The Mumbai Rundown
A city of Mumbai’s capacity and scope is a challenge to comprehend, let alone take on as a tourist. It takes time, patience and a hearty disposition to grasp India’s mother metropolis of Bollywood film icons, ceaseless slums, feverish street-level entrepreneurship, billionaire capitalists, wan colonial-era landmarks and shiny contemporary skyscrapers.
All this, and so much more, defines the capital of Maharashtra. Mumbai, alpha world city and economic engine of India, delivers all of the inherent contradictions that mark the country as singular; contradictions that baffle, bewilder and astonish countless new visitors on a daily basis and, indeed, more than a few return visitors as well. Rampant poverty and extravagant wealth, old and new, spiritual and secular, austere and wanton, Western and Indian; to the casual observer, Mumbai’s very soul seems caught in a perpetual tug of war.
The city arouses a powerful reaction that seldom borders on indifference. How can you possibly feel blasé about a cradle of culture, a holy, glorious mess of a metropolis, that swells with over 20 million people? Mumbai is complicated but, alas, dangerously addictive.
Mumbai’s Top 10
10. The Bombay High Court is a conspicuous vestige of the British Raj and one of the most majestic landmarks in the city.
5. The Gateway of India is a primary symbol of Mumbai and was built to coincide with King George V and Queen Mary’s visit to the city in 1911.
9. Sanjay Gandhi National Park welcomes more than 2 million visitors per annum and unfurls a host of inherent points of interest, from the Kanheri Caves to lion and tiger habitats.
4. Jehangir Art Gallery sits close to both the Prince of Wales Museum and Gateway of India and is the art museum of record in Mumbai.
8. What Mani Bhavan lacks in physical grandeur, it more than makes up for in historical import. The museum inhabits what was Mahatma Gandhi’s occasional home in Bombay for a period of seventeen years.
3. Chowpatty Beach may, on the surface, look like a panipuri vendor rally but the famous Mumbai landmark is must-see, especially for the Hindu festival of Ganesha in September.
7. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, is a remarkable, august institution and the best museum in Mumbai by far. A huge facility with a diverse range of exhibits.
2. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus Station, is a splendid Victorian Gothic structure and, since 2004, a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well.
6. Haji Ali Dargah is one of the most photogenic landmarks in Mumbai. The exquisite mosque, a masterpiece of Indian-Islamic architecture, is accessible at low tide from a causeway off the coast of Worli.
1. Elephanta Caves, another vital UNESCO World Heritage gem in India, grace a small island in the Arabian Sea, 10 km east of Mumbai. The Archaeological Survey of India oversees the stewardship of the cult of Shiva site.
Mumbai (Bombay) History
- Fort St George – A magnificent area of the city built by the British with Indo-Saracenic, Neoclassical and Gothic Revival styles.
- Gateway of India – One of Mumbai’s well-known monuments built for the royal visit of King George V.
- The Mumbai University – A collection of buildings with wonderful colonial architecture.
- Global Vippassana Pagoda – A dazzling monument that serves as a meditation centre.
- Elephanta Island – A UNESCO World Heritage Site with some of the most amazing temple carvings in the country.
Mumbai (Bombay) Art & Culture
- Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya – An Indian history museum, also known as the Prince of Wales Museum.
- Jehangir Art Gallery – Home to seasonal exhibits of famous artists.
- Nehru Centre Art Gallery at Worli – Dedicated to promising artists, with displays from well-known artists as well.
- Discovery of India – An incredible 14-gallery display that covers many of the artistic, philosophical and intellectual achievements of India.
- Museum Ship Vikrant – This museum is housed in the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant off the coast of Mumbai.
Mumbai (Bombay) Shopping
- Fabindia – Home to traditional handcrafted cloths that come in an enchanting spectrum of colours, textures and fabrics.
- Fashion Street Market – For great deals on well-made knockoffs, this is the place to go.
- Bhuleshwar Market – The place in Mumbai to find just about anything in one of its five sections: food, fabrics and silks, jewellery, furniture and antiques.
- Shrujan – Buy detailed embroidery pieces for everything from clothes to purses to tapestries.
- Phillips – This 150-year-old area boasts many wonderful pieces of art made out of silver, wood and glass.
Mumbai (Bombay) Gay & Lesbian
- Voodoo – A hot disco in Colaba where the unspoken tradition is that Saturday nights are gay nights.
- Gay Bombay – This group organizes Saturday parties every fortnight.
- The L Lounge – A great networking place for lesbians, bisexual women and those who are LBT friendly.
- Planet Romeo – A modern online dating page for private parties.
