Mumbai: You come, you see, it conquers

In Mumbai, Travel Guides
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The city of Mumbai is an archipelago, consisting on 7 islands, which juts into the Indian Ocean, from the western side of India. It is a popular saying among Mumbaikars, that once you have lived in Mumbai, you cannot settle anywhere else in the world, and once you have visited Mumbai, you keep coming back, again and again. This, and other hackneyed tags of Mumbai, such as “the Dream City” or “the city that never sleeps”, had led me to believe that very exciting things start happening, from the moment you step into Mumbai. As an indulgence to my naivety, my first encounter with this city happened at 2 am in the night, when I finally landed at the “Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport”, Mumbai, from a delayed Air India flight. In those small hours, as I drove into the sleepy city, via the beautiful “Sea-Link Road” and past the “Queen’s Necklace”(Marine Drive), Mumbai appeared to me to be an embodiment of everything that is impossible, yet is passionately sought after.

Soon after, I shifted to Mumbai and have been living there for the past three years. In the course of my transformation, from the “New girl in the city” to a “Mumbaikar”,I figured out the reason behind the quintessential charm of Mumbai.  Despite being one of the most populous  cities in the world, in Mumbai, you will always feel a sense of belonging, of being exactly where you fit in. No matter whether you are a visitor or a resident, irrespective of your economic status, religion or age, you can never feel like an outsider in this city. Essentially Mumbai has something to offer to everyone. In my case, Mumbai offered me an immense sense of freedom, and also a whole set of “favourite places” (sights, restaurants, bookshops and cafes), which I keep visiting time and again. In this article, however, I will explore Mumbai as a tourist, and tell you how to navigate your way through this (slightly) overwhelming city, without missing out on any of the “must-do s” and “must-visit s”.

How, When & Where?

When travelling, we need to find the answer to 3 basic questions, before starting out: “How to Reach?, “When to visit” and “Where to stay”. Being the commercial capital of India, the answer to the first question is easy for Mumbai. Within India, Mumbai is well connected to all parts of the country via  the South-western branch of Indian Railways. However to save time (especially if you are travelling from the North/East), it might be a good idea to fly to Mumbai. All domestic airlines run several direct flights to Mumbai (daily), from virtually every city in India. Further, direct flights also connect Mumbai to several international cities, including Frankfurt, Chicago, New York, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Abu Dhabi. In absence of direct (International) flights, or as a cheaper alternative, one can easily fly into Mumbai via New Delhi, the capital of India.

Coming to the second question, according to me, anytime between October-April, is a good time to visit Mumbai. Climatic conditions in Mumbai remains unchanged for most part of the year, with temperature ranging between 26-34 degree celsius, and low precipitation. Mumbai receives very heavy rainfall during the Monsoon months (June-September), and water-logging problems make the city difficult to navigate at this time.

Though there is no dearth of hotels in Mumbai, finding a budget hotel at a good location, can be tricky. Ideally, you would want to book hotels in South Mumbai, more specifically in Colaba, Marine lines, Churchgate or Chowpatty, in and around which most of the tourist attractions are located. However, being very posh localities, hotels in these areas can be quite costly, in which case you can try looking for hotels in and around Dadar or Bandra. As a fortuitous exception, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and its counterpart YWCA, provide international guest house and hostel facilities, that too right in the centre of South Mumbai (Colaba). The room pricing is comparatively reasonable, and if you are planning to stay in Mumbai for a bit longer (say a month or so) you can  apply for hostel rooms (which are even cheaper). You can also checkout and book hotels in Mumbai online, through travel sites such as Goibibo.com or  yatra.com. It is essential to book a room in advance, before coming to Mumbai, as it will save you a lot of trouble and money.

“What”  is the Big Question

Now that we are through with the  initial “How s and When s”, let us move on to the next big question of “What to do in Mumbai?”. Well, in Mumbai, there is always a lot to do, and below I have described an itinerary for a tourist who has very little time (a couple of days) to cover the lot . If you are staying longer (which you should), travel slow, and spread out the plans across the days you have in hand.

Visit the Arabian Sea:

Make an early start to your Mumbai tour,with your stop at the “Gateway of India”, overlooking the Arabian Sea. Located in Colaba (Apollo Bunder area), it is a 26-mt arched gateway, built in Indo-Saracenic style, which commemorates the landing of King George V and Queen Mary (at that site), in 1911. Being a popular tourist attraction, it tends to be very crowded, so it is a good idea to visit it early in the morning, and be done with the customary photoshoots, without being photobombed. However, it would also be worthwhile to take a quick visit in the night, to see the lighted up “Gateway” (see below).From the Gateway, you can board steamers, which take you on a joy ride across the Arabian Sea. Depending on your budget, personal speed boats and yatches are also available for renting.

