The Knitter's City: Mumbai with Nidhi Kansal

Nidhi Kansal is a knitwear designer based in Mumbai, India and here she shares her knowledge of the region's must-visit spots (craft-related and otherwise)! Nidhi grew up in Mumbai so she knows the place intimately, and in this Knitter's City entry, she has combined her interest in Mumbai's history with her passion for photography. We hope you enjoy it! 

Now, over to Nidhi! 

Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is international in character due to its history with Portuguese and British influences among others, not to forget the vastly varying cultures of its own country and home-grown local flavour.

A sleepy fishing village of centuries ago, it steadily transformed into the commercial and entertainment capital of India and is home to a population of over 12 million today. Keeping in mind its role as a significant port over centuries, let’s begin our journey at the symbolic entrance to the city, the Gateway of India.

Built in the early 20th century, the main objective of this monument was to commemorate the British royalty’s visit to India. Located about 20 kms from Mumbai’s international airport and overlooking the Arabian Sea, the Gateway is found in Colaba, the southernmost part of the city and one of the original 7 islands that formed Bombay.

Mumbai is roughly divided into old Mumbai to the south and the newer suburbs to the north. The 3 main railway lines running north - south through the length of the city also mark out definitive sections. Addresses that mention east or west often refer to either side of these railway tracks. 

South Mumbai is host to heritage buildings, art galleries, theatres, libraries and long walkways by the sea. We have spent many a weekend just walking through the lanes here. Unsurprisingly, it is a popular hangout for tourists. Walk down Colaba Causeway for good bargain buys, anything from Kashmiri carpets, silks and silver jewellery to clothes, shoes, bags and accessories are available. While the tiny boutique stores might have fixed prices, be sure to bargain with street vendors, beginning at about one fourth of the quoted price.

Marathi is the local language but English is widely spoken and understood here among a host of other languages, which makes it relatively easy to get by.

The city is spoilt for choice when it comes to food and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants around, catering to both international and local tastes. Stop by The Taj Mahal Palace hotel for an exquisite meal and luxury experience or visit cafés like Leopold’s or Mondegar for a more low-key, relaxed vibe.

The Mumbaikars, as we are known, are very fond of their street food. A spicy vada pav with chutney or a lip smacking bhel puri are staples available at every nook and corner, and popularly enjoyed while on a trip to the beach.

If you are a cricket lover like the average Indian, the Wankhede is a must see. The stadium runs to capacity during international matches and you will often spot people on terraces and windows of nearby buildings, trying to get a glimpse of their favourite sport.

Ferries available off the Gateway are a convenient way to explore places just outside of the main city. Visit the Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or Alibaug, a coastal town that very often serves as a quick weekend getaway.

The hill stations are a place people run to to escape the summer heat, closest being places like Karjat, Matheran or Lonavla.

If you love animals, the Japalouppe Equestrian Centre is a must. While it’s primarily a horse riding school, they also have a petting farm and accommodations available for short stays. 

It’s now time to move into the newer, noisier part of Mumbai. Connected by the sea link to the west and the freeway to the east, you can cover this distance in no time.

It can be overwhelming at first, the noise and the people, the vast amounts of it all crammed into a seemingly tiny space. The suburbs, though, display life in Mumbai at its truest.

The sealink leads you right into Bandra, home of the stars.

Akin to cricket’s fever pitch, the Indian film industry plays a strong influence on the city’s fashion and habits. 

The suburbs have their pretty little gems too, tucked away in quiet lanes, and the Taj Mahal Tea House is one such place. Step in for a lovely cup of Kashmiri saffron chai with a Parsi brun maska. If you’re lucky, you could also enjoy live Hindustani music performances from established artists of the country in this charming little place.

After the leisurely chai break, take a walk down Veronica Street towards Ranwar Village Square. This tiny village is one of the oldest in Mumbai and is an absolutely delightful find.

A few meters away, on Hill Road is Hidden Treasures. True to its name, this is a treasure trove of supplies for crafters of all kinds. Every nook and corner of this tiny shop is filled with lace, yarn, buttons, beads and everything else you might need to create your piece of art. But you need to spend some time here digging through the shelves, because at the very back of the store might be the item that makes your heart sing.

Magic Needles is our newest yarn store, another hidden gem since it’s tucked away in a busy part of the city.

We’re fortunate to have easy access to knitting and crochet supplies despite the warm weather. While most of the yarn found in local shops is acrylic, online stockists ensure we get our steady dose of local as well as international yarns.

Pradhan Embroidery Stores has been a lifeline for me and many other makers since we began crafting. Catering to multiple crafts, you can find thread for purses and bags, buy bag handles, cross stitch kits, and so much more. Our local meets often begin at this store after which we head over to a cafe or restaurant close by to admire each other’s purchases and makes.

A city often said to be bursting at its seams is as a consequence also bursting with talent, energy, and even beauty. One just needs to know where to look for it.

There’s so much to share about a place one grew up in that it’s never easy to condense it all into a short read, but I hope this gave you a little glimpse into a place I fondly call home.

Editors' Note: As members of the Indian diaspora, we've loved learning about Mumbai. Part of the reason the Indian diaspora exists is because of the country's colonial history; a history which is painful, present, and keenly felt by us, and the legacies of which Nidhi briefly touches upon in her discussion of British influences and the use of the English language in India. If we're lucky enough to visit Mumbai in the future, we'll certainly use Nidhi's post as a guide in addition to educating ourselves further on the country's imperial past and we urge you to do the same.  

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