What are some of your favorite memories of Mumbai?
Catching Vieux Farka Toure at Blue Frog in 2011 is definitely a highlight. I’m a big fan of the desert blues guitarist and the show was stellar.
Another incredible experience was attending Ganesh Chaturthi at Chowpatty in 2012. During this festival thousands of statues of the elephant god are paraded through the streets and immersed into the sea. With hundreds of thousands of people on the beach, tons of color and electrifying energy, it was a photographer’s dream come true.
The annual Koli seafood festival in Versova is also always exciting. Surrounding a large open ground are dozens of stalls serving the freshest seafood cooked by families on the spot. Spicy clams, fish roe masala, grilled pomfret and stuffed squid were chased down with beers and Old Monk. This was the first event we ever had on Trabblr and we couldn’t have asked for a better kickoff!
How would you spend 36 hours in Mumbai?
You can spend your first day in Mumbai exploring “town” or the south part of the city. A lot of the must-see attractions are walking distance from each other so it’s fairly convenient. Art aficionados will love the recent proliferation of art galleries in the Colaba and Kala Ghoda areas. Some of my favorites include Project 88, Volte, Chemould Prescott Road, and the ICIA. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Marine Drive, and Gateway of India are typical must-sees as is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, or VT Station. This is India’s busiest railway station and is an imposing architectural masterpiece. Be careful about taking photographs of the interior though – it may not be allowed after the terrorist attacks of 2008. Cap your first day with dinner and drinks at Indigo, perhaps the city’s most famous standalone fine-dining restaurant, or Busaba. For a cheap night out, head to Gokul’s, a working man’s drinking den and Mumbai institution. For a reasonably priced night with a view, go to rooftop bars Cloud 9 at Hotel Godwin or Café Marina at Sea Palace Hotel.
The next day you can explore the northern “surburb” of Bandra. You can start your explorations near Lilavati Hospital in an area called Bandra Reclamation, which is home to narrow, winding by lanes that are often lined with walls filled with graffiti and Bollywood murals. By now you should see a stark difference between towering town and the more homely feel of Bandra. There are many churches in this primarily Catholic part of town; one of the biggest being Mount Mary. Photography isn’t allowed here but it’s located in a nice and green residential area. Make your way down the hill and head towards the Bandra Fort where you can catch an unhindered view of the Sea Link bridge and a refreshing breeze.
We’re just about running out of our 36 hours so I’ll give you a few options for a late lunch – Candies, a fast food café that serves a wide range of tasty snacks, including rolls, cakes and my favorite – chicken & cheese lollypops; casual eateries on Carter Road where you can have your pick of various quick bites, including shawarmas and momos; and Elco Market – one of the few places where you can eat Mumbai’s legendary street food without risking Delhi Belly.
What kind of practical information should first-time visitors know about Mumbai?
The easiest way into the city from the airport is by prepaid taxi. There are different rates depending on whether you want an A/C or non-A/C cab but either way you can ride knowing that you’re not getting ripped off. There are also private radio taxi services.
Traveling within Mumbai is easiest by taxi, train and rickshaw. There are a few things to be aware of when traveling by local train: 1) Be prepared to get crushed during peak hours, 2) Guys, don’t step into a women’s compartment to avoid a public beating, and 3) Don’t ride in compartments reserved for handicapped people if you’re perfectly abled.
Finally, Mumbai is actually a pretty expensive city, especially when it comes to getting alcoholic drinks at bars and restaurants. With close to a 12.5% VAT on food and 20% VAT on alcohol, going out in Mumbai can be a shock. Be prepared to spend around Rs 1,500 if you want a decent meal and a couple drinks.
What are some precautions that people should take while exploring Mumbai?
As with many developing cities around the world, Mumbai’s taxi drivers may take advantage of tourists by either taking a longer route to get you to your destination or asking for a very high flat fare. There’s not much you can do to prevent the former. For the latter, however, insist that the driver turn on his meter. If he doesn’t, take another one.
Dress conservatively, ladies. Don’t wear anything too revealing to avoid unwanted attention. Loose and light, especially during the day, trumps tight and skimpy.
Lastly, always drink bottled water and avoid eating raw vegetables.
