Stepping off the plane, the overwhelming feeling of being in India hits you. Whether it’s the heat, different smells, the people or even the sudden impact of just how noisy this place is. Mumbai is spread across almost 450 sq kilometers and boasts a population of nearly 19 million. Mumbai is also the capital of the state of Maharashtra which is an island connected by bridges to mainland India. Mumbai became the official capital of Maharashtra after Independence and the split from the state of Gujarat in 1960. Formerly known as Bombay during colonial times, the city’s name was officially changed back to Mumbai in 1996 to help recapture the cities lost history. Mumbai is a city that not all can handle. But for a seasoned traveler or someone who is really seeking out a city far different from home, Mumbai is truly the gateway to India.
Arriving at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is most common for people coming to Mumbai. It is located about a 45 minute cab ride from the center of town, mind you that may double depending on time of day. We decided to stay at Hotel Travelers Inn, about a 10 minute walk from the heart of the tourist center, Colaba. This small Guesthouse has single and double private rooms as well as 3 bed dormitories which Noah and I stayed in. At $10 a night, it is not a bad price for its location and a constant feeling of safety and security. The ride in from the airport will take you through many parts of Mumbai including the slums, high rise buildings, neighborhood block parties, discos and past countless food stalls. Our guesthouse was also a close 5 minute walk to the amazing, hectic, colonial style Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, also known as Victoria Station.
With our Guesthouse being in a busy commercial area of Mumbai known as Fort, since this is once where the British fort once stood, walking was made easy. Just south is Colaba, home to many of the city’s attractions including the Gateway to India, Taj Mahal Palace, National Gallery of Modern Art and Leopold’s Cafe, which in 2008 was the target of a terrorist attack. The Fort & Churchgate area are just as interesting. Home to the Oval Maiden, a vast open park in the middle of this bustling part of the city, this is where you want to be in order to truly appreciate many of Mumbai’s majestic Victorian buildings. This area is also home to the Prince of Wales Museum, Marine Drive & Girgaum Chowpatty beach, the High Court and the University of Mumbai.
One of the things that Noah and I could not wait for once we landed in Mumbai was of course, the food! Walking down any street you will pass numerous hole in the wall cafes, five star restaurants, street vendors and food stalls. This city is shaped by countless different types of food and spices from all over the world. A couple of our favorite places to eat in Bombay included Cafe Universal, although relatively expensive compared to other local places, had a good atmosphere as well as an extensive menu with food ranging from Indian favorites to pizza and burgers. Pancham Periwala is my personal favorite, to leave Mumbai without going to this local favorite to try one of their several thali meals would be a serious miss. To come to India without an open mind regarding the food would be a mistake. Whether it is the thali meals, kebabs, aloo mutter, paneer, naan, samosas or dosas, all deserve a try as you will not regret it. Of course we can’t guarantee you won’t get sick at some point, this is India after all.
Mumbai is big and I could go on and on about this city. It is a city full of business men, day laborers, politicians, poverty, stray dogs and everything in between. It is home to the world’s largest film industry as well as home to some of the worlds largest slums. Mumbai is a city that can quickly become overwhelming, even to the not so faint of heart. The key is to give yourself the right amount of time. Come with an open mind and appreciate everything around you, no matter how maddening and stressful it may get. Who knows, by the time you leave here, Mumbai just might start to make a little sense to you. Maybe!