No matter where you have been before, no matter how many crazy cities you have been to, Mumbai might just be the one to surprise you again.
For many, Mumbai is more a transit point than a destination, which is forgivable. On the surface Mumbai is chaotic, noisy, messy and too damn busy.
But given a chance, this is a city that shines like a gem.
Crammed onto a relatively tiny peninsula, 18 million people call Mumbai home. Of course there is stacks of culture, things to see that will surprise you and some of the best food on the Indian subcontinent.
If you find yourself in Mumbai, try and cram a few of these things into your stay.
Stroll Along Marine Drive
Stretching from Nariman Point to Malabar Hill, this 3km promenade is where Mumbaikers come to relax. The sea breeze makes a change from the smog of the city and the views are exceptional, especially at night.
You’ll spy friends and lovers, groups watching cricket highlights on their phones, joggers and even families enjoying a picnic.
There are lots of restaurants making the most of the position, but be warned most of them are quite upscale (read more expensive than elsewhere). The best of the bunch is Thackers at the northern end of the drive, just next to Girgaon beach where you can feast on lovely veg thalis with a view.
The Hanging Garden on Malabar Hill
Like much of Mumbai, Malabar Hill is very much a paradox. You’ll spy opulent apartment blocks right next to little tin shacks, although the authorities do their best to keep tabs on the amount of shanty developments in this part of town.
If you know your Bollywood stars you might even spy a couple walking around The Hanging Garden.
The well maintained gardens are a great spot to relax in the shade and enjoy the views back across Marine Drive towards Fort/Nariman Point.
Haji Ali Dargah
The tomb of a Muslim saint and place of pilgrimage, this temple is built on a small island which is accessible via walkway. It’s a fascinating building and a great place to watch the faithful.
Non Muslims are welcome to come and take a look around, entry is free although donations are appreciated. Men and women should remember to be culturally sensitive and cover any exposed skin.
Be warned, the temple is busy every day but apparently gets exceptionally so in Muslim festivals such as Eid.
The Gateway To India
This stone arch, like a Raj era Arc de Triomphe, sits proudly on the waterfront a stones throw from the hustle and bustle of Colaba. Most tourists will make a beeline for the Gateway so prepare to dodge hawkers, hustlers, beggars and touts to get your postcard picture.
It’s worth the hassle though as the arch is genuinely quite impressive. Tourists aside, you will also find many friendly Indians, many of whom visit the big city for the first time and are keen to chat to foreigners. As always be friendly, but if they turn out to be touts or scammers, politely walk away.
You’ll also find that this area is where many of the boat tours depart from, especially to the outlying islands such as Elephanta. You can also take a harbour cruise or even go on speedboat rides.
If you have the time then a cruise to the caves at Elephanta Island is a welcome break from the crazy of Mumbai.
The island is home to a UNESCO listed cave complex. The caves contain carvings of Indian Gods and Goddesses which have been dated to around 200 BCE.
Depending which boat you take it can take around an hour or more to get there. Try and get a faster (slightly more expensive) service.
Boat tickets are around Rs100-200 (depending on the service) and entry to the caves is Rs10.
Trek Sanjay Gandhi Park
This massive national park sits in the north of the peninsula and is a fascinating visit. There are nature trails, a temple complex and a fascinating range of plant and animal life. In fact the park is home to the highest density of leopards anywhere on the planet, so you stand a high chance of spotting one on your tour.
Visiting the park is Rs48 and there are other paid options such as a tiger enclosure, a toy train and a Buddhist temple complex at the Kanheri Caves.
Go See A Bollywood Movie
If you think Marvel films are over the top, wait til you get a load of Bollywood.
Over the years Bollywood films have gone from being quite conservative and all-singing-all-dancing, to much more polished and sexy affairs. Yes you still get the songs, but they now sound more like modern hip hop or pop.
Head to The Regal Cinema in Colaba, an imposing art deco beast which you can’t miss if you’re in the area. Pick a movie, it doesn’t really matter which one as you’re going to enjoy the spectacle and the audience participation as much as the actual movie. It’s a safe bet that as you queue for entry you’ll make a friend anyway, so you’re almost certain to end up with a guide/amateur translator.
A word of warning: Indian cinemas are often as noisy and dirty as the streets outside. But for sheer cultural experience, it can’t be beat!
Seeing a film is cheap, tickets can be picked up for as little as Rs25-30 at some cinemas. At the Regal expect to pay closer to Rs100-200.
Go To Bollywood
In all honesty, in my numerous visits to Mumbai I’ve never done a Bollywood tour, for whatever reason.
However I’ve been told they’re great and you can often get to see a sequence being filmed. In fact, I have been offered to be an extra, as many western visitors hanging around Colaba will find.
Tours range from Rs400 to 3000, so shop around.
If you’re in town for a day or two then make sure to get out and make the most of your time in Mumbai.