Ever since the Suez Canal opened in 1869, the principal gateway to the Indian Subcontinent has been MUMBAI(Bombay). Many travellers regard time spent here as a rite of passage to be survived rather than savoured. But as the powerhouse of Indian business, industry and trade, and the source of its most seductive media images, the Maharashtrian capital can be a compelling place to kill time. Whether or not you find the experience enjoyable, however, will depend largely on how well you handle the heat, humidity, hassle, traffic fumes, relentless crowds and appalling poverty of India's most dynamic, Westernized city.
First impressions tend to be dominated by Mumbai's chronic shortage of space. Crammed onto a narrow spit of land that curls from the swamp-ridden coast into the Arabian Sea, the city has, in less than five hundred years metamorphosed from an aboriginal fishing settlement into a megalopolis of over sixteen million people – the biggest urban sprawl on the planet.
While it would be misleading to downplay its difficulties, Mumbai isn't always an ordeal. Once you've overcome the major hurdle of finding somewhere to stay, you may begin to enjoy its frenzied pace and crowded, cosmopolitan feel. The defining landmark is the Gateway of India. A five-minute walk north, the Prince of Wales Museum should be your next priority, for its flamboyant architecture as much as the art treasures inside. Up the road, the commercial hub of the city, Fort, is great for aimless wandering, with old-fashioned cafés, department stores and street stalls crammed between its Victorian piles. For a sense of why the city's founding fathers declared it Urbs Prima in Indis, press further north still to visit the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerely the Victoria Terminus, the high-water mark of Raj architecture.
Possibilities for an escape from the crowds include: an evening stroll along Marine Drive, bounding the western edge of the downtown area; the Muslim tomb of Haji Ali; and Elephanta, a rock-cut cave on an island in Mumbai harbour.
The city of dreams, the city that never sleeps; this is a city of numerous tag lines. But the most apt is probably Mumbai–the commercial capital of India. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Mumbai has a certain natural charm that attracts visitors from India and abroad. Yet another reason that makes Mumbai what it is, is the Bollywood (India's answer to Hollywood) factor. The largest film producing city in the world, Mumbai generates a lot of business and job opportunities for those who have the talent! But most importantly, Mumbai is India's "money-spinning zone". Founded as a trading post, it focuses on the business of making wealth. It plays an extremely significant role in the country's economy. But the city is not just commerce, ambition and trade; it's also a city for the pleasure-seekers. Brimming with gourmet restaurants, clubs and tourist attractions, Mumbai thrives with life throughout the day and during much of the night. From the signature burger, the Wada Pav, at a roadside diner to award-winning restaurants, Mumbai offers a variety of unique dining experiences. And that goes for entertainment too; pubs, bars, bowling alleys, amusement arcades, nightclubs, fashion shows, concerts, theater and film festival, Mumbai truly has it all.
Mumbai is divided into two districts- North and South Mumbai. If South Mumbai, also known as Town, is considered an elite address by every Mumbaiite, then Nariman Point is the Manhattan of the city, overflowing with high-powered corporate offices. It also has Dalal Street, the volatile stock market area. South Mumbai comprises areas such as Marine Drive (with beautiful art deco buildings), Byculla, Churchgate, Parel, Elphinstone Road, Mahalaxmi, Worli, Kemp's Corner/Cumballa Hill . It has all the places of historical importance, wide roads, hundreds of high-rises, the most luxurious hotels, swinging bars and restaurants, and an eclectic mix of wealthy residents. But this was until North Mumbai caught on.
North Mumbai grew out of necessity. The rise in real estate prices in Town gave way to this area which was, until only a few decades ago, not considered a part of Mumbai. Today, Juhu, Bandra, Chembur, Powai, Vashi, Jogeshwari, Santa Cruz and Khar have come into their own and now boast sprawling residential colonies, high-tech corporate spaces (Bandra-Kurla Complex), hip nightclubs and restaurants, multiplexes, malls and world-class luxury hotels. It is quite natural for a South Mumbai resident to never feel the need to visit the other side for weeks and vice versa. Although both areas are a part of the same city, they are very much divided in people's perceptions. On the other hand, both are dependent on each other; in most cases, an employee lives in the north and travels south for work and vice versa.
Mumbai presents visitors with a practically endless variety of cuisines, dining atmospheres and flavors. Not only is there a plethora of traditional Indian foods, including some of the world's best kebabs and curries, visitors should also expect to find restaurants serving top notch dishes from around the world, from Tibetan to Italian fare. While it is possible to stumble upon a great restaurant anywhere in the city, some districts are more highly concentrated with delicious eateries than others.
One of the most popular meals in Mumbai is the sizzler, a delicious mixture of fried vegetables and meats, which are available at Kobe Sizzlers . For a broad selection of traditional Mughlai fare at reasonable prices (be sure to try the pavbhaji) venture over to the Shreeji Restaurant . Once visitors have had there fill of Indian food, Sernyaa serves the city's only authentic Tibetan cuisine. Aside from delicious and fresh Chinese fare, Legacy Of China is hugely popular for the Bollywood celebrities who enjoy dining there. For a night of entertainment, with DJ events, a youthful crowd and loud party music, visit Fingers Cross .
