Colorful. Chaotic. Unpredictable. Shy but friendly and helpful at the same time. Full of joy. Simple. Wonderful in its own way.
Welcome to Mumbai.
There is so many words, so many with all kinds of different meanings, that I could use to describe this very unique city.
Despite all doubts and expectations, I somehow fell for this city. Actually, I didn’t really know what to expect. Not in any way. But somehow I did expect to dislike it.
I literally could not imagine what it will be like in, not only Mumbai as city, but India in general. After all my traveling I still felt like this is my first time going abroad. Being from Austria, though I have lived in numerous countries in the past few years, India felt like something completely new. A different world. And it really is! A world that I somehow discovered to like.
I love how friendly and helpful the people are. I love how simple everything is. How things are appreciated in a totally different way. I love how hospitable and welcoming everybody is.
But before I melt into my dreams, I should probably start from the beginning and tell you what exactly made me fall for this city.
I arrived in Mumbai at 4.30 in the morning. For some reason I decided to do this trip in July, not much thinking of the fact that it is monsoon season over there. But, again despite my expectations, I enjoyed the rain!
I had contacted a few people from India before I left and every single one of them told me how much I would love it here during monsoon. I was like.. uhm – why would I?? I don’t like rain!! Well, I didn’t like rain in Vienna. Or probably anywhere else. I did like it in Mumbai. I don’t understand how this happened but this city just makes you enjoy things you never knew you could like.
Anyhow, so my plane from Dubai landed at 4.30 in the morning. It was dark and, of course, rainy. And I can’t explain why, but I thought it was kind of scary. Now I was really there! As the only white person in this plane. In dark and rainy Mumbai. With no idea what is going to happen once I leave this airport.
Thus I was thankful to have had a few contacts, which of one even came to pick me up from the airport. After letting him wait for 2 hours (it wasn’t my fault!! But later on I realized I didn’t really have to be sorry, as the Indian clock apparently works MUCH slower than any other) I finally met him outside the airport. I had a hotel booked for the first few nights and being a hotelier myself, I was of course well aware of the usual check-in times. It was 06.00 am and check-in started at 02.00 pm. What to do now? So my friend Prakash took me on my first little sightseeing tour. If you can even call that ‘little’, considering the immense size of this city. I remember looking out of the window while driving from the airport down to South Mumbai. And the first thing that came to my mind is: It is so colorful! I don’t know whether it was the street stands or the parks or, most likely, the sarees. They are everywhere. In all variations. In all colors. And I absolutely loved it! I didn’t know a big and crowded city can seem so joyful and colorful during rains. My city is grey. And a darker version of that grey during rain. Well, not in Mumbai!
So while driving and looking out of the window, I took my first Mumbai picture. I thought it was interesting, beautiful and hilarious at the same time. Probably no other picture could have summarized the situation better (although, a rickshaw on the photo would have been nice).
The very first places I saw in Mumbai were probably also the most touristic things I have seen during my 2 w
eeks stay. Whenever I travel, I want to see and try everything. Local places. Local food. Local everything. Though somehow I feel like part of the Indian hospitality is the desire to show their guests (maybe especially Europeans?) the best places. So after a stop at ‘Bandra Bandstand’ and the Gateway (and after getting soaking wet) and driving past the Victoria terminal, we headed to my hotel, where I was more than glad they let me check-in early.
So here are some more specific recommendations:
During my two weeks in Mumbai, I stayed in 3 different places and three different areas (which really makes a difference as this city is HUGE!). My first stop, to everybody’s surprise, was Navi Mumbai. A ‘new’ part of Mumbai, which is about a 30 minutes drive away from the city. Please note this would be with no traffic on the roads. Of course those 30 minutes can easily go up to 1,5 hours (especially when in a car).
I am not going to recommend you any specific places, as I guess this mainly depends on your budget as well as your preferences. I for my part stayed in 1 hotel and 2 apartments via AirBnb. Depending on your purpose of traveling, the location where you would stay will of course vary. If you don’t have much time and only want to see the main sights, staying in South Mumbai would probably be a good idea. Here you are right by the big Victoria train station, the gateway next to the famous Taj Mahal Hotel, various museums and shopping streets and close to the ferry that takes you, for example, to Elephanta Island.
If you are planning on seeing different places in Mumbai or meeting people all over the city, which was the case during my trip, I found Chembur to be the perfect area. With fairly affordable rates for both apartments and hotels, I am sure everybody will find the perfect place to stay. The area is great not only because of the many markets and restaurants, the easy connection to public transportation, but also because it is the most central location if you look at the entire city of Mumbai. In Chembur you are right in the middle between South Mumbai, Andheri, Navi Mumbai or the west end.
In any case, when choosing your accommodation please keep in mind that traffic in Mumbai is no joke (okay, I was there during monsoon but I doubt it will be any different during other seasons) and traveling around will take up quite some time of your day. Which takes me to the next part of my article:
There surely is a reason why I said 30 minutes of traveling in Mumbai can EASILY go up to an hour, an hour and a half.. If you ask me, getting around in Mumbai (for a foreigner!) can be quite a challenge but can be so much fun too!
Driving a car is probably the most annoying and inconvenient way to get around in Mumbai. Unless we are talking about trains during rush hour, then that’s probably the most annoying way. Thanks to my new friends in Mumbai I got to try all kinds of transportation within my first 24 hours. Car, bike, auto rickshaw and local trains. And I am absolutely in love with rickshaws! They are so cute and cheap and absolutely everywhere. You should absolutely try this!
Riding the train was a totally new experience and I absolutely LOVED it. However, please do not take them during rush hours. Get on an empty train and enjoy the views. Enjoy the fresh breeze while standing in the open doors of the train. For all the women out there reading this article, there is ‘female only’ compartments too.
