24 hours in Mumbai
A trip to India is not complete without visiting the country’s capital of cool, where “cosmopolitan” feels a little too straitjacket to describe the pulse this city beats to. With over 18 million residents, the hustle and noise are relentless. The car horns provide a constant backdrop to the energy that is exhibited from those who are just trying to survive to those who are displaying cutting edge western brands.
Getting to and from the Airport
You are always at your most vulnerable when you first arrive in a new location. Never wanting to rely on the security that a highly overpriced hotel car will cost you for a man with sign with your name on it at Arrivals, we would recommend getting a prepaid taxi. The booth can be found just inside the main arrivals hall, and a trip into Colaba (the main tourist spot) will set you back around 750 rupees plus another 55 rupees for the new bridge toll. Don’t be concerned that the luggage loaded on the poor excuse for a roof rack will at some point join the highway floor – a combination of physics and good luck will keep it there. The 25 km trip will take somewhere between 1 hour (bad traffic), 1.5 hours (very bad traffic) or 2 hours (normal traffic). Prepare your ears for the constant horns, your eyes for last minute weaving and a will for peace of mind.
Where to stay?
There are many options in Mumbai from cheap guest houses to luxury hotels. For us, there was only 1 choice – the historic and legendary Taj Mahal Palace. Steeped in tradition, this phoenix has risen from the ashes following the horrific terror attacks in 2008. With all visible scars removed and the security significantly heightened the hotel has been restored to the splendor of the colonial age. The magnificent architecture is only matched by service levels we have never experienced before. From check in to check out, no staff member can do enough to make you feel like a visiting member of the British Royal Family. The rooms are exquisite, the food divine and the price tag reasonable if you stay outside of peak season (December to February).
The good news is the must-see sites of Mumbai can be viewed through a good walk. Starting at the historic Gate of India, where the British departed India in 1946, you can take some great photos of the Taj Mahal Palace. There are obviously the usual touts, tourist tack sellers and everyone else you can think of trying to claim some of your dollars. Unless interested, just say no and walk on.
Next stop is the Prince of Wales Museum (locally now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya), which offers some wonderful colonial architecture. Carrying on heading up the road through the bazaars and financial district to the Victoria Terminal (aka Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), the largest train station in Asia and a World Heritage site. Take a peek inside and try to avoid being carried away by a sea of people in a hurry.
Turning back you can take a walk to the Rajabai Clock, which is set inside the University grounds. Following the 2008 attacks you cannot enter the grounds, but the impressive views can be seen from the nearby park where you can also enjoy watching several cricket matches at any hour of the day. Watch out for flying balls!
Head back to Colaba Causeway and indulge in some shopping, but make sure you haggle. Electric Bombay, FabIndia and Good Earth offer air conditioned options if looking for fashion, local attire and handicrafts.
Where to eat
For lunches, Indigo Deli offers an upmarket deli option with Perrier water to suit. Cafe Mondegar provides a more down to earth offering with hundreds of options from around the world.
We chose to dine on the rooftop at Indigo, and the food matched our elevated position. Local seafood meeting Indian spices made for a mouth-watering combination. We went for a local Indian wine, Sula, which served as our bottle of choice for the rest of our trip (we quickly worked out drinking imported wines would bankrupt us).
Watch out for
December to February are considered the coolest months in Mumbai, but with that brings the bigger crowds and higher prices. We chose to visit in late March and we started to feel the heat rise to a bearable high 30s, with significant humidity. We were warned to avoid the months of June and July when near 100% humidity and high 40s heat can drive many to the edge in a city that is often already there.
Crossing the road is like riding a roller-coaster– thrills, adrenaline, fear, surprise and relief. Our best approach was to cross with a few locals to create a large mass for drivers to swerve around.
It’s hard not to stand out like a walking dollar sign, and for that many will want to talk to you. Wear a money belt, and say no while on the move. Most will give up at this point. Avoid anything that sounds too good to be true – you can only be scammed if you are greedy (quote from Hustle).
Go for It
Go in with your eyes and heart open, and you will leave Mumbai feeling exhausted, overwhelmed but alive with the energy and vibrancy you have just been a part of.