Mumbai, or Bombay, as it was formerly known, is the financial hub of India. More millionaires reside in this city than in the rest of the Indian sub-continent combined. For the people of India, Mumbai is a city with the Midas touch, a city where dreams come true; it’s little wonder that Mumbai witnesses the highest migration every year with people from all over the country coming to its shores for their tryst with fame, money and power. Adding to the glamour and glitz is Bollywood, or the Indian film industry, considered to be the largest in the world.
Amidst all the power, wealth and glamour there are extreme cases of poverty. The slums in Mumbai are as much a reality as the swanky skyscrapers. Yet what binds these two contrasting worlds together is the defiant spirit of the city. Mumbai has been the receiving end of many terrorists attacks during the past few years but it has always bounced back, living up to the saying that “come what may but the show must go on”.
Mumbai is also an important port on the Arabian Sea and handles more than two-thirds of the county’s trade. It was an important trading base for the East India Company and later of the British Crown. The impressive Victorian buildings in the Fort Area are reminiscent of the colonial rule in India. Churches and cathedrals rub shoulders with temples and mosques and reflect the religious homogeneity of the city. Brimming with gourmet restaurants, clubs, shopping arcades, pubs, nightclubs, fashion shows and tourist attractions, Mumbai is a city that has it all.
Things To See
Mumbai is a city brimming with tourist attractions. You can explore them at your own leisure or choose from one of the many available tours to take you around the city. Most of the tourist action is centred in the southern part of the city. South Mumbai is brimming with architectural wonders resplendent in their Gothic finery. You can wander through the Gateway of India, Prince of Wales Museum, National Gallery of Modern Art, Jehangir Art Gallery, Colaba Causeway, Crawford Market, and the Taj Mahal Hotel. A little distance away the Haji Ali Dargah and Siddhivinayak Temple are also worth a visit.
Fort Area: The Fort Area is home to the spectacular Gothic Victorian buildings, standing testimony to the wealth and power of the British Empire. Visit the Victoria Terminus (known as CST), one of the world’s grandest railway stations. The station looks more like an extravagantly decorated cathedral than a railway terminal. Then there is the St Thomas’ Cathedral which was built between 1672 and 1718. Another important building in the Fort Area is the Horniman Circle with beautiful arcaded terraces. There is a garden in the interior where you can relax for some leisure time.
Colaba: Colaba plays host to the city’s greatest landmarks, the Gateway to India, the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Prince of Wales Museum. The Gateway to India was built in 1911 to commemorate King George V and Queen Mary’s visit to India of. For the visitors who came and left in steam liners, the monument was the first and last sight of the city. The neighbouring Taj Mahal Hotel was built in 1902 by JN Tata. Legend has it that he built this monument as a statement to Oriental luxury and hospitality when he was refused entry to one of the city’s European hotels simply because he was a native. (The hotel was in the news for the recent terrorist attack in November 2008. It suffered damages but despite attempts to blow up this iconic monument, the heritage building remained intact.) While in Colaba, you can visit impressive Prince of Wales Museum, which showcases a stunning collection of ancient and medieval sculpture, and Indian decorative arts.
Marine Drive: Marine Drive, along the shoreline of the Arabian Sea from Nariman Point to the foot of Malabar Hill, is a favourite spot for watching the sunset. Beautifully lit up in the evenings, it resembles what the tourist agents call the Queen’s Necklace. The top end of Marine Drive houses central Mumbai’s only beach, the Chowpatty Beach. The beach is the best place to watch the annual Ganesh Chaturthi Festival, held during August and September. Processions carrying the idols of Lord Ganesha march towards the Arabian Sea and amidst chanting of hymns, these are immersed in the water.
Festivals and Events
The religious festivals and cultural events in Mumbai reflect its multi-cultural influences. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation funds many festivals and events to encourage the artists and celebrations. No matter when you choose to visit Mumbai, there will be something on to enthrall you and invite you to soak up the festive spirit.
Banganga Music Festival: This is a two-day festival of music, held in January at the historic Banganga Tank. The funds raised from the festival are used in aid of conserving the Banganga Temple Complex, which dates back to the 13th century. You can enjoy classical vocal and instrumental music performances and concerts in a beautiful setting which is greatly enhanced by the stunning sunsets.
Kala Ghoda Art: Every Sunday from November to January, all roads lead to the street bazaars held near the Jehangir Art Gallery in the pedestrian plaza. The venue becomes alive with performances of street musicians and other artists. Numerous stalls selling a variety of handicrafts, art, and food, add to the air of festivity.
Ganesha Ganesh Chaturthi: Ganesh Chaturthi or Ganesh Utsav is the major religious festival of Mumbai dedicated to the Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God of wisdom and prosperity. The event, marked with music, dance and merry making is a major tourist draw. It culminates in the submersion of the idol of Ganesha in the Arabian Sea.
Mumbai has a wide range of accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets. You can take your pick from five star hotels, affordable hotels or private vacation apartments. To be within easy distance of all tourist attractions and action in the city, you can stay in Colaba, Juhu, Mumbai Central or the Airport Suburbs.