Any other indispensable pieces of advice to share?
Be aware of your surroundings but feel free to let your guard down here. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the city’s cramped spaces, abject poverty, and overarching chaos. But if you take Mumbai in stride you’ll soon appreciate it for all it’s worth! People may stare but they’re happy to help; the food may burn on the way out but you’d be lying if you said it wasn’t delicious going in. Mumbai is unlike any other city in Asia, if not the world. So don’t treat it as just a gateway to the rest of India and instead give it the time and attention that it deserves!
Located in an area of the city where a specialty seafood restaurant can be found on just about every other street, Ankur floats to the top of my list for its mouthwatering neer dosas, crab gassi, prawn Thekady and tender mutton. Wash it all down with a large OMC (Old Monk & Coke) or sol kadi.
You get food from all regions of India at Soam, but this all-veg restaurant’s specialty is unique Rajasthani and Gujarati fare. Sandwich your main course with a couple deep fried dishes – spinach and cheese samosas to start and jalebis to finish. There’s just no other way.
Easily one of my favorite places for lunch (but only when I can afford to take an afternoon siesta!). Here you get a ridiculously tasty and VFM vegetarian banana leaf thali with piping hot flaky parathas and matta rice. The curries are coconutty, tangy, and best of all…unlimited! Complement the veggies with a surmai fry or Kerala chicken.
As a Gujarati I can’t not include an unlimited Gujarati thali in this list. Hidden in a by lane in the old commercial center of Kalbadevi, STB serves traditional Gujju eats that may as well have come out of a home kitchen. Puran poli, dhoklas and some of the best khichdi in the city can be eaten here. My family and I go here almost every Saturday.
If you’re a food lover then a trip to Mumbai is incomplete without sampling cuisine from the Parsi community. Jimmy Boy might be pricey compared to other Parsi joints but the food that comes out of the kitchen always satisfies. If it’s your first Parsi meal get the salli chicken, patra ni macchhi, mutton berry pulao and either a raspberry or spicy ginger soda.
An oasis of calm in chaotic Fort, this is the only bookstore that I step into in the city. It’s got a great selection of travel books and a café that serves potent coffee and eclectic fare like Balinese curry.
THE live music venue in Mumbai, if not all of India. Friday and Saturday nights are usually monopolized by DJs mixing thumping electronica while weekdays see jazz, acoustic sessions, rock and even the occasional film screening. It’s a bit expensive with entry charges ranging anywhere from Rs. 200 to Rs. 700. That said, you can usually get in for free if you enter before 9pm.
Bonobo draws a very eclectic and cosmopolitan crowd because of its location in Bandra and its omnipresent feel good factor. You can eat and converse in the large outdoor area, or groove to banging DJ sets in the air-conditioned indoor section. Huge mushrooms dot the bar to remind you that it’s OK to monkey around here.
With a pan-Asian restaurant upstairs and a bar downstairs, Busaba is my favorite place to grab a drink. It’s got a very relaxed vibe and you won’t feel out of place if you walk in without dressing up. Whether you’re only one of four customers there on a weeknight or one of a few dozen on a weekend, the attentive bartenders will make sure you never go home thirsty.
Confusing and recent changes have made Neel an often overlooked dining destination for rich north Indian and Hyderabadi grill cuisine. That’s a shame. The black pepper chicken tikka melts in your mouth and the haleem, a meaty porridge simmered for hours, is flawless. Dinner here is a night in and of itself simply because you won’t be able to move to go anywhere else!
Restored in 2007, the BDLM is in pristine condition and recently expanded to include a coffee shop and a space to host cultural and heritage events. Check the website for tour timings because they make all the difference.
Leopold Café and Café Mondegar on Colaba Causeway see tons more footfall but Café Universal oozes much more charm. It’s clean and airy and serves a mean sizzler (fit for two!). If you haven’t eaten all day then order the O.M.G. burger. The biggest burger in Bombay, it has 3-4 strips of steak for a patty. Oh yeah.
This small three-story space in Kala Ghoda showcases contemporary art work and photography. I always make it a point to check out the photography exhibitions here, which are usually top notch. Photographers whose work has been displayed here include Raghu Rai, Steve McCurry, and Fernando Scianna.