing ‘ideas worth spreading’ relating to all things, from education to business, science to development. In the last 30 years, they’ve shared over 2,400 talks in more than 100 languages which have been viewed 500 million times.

These talks are a regular source of ideas, information and inspiration here in the Reality Group office – here are a few we love, and why we love them. (more…)

What’s Life Like When The Monsoon Comes To Mumbai?

The months of monsoon bring joy to millions of people not only in Mumbai but all over India. The torrential rains arrive after a torrid, long and tiring summer. The monsoon begins during the first week of June in the southwest coast. It then travels up through the Indian state of Kerala, up towards the North and usually reaches the city of Mumbai around the second week of June. (more…)

Ganesh & The Story Behind Maharashtra’s Favourite Festival

India is a very diverse country and every city has its own rich history and culture. A particularly striking aspect of this is the range of different festivals celebrated throughout the country.

One of the biggest festivals celebrated around this time of the year in Mumbai is “Ganesh Chaturti”. Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. He is one of the most famous Hindu Gods and easily identified by his elephant head. He is known as the God of Wisdom and Intellect, but also as “Ek Dant”- one tooth – and “Vighnaharta”- vanquisher of obstacles. (more…)

Anyone For Cricket?

Since the British were finally forced to retreat from India many of the reminders of the colonial period have also gradually been pushed aside. From statues of royalty being taken down to city names being changed, in general as a hard fought single nation pride has begun to develop so too has the confidence of independence and desire to break the connection to an imperial past. One aspect brought over by the British that Indians will likely never send back across the sea though is their love for a game involving a ball, a bat and some sticks to knock over… (more…)

Useful Apps To Help You Make The Most Of Your Trip To India

India is a vast and vibrant country with endless experiences available wherever you look and a culture that is truly unique. Many travelers flock to this birthplace of spirituality, home of mouth-watering cuisine and endless geographical beauty.

However, with so much to experience and such a different way of life to the one visitors are used to, many tourists struggle to navigate the frantic, occasionally over-crowded and somewhat stuffy life that mother India has to offer them. Fortunately, using these five apps can significantly improve your time spent in this wonderful country and help you get around easily and problem free. (more…)

If Reality Tours Planned The Royal Visit To Mumbai

Will and Kate are in Mumbai, kicking off their whirlwind trip around India. In 2012, Prince Andrew visited Dharavi with the help of our founder, Krishna Pujari. For this royal visit, however, our services weren’t called upon. But that didn’t stop us from imagining the perfect one day Mumbai tour for the royal couple!

Our itinerary would be a mix of prominent sights tied with British colonial history, local experiences, and an introduction to Mumbai’s temples, markets, and slums. (more…)

Celebrating One Year Of Chai Break: Our Top 5 Posts

1. Definitive Guide to Riding Mumbai Trains (With Pictures)

Mumbai’s local railway is aptly nicknamed the “lifeline of the city.” Mumbai is one of the densest cities in the world and the trains are its saving grace, transporting a staggering 6.9 million people per day. Trains can get so overcrowded during peak hours that it is common to have 14-16 people per square meter. If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry, after reading this guide you will have all the information to conquer the Mumbai local trains. (more…)

How Seneca Can Prepare You For India

India will not be what you expect. You will meet people that are friendlier and more generous than you ever thought possible. You will taste foods so delicious you’ll begin to wonder why Indian food isn’t everyone’s favourite. You will see sights so beautiful that they will remain embedded in your memory for the rest of your life. But you’ll also have to overcome challenges so great that many travellers write off India entirely. Logistically, you will face a myriad of transportation issues. Culturally, you will have some of your most basic assumptions about life and society come into question. And throughout your visit, a thousand and one things will threaten to make you sick. Your time in India will be uncomfortable in one way or another, but these challenges and the beautiful moments that inevitably follow are precisely why we travel: to get out of our comfort zone, challenge ourselves and broaden our worldview. Recognizing this goal and preparing yourself for the challenges that you will inevitably face can dramatically improve how much you enjoy your trip. The first century Stoic philosopher, Seneca, is the unlikely guide to the importance of mentally preparing for your trip. (more…)

Dharavi: A Micro City Within A City

Suraj, one of our senior guides, recently wrote an article about Dharavi for the German magazine, Masala, a publication that aims to build an intercultural bridge from India to Germany.


What is a slum?

I have met many people from all around Mumbai and the world and when I ask them this question, 90 per cent of the time I hear something related to poverty, crime and drugs. I won’t say all of this is false. It may be true for slums in other places but not where I’m from. (more…)

Our Staff’s Recommended India Reading List (Non-Fiction)

India is a country where great wealth and prosperity sits side by side with incredible hardship and poverty and making sense of the great contradictions is a nigh on impossible task. But that hasn’t stopped people trying. Here are some of our favourite attempts to understand and explain this diverse, compelling and fascinating country that we call home.

