A picture of the Mumbai skyline and the city lights at night.

Mumbai: A Travel and History Guide to the City That Never Sleeps

Mumbai is truly a remarkable city that will take your breath away. The city is known by many names. Some call it the city that never sleeps. Some call it the party capital of India. Whereas others believe that it is the financial capital or hub of India. Regardless of the myriad aliases that Mumbai has, the city truly is a sight to behold. From the mouth-watering street food, awe-inspiring monuments to the vibrant locals. Mumbai has it all!

An aerial shot of Mumbai during the first lockdown after the initial spread of COVID-19.
Credit: TimesTravel

History of Bombay

Initially, the city was a collection of seven islands. These islands were occupied by various fishing communities. In the early 1530s, Sultan Bahadur of Ahmdebad gave these lands to the Portuguese. The Portuguese then handed it over to the British in the early 1600’s. Bombay’s strategic positioning in terms of being a safe harbor and port for trade and commerce made it very valuable to the East India Company. As such, the company leased the land from Charles II for a small pittance.

Eventually, the city established itself as a hub for the East India Trading Company. It attracted a unique blend of ethnicities including Goans, Gujurati traders, Muslim weavers and Zoroastrian businessmen. The export crisis in America following the Civil War resulted in a boom in the cotton industry. Establishing the city as a commercial centre with regards to the cotton trade. Moreover, the opening of the Suez Canal in the late 1860’s and the construction of docks provided the city with more access to European markets.

Despite various setbacks, such as the independence struggle, and the subsequent appointment of a radical right-wing party known as the Shiv Sena, the city continued to thrive. Rapid growth in the textile industry was accompanied by a rapid expansion in the IT, finance, healthcare and back office support sectors. New suburbs have been constructed to house the new wealthy middle class workforce. With areas that contain urban centers such as shopping malls and car showrooms.

A picture of Mumbai during colonial times, when it was occupied by the British. The picture shows a train station, formerly known as Victoria Terminal, but now it is called Chatrapati Shivaji Terminal
Credits: mumbai77.com

Tourist Spots in Mumbai

The Gateway of India really cements your arrival in Bombay. You’ll know that you’re in Bombay when you come across this beauty, truly a defining landmark of the city. Next on your agenda ought to be the Prince of Wales Museum. Its dazzling architecture is as mind-blowing as the treasures that are hidden inside the museum. The museum provides a good segue for what’s to come, which is the university and the High Court. Although it isn’t something to write home about, the High Court does give you a brief insight into the aristocratic realm of Bombay.

Furthermore, nothing quite epitomizes Bombay architecture quite like the Chatrapatti Shivaji Terminus (CST). Despite its colonial connotations, it’s still a magnificent piece of architecture that leaves you spellbound as you walk past it. Beyond CST, you come across the vibrant Muslim neighborhoods of the city. Filled with lively and bustling bazaars like Crawford Market, for example.

If these aren’t enough, why not take an evening stroll along Marine Drive and bask in the splendor of the city skyline. Maybe a boat trip to the Elephanta caves would be more your speed. A majestic cave that harbors a wealth of ancient Indian art and architecture.

A picture of Chatrapatti Shivaji Terminal in the daytime.
Credits: BusinessToday.in

Places to Eat

The city is blessed with countless food spots, from lavish rooftop bars to hole in the wall kebab shops and Indo-Chinese restaurants. The cafes and bars in Colaba would be a good place to start. From here, a brief taxi ride to Kala Ghoda and Fort will take you to the culinary epicenter of Mumbai. This area is home to some of the best cafes and restaurants that you will find in the city. However, the pride and joy of this area lies in the traditional Parsi diners, whose traditional Parsi food and decor are nothing short of spectacular.

Mumbai is also well known for its street food. Bhel puri is definitely a local favourite. A mixture of puffed rice, deep fried vermicelli, potato, crunchy puri pieces, tamarind water, chopped onions and coriander. Another item is pao bhaji, consisting of a Portuguese-style bread roll served on a tin plate with griddle-fried, spicy vegetable stew. If you’re still unimpressed, the city’s myriad juice bars ought to do the trick. There’s nothing quite like a refreshing glass of cool milk shaken with fresh fruits such as pineapple, mangoes and even bananas. A tried and tested remedy for the searing and sticky Bombay heat.

A picture of a street food stall in Mumbai, selling vada pav to locals.
Credits: Lonely Planet

Accommodation and housing

Finding a good place to stay at an affordable price in Mumbai, can prove to be quite challenging. This is especially true for travelers on a budget. The best and most cost-efficient places tend to be booked out days or even weeks in advance. So, if you are traveling on a budget, be sure to book well in advance.

Luxury accommodations can be quite expensive, due to tariffs for such accommodations being extremely high. Coupled with a state-imposed luxury tax and service charges imposed by the hotel itself, hiking up the prices even further. A simple solution to all these problems would be to make Colaba your destination once you arrive.

The areas in and around the Gateway of India are loaded with affordable tourist accommodations. The area offers a great deal in terms of food and entertainment as well. In addition, on the west side of the downtown area on Marine Drive there are ample four and five star hotels that overlook the stunning view of the sea and the city skyline.

A picture of the Intercontinental hotel on Marine Drive in Mumbai, India
Credits: Santorini Dave

Nightlife

People from Bombay have always had an affinity for alcohol, drinking and nightlife is very much engrained into the cultural fabric of Mumbai. So much so, that ducking in for a quick beer at the local pub during lunchtime is pretty standard. For local travelers and students, Colaba Causeway is the epicenter of their social life. To get a more in depth look into the city’s nightlife, one has to venture into the suburbs and urban centers of the city. Here, the city’s archaic licensing laws are manipulated by the owners, allowing them to serve gourmet food in tandem with imported wine, beer and cocktails.

