Mumbai is a city on the go -- but don't expect to get anywhere fast, because traffic is lousy at the best of times. Around a million vehicles crowd the streets, and each week another 1,400 scooters and cars join the congestion caused by battered black-and-yellow taxis, Marutis, Indicas, expensive sedans and SUVs, copies of leftover red double-decker Routemaster buses, and the occasional bullock-cart. You will certainly need to take a taxi to get around (or, if you're arriving from the airport, arrange a transfer with your hotel). If you're staying in the Colaba-Fort area, you will, for the most part, be able to explore the area on foot.
By Taxi -- Metered taxis (in which you don't bargain but pay a rate dependent on mileage predetermined by a structured fare card) are available everywhere (flag them down when you see the meter flag up), but note that you'll be riding in rather battered Fiats from the 1960s (which can be an adventure in its own right). That said, Mumbai is one of the few places in India where using the meter is the norm -- in fact, no local would go anywhere without a taxi driver using his meter. Typically, the taxi meters in Mumbai are mounted on the vehicle hoods, and taxi drivers are required to carry a conversion chart that tells passengers how much they owe, based on the original fare displayed on the ludicrously old-fashioned meters. Do not start the journey before checking to see if the driver is carrying the correct chart; these are sometimes tampered with, so vital information is missing -- for example, the part of the chart informing you that the rates quoted are for nighttime travel, which are higher. We've also traveled with unscrupulous drivers who perform such obvious deceptions as obscuring the meter display and faking the reset action at the beginning of the journey in order to inflate the fare charge; in other incidents, drivers have tried multiplying the meter reading by some ludicrous amount (like 100) and calling your bluff with an over-the-top charge. Don't panic -- immediately ask to see the chart and set the would-be con artist straight. He'll inevitably apologize. If you're in any doubt, ask a policeman or your hotel doorman to decipher the fare for you; fares are Rs 13 for the first mile (1 2/3km) and Rs 8.50 for each subsequent kilometer, but in essence you can calculate how much you have to pay by multiplying what's on the meter by approximately Rs 13; add on 25% if you are traveling between midnight and 5am, and Rs 5 to Rs 7 per piece of sizable luggage. Nothing more, except a fair tip if the driver hasn't tried to cheat you.
You will also see more modern-looking taxis with digital meters plying the streets. These generally cannot be flagged down in the same way as the yellow tops; they're referred to as call cabs, and you'll almost certainly need to book one in advance or through your hotel. One of the better call cab outfits is Meru Cabs, recognizable as green Esteem cars with large advertising banners and a white light on top (available) or red (engaged); they're equipped with GPS, digital tamper-proof meters and printers (for a receipt), radio, and A/C, and tend to have better-trained drivers (although some of the traditional Mumbai taxi drivers are quite knowledgeable). They're a definite step up from the beaten-up black-and-yellow taxis typical of Mumbai. The downside is that even though you can hail one curbside, you rarely see a vacant Meru cab, and the phone service (tel. 022/4422-4422; open 24/7) requires at least 4 hours' advance notice. If you want to book one several days in advance you can do so on their website (www.merucabs.com) and receive an e-mail confirmation, or SMS "MERU" to 57575. Gold Cabs (tel. 022/3244-3333) also runs a smaller fleet of yellow cabs in various car models; again you'll have to book a few hours ahead. Fares for both are higher than regular cabs (from Rs 15 per kilometer); the meter starts only after you sit in the cab (unless you call and keep it waiting more than 10 min.).
If you're looking for a vehicle for the day, you can strike a deal with a private taxi driver directly, but here you should negotiate the deal upfront -- you should pay around Rs 700 to Rs 800, plus a tip, for an 8-hour (or 80km/50-mile) stint. Note that it's worth shelling out extra for an air-conditioned cab -- you're likely to spend long stretches waiting in traffic jams at overcrowded intersections. To rent an air-conditioned car and an English-speaking driver privately (which will cost a bit more but may remove the hassle of haggling), the following operators are recommended: Cool Cabs (Worli tel. 022/2492-7006; or in Andheri tel. 022/2822-7006, or 022/2824-6216); Ashtapura Travel World (907 Arcadia, N.C.P.A Marg, Nariman Point; tel. 022/2283-4689; http://carhirers.com); Euro Cars (Suburban Service Station, 261 S.V. Rd., Bandra W.; tel. 022/2655-2424; www.eurocars-india.com); and Ketan Travels Pvt. Ltd. (R.T. Bldg., P.M. Rd., Vile Parle E.; tel. 022/2614-0554; www.ketancars.com). Carzonrent (tel. 860/500-1212; www.carzonrent.com) offers chauffeur-driven cars throughout the subcontinent.
Hiring a taxi through your hotel can get very pricey, but the fleet of cars maintained by some of the upmarket hotels is unlikely to be matched in quality by anyone in the city (if you choose your hotel by the quality of its vehicles and chauffeurs, be sure to stay at the Four Seasons, which offers silky-smooth BMWs), and it may be convenient to have transport charges added to your hotel bill. Do, however, remember to tip your driver directly.
By Train -- Train travel in the city is strictly for the adventurous, but then again, a ride on a train in the afternoon (or on Sun) gives you the opportunity to see how the other half lives, as the tracks wend their way through some of the city's most squalid slums. Extending northward of Churchgate is the Western Railway local train line, and moving north of Victoria Terminus (or CST) is the Central Railway network. Together, these two suburban train systems transport over six million commuters each day. A first-class return ticket from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (aka Victoria Terminus or VT) to the suburb of Thane costs about Rs 210. Travel only during off-peak (noon-3pm is best) times and leave luggage and valuables in your hotel room. I don't advise this, but if you really want to get a feel for the way of life experienced by the millions of people who commute into the city each day, you could probably survive the 30- to 40-minute ride from VT to Bandra during the after-work rush hour (although some don't, literally -- it's rare, but people have been crushed to death in the sardine-packed compartments)); the cheapest tickets are around Rs 8.