Mumbai doesn't have the wealth of historical attractions of, say, Kolkata or Delhi. Rather, it is a city that revolves around its commerce, its manic pace, and the head-spinning energy exuded by the millions of diverse people who have settled here. This is a city you experience rather than sightsee, and sampling from the fantastic restaurants (and trying a few recommended street food stalls) described later in the chapter should be highest on your must-do list. Mumbai does have some one-of-kind attractions you should make time for; and be sure to set aside time to explore at least part of the Colaba-Fort area, described below, on foot -- do this at the beginning of the day before the heat becomes suffocating. Another good area to explore on foot is the Marine Drive/Chowpatty Beach stretch, possibly after a boat trip to Elephanta Island. You may also wish to visit Malabar Hill, also in the South Mumbai area and home to two top attractions, as well as the Hanging Gardens (also known as Ferozeshah Mehta Gardens). Laid out in the early 1880s, the terraced park at the top of Malabar Hill covers (or "hangs over") the city's main water reservoir, but unfortunately it fails to live up to its spectacular-sounding name. The best reason to visit here is to wander over to Kamala Nehru Park (across the road from the Hanging Gardens), from where you have a great view of Nariman Point's skyscrapers and the sumptuous curve of Marine Drive.
For a time trip experience, and a taste of a much-older Mumbai, head towards the center of the city and check out the Worli fishing village, populated by descendants of the original Koli community that inhabited these islands when they really were still islands; they still eek out an existence in much the same way as they've been doing for centuries. Well, almost. Ironically, this idiosyncratic peasant colony -- often abuzz with foul-mouthed, hot-tempered fishwives -- occupies the northern tip of Worli Sea Face, a stretch of prime real estate and part of one of Mumbai's hottest emerging neighborhoods. At the southern end of Worli, the strikingly designed Nehru Centre houses the city's unexceptional Planetarium, as well as an exhibition covering the entire history of the nation in fairly absorbing detail (even if its displays are very old fashioned). Not far from here is Mahalaxmi Race Course, an alternative place to hobnob with certain kinds of Mumbai socialites; it's in close proximity to the Mahalaxmi dhobi ghat, the world's biggest open-air laundry, and one of the city's most fascinating scenes -- you can watch the laundrymen for hours from the bridge above the railways of Mahalaxmi Railway Station.
Finally, although not necessarily for the squeamish, it must be said that perhaps the most eye-opening insights into Mumbai life are to be garnered from a tour of Dharavi, recognized as Asia's largest slum, and likely to change your way of looking at the world forever.
My Bombay/Mumbai -- All of Mumbai's contrasts and paradoxes are characterized for me on a trip to the Banganga Tank at Walkeshwar. There's a ring of old temples, and right by them are the homes of people whose families have served as priests for these temples for generations. Residents still perform priestly rituals early in the morning, go off to their computer jobs, returning in the evening to be priests once again. Standing on the steps of the Banganga Tank, I look up and see skyscrapers that represent some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and alongside them, shanties. For me, this encapsulates the Bombay story.
I also like to walk around The Oval (maidan, in downtown Mumbai) for another kind of contrast. On one side you have beautiful neo-Gothic buildings that look as if they've been transplanted from another continent, albeit with typically Indian flourishes and intricate carvings. Walk over to the other side of this huge field and you see Art Deco buildings from the 1930s and '40s with nautical and tropical motifs, again embodying a distinctive Bombay quality. Only Miami has something close to this. The northern end of the field has a cricket training academy but on Sundays, the maidan is overrun by dozens of impromptu cricket games, and in the middle of the chaos, a group of Nigerians can often by found playing football. Another great place I like to wander is Chor Bazaar and the adjoining Mohammedali Road. A flea market, Chor Bazaar is filled with a jumble of interesting things, and you can snag some good vintage finds -- furniture, posters, coins, records -- or just window shop and laugh at some of the ridiculously naïve copies of old objects and artifacts."
-- Naresh Fernandes, Editor, Time Out Mumbai.
Exploring Colaba & Fort
If you're at all inspired by Gothic Victorian architecture, then a jaunt through Mumbai's older districts is essential. Most tours kick off at the Gateway of India, but a more authentic place to start, given Mumbai's origins, is Sassoon Docks (aka the Fisherman's Market; daily 4am-noon except in the monsoon when weather dictates whether trawlers go out or not), which lies just south of the Gateway, off Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg (near Colaba Bus Station). Most of the delicious seafood dishes in the city's finest establishments start out here, where Koli women in rainbow-colored saris whip the shells off prawns while others gut and sort fish. Get here early (5am), when the boats return with their first catch, for the vibrant, communal spirit as baskets full of fish are moved around the dock through various stages of processing. It makes for absorbing viewing.
From here, walk back (or catch a cab) to the Gateway, possibly stopping for a refresher at the Taj Mahal Palace's Sea Lounge, situated directly opposite. From here it's a 15-minute walk north to Fort, Mumbai's cultural center, where you will find the superb Prince of Wales Museum, nearby Jehangir Art Gallery, and the National Gallery of Modern Art, as well as a host of Raj-era Gothic architectural highlights. From the museum you can either head north along M. Gandhi Road to Flora Fountain, hub of downtown Mumbai, or travel southwest down the famous Colaba Causeway.
