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The joke for many people living in the south of Mumbai is that you need a passport to visit Bandra, a suburb in the city’s northwest. It is about an hour away from tourist-packed Colaba, home to the famous Taj Hotel and the Gateway of India.
But for those seeking something away from the usual tourist trail, distance should not be a deterrent. The Catholic suburb is a mix of old and new, where Portuguese architecture and old churches sit alongside large, trendy Bollywood residences. With its collection of boutiques, restaurants and street markets, Bandra is a great place to shop, eat or simply wander around.
India’s film heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan, one of Bollywood's biggest and best paid actors, lives in the Bandra bandstand area, a stretch along the coast that is lined in the evenings with young Indian couples on secret trysts. There are a few, albeit worn out, pieces of street art lining the promenade, and the seafront path is usually clean, offering a spot in Mumbai where you can stroll without having to look at what you are stepping on.
Start near St Andrew’s church on Hill Road and walk about 15 minutes toward Lands End, the southernmost point of Bandra, at the end of Byramji Jeejeebhoy Road. The route will take you past the sea-facing residences of some of Bollywood's most famous actors, like Salman Khan, Rekha and Shah Rukh Khan. Close by is the Taj Lands End, a branch of the famous Taj hotel chain -- its lobby is great for people watching. Bandra resident and international cricketer Sachin Tendulkar has been spotted in the past, and several film launches and events take place here too.
While most of Bollywood's studios are situated in the Andheri neighbourhood, a walk farther north along Mt Carmel Road gives you the chance to stroll past Mehboob Studios (100 Hill Road), which in its heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s was the film set for Bollywood classics such as Mother India. From there, head to Chapel Road; its winding alleys and pathways have a laid-back, European feel. Unlike many parts of the city, these few streets are not congested, and their architecture is a reminder of the area's former Portuguese inhabitants. Many of the surrounding walls, which are brightly decorated with graffiti art, are the product of locally-organised painting sessions known as the Wall Project, which get people together with spray cans and paintbrushes to beautify their surroundings.
Bandra has a few different shopping areas that offer a mix of boutique stores and street markets, all of which are reachable by a short rickshaw journey. Head down to Linking Road or Hill Road, two of India’s busiest shopping streets, to haggle with the locals for a great deal on a traditional outfit or a pair of the hundred different handmade, sparkly sandals and shoes that are on sale here. Both roads get very crowded in the early evening, when the streets are packed with the peak number of shoppers, so if you can save the street markets, which are open until later in the evening, until after dinner.
For something a little more upmarket, head to Pali Hill, a neighbourhood that has some of Bandra’s most expensive houses and gated residences (Bollywood star Amir Khan lives here). At the bottom of the hill, on Pali Mala Road, is Pali Market, where locals go to buy good quality, inexpensive fruit and vegetables. Pick up an entire box of mangoes here for a fraction of what you would pay back home, get some clothes stitched by a resident tailor or just marvel at the bustle.