What are some of your favorite memories of Mumbai?
I love doing art gallery crawls in Colaba. The area is full of contemporary art and overall activity. There are lovely bungalows nearby, and it all rests close to the sea, which makes for a lovely stroll with friends. There are also many quaint cafes and restaurants in the area where one can sit and relax and take in the sights and sounds of this bustling city!
How would you spend 36 hours in Mumbai?
I would start with a fresh juice at the Sea Lounge at the Taj Hotel. I’d soak up the sights of the Gateway and sea before heading on a mini gallery crawl in Colaba. Chatterjee and Lal, The Guild, Volte, Gallery Maskara, and Project 88 are just a few of the places to see! From there I’d take a taxi to Fort and use an AudioCompass Guide (find it on iTunes) to learn about the Bombay of the British. Starting in Horniman Circle, I’d follow the tour to Kala Ghoda and then treat myself to lunch at The Table. Next I’d head to PVR in Phoenix Mills for an afternoon movie (to escape the heat!) followed by an evening stroll along Marine Drive. Then I’d head to Royal China in Churchgate for a lovely dinner. The next day I’d do a tour of Dharavi with Reality Tours before heading to Bandra for a delicious lunch at Suzette. I’d then wind down my trip with a stroll around Pail Hill, which is conveniently shaded by large trees.
What kind of practical information should first-time visitors know about Mumbai?
The rupee has weakened relative to the dollar in recent years, which makes it more economical for many Western travelers. That said, Mumbai is not as cheap as you might think! The city is flush with delicious, higher-end restaurants, where a good meal could easily reach US prices. Alcohol can also be very expensive. Many high-end restaurants will accept credit cards (AMEX only in some places), but I think Mumbai is still very much a cash city. Fortunately there are Citi and HSBC ATMs throughout, so avail of them when you can.
I think that most people can get by without knowing Marathi (the language of Maharashtra) or Hindi (the national language), as most Indians speak some English. Problems can arise with taxi or auto drivers, however, as their English skills are often lacking. For this, I have two suggestions: (1) read up on some important directional phrases before touching down, and (2) work on pronouncing words in a local accent, which auto drivers are more likely to understand.
I think that the safest and easiest way to get around is by auto or taxi. Unlike food, transportation is very cheap; a taxi from Bandra to Colaba, for example, is the equivalent of USD 7! Unlike trains, one runs the risk of being scammed by a taxi or auto driver, so it’s important to know where you’re going (and feel free to tell the cabbie to pull over so that you can get others to help direct you). If you can, try to get someone to write your destination in Hindi, Marathi, and English in case you need to pop out of the car and ask someone for directions.
What are some precautions that people should take while exploring Mumbai?
While I think that Mumbai is one of the safer cities in India, people (especially females) should take precautions. I recommend that females always have a shawl with them (you’ll need it regardless for all the air conditioning!) and shouldn’t travel alone after dark. When you are traveling, use your shawl to cover up.
Scams are all too common. Some auto drivers tamper with the meters to make them run faster, and some cabbies will pretend that you request a more distant destination than you actually did. What you can look out for immediately is the following: always make sure that the meter is running! And never ask ‘how much to [insert destination]’. Just hop into a cab, tell them the address (or show them, if it’s written down), and make sure the meter is on!
Any other indispensable pieces of advice to share?
The weather in Mumbai can be insanely hot and humid. You might need to change your clothes midday because of all the moisture. I recommend doing sightseeing in the mornings and evenings, and stick to indoor activities during the afternoons. Remember that during monsoon season, there is ample flooding and overall difficulty commuting from one place to the next. It’s best not to travel to Mumbai during this period, if possible. Lastly, illness is sadly common here, especially during monsoons. Take care when you’re eating: ask for bottled water and avoid raw foods (unless you’re dining at places like the ones I’ve listed above). If you do get ill, you can head to a doctor or hospital (Lilavati is a good one!). Fees are minimal, and antibiotics are (too) easy to come by.
As you'll come to learn by reading this guide, I live in India but don't eat Indian food! In Bombay, that's actually not an issue, because the city is flush with amazing continental options, my favorite being The Table. Among the decadent décor you’ll find an amazing beet salad and eggplant sandwich. It’s pricey but completely worth it!
One of the first things they tell expats in Mumbai is ‘stay away from salads’. While I perpetuate that advice, there is a salad ‘green zone’ (pun intended) in this city – Suzette! Often stacked with expats, here you’ll find some delicious (and safe!) greens (I recommend the Basilic salad, pesto salad, and mini orange salad) and tasty crepes (the Belgian chocolate, banana, coconut option is not to be missed!)
Part yoga studio, part satellite office for aspiring entrepreneurs, this quaint white house nestled near the sea has a beachy vibe reminiscent of Southern California. The atmosphere is relaxing but also conducive to productivity, and the food is quite tasty. I recommend the quinoa burger and coconut water.
This museum is an unmissable treat for locals and tourists alike. It's Victorian design creates and awe-inspiring entrance to the city's oldest museum, which houses a rich collection of maps, artifacts, and images dating back to the time of the Kolis, Mumbai’s original inhabitants. The museum also hosts fantastic visiting exhibitions as well, so stay tuned to their website for more information. And if you're in the mood for a tour, see if Trabblr has organized one (or call and request Alisha as a guide).
Colonial Bombay comes alive in this stunning café, which serves up delicious juices, coffees, and pastries. Painted in light blues and greens, this is an idyllic spot to behold the beauty of the seafront. Be sure to snag a window seat so that you can peer out and glimpse the Gateway of India while you chat away with friends.
The whole of Colaba seems peppered with interesting art galleries, and my favorite among them would have to be Gallery Maskara. It’s unassuming exterior (basically a gray concrete slab!) does little justice to incredible exhibitions that pass through. My favorite to date featured a giant 3-D heart suspended from the ceiling and made of delicate white marble chips.
I grew up by the ocean, so a lovely walk or ride down Marine Drive makes me feel oddly at home! At night, the area is lit up and well populated with families, lovers, and friends. Grab an ice cream and hear the sea roll in, or visit a neighboring rooftop bar to take in the whole of Marine Drive with friends.
This multiuse space is always a hotbed of interesting talks, exhibitions, or workshops. Here I’ve seen academics, actors, and activists talk about some of the most central issues facing Mumbai society. Check out their Facebook page to see if something interesting is happening when you’re in town.
Made popular by Slumdog Millionaire, this community has much more to offer and behold. A tour with the popular ‘Reality Tours’ will show you the remarkable industries that abound in this flourishing township. You’ll also get a feel for the strong sense of community and overall upward mobility of what was once India’s largest slum. In the context of rapid urbanization and gentrification, I think it’s important to see a different side of Mumbai while you still can!