Not for no reason is Mumbai known as Maximum City. Old Bombay has almost every facet of Indian life contained within its mighty borders. Here you can rub shoulders with Bollywood stars, attend a cricket match in the world’s richest league or try and spot wild leopards in the neighbouring Sanjay Gandhi National Park. On the roads you’re likely to see Jaguars, but you may well spot camels too – or elephants. Every sense is constantly engaged in this city of more than 22 million people – the smell of street vendors cooking, the noise of a million auto-rickshaws honking, the feel of monsoon rain washing over your feet, the incredible taste of myriad Bombay dishes.
Sightseeing and Culture
To simply walk the streets in Mumbai is an exercise in exhausting sightseeing, but there are a few places every visitor should try and squeeze in. The Taj Mahal Palace (www.tajhotels.com) has nothing to do with the actual Taj Mahal, but it is decidedly palatial – a colossal 115-year-old hotel that dates back to the British era. In a similar vein, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is surely the grandest train station anywhere in India, a shabby-chic relic left by the Victorians.
To try and make sense of everything, be sure to head to the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (www.bdlmuseum.org), which has a staggering array of artefacts detailing the history of the city and India at large. Before the end of 2018, a new wing will be added to the 140-year-old central building.
It won’t be for everyone, but if you want to try and understand Mumbai, then you should take the chance to go on a slum tour. This isn’t a poverty safari – cameras are banned – but rather a chance to see how millions of Mumbaikars live every day. Reality Tours (www.realitytoursandtravel.com) offers daily ethical tours and profits go back to the communities you visit. Be prepared for surprises – the slums have industry, electricity, and even a hotel. As preparation, or as a post-script, be sure to read Katherine Boo’s electrifying, Pulitzer Prize-winning Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
At the other end of society, you could also try and catch a Mumbai Indians IPL match at the famous Wankhede Stadium. The three-time champions have some of the most famous names in world cricket playing for them during their short, fraught season and demand for tickets can be high.
Food and dining
Given its population is larger than most countries in the world, let alone cities, Mumbai has a hugely diverse selection of food – and some wildly varying quality. Starting at the very top, if you decide to visit the Taj Mahal Palace then absolutely try to get a table at Wasabi by Morimoto (www.tajhotels.com). As you can guess from the name, the food here is Japanese – in a country of diametrically opposed food (subtle flavours there; aromas so pungent they feel like a punch in the nose here) it’s remarkable that head chef Sanchin Poojary has done such an excellent job. How excellent? He managed to get Wasabi onto the hallowed 50 Best Restaurants in Asia list, one of just two India-based restaurants to do so.
There are literally thousands of mid-range choices too, with the great Bombay Canteen (www.bombaycanteen.com) a stand-out selection. However you can’t visit Mumbai and not try the street food. It’s only natural to feel a little apprehension with this – debilitating food-poisoning is not a myth – so to keep on the right side of everything, book a culinary tour with the reliable Mumbai Moments (www.mumbaimoments.com).
In the home of Bollywood you won’t be surprised to hear that people absolutely love to dance, or at the very least stay out late in the hopes of seeing one of the beloved stars. One of the best chances of that comes at the Olive Bar and Kitchen (www.olivebarandkitchen.com), which is an ideal place to go before heading out into the city.
If you’re looking for a nightclub, then Trilogy (www.trilogy.in) has good music, trendy patrons and a beachside location. However, if you’re after something a lot more refined, with beats a good deal less banging, then you could take in some jazz at the National Centre for Performing Arts (www.ncpamumbai.com).
Where to stay
If you’re happy just to look at the Taj Mahal Palace, then the obvious top-line alternative is the luscious Oberoi (www.oberoihotels.com), which sits out on the Nariman Point with commanding views of the Indian Ocean. If you’d instead like a property that gently nods to India’s colonial past, then the ITC Maratha (www.itchotels.in) is an excellent option. Half the price of the Taj Mahal Palace, it has every amenity expected by the modern traveller, set in an awesome Victorian frame.
With so many people moving around, there’s a lot of pressure on transport. The addition of a metro system in 2010 helped, but assuming you don’t have a private driver, then yellow-top cabs, or those at your hotel, are fine options. Alternatively, if you want go completely native, then jump in a three-wheel autorickshaw. Their drivers see lanes others do not – and closing your eyes until it’s over is totally fine.
Qatar to Mumbai is approximately less than four hours and there are many ways to get there. IndiGo flies directly for QR999 or you can fly Jet Aiways for QR1,600. Qatar Airways flies from Doha to Mumbai for QR1,700 (starting).