If you have the money saved up and are looking to add one to the passport stamps – pick India. Whether you’ve just graduated university, are on a gap year or looking for a Christmas getaway, go to India. Why? Because I can’t.
I’m an Indian native, from the salty coastal city of Mumbai. But because I want to stick around in this here great country, I haven’t been back for over nine months. (Silly!)
What’s in Mumbai? Well, it’s home to the Bombay Chaat Mix you so readily find in British supermarkets. Except, in Bombay, you’ll have fresh puffed rice, chopped onions + tomatoes + potatoes, tamarind sauce and sev (long thin strands of salty goodness), served in organic leaf-bowls. And the best of it served streetside. That’s actually Bombay chaat.
Bombay is also known for its explosive monsoon season, The Gateway of India and Bollywood.
But that’s what everyone thinks there is to Bombay. Because that’s what is advertised; what you want to be seeing as a tourist. If you’re really going to get down to seeing this city – the aforementioned isn’t going to cut it.
Here’s what you should do if you visit Mumbai, from the eyes of a local.
1. Drink some sugarcane juice
I’ve found that the best places for some mouth-watering sugarcane juice are in the southern parts of the city. Try Colaba, Churchgate or Fort. The vendors will have an archaic iron machine with wheels and everything. And they’ll squeeze the sugarcane sticks right in front of your eyes. Then, pop in some rock salt and ice and hand it to you almost always dripping – but we’ve all been to an English pub, so!
2. Sample the local trains
Tonnes of Indian people hanging out of a train. Lots of dudes wearing all white with colourful turbans. This image is right up there. With curry. And big, colourful weddings. But, but, but. Surprise: local trains aren’t actually like that. The Mumbai “local”, as it’s known, is the lifeline of the city – much like the Underground. It’s where the people are (all parts of them). So, pick a short journey – they can be as little as 5/10 Rupees – travel light and stand away from the doors. Because there aren’t any!
3. Walk down Worli Sea Face
While this is not the the most popular promenade in the city, it might be the most picturesque. With a view overlooking the magnificent Bandra-Worli sea link, all you need is a pair of sneakers. Let the place take care of the rest.
4. Saunter around Kala Ghoda (Kala Ghoda literally translates to black horse. Hah!)
This is the city’s art district. Spend an afternoon here to explore quaint cafes, indie galleries and streeside art stalls. They love visitors and they love to haggle, so don’t be shy.
5. Colaba causeway
This street is made up of a collection of small, home-owned businesses selling authentic items for low prices: giant flea market. This is where you can find yoga pants and all other apparel that’ll get you through the heat. And kick off the bragging when you’re back home, of course.
6. Rickshaw ride in the small streets of Bandra.
In Bombay, rickshaws can only be found in and north of an area called Bandra. Other than being home to half of Bollywood and its uncle, Bandra is also known for its vibrant nightlife and cultural heritage. Its contoured streets are best piloted by the crafty rickshaw drivers, who know the most efficient ways to get around. Pick your destination, hop in and admire the colourful insides!
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The following are a must if you’re a foodie-on-the-loose in Bombay: vada pav, paani puri, cutting chai, chana and veggie sandwiches. Ask anyone you see and they will point you in the direction of the next vendor of said goodies. There’s lots of stray dogs and cats, and they’re more than welcoming. Haggling is encouraged. And so is trying to pronounce everything like the locals do.
Most of all, remember to be gung ho when you take on this city. The City of Dreams is one of experiences to be had and memories to be made. Keep an eye out for remnants of Victorian, Indo-Islamic and Indo-Saracenic architecture – because it’s everywhere. And better yet, it’s juxtaposed with the modern, creating an amalgam of the steady and the thrilling.
Bombay surges with an energy so raw, that it is impossible to contain; a self-sustaining power source that never sleeps. This is why you must make a trip. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get swept off your feet.