Even though the 1:30 am curfew can be problematic, the clubbing scene in Mumbai is still the most lively and entertaining in all of India. However, the dancefloor can become overloaded with massive crowds on most nights. Also, cover charges for tables and drinks at the club tend to skyrocket on weekends. Security at the door is usually strict, with regards to dress codes and such. In addition, most clubs have a couples-only policy, but if you’re with a group of people that don’t appear too shady or sleazy, you should be fine.

A picture of Trilogy nightclub located in Juhu, Mumbai
Credits: Travel Triangle

Shopping in Bombay

Mumbai is a great place to shop, with a plethora of clothing and general stores where you’ll find the items that you want at an affordable price. Textiles that are produced locally and export-surplus clothing are the best items on offer. However, hand crafted sculptures and figures are also quality items that capture the essence of India.

The city also has large shopping complexes, where you can find all your favourite luxury clothing brands. Places such as the Palladium at Lower Parel and Inorbit Mall at Malaad are the perfect place for well-off travelers who aren’t on a budget. A credit or debit card is accepted in most places, but when it comes to street vendors and shops, it’s quite beneficial to haggle and negotiate your way into a good deal.

Festivals

The Kala Ghoda Arts festival is a good place to start. It’s the country’s largest multicultural festival that takes place over nine days. It consists of a wide variety of events pertaining to literature, the performing and visual arts. The festival celebrates the arts in Mumbai and is testament to how the performing arts are intertwined with the culture of the city.

The Elephanta festival is also worth visiting. A two to three day festival that celebrates classical Indian dance. However, what makes this festival unique is that the routines are performed against the ominous backdrop of the caves. Which gives the whole performance a very mystical and eerie ambience, which can be quite thrilling.

In addition, the Ganesh Chaturthi festival is truly a sight to behold. Ten days celebrating the renowned elephant-headed god Ganesha. The festival includes processions in the street, blaring music and a ton of dancing. The celebrations are capped off with the submersion of a clay idol of Ganesha into the sea on the last day.

Colaba

As a tourist, Colaba is one of the districts in the city that is definitely worth visiting. The area truly embodies the classy and elegant spirit of the city. Given that it is home to the infamous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, as well as some of the swankiest restaurants and bars in the city. Its fair to say that Colaba is one of the more glamorous areas of the city.

However, beyond the glitz and glamour, it does have a rugged underbelly. The dingy alleyways in and around the area are filled with drug peddlers, constantly nagging tourists while trying to sell them “brown sugar”. As a tourist, its best to avoid these sections of the district for your own safety and security. Other than this, Colaba truly is a fantastic tourist spot and is definitely worth visiting.

A picture of old elizabathen architecture, as seen in the Colaba district.
Credits: MakeMyTrip

Crawford Market

The fabled Crawford Market, only a ten minute walk from the CST station, is one of the best tourist spots that the city can offer. A conventional British-styled market which offers just about everything, from fresh foods to domestic animals. Outside the market, there are beautiful and intricate Victorian sculptures constructed during the colonial era. For example, there is a frieze dedicated to portraying an image of labourorers toiling in the fields, said to be designed by Rudyard Kipling’s father himself.

The main part of the market is divided into various sections. Aisles of polished fruit and vegetables on one side, and sacks of nuts, herbs and spices on the other side. The background exterior of the market is what gives the place its hectic and fast-paced atmosphere. Here, one comes across large crowds of coolies, with large baskets held high up in the air or placed on their heads depending on whether they’ve found work or not. For animal lovers, it’s advisable to avoid the domestic animal section of the market. Here, animals are often subjected to harsh living conditions in undersized cages, and aren’t treated with the respect and care that they deserve.

A picture of the busy Crawford market, which is a ten minute drive from CST station.
Credits: DNA

Kala Ghoda

North of Colaba, lies Kala Ghoda district. The name translates to “Black Horse” in English. Officials chose to name this district after a statue of King Edward VII on a black horse. This neighborhood is known as the cultural hub of the city. It’s home to a wide variety of museums and art galleries that promote the development of contemporary and fine arts in Bombay. Moreover, the district houses historic buildings and structures that have been responsible for promoting the arts since the 1950s. In December and January, on Sundays, local artists venture to the Kala Ghoda Fair to showcase their works and gain some notoriety.

The area is also quite close to the infamous Oval Maidan. Here, locals far and wide gather to play pick up cricket. The field gains a lush green color during the monsoons, which transitions towards a light yellow during the rest of the year. The field is surrounded by beautiful Victorian structures, constructed during the colonial era. Travel writers praise the unique architecture of the area. Conveying how the picturesque Victorian structures placed alongside dilapidated municipal buildings creates a unique dichotomy.

A picture of the black horse statue. As seen in Kala Ghoda district.
Credits: Vogue India

Best Time to Visit

Mumbai is a coastal city with a constant temperature of 30 degrees Celsius year round. With that in mind, October to March is definitely the perfect time to visit. In spite of the heat, there is a cool undertone to the weather on account of the coastal breeze. The city is also not as humid and sticky as it usually is from March to October.

It’s definitely advisable to avoid the city in April and May. These months are the high point of the Indian summer and it will be searingly hot and humid at this time. Similarly, in June and July during the monsoons, the city falls victim to increased flooding in low-lying areas. Making it difficult for tourists to move around in the city via public transport and taxis. As such, October to March is your window to experience the city in all its glory.

 

References;

Rough Guides India

2 thoughts on “Mumbai: A Travel and History Guide to the City That Never Sleeps

  1. Shiv Sena is not a radical right party!, they relatively centrist and always do what’s best for the city! Mumbai would be nowhere without them, the British left the city in a horrible state and it is thanks to the Thackerays that is so beautiful now! Pay proper respect to Uddhav!

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