Colaba: Colaba, the Southern end of the city, has a number of accommodation and lodging facilities to suit all price ranges. The five star hotels in this region include the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel at Apollo Bunder, The Oberoi, and Taj President. A short drive away is the Ambassador hotel in Churchgate, with the only revolving restaurant in the city. The budget travellers can choose from hundreds of low-range hotels and lodges especially behind the Taj Hotel.
Juhu: Juhu also has its share of swanky four and five star hotels. Juhu is also favoured by the residents because of its proximity with Juhu Beach. This area is also great for celebrity spottings as most film stars have their residences here. JW Marriott and The Leela fall in the expensive range while beachfront hotels such as Tulip Star and Holiday Inn are slightly more affordable. Budget travellers can find some cheaper options behind the beach area.
Mumbai Central and the Airport Suburbs: You can find getaway hotels near the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, on the outskirts of the city. The area also has a number of serviced apartments if you are planning for a long term stay. Popular options include the Marriott Serviced Apartments in Powai and Chateau Windsor near the Gateway of India. Advance bookings are recommended. If you arrive without bookings you can always try to find affordable lodging at the YMCA.
The weather is pretty humid in Mumbai so be sure to choose air-conditioned lodging for a comfortable stay. The only time when you can survive without air-conditioning is from October to February.
Mumbai has lured people from across the country to set up shop here. Even in the days of Colonial rule, Mumbai played host to a number of foreigners, be it administrative heads, soldiers, merchants, or tourists. The rich cultural legacy and influences find reflection in its cuisine and in a dazzling array of restaurants and eateries that serve to all tastes and budgets. Here, the American burger rubs shoulders with Chinese Manchurian, Italian Pasta, and the South Indian idli dosa. There are many restaurants serving traditional Indian food and also some of the world’s best kebabs and curries.
India has a strong tradition of vegetarianism and the food in the restaurants is usually classified as ‘veg’ or ‘non-veg’. Mumbai has a more relaxed attitude to alcohol than any other part of the country. Beer is readily available in most upscale establishments; Indian beer is a popular alternative and is an ideal accompaniment for sub-continental cuisine. Imported wine can be comparatively expensive because of the high tariffs. The signature foods here are Wada Pav, Pao bhaji and bhelpuri, easily available with street vendors, and in almost all eateries in the city or on Chowpatty Beach.
While you don’t have to travel far to sample some great fares, some places are more blessed than others.
Versova/Lokhandwala: Visit Kobe Sizzlers to try out one of the most popular sizzlers, which is a delicious mix of fried vegetables and meats. For traditional Mughlai fare at reasonable prices, check out Shreeji Restaurant. For Tibetan cuisine, head to Sernyaa. For Chinese food, you can try out Legacy Of China, a restaurant which is very popular with Bollywood celebrities.
Colaba: Just Kebabs is a popular hang out area for kebabs and the delicious Khichdi (porridge). Khyber restaurant promises great meals amidst elegant settings and has on display paintings from two of India’s greatest painters, Anjolie Ela Menon and MF Husain. For an exotic cocktail, check out Indus Cocktail Bar & Tandoor.
Juhu: Juhu is the central hub for trying out international specialties. Check out Spices, famous for its Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese and Japanese cuisines. For gourmet pizza and other authentic Italian dishes, you can visit Mangi Ferra and for seafood Gajalee makes for the ideal venue.
Mumbai is without doubt a shopper’s paradise. The shops, bazaars and chic boutiques, sell a bewildering array of goods at unbelievable prices. From imported items, colourful fabrics, to local handicrafts, you can buy literally anything under the sun. Bargaining is a way of life here so be prepared to test your skills to walk off with the best bargains. Mumbai is also the centre of the Indian clothing trade and as such caters to all tastes and budgets.
Fashion Street: Located on Mahatma Gandhi Road between Cross Maidan and Azad Maidan. Fashion Street is a row of market stalls offering everything from trinkets and accessories to surplus exports. You can not only find good bargains but can also get your clothes tailored quickly at reasonable costs.
Crawford Market: The colourful, indoor Crawford Market is where locals of central Mumbai shop for their fruit, vegetables and meat. The famous writer, Rudyard Kipling was born just south of the market in 1865 and there is an ornate fountain here which was designed by his father, Lockwood Kipling. There is also an animal market which sells everything from parrots to poodles. A must visit is to the Chor Bazaar, Mumbai’s ‘thieves’ market’. Buy the ‘authentic antiques’ and miscellaneous junk at your own risk!
Mumbai is a major diamond trade centre and you might be able to pick up some great bargains. For attractive wooden goods and souvenirs you can try out the Central Cottage Industries Emporium, Shivaji Marg, between Apollo Bunder and Regal.
There is no shortage of trendy malls where you can browse for the latest brands. In fact shopping in malls are particularly delightful during the hot summer months when the temperatures and the humidity are high. The malls have their fair share of food courts serving from everything from Indian to international cuisines. Most five star hotels also have chic boutiques and high end stores for their guests.
