Mumbai: The Ultimate A to Z Guide
In this series of city guides, we highlight the top spots in each destination, from the most iconic landmarks to the least-known hidden gems, with a sprinkling of survival tips from A to Z.
Mumbai, the City of Dreams, is at once the most liberal, progressive city in India, as well as a heritage-rich destination with more than a millennium worth of history within its borders. A place where ancient cave temples and contemporary edifices, slums and celebrity houses reside in close quarters, it’s a colourful hodgepodge of a city every first-time visitor to India should start at.
The Bombay Arts Society might be the quickest, most alien-like building you’ll ever in the city. Instead of following a fixed form, the experimental venue breaks every rule, its appearance mimicking the result of putting random shapes together. Designed by Sanjay Puri Architects, it is a mixed-use building that caters to all things creative.
Found within the Walkeshwar Temple complex is Banganga Tank, a water tank that allegedly carries water from the Ganges River. According to legend, the wooden post with an orange flag that stands at the heart of the pool is an arrow shot by Hindu deity Rama, thus allowing water to spill from the ground.
Situated in the outskirts of Mumbai, the 19 ancient black basalt caves that make up the Mahakali Caves offer an extraordinary look at the remnants of the city’s past. Inside are jaw-droppingly intricate carvings that are believed to date as far back as the 1st century, used as sanctuaries for Buddhist monks in meditation.
Devour Mumbai-famous dishes
Start with an Akuri on toast for breakfast, a Bombay sandwich for lunch, and a butter garlic crab for dinner, while stuffing a bhel puri and a cup of falooda in between as pre-meal snacks to get a day’s worth of Mumbai cuisine samples.
Mosey over to the Elephanta Island, a forested expanse that carries a sparse population of 1,200 and houses the Elephanta Caves—a pit stop you can’t miss. Travellers are strictly not allowed to stay on the island overnight, so make the most of your visit into these 5th century caves, of which five are Hindu and two are Buddhist.
Mumbai is home to the largest group of Parsi fire temples (used solely by Zoroastrian worshippers), and the largest population of Parsis in the country, such that the art and culture of the city bear influences from the distinct community. Drop by the Seth Banaji Limji Agiary, the oldest surviving fire temple, and watch the ancient religion in action.
It’s impossible to get around West Mumbai (or more specifically, the Andheri neighbourhood) without noticing a mammoth rock formation in the middle of the buzzing streets. Formed during the spread of volcanic lava in the Mesozoic era, it makes this 60m black basalt column more than 66 million years old.
Formerly part of Portuguese India until 1739, the Versova neighbourhood in the northwest of the city is more than its tranquil beach. Hit up the funky Versova Social, a bar and grill that looks more like a hipster hangout, and chill with creatives at Aamad, a studio where you can teach self-defence classes to underprivileged girls and catch an evening gig.
Into the woods
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park is the world’s biggest national park that’s located within the borders of a modern city, making it a must-visit for two million travellers each year for a reason. Thanks to this expansive forest, the air pollution in Mumbai is always kept in check. Known for its resident tigers, lions, hyenas, reptiles and 172 species of butterflies, the park also contains the Kanheri caves, which consist of 109 temples from the 1st century.
Head to the Canvas Laugh Club, located at the Palladium Mall, and prepare to laugh your lungs out when veteran jokers and emerging comedians alike take the stage. Whether you’re into slapstick sketches or improv stand-up sets, this comedy club has it all.
Kala Ghoda Arts Festival
This nine days long arts festival, which happens every year in February in South Mumbai, celebrates and presents the best of the city’s art and culture. It showcases highly lauded artists, music, dance and theatre productions on a larger-than-life scale, promising an unforgettable blowout in each instalment.
Where the coolest cats gather to mingle and get a taste of the creative community’s newest offerings, Lil Flea is a contemporary flea market for the hipsters-at-heart. Instagrammable snacks, open-air film screenings, indie music performances and artisanal brands are what you’ll find in this trendy enclave.