Steamer ride in the Arabian Sea

steamer ride in the Arabian Sea

Gateway of India

Gateway of india

Shopping

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A Morning at the Museum:

A short walk from the Gateway of India (in the direction of Kalaghoda), will bring you to the beautiful ” Prince of Wales” Museum of Mumbai (otherwise known as “Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastusanghralaya”), which is the biggest and most prolific museum in Western India. Drawing similarity with “Gateway of India”, this museum was also built to commemorate the visit of Prince of Wales (later King George V), to Mumbai. The museum has one of the finest art collections (majorly donated by the Tata Family), along with priceless historical objects, including tools and  crockeries from Indus Valley civilisation,the steel armour of Mughal emperor Akbar, and the swords and tiger nail of the famous Maratha ruler, Chhatrapati Shivaji. Going through the many sections of the Museum will take the better part of your morning; before heading out, make sure you take a  look at the Museum Shop to collect some mementoes.

Fishy Business:

After a quick lunch, your next destination is the “Taraporevala Aquarium”, located on the Marine drive. A 20 min taxi ride from the Museum, the aquarium is the oldest of its kind, in India, and houses over 400 different species of fresh water an marine fishes. The recent renovation of the aquarium, brought about the addition of several new species of exotic fishes,  sea turtles, stingrays and sharks, to its already astounding collection, making it an absolute “must-visit” place in the city.

Beach time!

The most popular tourist destinations of the city are of course the iconic beaches of Mumbai. Locally known as “chowpatty”, these sandy beaches are perfect for taking a long walk, while watching a late sunset(over the city). Mumbai beaches are also famous for their unique street food offerings, and will provide you the gastronomic experience of a lifetime, in under 200 rupees. Girgaon Chowpatty, located at the end of Marine Drive, and Juhu chowpatty, located in Andheri, are the most famous beaches of the city. However, as with all famous places of Mumbai, these beaches tend to become very crowded. If you want a quieter place to relax, and have some time on your hands, you can go to Aksa and Bored beaches located in the outskirts of Mumbai, or the white sand Khashid beach, located in Alibaug.

Girgaon Chowpatty beach

Girgaon Chowpatty beach

Street food at chwopatty

Shop till you Drop!

Your Mumbai vacation is incomplete without a “shop till you drop” experience in the city. Mumbai thrives on street shops, and while you are here,  it is a great idea to ditch “brand shopping” and let the shopaholic (in you) loose. Some of the most famous “shopping streets” are “Colaba Causeway” (Colaba), Hill Road (Bandra), Linking Road (Bandra), Crawford Market (CST), Fashion Street and Zaveri Bazar. From fashionable Indian/western wear, to shoes, jewellery, books and mementoes, you will find just about everything in these places. However, to get the best deals, make sure you haggle and bargain a lot!

The Mumbai Skyline:

Possibly the best way to end your day is by sitting at Marine drive, and gazing across  the Arabian sea, at the Mumbai skyline. Starting from the Nariman Point, the  Marine Drive stretches for 3.5 Km, upto Girgaon Chowpatty. Also known as the “Queen’s Necklace”, Marine drive owes this name to the typical white street lamps, which decorate this boulevard at night. Buzzing with activity till the small hours of the night, Marine drive embodies the  spirit of Mumbai. Do take a walk along the drive, and while you are at it, do not forget to taste the delicious ice-creams and kulfi at the local shops like “Naturals”, “Paramount” or “Bachelors”.

Gastronomy

Given its cosmopolitan nature, almost every popular cuisine of the world is represented in Mumbai. However, Mumbai has its own set of signature dishes and cuisine, which you absolutely MUST try out. Some of the all time favourite street foods of Mumbaikars include “Kheema Pao”, “Vada Pao”, “Pav bhaji” and “Misle Pao”, where “Pao” essentially refers to bread, served alongside different curries. Mumbai is also famous for its Parsi cuisine, which you hardly get to taste anywhere else in India. Several famous Parsi restaurants abounds in Mumbai (especially in South Mumbai); “Paradise Restaurant” in Colaba is one of my personal favourites. The city also has some amazing bakeries, where you get to taste delicious homemade pastries and patties; once again (at the cost of sounding biased to South Mumbai), “Theobroma” in Colaba, is a must-go for those with a sweet tooth.

In parting….

In this very long article about Mumbai, I have only been able to highlight a small aspect of the city. However, armed with these “Know-hows”, I believe you will be able to set out exploring my city, and once you begin, Mumbai is open to interpretations. I do hope that you visit Mumbai, and have a lovely time here.

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