Excursions From Mumbai
Mumbai is a central base for exploring the Elephanta Caves, Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Marve and Manori beaches.
Elephanta Caves: It takes one hour by boat to reach the Elephanta Caves. These caves are a complex of temples made from rock and date back between AD 450 and 750. The highlights of the caves are the intricate sculptures of Hindu gods.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park: The Park provides a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. The Park also has an outdoor film set, a Jain temple and three lakes on its premises though the main attraction is the Kanheri Caves encompassing temples and simple living quarters. It is believed that the earliest caves may have been excavated in the first century. The latest caves date from the 11th century.
Marve and Manori beaches: These vast expanses of unspoiled beaches are definitely more peaceful and cleaner than the Juhu beaches.
Nightlife and Entertainment
If you thought fun in Mumbai ended with the day, then think again. Mumbai is a city that never sleeps. When the sun goes down the city beckons the party animals with its vast range of nightclubs, discos and bars. The center of nightly action is Colaba, though South Mumbai is equally popular. Giving them stiff competition are the glitzy bars and clubs that have recently opened up in the suburbs. The prevailing atmosphere is informal though locals like to be well turned out when they visit restaurants or bars. Most bars have a couples only policy and charge an entrance fee from both members and non-members. The bars serve beers and spirits as also imported drinks. Keep in mind the rates of imported wines can be very high. The legal drinking age in India is 21. Most five star hotels have their own bars and nightclubs where liquor is served until 00:30. You can find information about the latest happenings in the city section of major national newspapers. Otherwise you can also check out Time Out, a fortnightly that is easily available in newspaper stands.
Indigo, Mandlik Road, Apollo Bunder is Mumbai’s original bar-restaurant with minimalist décor. Henry Tham’s, near Apollo Bunder, an über-slick bar and restaurant, is the latest rage in town and is considered to be hippest place to have a drink thanks to its popularity with Bollywood stars. If you are looking for an English-style pub, head to Geoffrey’s, in the Hotel Marine Plaza. For backpackers, the place to head to is Colaba Causeway, near Regal. The place sells inexpensive beer and some great snacks. Zenzi, 183 Waterfield Road, in the northern suburbs of Bandra is popular with the expats.
No description of entertainment can be complete without a mention of Bollywood, which for many is synonymous with Mumbai. Anything to do with films and film stars is really big here. Lavish premiers are held in cinema halls like Regal and Liberty. You can catch the latest Hindi and English movies in multiplexes like Metro Adlabs, INOX, Fame Adlabs, and IMAX.
Mumbai’s creative arts and performing art scene is equally vibrant. No matter when you visit the city, you’ll find it buzzing with exhibitions, talks, seminars, book readings, and cultural festivals. If you are interested in theatre, you can catch the action at The National Center for Performing Arts, Nehru Center, and Prithvi Theater. A number of critically-acclaimed plays and concerts are held in these venues throughout the year. The art enthusiasts can have their fill at the Jehangir Art Gallery, the most respected name in the Indian art world, National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Artist’s Center, Cymroza and Chemould Gallery. Here you can gain an insight into the contemporary art in India and if you are lucky, you can also interact with the painters, sculptors and artists.
The winter months, from November to February, are the best time to visit Mumbai. The climate here is humid and spring and summer months can get uncomfortably hot with temperatures often reaching 104°F (40°C).
By air: The main gateway to the city is the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM).
Location: The airport is located 18 miles (29km) north of Mumbai. It handles a third of the country’s international passenger traffic. The airport serves flights from 46 international airlines, which fly to the major cities in Asia, Europe and the Far and Middle East.
Terminals: There are two terminals, about 3 kilometers apart, which are connected by a free bus service.
Transfer to the city: Taxis are readily available at the airport all 24 hours. Public transport and buses are also easily available but the safest and fastest way to travel is by taxi.
Facilities at the airport: Facilities include ATMs and bureaux de change, bars, restaurants and shops. There are limited disabled facilities and travellers with special needs should inform their airline in advance.
By Rail: Mumbai is very well connected by the railway network. Western Railway (website: www.wr.indianrail.gov.in) and Central Railway operate rail services from Mumbai. There is a computerised enquiry system for arrivals and departure. It is best to avoid trains during the rush hour. Western Railway services depart from Mumbai Central Station, Boman Behram Road, while Central Railway services depart from the Victoria Terminus.
Public Transport: The city is well connected by suburban rail. There are also a large number of buses run by BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport). The buses are relatively cheap but they can be pretty crowded. There are a few buses that are air-conditioned.
Taxis: There are a number of yellow and black taxis which you can flag down from almost everywhere. They are the best mode for travelling around the city. All taxis have meters and drivers usually carry a conversion chart to help you calculate the correct fare.
Driving in Mumbai: You need to be over 18 years of age to drive in the city. You must also possess a legitimate driving license. However, the city is crowded and the traffic is chaotic and so driving is not recommended for tourists.
Hydrofoils: An air-conditioned hydrofoil service connects central Mumbai with many suburbs by water.