From the air at six am Mumbai is a jewelled archipelago, glittering in the inky night. The daytime reality of this massive city in India – formally known as Bombay – is less jewel-like but nonetheless fascinating. Here are my top things to do in Mumbai:
The sights, smells and sounds of India’s most populous city can be overwhelming, with even a brief taxi ride from the airport offering a kaleidoscope of noisy colour through the windows.
The contrasts of modern India are quickly apparent. Huge billboards light up the night with the smiling faces of Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar advertising life insurance.
Beneath them are pavement sleepers, pariah dogs and seething traffic of all types, including horse-drawn carts.
Behind the parade of commerce and public life the endless Mumbai slum encampments can be seen, teeming with life, as brought to life so vividly by Gregory David Roberts in his novel Shantaram.
Things to do in Mumbai:
A stroll along Marine Drive to the lookout on Mumbai’s Narriman point is a relaxing way to walk off your dinner. Mumbaikers jog along the wide footpath in their sports gear or sit on the promenade looking out to sea.
The former home of Mahatma Gandhi is a must see. Mani Bhavan has been converted into a memorial museum with exhibits illustrating his life and many believe his spirit still lives here.
In and around Colaba you’ll find examples of colonial architecture, such as the massively gothic Victoria Terminus train station (now called the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus).
Catch a taxi up to leafy Malabar hill and pay your respects at the colourfully decorated Jain temple. From the lush Malabar gardens you can see out across the city and the famous Chowpatty beach where fishermen spread their nets and families picnic in the sun.
The gorgeous art-deco interior of the Eros Cinema is the perfect location to watch the latest Bollywood blockbuster. Be prepared for the excitable audience to make their appreciation of the film loudly heard.
Take a day trip on the ferry to Elephanta Island, which departs regularly from the river steps beside the Gateway to India monument. From the harbour you get the best views of the giant Gateway as well as the luxury Taj hotel.
The rest of the city quickly disappears into the murky pollution. On the island there is an eighth century Mahura temple to Shiva, carved out of the rock with impressive pillared halls and friezes.
Spend a few early evening hours lying about on the grass maidan by the courts of justice, watching the cricketers and children playing.
Another taxi ride to Mumbai’s Dhobi Ghats: here huge amounts of the city’s laundry is pounded and rinsed every day. It is a huge area of intense activity, noise and colour; everywhere someone is bashing cloth against stone or hanging it out to dry. Line upon line of flowery bedsheets and piles of wet clothes stretch into the distance.
Sitting outside in our hotel courtyard in the evening a high-wheeled silver swan sleigh passes by, bells jingling on the horses’ bridle. It is followed by a man propelling himself along on a low-wheeled trolley. After a few minutes the trolley man returns, holding onto the back of someone’s bicycle to hitch a ride.
Magnificent, miserable and full of life, Mumbai cannot fail to make an impact.
By Natasha von Geldern
It is now easier to take in the highlights of Mumbai as the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation has launched the first-ever guided Mumbai Museum Bus Tour. This will take visitors around the various museums in the comfort of a specially designed purple, air-conditioned bus. The twice-daily bus tour departs from the Gateway of India at 09:00 and 13.30 local time, and costs just 500 rupees per person.
Have you explored Mumbai in India? What are your favourite things to do?