Visiting Mumbai - What to See and Do
(Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport BOM, India)
is both the largest city on the sub-continent and the most modern and cosmopolitan. Home to stunning colonial mansions, world-class museums displaying its long history, bustling local bazaars and markets, and Film City - the home of Bollywood, Mumbai has so many attractions and landmarks that it is hard to choose which to see first.
The oldest district in the sprawling city is South Mumbai, also the premier tourist hub with most of the attractions, as well as upscale hotels, acres of eateries and a buzzing nightlife. Art galleries, museums, bars, clubs, pubs, malls and shopping streets are all here, rubbing shoulders with Hindu temples, forts, the iconic Gateway to India, the harbour and some refreshing green spaces.
For the most ancient landmarks in the city and the best beaches, North Mumbai is your destination, with its premier historic attraction being the 1,500-year-old complex of four temples carved into the living rock. The theatre scene here is thriving, as is modern music, with jazz a favourite and heavy metal rock booming out of the clubs on the weekends.
Ten things you must do in Mumbai
- Bombay Castle is an interesting remnant of India's British colonial era, with sections of its 17th-century walls still standing and the Governor's House inside the fortifications still in use today. The oldest part is a sundial which was part of the Portuguese fortifications predating the arrival of the British.
- Mumbai's Film City was the birthplace of the Bollywood movies which have now taken the cinematic world by storm. This is still a working film studio turning out both movies and TV series, and tours can be taken around its lots. Those familiar with the genre may even recognise their favourite stars.
- The Prince of Wales Museum is set in a magnificent Victorian pile built in 1903, and is one of the finest art and history museums in India. Displayed here are artefacts from the Indus Valley Civilisation, Gupta period treasures and a superb collection of miniatures on ivory painted in the traditional manner.
- The Elephanta Cave Temples are found in North Mumbai on the seacoast and contain exquisite carved images of Hindu deities dating from the 5th century and later. The complex holds four temples spread over some 6,000 square metres / 64,585 square feet and the largest is believed to be home to Shiva himself. Pilgrims still come here to worship from all over India.
- An added attraction to the pretty beach at Versova on the Arabian Sea coastline is the picturesque village and harbour of the Koli fisherfolk, who have lived here for hundreds of years. Their boats are moored at the north end of the beach, while close by is the Portuguese fort of Versova, built in the 17th century.
- The massive 1920s Gateway to India may be a late-comer to the city's architectural scene, but it is the most easily recognisable landmark of the British Raj era. It is also a vibrant hub for meeting, greeting, watching street entertainers, eating street food and generally having a good time.
- The unusual Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat is a huge outdoor laundry giving an unmissable glimpse into the real India, with dhobi-wallahs (local laundry men) pounding, scrubbing and beating the dirt out of items while standing in huge concrete troughs. It is a tough life, and the job is handed down from father to son even today.
- The Khala Ghoda Art Precinct contains the best of Mumbai's art galleries in its crescent-shaped cultural centre, being the heart of the artistic community in the city. Art museums are here too, and the contemporary art scene is thriving in Mumbai. If you are here in February, don't miss the nine-day Arts Festival.
- Both the Juhu and Chowpatty beaches are right in the city, and a hub for relaxing with a cool beer and sunset-watching after a long day of sightseeing. Every evening the beach road fills with street food vendors selling bhajis, corn on the cob, puris and other snacks much loved by locals and adventurous tourists.
- Mumbai's markets are extraordinary mazes of life and survival. From the trash and treasures being hawked in the Thieves' Market (Chor Bazaar) to the fantastic fresh produce of the colourful Crawford Market, you can easily spend half of your visit wandering these crowded centres of society. The Zaveri Bazaar is perhaps the most maze-like and packed, but if you are not claustrophobic, it is an experience to explore.