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Diwali & What It Means To Us

Diwali is tomorrow! In this post, two of our guides, Jitu and Balaji, explain the history of Diwali, why it’s important, how they celebrate and how it is celebrated by Jains. To learn more join us for our Diwali Dharavi Tour and Celebration next year!

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Mumbai Rush Hour Transport Race (With Video Of Bicycle Ride)

It’s 6pm, you’re in Colaba and you need to go north, what do you do? Risk a traffic jam in a taxi? Get a free body massage in the train? Weave in and out of traffic with your motorbike? We decided to put six forms of transport to the test and figure out the answer once and for all.

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Solo Female Travel Tips From “Happy Travelling Girl”

This week we have a special guest post by Krishna Ganatra from Happy Travelling Girl, an organization dedicated to making traveling a safe reality for women. They share with us their top trips for travelling solo in India.


I was reclining at one of the pillars at Vitthal Temple in Hampi. We had been cycling since morning and, being peak season, Hampi was packed with travellers, tourist and school children. My travel buddy, Megha, and I had been in town three days and had been feeling the odd sensation of being strangers in our own country.

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Ganesh Chaturthi: Mumbai’s Biggest Festival

Nick takes us through his experience last year during Ganesh Chaturthi and explains what he learned.


The Modern Origin

There weren’t any crowds when we turn onto the side street indicated on our map. It was surprising considering my friend and I were trying to find the housing society responsible for the modern form of Ganesh Chaturthi, Mumbai’s biggest festival, during the holiday itself. We went down the entire lane only to find a small Ganesh in a nearly empty housing society courtyard. We decided to ask them for directions.

As we walked into the courtyard, with facads in the old Portugese style rising up on either side of us, a young man sitting on a wooden platform in front of the Ganesh pandal immediately bounced to his feet and came to greet us. He was incredibly friendly and quickly informed us that this was indeed the first society to celebrate the festival in its modern form, which they have been doing continuously for the past 121 years.

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The Surprising History Of Mumbai’s Favourite Sandwich

Vada: spiced, mashed potatoes deep-fried in a batter of chickpeas.

Pav: the ubiquitous white bread rolls.

Put these two simple foods together with some spicy chutney (sauce) and it transforms into Mumbai’s iconic street food: vada pav. The idea is said to have originated from a street vendor named Ashok Vaidya who worked outside of the unceasingly chaotic Dadar train station in the 1960’s and 70’s. In search of a way to fend off the commuters’ hunger, he devised a simple snack that could be eaten on the go. Needless to say, his idea was a success, and it has since been elevated to one of Mumbai’s favourite street foods. But the interesting part of the story is the simple sandwich’s deeply political history. (more…)

Our Staff’s Recommended India Reading List (Fiction)

Fantastical, lyrical and awesome in its nature, Indian fiction often derives much of its inspiration from real life events, lending credence to the old saying “the truth is stranger than fiction”. It can offer incredible insight into the country’s history, politics and culture in an incredibly engaging, entertaining and all too often, heart breaking manner.

A common and popular example of this is Shantaram (now almost as much of a pre-requisite to getting through customs as a visa is), so, without using the ‘s’ word, we asked our staff for their personal favourites.

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8 Mumbai Areas To Explore That Aren’t Colaba

Mumbai can be a difficult city for tourists; it’s hot, crowded and difficult to get around and on top of that there aren’t many famous sights to help guide your visit. But there is actually a lot to see and do once you start searching beyond the well-known sights. Instead of searching for sights to see in Mumbai, a better approach is to look for neighbourhoods to explore. Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city, rich in history and culture and each of its neighbourhoods has a unique feel and something different to offer. Here is a list of our favourite neighbourhoods to give you some ideas of areas to explore outside of Colaba.

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Definitive Guide to Riding Mumbai Trains (With Pictures)

Mumbai’s local railway is aptly nicknamed the “lifeline of the city.” Mumbai is one of the densest cities in the world and the trains are its saving grace, transporting a staggering 6.9 million people per day. Trains can get so overcrowded during peak hours that it is common to have 14-16 people per square meter. If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry, after reading this guide you will have all the information to conquer the Mumbai local trains.

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Undiscovered Mumbai Neighbourhood: Koliwadi

One hundred and thirty five hutments jut out into the Arabian Sea, bravely defying nature and real estate moguls. Slated for redevelopment for almost a decade, Worli Koliwadi, or Worli fisherman village has, like so many other Mumbai settlements, continued to survive due a mix of legal, bureaucratic and geographical factors. But for us this means that there is one more interesting and unique Mumbai neighbourhood to explore!

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