- Gay Bombay – Hosts activities every Sunday in different areas of Mumbai, with everything from meetings to hiking outings.
Mumbai (Bombay) Outdoor
- Borivali National Park – Also known as the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, with the Kanheri Caves constructed many years ago.
- Veermata Jijabai Udyan – The Mumbai city zoo is well maintained with lush and lovely gardens.
- The Hanging Gardens – Offers a breathtaking view of the Marine Drive.
- Kamla Nehru Park – A well-known park in which many Bollywood movies have been filmed.
- The Mumbai Port Trust Garden – An incredible place to go for views of the waterfront and sunset.
Mumbai (Bombay) Sport
- Heritage Walks – Held on the third Sunday of each month, participants relish a 90-minute stroll through historic and architectural areas.
- Cricket – Fans can enjoy playing or watching one of the many local or international games.
- Mahatma Ganhdi Swimming Pool – Water lovers can take a dip in the Mahatma Ganhdi Swimming Pool.
- Golf – The area of Powai has some of the best golf fields in the country.
- Five Gardens – The Five Gardens in central Mumbai is a wonderful place for early morning walks.
A metropolis with over 20 million people must, inevitably, contain more than a few neighbourhoods of interest and, indeed, a few best left off the travel itinerary. Mumbai is no exception.
Fort is a business precinct famous for street vendors, book stalls and legacy architecture.
Nariman Point is the flagship Central Business District of India and, as such, the financial pulse point of the country. The precinct contains a dramatic high-rise skyline and punctuates the south end of Marine Drive.
Colaba district is the affluent and historic home of the Gateway of India, Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Cowasji Jehangir Hall, Cathedral of the Holy Name and hip shops and restaurants galore. Many rich, household-name industrialists call Colaba home.
Prabhadevi is a wealthy area of Mumbai with a notable landmark in Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Mandir temple.
Worli spans Prabhadevi precinct and Haji Ali Dargah mosque and was one of the original islands in the township that became the city of Mumbai. The locality is a fashionable target for new residential projects and hotels.
Bandra is Mumbai’s “Queen of the Suburbs” and a trendy choice for upscale professionals and tourists in the city. The cosmopolitan area is home to many important attractions, from Mount Mary Church to the Bandstand Promenade. A number of Bollywood actors, Shahrukh Khan chief among them, live in a tony seaside enclave of Bandra.
Navi Mumbai was built as a twin city to Mumbai in the early 1970s to alleviate urban sprawl in the state capital. Then, and still, the most ambitious “New City” in the world, let alone India, the purpose-built urban expanse on the west coast of Maharashtra is now home to close to 3 million people.
Thane is a city and significant part of the Mumbai Metropolitan Area. The major urban precinct has a population of well over 1.2 million people and is most famous as Maharashtra’s “Lake City”. Talao Pali lake, in particular, is a prominent recreation spot.
Mumbai Eat & Drink
Food is a vital component of the cultural mosaic that is Mumbai. From omnipresent street food carts that hawk staples like vada pav to sleek clubs that masquerade as restaurants (with guest lists that mirror a Bollywood film’s credits), the metropolis has it all.
Leopold Cafe (Colaba Causeway), less for the food and more for history, atmosphere and fans of the epic novel Shantaram.
Henry Tham’s (Apollo Bunder Rd, Colaba), for Bollywood excess, a beautiful people vibe and, lest we forget, more than decent Chinese food.
The Fort Branch of Mahesh Lunch Home (8-B, Cawasji Patel Street, close to Gateway of India) was the first restaurant in Mumbai to specialise in Mangalorean cuisine from the Tulu Nadu region of India.
Mocambo Café & Bar (23A Sir P Mehta Rd, Fort) delivers a reliable breakfast and has a colossal, tome-like lunch and dinner menu.
Shivala (Walchand Hirachand Marg) serves no-nonsense Indian and Chinese fare to Mumbai’s hungry and hasty hoi polloi.
Badshah Snacks & Drinks (opposite Crawford Market) is open early, open late and has been at it for well over a century.
Swati Snacks (248, Karai Estate, Tardeo Road) is one of the best of many Gujurati-style fast-food joints in Mumbai.
Basilico (Sentinel House, Arthur Bunder Rd) is a glossy spot that serves up fresh, healthful Mediterranean fare.
Pot Pourri (Carlton Ct, cnr of Turner & Pali Rds, Bandra West) is a standout in the plush suburb of Bandra, with superb sandwiches and light Asian dishes.
Indigo (4 Mandlik Rd, Colaba) whips up artful and contemporary Euro cuisine in tony Colaba.
