Anyone who has ever been to Mumbai knows that it’s much more than just a metropolitan city. It’s more than just an overpopulated Island and a lot more than just “The City Of Dreams”. Our guide to experiencing Mumbai is one that covers everything that falls under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. We feel that the city is more than just the Gateway of India, the fancy Victorian and Gothic architecture of the southern towns or the famous Queen’s Necklace.
Don’t get us wrong. All of these are wonderful places that we love ourselves. But then, there’s a lot more to the city than just the southern region. While Navi Mumbai is considered as a city of its own, it’s still a part of the larger metropolitan region. And it also falls in the southern part of the region, in an Island of its own. There are many interesting experiences in Mumbai but the city’s history is just as interesting, if not more.
History and culture of Mumbai
Mumbai was once an archipelago which had a cluster of 7 islands. These islands were inhabited by the fishing community of Kolis, who would worship the goddess, Mumba. Which is why there are so many beaches and sea facing spots across the city. Makes us wonder how things might have been today if the Britishers had not merged all the islands into one huge land mass back in 1845.
What we find even more fascinating is the Portugese heritage of Mumbai. The fact that Bandra’s famous St. Andrews Church, Andheri’s St. John the Baptist Church, the Madh Fort and quite a few other structures were built by the Portugese. In fact, all these churches and forts date back to the 15th and 16th century. If you’re a history buff, chances are you already know all of this, and what we’re going to share next.
One big part of this big metropolitan city of Mumbai was given to the Britishers by the Portugese as a dowry. This was when Catherine (daughter to King John of Portugal) got married to King Charles of England. Although Mazagaon, Bassein(Vasai), Sion, Parel and Worli were some of the places which remained with the Portugese. You can go as far to the north of the city or to the south, you’ll surely find traces of Portugese heritage in both areas.
However, if you go eastward from the island of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai has a different backstory of its own altogether. Navi Mumbai was developed to reduce the congestion that took place in Mumbai city about 20 years after we gained Independence as a country. Just like Mumbai, Navi Mumbai too is going strong. Contrary to what some people in the western part of the island say, Navi Mumbai is also a part of the larger Mumbai Metropolitan Region.
When it comes to the culture, Mumbai is pretty diverse. You will find people of various different religions here. Mumbai celebrates Eid, Diwali and Christmas with just as much pomp. If you’re someone who enjoys being a part of lively celebrations, Mumbai is the place to be at. You get to see how people from different walks of life come together during different festivals. Ganesh Chaturthi is definitely one of the more prominent ones.
The primary languages spoken in Mumbai are Marathi, Hindi and English. But again, you will find people of different religions speaking their native tongue too. Music is also quite prominent in the city. While traditional Marathi and Koli music can be experienced during different events and festivals, remixes of these songs are also popular within the city.
As music enthusiasts, Mumbai is a city we love for its musical culture too. Be it indian classical, folk music, rock, metal, pop or indie, there are listeners of each genre in Mumbai. Oh and let’s not forget Mumbai’s speciality – Bollywood music! There’s no dearth of bars and venues which host concerts of different bands and artists across genres. Local trains during peak hours can be an interesting place to experience the love of Mumbaikars for music.
Mumbai’s lifestyle has a reputation of being too fast paced. That’s also a catalyst for the city’s snacking and street food culture. Mouthwatering snacks like Vada Pav, Samosas, Dabelis and Bhajiyas are often eaten as quick meals by many people in the city. We have done so too, besides relying on the more protein heavy Bhurji Pav. And the occasional Misal Pav.
Mumbai is diverse even in terms of food. You will come across plenty of places serving juicy tandoori meats, dishes like Pav Bhaji, chinese cuisine stalls and other street food delicacies like Pani Puri, Sev Puri and Frankies. So Mumbai takes care of us pretty well in terms of food and munchies. Especially in terms of street food.
The city being the birthplace of Bollywood is also quite big on arts. The National Gallery of Art is one testimony to that. Apart from that, there’s also Prithvi Theater, which is famous for hosting numerous plays and other forms of art shows. The Kala Ghoda Arts festival is one of the city’s premium events to experience a variety of arts and crafts. Numerous cultural performances are also hosted here, apart from various other places across the city.
How to get to Mumbai
Getting to Mumbai will never be a problem to you because the city is well connected by all modes of transport. More often than not, you will have multiple options to get to Mumbai, be it by taking a train, a flight or even driving to the city.
By Air – When taking a flight, you have two options to land in Mumbai. One is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (Terminal 2) in Sahar Village, and the second is the Domestic Airport (Terminal 1) in Santacruz. Both of Mumbai’s airports are connected to most places within the country and outside the country too. Even getting to other parts of the city from either one of these airports is not too big a hassle.
By Rail – In terms of public transport, Mumbai is all about railways. So you need not worry about the city’s railway connectivity to other major cities in India. Mainly because both the Central and Western Railways have their headquarters in Mumbai. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus and Mumbai Central are considered the two main stations. But there are a bunch of different stations where you could get down, depending on where you’re coming from. There’s Dadar Railway Station, Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Kalyan Junction, Bandra Terminus, Andheri, Borivali, Karjat Junction, Panvel Junction, Bhayander and Neral Junction.