Surrounded by colonial buildings that testify to the solid architecture of a bygone era, Flora Fountain has, since 1960, had to compete for attention with a Martyrs' Memorial that honors those who died in the creation of the state of Maharashtra. As you head toward the fountain, take in the impressive High Court building (which overlooks the Oval Maidan [also called The Oval], where aspiring cricketers practice their paces), the neoclassical Army & Navy Building, and the 78m (256-ft.) Rajabai Clock Tower, which towers over the Mumbai University complex. East of the fountain lies Horniman Circle, where you will find the Town Hall, a regal colonnaded building with original parquet wood floors, wrought-iron loggias, spiral staircases, and marble statues of leaders associated with Mumbai's history. The major draw here is the Asiatic Society Library, which has a collection of around 800,000 valuable texts. You can join the seniors and students who fill the library's popular reading room to peruse local newspapers and check out the public book collection, but you'll need special permission if you're interested in viewing the priceless treasures.
Also facing Horniman Circle is the late-19th-century Gothic Venetian Elphinstone Building and, opposite it, on Veer Nariman Road, St. Thomas's Cathedral, thought to be the oldest colonial structure in Mumbai. (Note that if you head west along Veer Nariman Rd., lined with restaurants, you will come to Marine Dr.) St. Thomas's Cathedral is a stark contrast to the pink and blue neoclassical Kenneth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai's oldest and loveliest Sephardic synagogue, located off K. Dubash Marg, on Forbes Street. North of Flora Fountain, up Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Road, is the Art Deco-style Parsi fire temple, Watcha Agiary. Built in 1881, it features carvings in a distinctly Assyrian style.
If you prefer shopping (albeit of a tourist-trap nature) to architecture, opt for the famous Causeway (now officially renamed Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg, though, thankfully, no one refers to it as such). Budget travelers have long been drawn to this vibrant street, but in recent years Colaba and its side streets have begun to slip into an increasingly urbane and upmarket second skin. Hip bars, swinging clubs, and tasteful restaurants are drawing the smart crowd. Anything and everything seems to be available from the hawkers on Colaba's sidewalks and back alleys, whether it's fruit, cheap cigarettes, currency, or hashish. Shop in exclusive boutiques or rummage through heaps of cheap trinkets sold on the sidewalks, where you can bargain for everything from imitation perfume to piles of cheap, tasteless T-shirts, all the while avoiding the advances of streetwise beggars and con artists sporting half-moon smiles and incongruous American accents.
Beyond the southernmost end of the Causeway (that's if you manage to get this far south before grabbing a taxi and heading for the peace of your hotel room!), in the restricted Navy Nagar area, you will see the neo-Gothic Afghan Memorial Church of St. John the Evangelist. Dating from 1858, it memorializes those who fell in the First Afghan War -- proof yet again of Mumbai's mosaic past.
Need a Fortifying Break in Fort? -- Stadium (tel. 022/2204-6819) is a cheap, unpretentious Irani restaurant outside Churchgate Station where you can sip chai or a cold drink while you contemplate your next move. Across the street (though you will have to walk all around to get there) is Gaylord (Mayfair, Veer Nariman Rd., Churchgate; tel. 022/2204-4693) an old fashioned cafe with a terrace and an all-day bakery selling fresh breads, croissants, and assorted bites -- great to recover your strength after a day of pounding the sidewalks or idling in traffic.
Catch a Bollywood Blockbuster
You can't say you've properly done the biggest film-producing city on earth if you haven't gone to the cinema to catch a blockbuster. Listings are found in daily newspapers, where you can also determine quality and even figure out the storyline by reading reviews written by contenders for the world's bitchiest critic; alternatively, ask your hotel concierge for recommendations. Of course, you can always get completely into the swing of things by picking up a copy of one of Bollywood's gossip magazines. Filmfare and Stardust not only fill you in on what's hot or what's not, but are crammed with glossy, airbrushed close-ups of silver-screen idols. Even though the growth of multiplexes has killed virtually all the old cinema houses, some still offer historic Art Deco appeal. Get tickets to watch a film at the once wonderful but now run-down Eros Cinema (opposite Churchgate Station; tel. 022/2282-2335) or lovely Liberty Cinema (tel. 022/2203-1196, a short walk from Eros, near Bombay Hospital), where upper-stall (at Liberty) or dress-circle (at Eros) tickets (the best in the house) still cost under Rs 100. Besides the Bollywood melodrama, you get to admire the wonderful Art Deco interiors, with majestic high ceilings, white cedar and teak paneling, '60s-style soda fountain, magnificent huge etched mirrors on the stairwells, mock fountains, and old movie posters. It's possible to get a little more involved in the Bollywood scene, either by joining a personalized tour led by a working assistant director (with Beyond Bombay), or by getting yourself landed a part as an extra in a movie (scouts often trawl Leopold Café looking for foreigners to add to the scenery of forthcoming blockbusters).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.