Before your trip to Mumbai ends, be sure to try Just Kebabs , with a huge selection of kebabs and a side of tasty Khichdi (porridge). For a more elegant, gourmet meal, make reservations at Khyber and take in the paintings of Anjolie Ela Menon and MF Husain, two of India's most famous painters, that hang on the walls. For a critically renowned portion of Far Eastern food, try the work of chef Farrokh Khambata at Joss . After filling up on food, stop by for a beer or exotic cocktail at Indus Cocktail Bar & Tandoor , where DJs can be found spinning popular records.
For visitors seeking a restaurant with a healthy choice of international foods in one location, Spices specializes in Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese and Japanese cuisines. Visitors interested in trying extremely flavorful, local seafood should venture to Gajalee . Mangi Ferra serves gourmet pizza and other authentic Italian dishes in an elegant setting; also with a full bar. Along with serving Indian dishes such as the Khichdi Dal and Palak Raita (porridge and green veggies), On Toes is also a popular night club.
More traditional Indian food awaits visitors at Kailash Parbat , where the popularity of the spicy and flavorful dishes creates a buzzing and energetic atmosphere. If you are looking for cheap drinks at a happening night spot, Flavours comes through with an absurdly long happy hour from 4:30p-10:30p. Not Just Jazz By The Bay adds entertainment to the drinks and food, with popular live musical performances on a regular basis.
Mumbai is a city of people who seize opportunities. This has percolated the zillion tourist guides and tours. You can take your pick or choose to do it all alone. Mumbai, for convenience sake, is divided into two zones. The north and the south. While the north is primarily a suburban area, with residential complexes, malls, markets and upcoming commercial spaces, the south is where all the tourist action is. Brimming with places of historical interest and buildings resplendent in their Gothic architecture, this part of the city can be easily covered in a few days. Gateway of India , National Gallery of Modern Art Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum) , Jehangir Art Gallery , Colaba Causeway , Crawford Market , and the Taj Mahal Hotel are short distances from each other. A little farther away is the pilgrimage site of Haji Ali Dargah and Siddhivinayak Temple - also places of interest for the curious visitor.
Tour One: Marine Drive
Marine Drive is the six kilometer road with swinging palm trees, adjoining the Arabian Sea. It is lined with retro art-deco buildings and provides a fascinating view of the Bombay skyline. It is very near to the commercial district, i.e. Nariman Point. The best time to visit is the evening when the lights of the city shine bright.
Tour Two: City
Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) organizes daily tours (except Monday). Morning tour 9a-1p, evening tour 2p-6p, suburban tour 9a-6p. These tours depart from the Gateway of India . For information contact: MTDC Tours Division, opposite LIC Building, Madame Cama Road, +91 22 2202 6713 / +91 22 2202 7762. Information and Booking Counter, MTDC Ltd, Kohinoor Road, Near Pritam Hotel, Dadar (TT), +91 22 2414 3200 or visit the official website http://www.mtdcindia.com.
Tour Three: Mumbai Darshan with Nilambiri
MTDC, in association with the local transport corporation, BEST, has introduced open-deck rides to heritage monuments around south Mumbai. The tours are conducted from the Gateway of India and Sachivalaya. The timings of the two daily tours are 7a-8p and 8:30a-9:30p. You can enjoy illuminated buildings like the Old Secretariat, Mumbai High Court, Flora Fountain among others. These tours also include guides explaining the historical importance of the buildings. For more info, contact: Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation Ltd., Madam Cama Road, +91 22 2202 6713 / +91 22 2202 7762 / +91 22 2202 4627.
Tour Four: Heritage Walks
Walking tours, covering important heritage buildings and areas in the city are organized on Sundays by The Bombay Heritage Walks Society and can be arranged on request as well (tours not organized during the monsoon months). Further details may be obtained from the organizers at +91 22 2369 0992 / +91 22 2683 5856. Queries can also be either faxed to +91 22 2364 3234 or mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the official website http://www.bombayheritagewalks.com.
Tour Five: Heritage Walks of the Naval Dockyard
Organized on the first Sunday of every month, the walks commence from the Lion Gate on Shahid Bhagat Singh Road. Entry is free. You only have to hand in the names of the visiting persons to the Admiral Superintendent, or send a fax to AGM (HR), Naval Dockyard, +91 22 2265 5750. Time: 10a-noon.
Tour Six: TCI Tours
Travel Corporation of India has city tours starting from Nariman Point (South Mumbai). They are more costly than the MTDC tours but provide a much better, more comfortable and luxurious service. Contact Chander Mukhi, Nariman Point, +91 22 2202 1881. Or visit the official website http://www.tcindia.com
Tour Seven: Elephanta Caves
These caves are situated on Elephanta Islands, which are an hour's boat ride away from Gateway of India . There are hundreds of small ferries and boats that operate throughout the day from Apollo Bunder. The agents for these rides have set shop near the Gateway of India . The price per ticket ranges from Rs. 50-150 depending on the kind of ferry you choose. It is wise to leave a day aside for this expedition as the sojourn to these pre-historic caves take up many hours.