The probably most interesting thing I experienced on that train was getting to Victoria station (Mumbai CST) around 06:00 pm on a weekday. Going down to South Mumbai was fine but trains going up from the South were insanely packed. So right before the train approached the station, my friend told me ‘let’s sit down, we have to get off at the next stop’. I was like… Why would I sit down then!? ‘Just trust me.’ he said. ‘We will sit down until people got on the train and then we get off.’ Uhm okay – you know it better! So we did. And even before we got to a stop, I totally understood. As Mumbai is such a huge city, we are talking about hours of train rides for those people to get home from work. Obviously having a seat on the train is something rare and very desirable. The train was still moving when people started literally jumping on. The first woman who sat down across from me said ‘Sit! Sit! Don’t get up!’ so I didn’t dare to move, while people wouldn’t stop running onto that train. A few seconds later (as every train only stays in the station for exactly 10 seconds) the wagon was full. So we stood up and got off. Funny experience, I must say! So unless you are ready to be ran over by a load of passengers, you should follow the same advice 🙂
Other ways to get around are the metro or, obviously, taxis. Either public taxis or Uber, or OLA, the Indian Uber. They are very reliable, however it was a little tricky guiding them to your pick up location when they called, as I didn’t speak a word of Hindi. Luckily, again, I had my friends who had been incredibly helpful in even calling the drivers.
Culinary & Shopping
There is SO much to Indian cuisine (I feel like each state has its own) that I never got tired of it.
I can surely give you a few recommendations on places but again, those are all based on my personal preferences and you whether or not like the same things as me, that I cannot tell you.
Whenever I travel, I want to see and try everything or at least (otherwise I probably still wouldn’t have left the first country I traveled to J ) as much as I can. Well, not everything, but everything about that country’s culture and traditions. Thus I prefer to have Indian cuisine, rather than McDonalds. Unique street shopping and markets, rather than malls. I am glad I got to try a number of Mumbai’s ‘local bars’, real Indian restaurants and street food. Please do try those, even though some of them can look kinda sketchy. They are awesome!
And I found two great places in South Mumbai. I only stopped at that corner because I saw ‘Leopold’s’ and after reading about it in the book Shantaram (probably the only thing I knew in Mumbai when I got there) I was so excited to check it out. What a waste of time! I expected a cool bar with local people, food and drinks. Of course all I got was a diner-like restaurant with way overpriced drinks, American food and packed with tourists. So we left after one beer and thanks to my friend moved over to those two cool places:
- An awesome restaurant across the street with delicious Indian food, called the ‘Olympia Coffee House’.
- To end the evening nicely, we went to a local bar (price for a beer is about a third from Leopolds, no joke) just around the corner from Leopold’s – ‘Vrandavan Restaurant & Bar’. Can’t tell you how much I enjoyed those places.
On that same street you will also find loads of shops, though remember that are is still very touristy. However, you will of course find more markets, shops and good restaurants all over Mumbai. So did I around the Chembur train station. To name one good restaurant – ‘Grand Central Hotel’ is pretty nice and just a few blocks away from the station.
To get more of a nightlife, check out Bandra area. Barstock exchange is supposed to be a fun place. Since prices change as per demand, it would be a good idea to go there early or on weekdays, if you are on a budget 🙂
I guess this is something you don’t need a travel blog for, as you can (and probably already have) get this information anywhere.
Besides the main sights of Mumbai such as the Victoria Terminus (CST), the gateway of India, Marine Drive (love it!) and all the sights around South Mumbai and Colaba, do go out to explore different neighborhoods.
As already mentioned earlier, there is a lot to do and see around the Chembur train station. Like at so many other places in Mumbai, you will find lots of shops, restaurants, markets, etc. This will get you a feeling of the city.
To see something a little different, take a trip to Chowpatty beach, trust me you will have an interesting experience. Please keep in mind that you are not going to the beach for sunbathing and not necessarily to swim, either. You go there to hang out and have a good time walking around, having some nice street food right at the entrance of the beach, playing games on the beach, etc. It is probably nice going there before sunset and enjoy the evening at the beach or walking along Marine Drive.
Bandra is a hip and posh neighborhood in Mumbai, with lots of (higher priced) shops and restaurants. Apparently many Bollywood stars live here, but I also felt that lots of expats who moved to Mumbai stay here. Take the train or a taxi (or rickshaw J) to the Bandra train station or Bandra Bazar.
If you are interested in seeing completely different facets, check out both of the two probably most contrary areas of Mumbai. While you will find some of the most expensive properties in the world in Malabar Hills (north of Chowpatty Beach), be prepared to see a different world in the slums of Dharavi. I unfortunately didn’t go to Dharavi, so I can only share what some Mumbaikars told me. Apparently it is home of about 1 million people and you can actually visit different neighborhoods within the area.
Outside of Mumbai
Even though I could spend weeks only exploring Mumbai, I recommend to take some time and get out of the city. There are quite a few places about a 3-5 hours drive away so you can make a nice weekend trip out of it. To just name a few:
- Alibag – a small seaside town on the coast south on Mumbai. Alibag is known for its beautiful beaches so it is the right place if you are looking for a relaxing time after a busy few days in the crowded city.
- Lonavala – This will surely be a bit more of an active and adventurous trip than to Alibag, as you should do some hiking around the beautiful nature of this area, including hills, waterfalls, lakes. This is the place for outdoor lovers with many opportunities of hiking, trekking, paragliding, camping and other activities.
- Pune – after Mumbai the second largest city in the state of Maharashtra. Even though there are not even close as many people in Pune, as there are in Mumbai, it is the 9th largest city of India. It’s a 3 hours drive and definitely worth a day trip or weekend stay.