Most expensive house in the world
Valued at between $1 and $2 billion, Antilia claims the title of the most expensive house in the globe, beating out the Buckingham Palace in London. Owned by business mogul Mukesh Ambani and designed by architecture firm Perkins and Will, the 27-storey, 400,000sqft contemporary luxury tower is so huge it needs a staff of 600 to maintain.
From the chic rooftop bar at Four Seasons, to upscale celebrity club Blue Frog, to The Daily Bar And Kitchen (a speakeasy specialising in molecular cocktails), this Indian city is brimming with bars, pubs and clubs with top-notch tipples and electric ambience.
Oldest museum in Mumbai
Opened in 1855 under British rule, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum is the oldest museum in Mumbai, which carries a repository of contemporary art and artefacts that traces the long history of the metropolis. Not to mention, it’s a sight for sore eyes, with grandiose, gilded interiors.
A melange of Persian and Indian cuisines, Parsi food has its distinct flavours, some shaped by the British during the colonial rule. While it remains an obscure cuisine in other parts of the world, it’s a mainstay in Mumbai. Chicken farcha is the go-to dish for the locals, who flock regularly to renowned restaurant Jimmy Boy for a bite.
This is what the locals call Marine Drive, a road that curves and stretches from Nariman Point to Malabar Hills. Take a drive in the evening to experience the romance of the seaside location, its waters glistening like a diamond necklace.
Recreate Bollywood scenes
As the hub of Bollywood, Mumbai is where the majority of Indian blockbusters are filmed, offering a plethora of opportunities to revisit old sets and iconic spots. It’s also the largest congregation of Bollywood celebrities and directors, so if you hang around long enough, you might catch the likes of Priyanka Chopra and Sushmita Sen.
Shahid Bhagat Singh Road
Also known as the Colaba Causeway, this is the place to be if you’re looking to experience the multi-colours of Mumbai. Jam-packed with roadside stalls selling jewellery, clothes and other accessories, the market on this stretch of road is a paradise for budget shoppers—the perfect place to flex your haggling muscle.
Taj Mahal Palace
Not to be confused with Agra’s ivory Taj Mahal, this historic landmark in Mumbai is a hotel that was built in 1903 by a Parsi industrialist—the first one in India to hire women. The second-most photographed monument in the country, the sprawling estate also holds its own with its blend of Islamic and Renaissance-style architecture.
When you’ve had enough of the glitzy side of Mumbai, step into Dharavi, the world’s third largest slum settlement, to get a more complete picture of the city. While it’s not the most glamorous of sites, it’s also where masses of pottery, textile and leather goods are made and exported to the US and Europe.
Officially opened in 1888, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, previously named the Victoria Terminus, is a staggering sight. Its palatial façade, a Gothic marvel featuring a medley of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic details, makes it one of the grandest train stations in the world. The work of Frederick Stevens, this UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts stained glass windows, spires and protruding gargoyles in stone.
Watch the flocks of flamingos
Every year from the end of October to May, thousands of flamingos migrate to Mumbai, turning the Sewri mudflats into a sea of pink. The spectacular annual event spawned the BNHS Flamingo Festival, where you’ll find all sorts of family-friendly activities based on the flamboyant winged creature.
X-treme sports at night
Parasailing is an activity that you can participate in almost any country you visit. But what about parasailing at night? In Mumbai, this unique option is available. Treat yourself to a relaxing ride as you float above the city and take in the dazzling skyline.
Come by The Yoga House, an urban sanctuary, for a Hatha Vinyasa class—a rejuvenating treat for the senses as well as the physical body. The studio also includes a cafe that serves both western and Indian fare with vegetarian options.
Zip through the city in a dabbawala tour
An exceptional feature of Mumbai is its unorthodox lunch box delivery service, where dabbawalas (or lunch bucket men) push giant trolleys filled with homemade lunch boxes all over town and deliver them to people working in offices. Dubbed by media outlets as “the world’s best food delivery system”, it’s even attracted the attention of researchers who visit the city just to study these men.
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