Maximum city. This is one section of our site we’ve struggled with the most. Because we live here. We call this place home, and we don’t quite know where to begin or where to end.
Mumbai is the commercial capital of India, the home of Bollywood, the most cosmopolitan city in India, one of the oldest and most crowded cities, the busiest port, the most expensive real estate in the world, the largest slum in the world and more. It takes a while to understand Mumbai, for at first, it can be an assault on your senses. The people, the traffic, the pollution, the poverty, the fast pace. But once you’ve gotten under its skin, you discover a place with a rich history, an unparalleled communal harmony, a progressive outlook, an enterprising attitude and an unbreakable spirit.
Phew. That was a lot to fit into one paragraph. But as you read on, you’ll understand why there are so many commas.
The Mumbai Guide
Mumbai v/s Bombay: What’s with the two names?
Mumbai, a cluster of islands turned into a city by reclaiming land from the sea, is named after the Hindu Goddess Mumba Devi. The Portuguese officially named it Bombay- an anglicised version of Bom Baim meaning good little bay. Back then, the city was already educated, glamorous, cosmopolitan, moneyed yet cultured, free to do as they pleased, and there was space for everyone. Fast forward to 1995. When Bombay became Mumbai. Immigrants poured in from all over India in search of work, glamour, progress and prosperity.
Mumbai is filled with the neuf- riche – the first generation educated population, living on credit, grappling with too much too soon, meriting a strict policing even on the nightlife. This is a city where extremists insist on signboards in Hindi even outside the Apple store. Where immigrants who help sustain the machinery of the city are now asked to leave by other local groups who want to take back their city. It’s a city where the past and the future are colliding at breakneck speed but everybody’s too busy to notice. It’s a city in conflict…and might I add, a peaceful conflict that doesn’t show on the surface. But that’s just my personal view, from someone who has held this city far too close to her heart, and seen it change far too fast. While the official name is now Mumbai, a lot of people still refer to it as Bombay.
When to go:
Temperatures aren’t extreme in Mumbai. Just hot and hotter, humid and more humid.
You may want to avoid May (the peak of the hot, sticky summer) and August-September (the peak of the crazy lashing monsoon that leaves the city flooded). October is another short period to avoid because it gets really hot right after the rains end (the locals refer to October as the second summer!). But it’s just a short period and towards the end of the month, it starts getting pleasant. Winter isn’t probably the winter most people are accustomed to but mid-November to end January/early February is Mumbai weather at its best! Not very humid, not too sunny and evenings that don’t need air-conditioning.
The weather isn’t the only thing to work around. As with most parts of India, you might want to tailor your travel around the festivals in Mumbai as well. Festive times can either be a once-in-a-lifetime experience or something that gets in the way of your schedule (some festivals tend to hold the city ransom), depending on how you look at it. That’s because a few celebrations get out on the road and can block traffic for hours at times. Many offices and schools also shut down during these times.
Coming Soon: A Guide to Mumbai’s Festivals
There are primarily two divisions of Mumbai – South Mumbai (or town, as it’s colloquially referred to) and the Suburbs (which pretty much is the rest of Mumbai)! If you look at a map of Mumbai, it’s essentially a longish strip of land that starts as a thin strip from the Arabian Sea and then spreads out as a larger land mass on the mainland. South Mumbai is largely considered the strip of land that juts out into the sea (roughly Prabhadevi and downwards if you look up Mumbai on Google Maps). Everything above that is, well, pretty much the rest of Mumbai! Things are different between the South and the rest, most noticeably a very popular mode of transport (there’s more about that below).
Mumbai is a large city. And getting around can be the most daunting bit. Within the suburbs, auto rickshaws (like the thai tuk tuks) are a cheaper and quicker option with a minimum fare of Rs. 12 (for the first 1.6 km) and Rs. 7 per km after that. Between 12 am and 5 am there’s an additional 25% added. Autos aren’t allowed to run in South Mumbai, so if you’re travelling from the suburbs down South, at some point the Auto driver will stop and ask you to switch to a cab. Cab fares in Mumbai start with a minimum of Rs. 17 (for the first 1.6 km) and Rs. 10.50 per km after that.
