If this is your first introduction to the city, its feverish atmosphere can leave you a little breathless but take your time, and you’ll find yourself embracing the rich history, beautiful colonial buildings and, without a doubt, leaving with warm affection for the people who make the city unforgettable.
Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is the most populous city in India with an estimated population of 18.6 million. There are few cities as chaotic as Mumbai and to truly experience the frantic energy of the city, you must visit what many call its beating heart: one of the biggest slums in the world, Dharavi. It has around 1 million people living in just over 2.1 sq km. Your visit will include incredible rooftop views and a visit to Dhobi Ghat (above), the world’s biggest outdoor laundry. There are tours available and we’d suggest taking the longer option to fully immerse yourself in this experience that will change your perspective.
Yet, Mumbai has the highest percentage of millionaires and billionaires in India. India’s richest person, Mukesh Ambani, built the world’s most expensive house in Mumbai. Antilia (above) is a 27-storey house that has a garage big enough for 168 cars and three helipads. It also has a ballroom, theatre and temple where the family is said to pray regularly. It is located on Altamount Road and is totally worth the trip, even if it’s just to tell people you’ve seen what a billion dollars can build.
Mumbai is to India what Hollywood is to the US. It is without a doubt the hub of the Hindi film industry and houses many Bollywood studios. Tours will not only give you an overview of the multi-billion-dollar industry but also give you the chance to visit film sets and watch some actors in action.
As you navigate your way between the extreme juxtapositions, it is the Buddhist and Hindi caves and temples that make Mumbai even more memorable. The Elephanta Caves (above) are a collection of temples, sculptures and halls filled with intricately carved artworks on the Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbour. It’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and not to be missed.
Of course, you can’t go to Mumbai without paying a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s house. Mani Bhavan (above) is the modest two-storey building which served as Gandhi’s headquarters for 17 years. Tours to the house and museum are available and it is here that you will see artefacts and where the great Gandhi spent hours writing and creating works that are still hailed today.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (above) is probably Mumbai’s most famous landmark. The 5-star hotel has remarkable renaissance designs and is next to another landmark, The Gateway of India. Nicknamed the Taj, the impressive structure is not only an Instagram-worthy snap but has also housed presidents, celebrities and captains of industry.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, or CST as it is popularly known, is the imposing train station which has also been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Gothic-inspired station is now the headquarters of Central Railways and was built in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It remains one of the busiest railway stations in India and has both short and long distance routes for commuters. If you’re planning on booking a trip, stay close to your travel buddy. The trains in India are notorious for their disorder. It’s wonderful, but easy to get lost. Book a tour here.
A shopper’s dream, Mumbai is also known for its markets and street fashion. The Chor Bazaar (above) is one of the biggest flea markets in India. It is filled with food, furniture, artworks, curios and is really an endless source of goodies that will entice any visitor. You can easily spend hours here looking at the deals of the day and finding surprising bargains.
SEE ALSO: How to shop in a market in India
As you navigate your way through Mumbai, the distinctive street vendors and food stalls cannot be ignored. The Bademyia Seekh Kebab Stalls (above) are the hugely popular late-night food stalls in Apollo Bundar. It’s a franchise of stalls that serve both vegetarian food and meat products. Other street vendors line the streets and most popular are the Bombay sandwich (bread with beetroot, potatoes, cucumbers, onion and mint) and the Akuri on toast (scrambled eggs, onions, tomatoes and red chilli powder). Now is the time to indulge.
As you go on a gastronomic journey, Mumbai is also known for its spiritual side, and is a haven for yogis around the world. Yoga House (above) says that yoga is the most important Indian legacy and teaches different styles, traditions as well as dietary aspects. You can book a single class but a retreat is probably the best option, if you have the time.
If you happen to be in Mumbai during the spring, the annual Holi festival (above) will also leave you feeling enlightened. The 16-day Hindu festival celebrates new beginnings and sees the city come alive as colourful powder is flung around the streets, on houses, cars and people. Just remember that no matter what, you’ll end up being covered with bright colours on your clothes, hair and well, everywhere.
As much as Mumbai is filled with joy, it’s hard to ignore the children that fill the streets begging for money to survive. As seen in the award-winning 2008 flick, Slumdog Millionaire, children are used as pawns by gang lords and the police. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Over the past few years, officials have banded together to impose stricter consequences for those caught taking advantage of the young children. You can make a difference too. Charities have appealed to tourists to not only open their wallets but their time and you can spend a few hours or even days volunteering at an orphanage in Mumbai. That way you can give back to the city in a way not many can.
Mumbaikars, the locals who make this city’s pulse drum so fast, are a resilient bunch. Whether they’re faced with extreme poverty or are living the Bollywood dream, they’re always smiling. And it is that smile that will stay in your heart forever.
– TEXT BY JESSICA FARAH
PHOTOS: 123RF.COM, INSTAGRAM, THE YOGA HOUSE FACEBOOK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.