Chowpatty is the heart of Mumbai. It looms large in the city's psyche, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a native Mumbaikar who doesn't fondly remember it as the backdrop to many emotional, festive and political rites of passage.
But this is no Bondi or Copacabana - no topless baking, swimming or hanging ten. In fact, hardly anything happens here during the day, but in the evening Chowpatty develops a magical atmosphere and is a favourite gathering place for courting couples, political rallies and families keen to enjoy the fresh air.
Kiosks along the beach sell delicious kulfi (Indian ice cream) and Mumbai's signature dish bhelpuri (a combination of crisp noodles, puffed rice, potatoes, onions, puri, mint, coriander, chutney and chillies). Chowpatty's bhel-wallahs come from Uttar Pradesh and yell so loud at passing strollers that people must be able to hear them in Lucknow. At night the beach bhelpuri stalls are lit up like a crime scene, and reed mats are laid out on the sand. This is an essential part of the Mumbai experience and no matter how much you pay to dine at fancy restaurants the atmosphere doesn't get much better than this.
In a bid to rid the area of unsavoury elements (read drug dealers, transvestites and randy couples) the authorities have dispersed the roundabouts, ferris wheels, shooting galleries and shonky card dealers which gave Chowpatty much of its charm at night, but you can still get a vigorous head rub from a malish wallah (masseuse) for next to nothing. It may not relax you, but it will do wonders for your dandruff.