If however, you want to be gutsy, avoid the traffic, get there quicker, risk your life, and try to ride the scary, crowded, superfast, difficult to figure local train, be our guest. Remember: You were warned.
Tip: Mumbai’s traffic is notorious. Try to stay off the roads at peak office hours between 9 -10 am and 6- 8 pm. A short distance may seem very long if you’re stuck in a traffic jam, and you know it’ll be longer when you spot the peanut sellers, and pirated book vendors coming up to your window to sell you their wares. A lot of people watch an entire movie off their laptops on their commute home from work.
Coming Soon: How to Ride the Mumbai Local Like a Local
Mumbai is a foodie’s paradise. The ethnic Mumbai culture has been essentially mashed-up with all the communities from different states that have settled there. Which reflects in the food. You will find a wide variety of everything. Including a large selection of International cuisine. Discover it all, from street food like the vada pav and chaat to all you can eat thaalis and Michelin starred cuisine, right here in Mumbai.
Tip: Bottled mineral water is your safest bet, but it’s still a bet. Check the seal and water level to be sure.
For more details, check out our related article on Bootnsall- The Mumbai Food Trail
Where to stay:
Near the Airport:
If you’re passing through or looking at a stay that keeps you cocooned from the Mumbai mayhem, the Hyatt Regency Mumbai is an excellent choice. With an excellent Italian restaurant, great weekends for half and spa packages, it’s just the perfect R&R you need in Mumbai. Read about our staycation at the Hyatt Regency Mumbai.
There are 2 primary areas that cater to travelers.
- Colaba (South Mumbai): It’s at the hub of it all. Surrounded by the old world charm of the British era, Victorian buildings and filled with monuments and museums. Colaba causeway is the tourist hub, that’s bulging at the seams with backpackers, souvenirs, tour operators, drug dealers and more. This is where you’ll find cheap hostel accommodation for as low as Rs. 1000/- a night right alongside the Rs. 16,000/- a night bayview rooms of the Taj Mahal Hotel and Tower.
- Bandra West (Suburbs): Where real estate is cheaper than Colaba, this quaint predominantly Catholic suburb, is where the young and creative (writers, musicians, artists, film makers), expats and long stay travelers come to live. With a market that offers virtually any produce/ingredient you miss from back home, to any cuisine you want, vegan cafes, yoga classes, and a happening nightlife. It’s little wonder that Bandra is referred to as the queen of the suburbs. Here, you’ll find cheap- mid range hotels that are sure to be comfortable and unique. Check out Le Sutra at Rs. 8800 a night.
Shopping in Mumbai can be overwhelming, whether it’s cheap or high end souvenirs (from precious stone and silver jewellery to rugs and leather) at Colaba Causeway and the Oberoi Shopping Centre, designer or high street brands (from Burberry to Zara) at Phoenix Mills, antiques and trinkets (from Furniture to jewellery) at Chor Bazar the flea market, to Bangkok style goodies at Linking road and the various clothing and design stores in Bandra.
Mumbai holds a lot of secrets, and if you’ve seen the movie SlumDog Millionaire, you been completely misinformed. Dharavi might be the world’s biggest slum, but it’s also the largest self sustaining industry, filled with the most enterprising and hardworking people. Kamathipura might be Asia’s 2nd largest red light district, but it’s also home to several NGOs that are working on the health, education and rehabilitation of these women and children. Mumbai may still be considered confusing for travelers, with unheard of customs and cultural nuances, but hey, everyone’s heard of Bollywood. Mumbai’s film industry that churns out the most colorful and live musicals year after year!
Take a tour of Dharavi’s industries and slums with us here.
Wherever you are, you’re never too far from someone who speaks English. Even if they don’t, today’s Hindi comprises a large smattering of English words, so if you just use key words, instead of long confusing sentences, even a non- English speaking person can help you out. If all fails, gestures are the way to go!
We do hope we’ve tempted you, or equipped you as the case may be, to visit our city. The city that never sleeps.
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