If you’re taking off to India, start in Mumbai. It’ll give you a flavour of the continent without the potential culture-shock. Here are a few pointers to help you plan your trip to India's biggest city:
When is the best time to visit Mumbai?
As with most of the southern parts of India, go in the winter, November through to April, no later. In May the temperatures soar to 30°C, becoming intolerable just before the monsoon hits. The monsoon starts in the south, works its way north, then heads south again – so rely on regional monsoon forecasts, as they can vary widely depending on where you are.
How to get there
Indirect flights are available from at least twenty airports across the UK. Direct flights are available from London – if you’re flying from the capital, London City, Gatwick and Heathrow will get you to Mumbai in just under nine hours. Flights arrive at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International, and if you’re passing through Terminal 2, you’re in for a treat – it was renovated for $2 billon in 2014 to deliver a truly first class experience for travellers.
Where to stay
South Mumbai – the Colaba area in particular – is a popular place to stay, meaning there are plenty of options available, and it’s a great starting point for understanding what makes Mumbai so special. It’s here that you’ll also find two of the city’s most prominent landmarks: The Gateway of India, and the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. Both are well worth a visit. Elsewhere and around, there are plenty of heritage buildings and leafy roads to enjoy – and the best way to do this is to use your feet.
What to see
You’re in India, so you can’t leave without checking out it’s national obsession, cricket. Check out the much-loved sport at Oval Maiden while strolling along the leafy streets of Colaba. Marine Drive is an epic Miami-esqe stretch of skyscrapers and five star hotels, great for sunset walks – and while you’re there, check out The Gandhi House with its exhaustive collection documenting the great man’s life. The Prince of Wales Museum (now known as The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya – catchy huh?!) offers a comprehensive introduction to the history of India, and is a great place to pick up handmade, locally crafted souvenirs. If you’re after Indian textiles, head to Fabindia or check out the narrow alleyways of Chor Bazaar, where you might just be tempted by a few authentic antique gems.
Where are the best places to eat in Mumbai?
It’s probably safest to try out street food in Mumbai’s touristy areas. Bhelpuri (a puffed rice and vegetable chaat) and vada pav (a deep-fried potato patty) are two delightful local treats you shouldn’t miss. On the meaty side of things, Bademiya is a well-known kebab institution that serves delicious BBQ specialties with a night market feel between midnight and 3am. Aside from street food stall and established restaurants, it’s worth poking your nose into some of the kitchens of Mumbai’s luxury hotels where you’ll find unique, high quality dishes. Try The Taj Palace, JW Marriott, Oberoi hotel and the Four Seasons for great food surrounded by contemporary luxury design, champagne lounges and rooftop bars. Each have their own vibe and sophisticated dining options includes Indian cuisine, fine Italian, Japanese sushi, pan-Asian dishes or afternoon tea.
How to travel safely in Mumbai
As with any culture new to you, approach India with a combination of basic common sense, background research and gut feel. Dress modestly if you are a woman to avoid unwanted attention. Skip food that is washed with local tap water, for example salad and fruit sold on the street. Drink water that is sealed. If in doubt, don’t eat street food you know little or nothing about, and if you have stomach ache of any kind, go to the chemist as soon as possible – the sooner you tackle it, the sooner you avoid dehydration, a lot of misery and maybe even a ruined trip. Finally, get a pre-paid or metered taxi to avoid extortionate fees and endless negotiations.
Where to go for day trips out of Mumbai?
The cave temples of Ellora are a 45 minute flight or an easy overnight train away. Aurangabad is the closest city to the rock-cut architecture of Ellora, now a World Heritage site, and over five centuries old. Goa is a one hour flight or overnight train from Mumbai, and a popular weekend break with a beach to suit every mood. The local King’s beer, available in Goa only, and the famous Goan fish curry – perhaps accompanied by a blazing sunset – will definitely make the journey worthwhile.
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