Mumbai is India’s financial powerhouse and the capital of Maharashtra state. It’s a vast city home to over 22 million people. A melting pot of cultures, the cosmopolitan ‘City of Dreams’ swathes you with colour and sound, and infectious energy. Here’s how we recommend you spend your 72 hours in Mumbai:
The city formerly known as Bombay became the principal gateway to the Indian Subcontinent. The British East India company transformed it from a cluster of fishing islands to one of the world’s biggest urban sprawls. A city of contrasts, it is home to the most expensive private residence in the world as well as Asia’s largest slum, and its glittering skyscrapers and fancy shopping malls share pavement space with colonial architecture and vibrant street markets. There is much to see and do in Mumbai: marvel at iconic structures such as the Gateway of India and Victoria Terminus; explore museums, markets, and places of worship. Much of Mumbai’s charm lies in its diversity. Keep your ears open to the hundreds of different accents, let your taste buds savour the various regional foods and allow yourself to get swept up by this energetic and inspiring city.
Mumbai is well connected internationally and internally by air. It’s a fantastic place to either start or end on of our tailor-made Rajasthan tours, though it can also slot in nicely in the middle as a means of connecting the dots to other places (for example, if you’d like a few days on the beach in Goa after Rajasthan, as there are no direct flights from Rajasthan to Goa, a few nights in Mumbai makes an interesting layover). Typically, our guests visit Mumbai at the end of their holiday, flying in from either Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur or Jaipur, after having started in Delhi and the Taj Mahal. In this case, you’ll likely be arriving in the mid-afternoon, after which we recommend writing the rest of the day off to relax at your hotel and settle in.
There are lots of wonderful places to stay in Mumbai to suit all tastes and budgets. Our favourite is The Oberoi for its excellent service and stunning sea views. It’s perfectly positioned for a sunset walk along Marine Drive; a popular local pastime. Walk along to the top and you’ll reach Chowpatty Beach where families sit together and enjoy a samosa or a lassi in the evening.
On your first full day in Mumbai, we recommend rising early to explore the city at dawn. Mumbai is a chaotic city, but catch it in the early hours of the morning, and it takes on a different personality. Start your tour at sunrise with our experienced local guide at the magnificent Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (fka Victoria Terminus) where the wheels that keep the city running are set in motion. Newspapers in scores of different languages are quickly sorted ready for delivery to residents of the city and its outskirts; milkmen cycle past with huge canisters of milk, and freshly baked bread is transported to the shops of Mumbai.
Next, our ‘Mumbai at Dawn’ tour takes you to Sassoon Docks in time to see the fishermen pull in with the morning catch. Make your way to the colourful Dadar flower market and Crawford fruit and vegetable market, where is it thought that 3,000 tonnes of produce are bought and sold every day.
You’ll have the opportunity to return to the hotel for breakfast and a couple of hours rest.
We recommend reuniting with your guide in the late morning to further explore this bustling city, by following the dabbawalas. A sandwich and a packet of crisps is just not how office workers do lunch in Mumbai. The dabbawalas are a 5,000 strong group who deliver 200,000 lunch boxes every day to offices around the city. Every morning the dabbawalas call on homes to collect the dabbas (lunch boxes) filled with home-cooked food prepared for office workers. The cases all look the same, but the dabbawalas numbering system ensures they all end up in the right place. They boast a 99% accuracy rate and run one of Mumbai’s most efficient services. To see this amazing process in action you can visit Churchgate Station and board the train with the dabbawalas.
Nearby is the impressive Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat – a huge, 140-year-old open-air laundromat where dhobis (washermen) pound clean, by hand, thousands of pieces of clothing sent there from hotels, hospitals, and homes.
You can also visit the Mani Bhavan museum, dedicated to the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi. Housed in a private residence that was used by Gandhi during his visits to Mumbai, the collection follows the key events in his life and includes some of his personal items and photographs.
The tour shouldn’t last much longer than half a day, so there’ll be time to relax and do your own thing this afternoon. If you’re feeling active and would like to further explore, we recommend a visit to the Prince of Wales Museum. Later renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, the museum is one of the finest in India and boasts a rare collection of over 60,000 pieces.
Today we recommend a half-day excursion to the caves on Elephanta Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the 7th century. The tour starts with a visit to Gateway of India from where you take the launch to the caves. The Gateway of India is one of Mumbai’s most iconic landmarks and was built in 1924 by George Wittet, the same architect who designed the Prince of Wales Museum. His brief was to combine the grandeur of a Roman triumphal arch with decorative motifs from Hindu and Museum architecture. It overlooks the harbour and was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. While it served as an arrival point for visitors from the west, it also marked the spot where the British departed India in 1947.
The journey over to the caves is a pleasant one-hour ferry ride across the Arabian Sea (alternatively, Indian Excursions can charter a private speed boat to zip you there in 20 minutes). After arriving at the island, you climb a flight of steps dotted with trinket sellers to Shiva Cave. The temple carved out of the basalt hillside, is 130 square feet. Elaborate rock carvings on each wall depict famous events from the Hindu epics.
On your return to the mainland, we recommend stopping off at the Taj Mahal Palace for afternoon tea at the Sea Lounge. This landmark hotel overlooks and even predates the iconic Gateway of India, dating back to 1903. Swirling around the hotel is the fashionable Colaba area full of trendy boutiques and art galleries where you might like to indulge in a bit of window shopping.
If the Elephanta Caves don’t sound like your cup of tea and you’re keen to embrace a more culturally-immersive experience, we recommend visiting Dharavi slum instead. Dharavi is the largest slum in Asia and is the one that was portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire. Please don’t let thoughts of poverty tourism or gawking at the misery of the underprivileged put you off as you would be severely mistaken. Our tours of this area are run by residents of Dharavi and aim to dismiss any assumptions people may have of Dharavi being a place of suffering. Quite the opposite, Dharavi is a bustling commercial hub said to generate $1 billion a year in revenue from 5,000 small businesses, including plastic recycling. All kinds of waste plastic – from old telephones to broadband routers – are sorted according to colour and quality before being crushed and made into small pellets to be used again by plastic manufacturers. Nothing is wasted here, and a tour of the area to see what and how they do things here is inspiring.
If you’d like to explore the best of Mumbai in combination with a trip to Rajasthan, please do get in touch. As specialists in private, tailor-made tours of this area we can help you navigate this bustling city in an easy yet exciting way, with excursions and experiences to suit you personally.0