Visiting Mumbai in India
Way of Life
- Length of Stay: a few day trips and one weekend trip.
- Season: Summer during each occasion in 2014 and 2015.
- Reason: My weekend getaway while I was in Pune for TWU as a trainer.
To get to Mumbai, I used a combination of
- BlaBlaCar (for last minute trips like this one)
- Pune-Mumbai train when I planned trips in advance.
- Pune-Mumbai bus to get back to Pune when no BlaBla trips fit my location/schedule. * If you’re buying a return trip to Pune, head over to one of the many ticket agents (like Neeta Travels) near and around the Dadar train station.
For taking the train or bus, I recommend finding a local to help you make a reservation online and I definitely recommend going with another person. I did it alone and had a lot of anxiety trying to figure out which platform, what train, which car, what stop, etc. Traveling alone is sometimes more fun, but the additional stress of doing it in a country where you don’t speak the local language may be more trouble than it’s worth.
Once you’re there, rickshaws are your best bet to get around (or Uber if you have a local SIM card). My recommendation would be to take the train/get a ride to the most southern tip of Mumbai and use local transportation to get to other areas of the city.
Starting near the airport (northern part of Mumbai) and working your way south can get very expensive given there’s a toll to cross over the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. However, if you haven’t seen the Sea Link, I recommend riding over it at least once.
If you do happen to find yourself far north (I ended up in Jogeshwari East once, for example) another option is to take the local train to Churchgate. This is a fun activity in itself and I enjoyed it despite the heat and humidity in the summer.
I found this fun when I had time to kill and didn’t want to take the risk of getting stuck in traffic in a cab. I happened to be in Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi during my first visit and had a lot of delays trying to get through impromptu parties in the street. 💃
The local train ticketing booth is cash only. I recommend you don’t bother buying a first class ticket and make sure you get on the right train car when it arrives! I accidentally got on to the men’s only car once and wondered why everyone was staring at me. 🙈
Note: There is a lot of traffic near the airport and you should keep this in mind if you’re venturing to and from that area.
It’s best to carry a bit of cash, especially if you venture into open air or antique/thrift markets with tasty street food.
If you stick to more established restaurants and shops, you shouldn’t have any issues using credit cards.
For one of my longer stays, I used Booking.com to find a budget hotel room for 3. Two nights at Hotel Sapna near the coast cost us 4,000 INR (~$60 USD).
Internet & Mobile
Local SIM card is the way to go here. I was lucky to have one provided by work, so I don’t have any tips on where or how to get one.
Download maps offline before you head out and place stars on the places of interest you want to get to in order to get a picture of how far apart they are from each other.
A lot of the places I wandered around were somewhat residential and not touristy. Don’t be surprised if you get stared at by the locals. There are a few neighborhoods I found were relevant to my interests and notes I found interesting like street art and a Bollywood influence (read: hipster tendencies). Given that these are somewhat spread apart from each other I dedicated myself to one or two of these areas whenever I’d visit.
On one occasion, I walked into and around Dhobi Ghat (one of the world’s biggest slums) by myself. This was probably a very stupid idea. Don’t do it.
Yelp is not popular in India so don’t even bother. I’m a foursquare die-hard, but I found myself using Zomato a lot more due to its adoption by Mumbaikar foodies.
What I’ve come to notice is that my eating habits in Mumbai reflect my need to have a break from Indian food. That being said, some of the highlights from my trips were:
- Burma Burma for delicious vegetarian Burmese curries, tea leaf salads, and tea. My first visit was a solo-dining experience I enjoyed so much I had to share with others when I visited again.
- The Pantry for a late brunch with sausage and eggs. Also a nice place to sip on coffee.
- Saltwater has coffee and what came to be my favorite brunch and lunch menu. e.g. goat cheese and beet salads, charcuterie plates for when I wanted a break from Indian cuisine.
- I highly recommend getting Kulfi (ice cream) by the kilo at the New Kulfi Center. The menu is overwhelming with so many flavors! When you finally order it feels like you’re being attended by an ice cream dealer. 😍 Be prepared with cash for this one.
- White Owl brewery was an adventure to find inside the hotel-like building it’s in, but the beers weren’t too bad and the atmosphere was cool to hangout in.
- Colaba Social has tasty bar food and cocktails, but seating was a little difficult to snap up.
“Good coffee” is hard to come by in India. Luckily there were a few places I found in Mumbai that served more than just Nescafé. Be advised however, that coffee culture in India is not really about the coffee. It’s mostly about the food and space to hangout with friends.
Kala Ghoda Café is a tiny shop with WiFi during specific hours that is housed in what used to be an old barn. The epitome of hipster.
- The Pantry has OK coffee and I recommend this being a lunch destination instead.
- Birdsong Café can be a bit noisy if you’re looking for a place to relax. I found the clientele to be moms with toddlers during lunchtime on a weekend but it’s a great place to begin a self-guided street art walk.
- Saltwater is great for both food and coffee. On the coffee side of things, they have a dedicated single-origin menu. I tried to buy beans from them but they didn’t want to sell them to me. 😭
- Pali Village is also great for food and coffee. Wandering around the area can be a venue of entertainment as well.
- La Folie Lab has different brew methods on the menu as well as an assortment of desserts and pastries.
I found this on my last trip to Mumbai after grabbing coffee at La Folie. A final treat and reminder that I was almost on my way back home to San Francisco where Boba tea is everywhere.
- Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market) is a goldmine if you want to take photos of really old stuff or happen to be shopping for any old film camera. You can see more photos of my visit in my post about “hitchhiking”.
- Filter in Kala Ghoda sells art and other goods from local artists and popular artists around the world. Closed on Sundays.
- Kulture Shop in is a hidden gem you have to find by getting to the second floor of the building it resides in. The owner, Jas Charanjiva, is a bad ass and was very hospitable during the time my friend and I spent browsing the prints and souvenirs with local artists’ work.
- Kitab Khana is my favorite bookstore to browse in the Fort precinct. There’s also a little cafe in the back.
- Walk along the Bandstand Promenade to enjoy the sounds of the ocean and kill time. Pack some water and make sure you’re up to handle the heat during the summer.
- Visit the “Hanging gardens” to see carved hedges that resemble different animals, but don’t be surprised if you see a lot of couples lying in the grass. #foreveralone
- Wander the Fort precinct/Mahatma Ghandi (M.G.) Road. There are a lot of street vendors, stores, and restaurants along this area as well as some hidden galleries I recommend looking for.
Visit street art and other murals fueled by the ST+ART India organization in Bandra.
To find a lot of the art, I scoured the internet for articles like this one, and this one to guide me. I still have the points of interest starred in my Google Maps history.
If you want to dedicate an afternoon of exploring the area, I’d recommend starting at Birdsong Cafe and treating each mural sighting as a treasure hunt. Nagara Lane has a walkway filled with different pieces that have potential to change frequently given some looked like temporary paste-ups.
Some of the murals are the height of residential buildings and hotels, like the one found at New Friends Cooperative Housing Society, but you run the risk of stepping into areas tourists rarely wander into.
If you walk over to Supari Talao, you might catch a neighborhood soccer game with a ninja backdrop.
Gallery hopping in the Fort precinct can be a hit or miss depending on whether or not the gallery is open that day. Don’t be surprised if you have to ring a doorbell to get into some of them. The ones I managed to sneak into were:
Be a Tourist
- Try to take a selfie at The Gateway of India without being bombarded with requests to have your picture taken with strangers. No, don’t do this. Wait, do do this.