Important religious festivals in Mumbai include Diwali in October/November, Holi in February/March, the Jain holiday of Mahavir Janma Kalyanak in March/April, and Eid ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan in August/September.
Two important holidays specific to Mumbai and the state of Maharashtra include Maharashtra Day on May 1 and Gudhi Padwa, the Marathi name for the Hindu lunar new year in March/April.
The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival comes to South Mumbai in late January, with a diverse programme of events that lasts for nine days.
The Banganga Festival also takes advantage of clement weather in January to present two days of music at the historic Walkeshwar Temple Complex in Malabar Hill.
As the home of Bollywood, Mumbai hosts major film events throughout the year. The Mumbai International Film Festival in February, however, is the big one.
Mumbai is the nerve centre of LGBT culture in India. The annual Queer Azaadi March takes place at the end of January.
The vibrant Mumbai sports scene revolves, naturally, around cricket, with no less than three class ovals - Brabourne Stadium (Churchgate), Sheshrao Krushnarao Wankhede Stadium (Marine Lines) and DY Patil Stadium (Navi Mumbai) - to take in a match.
Cultural performances take place on a regular basis in Mumbai. The most important concert halls in the city are the National Centre for the Performing Arts (Nariman Point), Dinanath Natyagruha (Vile Parle), Prithvi Theatre (Juhu), Shanmukhananda Hall (Matunga) and the Prabhodankar Thackeray Theatre (Bandra).
When To Go
Weather is a perpetual topic of discussion and derision in Mumbai. The city’s tropical savanna climate brings two sharply diametrical seasons. One, the dry season, features relatively little rain from October to May and temperatures from 61°F (16°C) to 91°F (33°C).
The wet season, conversely, lashes the city with incessant waves of heavy precipitation from June to September. July, the peak month for rainfall in Mumbai, typically waterlogs the metropolis with close to three feet of rain.
A cursory glance at Mumbai’s festival calendar tells the story. January is far and away the most comfortable month to live in and, indeed, visit the city.
What To Miss
Beware of fraudulent holy men, city guides, tour operators, cab drivers and pushy street performers in Mumbai. Keep a cool, open mind in the massive city but never forget that a metropolis with this much poverty and people will, inevitably, incite certain survival instincts in some. Foreigners, as a result, can fall prey to the harsh consequences of Mumbai’s chasmic economic disparity between rich and poor.
Other aspects of Mumbai to miss out on include vintage transport (horse carriages, double-deckers et al.), seaside promenade vendors and restaurants, trendy Ibiza-ish supperclubs and Western-style malls.
Slum tours are a perpetual source of controversy in Mumbai, particularly in Dharavi. One of the world’s foremost mega-slums, the Mumbai ward is home to 750,000 people - perhaps much, much more - and has a colossal, informal economy in the range of £400 million. The decision to visit Dharavi as a tourist observer is a deeply personal choice fraught with moral overtones.
Together, Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International AirportI and Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport manage over half of the air traffic in South Asia. As befits an alpha world city, Chhatrapati Shivaji International provides service to a host of major destinations, such as London, New York, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Cairo, Seoul and Dubai.
From the airport, a prepaid coupon taxi is the most efficient, hassle-free way to navigate the 30 km ride to Mumbai proper.
Train access to Mumbai is safe, affordable and widely available from countless destinations within India.
In the titanic traffic morass of the city itself, public transport comes in many forms. For a singular adrenaline rush, try the auto rickshaws on for size. Private cabs offer a measure of comfort and luxury amid the congestion. Phase I of the Mumbai Metro - a leviathan public infrastructure project - is underway and will, upon completion, offer a welcome alternative to the weary suburban railway and bus system.
The heart and face of urban India to millions, Mumbai is the financial, cultural and media axis of the world's most populous democracy. With over 20 million people, though accurate census data is difficult to procure, Mumbai has more people than any other metropolis on the planet. There is no sign of a slowdown either, as the city's expansion accelerates at warp speed, a veritable microcosm of India itself.
Mumbai is a place of extraordinary contrasts, palpably familiar to more than just veterans of Slumdog Millionaire. With immense poverty, Mumbai is not bashful when it comes to conspicuous displays of wealth. New prosperity is plainly evident in swish hotels, upscale condo developments, supper clubs and Ibiza-like dance clubs where aspirant Bollywood starlets cavort with young bankers. Somewhere in between is a collection of superlative landmarks, from the UNESCO World Heritage Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Elephanta Caves, to the Prince of Wales Museum and Worli Fort.
Attractions & Activities
Restaurant & Nightlife
Mumbai has a tropical climate that features a very heavy monsoon rain season between June and September. The temperature throughout the year hovers between 16°C and 33°C.
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