By Road – There are a number of luxury and interstate buses to get to and from Mumbai to any other city or state. Apart from that, Mumbai also has well connected roads if you are looking to drive down to the city yourself on a road trip. National Highways 48 and 66 are just two of the highways which connect Mumbai to various cities and states on the north and south.
Best time to travel to Mumbai
Now the best time to travel depends on a lot of variables. Mid November to February if you don’t have a good tolerance to the city’s generally hot weather. Also if you’re looking to avoid the city’s monsoon. Heads up though, there’s always a chance of Mumbai experiencing rain even in November. Something we’ve observed for a few years now. But these showers are rare and not too intense.
If you’re someone who can take the city’s humid summers, then March to May would not at all be a bad time to visit Mumbai. Also because hotels are usually cheaper during these months. Fair warning though, temperatures tend to go up to 40 degrees in the summer. Evenings and nights can still be relatively pleasant.
Mumbai’s monsoon can be intense and make things a little challenging for someone who isn’t used to it. But we definitely feel that it can be really enjoyable. Even in cases when water fills up to the point that your feet aren’t visible, life doesn’t stop here. Best part is that beaches and sea facing hangout spots like Bandra Fort, Versova Rocks, and all the other places are beautiful to enjoy. Add to that some refreshing hot Chai and some snacks like samosas and bhajiyas, and you’ll be pretty sorted.
One thing you should know is that local public transport tends to witness frequent delays during the monsoon. Sometimes it even feels like they are more crowded than usual. At the end of the day, we don’t think there’s a specific time that’s the best time to visit Mumbai. It depends on what you like and what you’re looking for.
Getting Around Mumbai
Don’t consider yourself a thrill seeker if you haven’t taken a Mumbai local train during peak hours. Mumbai’s railway system is the go-to mode of transport for the majority of the locals. These local trains are cheap and also quickly get you to your destination. During noons, you will still have plenty of breathing space in a local train, but during peak hours of 8 AM to 10 AM and 6 PM to 8 PM, it can be a huge fight to even get in. Not for locals though because they are pros for sure. Getting around in Mumbai is not a problem because even the buses within the city are well connected and the rickshaws and cabs are easily available too. One of the things we love about the rickshaws and cabs here is that they run on meters. You can even book cabs or auto rickshaws using OLA or UBER.
Go Check Out
There’s no doubt that you will always find something or the other to see and experience in Mumbai. Mainly because the city is so huge, vibrant and diverse. Which also means that there are plenty of amazing things to discover apart from the sites and experiences that Mumbai is famous for. Here are just a few of them which we think will be worth your while.
Maharashtra Nature Park & Dharavi Slum Tour – It just takes one visit to Mumbai for you to testify that it is a city of contrasts. In the same locale that houses one of the largest slums in the world, you will also find the beautifully peaceful Maharashtra Nature Park. The park is located in Dharavi and is a good place to just unwind or simply soak in the greenery. There’s a very good chance of you coming across various species of birds and insects, while observing a host of different colourful flowers. What makes this park all the more interesting to us is that it is built on a piece of land which was once a massive dumping ground of the city. Definitely worth a visit in the city. Barely a few minutes away, you could also take a Slum Tour of Dharavi. Personally, we would recommend doing that through Reality Tours.
Ultimate Powai Experience – Now you must have figured out that there is no such thing in Powai. This is just a bunch of curated experiences that we think you should try. If you’re with friends, you can hangout at Hakone and enjoy some bowling and Paintball fights. They also have some interesting snack options if you feel like munching on something. The Galleria Mall is an interesting place to indulge in pocket friendly shopping too. One thing we would definitely recommend is going for dinner and drinks at Madeira & Mime. It’s one of the most interesting themed resto-bars we have come across. The staff here are hearing impaired but it’s one of the most warm and welcoming places which serves delicious food, backed with a lively ambience. You could also visit Rude Lounge for a stunning rooftop experience to enjoy panoramic views of the city. Oh, and don’t forget to visit Powai Lake to just soak in the vibes and let time pass you by.
Khotachiwadi – One of the best ways to get a glimpse of 18th century Portugese architecture is by visiting this village in Girgaon. The old school colourful bungalows nestled away in the narrow bylanes of the city are a sight to behold. You’ll definitely forget that you’re in a big metropolitan city soon as you enter these narrow streets of the Khotachiwadi Village. A lot of families who stay here are descendents of the original inhabitants of the city. If you visit Mumbai, you should definitely visit Khotachiwadi to get a glimpse of the city’s history and heritage.
At the end of the day, there’s no way we can just name 4-5 experiences in Mumbai. But this is a good start if you want to witness things beyond the more famous and most commonly publicised places. When all is said and done, Mumbai is the kind of city where you can spend years and still come across a new experience which has been there all along.