Mumbai: the Maximum City in Maharashtra
Bombay, otherwise known as Mumbai, is the capital city of the Maharashtra state and the home of the iconic blockbuster world of Bollywood. With a population of over 18 million, it is the most populated city in the country and fifth most populated city on the planet. It has earned the nicknames of City of Dreams and Maximum City and once you reach it you’ll soon understand why.
The massive divide between rich and poor seems to be reflected in its ultra-modern skyscrapers, mega-malls and its slums. After all, Mumbai has the second-largest slum in the world that covers 2.1 square km. Its a diverse and chaotic city, not to mention costly, but you’ll soon be able to see why it attracts so many people to its streets.
Two years ago I read the cult backpackers classic Shantaram, an action-packed ‘novel’ written by an Australian who spent nine years encompassed in the underbelly of the city; and naturally, after reading it I’ve been wanting to check out Mumbai ever since. As a city, Mumbai can seem like utter chaos to the overwhelmed traveller but it has magic in its polluted streets, and we never felt unsafe.
Here’s our mini backpackers guide to the Maximum City:
Mumbai has its own metro system, buses, taxis, and rickshaws so it’s easy to get around, and they are building their own underground metro system too. We mostly used OLA to transverse across the city as its simple to use, and you won’t have to spend time arguing with a rickshaw driver if he’s going in the right direction or not.
Travel Tip: Bear in mind what time you are planning to travel around Mumbai as try to avoid rush hour times at all costs! Congestion in the city gets rough around peak times and the likelihood is that you will be stuck in traffic for a while. Try to arrange to get around between 11 am and 4 pm if you can!
OLA works in many of the major cities in India but not all so it’s a good idea to have the app saved on your phone for when you reach them. That being said, the standard for each OLA car and its driver will vastly differ, we had a small car accident within minutes of leaving the airport when we arrived – and our driver didn’t even ask if we were ok! Another driver refused to follow google maps, nearly made us miss our train, dumped us the wrong side of the train station, and asked us to ‘trust him’ when his driving style raised a few eyebrows. But all that being said, this is India and this is Mumbai and honestly, we had some great experiences with other local drivers.
Download OLA here.
Travel Tip: Welcome to Mumbai, where are the seatbelts? My friend from Mumbai warned me there would be no seat belts and she wasn’t wrong! Ask your driver to sort out the seatbelts if they are tucked under the seats as, trust us, accidents definitely do happen frequently in Mumbai. My bruised knee and sore neck agree!
What to do in Mumbai
One of the most affluent areas of Maximum City is located by the water and includes the Gateway to India and Leopold’s Cafe. Known for its beautiful architecture, markets, and cafes Colaba is a great place to explore for a few hours.
The Gateway to India
The iconic landmark proudly sits at the tip of the Apollo Bunder next to the Mumbai harbour which used to be the arrival point for travellers by sea when they would first cross into India. Erected in 1924 the arch is a major tourist attraction in the City of Dreams.
As we arrived at the Gateway to India we were soon greeted by many Indians and their phones asking for relentless selfies, but after about 9 or 10 pictures we managed to quell the protests for more and I was able to take a few pictures of my own. Other than tourists from across the country and around the world, you’ll find plenty of ‘official’ photographers asking to take your picture as well as food vendors dishing out cool drinks and hot spicy snacks.
Made infamous by the epic and somewhat auto-biographical book Shantaram, Leopold’s a cool place to check out even if you haven’t read the novel. It’s now so well-known after the book was released in 2003, that they even sell Leopold’s merchandise including mugs and T-shirts. We popped in for a refreshing lime soda but we also saw that they do have a food menu and cakes, although it is not that cheap. In the cafe you’ll find a mixture of tourists and travellers stopping by for lunch as well as the odd (smelly) backpacker, like myself, that is just visiting because they have been fascinated by the book. Security checks your bags on the way in as it was subject to a terrorist attack in 2008, and there’s still a few bullets holes in the walls. Its’ a cafe with a colourful history, find it here.
Shopping in Colaba
Packed with shops including local stores and big brands names its hard not to at least window shop in Colaba. We walked from Leopold’s cafe to explore and found many cheap second-hand clothing shops as well as market stalls selling fake diamanté bling, the latest fashionable garments, and other little souvenirs. I finally picked up a kimono style cover up to help me hide from the sun for under 300 rupees. To find the stalls, take a left when you step outside of Leopold’s and follow the street.
Known as the hipster area of Mumbai, Bandra West is home to the wealthy, fashionable, and famous, as well as many foreign expats. It’s another interesting place to wander around, and again, its popular for its shopping, at high-end and bargain prices.
Hill Street and Linking Street
Both of these streets are packed with shops and market stalls and it is the best place to grab a bargain. Personally, we found that Hill Street at a lot more going on in the daytime but Linking street goes on for miles so it was our tired feet that stopped us adventuring further. As with the Colaba Market, there’s a lot of stalls selling the latest fashion designs and jewellery as well as fake designer handbags and shoes. I picked up some new sandals for 200 rupees as my 200 baht fake Havaianas from the Khao San Road finally gave up on me, so we’ll see how long these replacements will last. If you want legit and designer branded items you won’t have to look hard either as in Bandra West many big brands have their own stores too.
Located at the edge of Bandra West is the Bandstand, which our local friend told us is the place to go to spy on the homes of some of Bollywood’s biggest stars and a beautiful place to watch the sunset among the kissing couples gazing out over the Arabian sea. Street vendors sell drinks and snacks up and down the promenade and there’s plenty of space to get a spot to watch a beautiful Indian sunset too. Nearby is also the Bollywood Hall of Fame but after a long day dragging Martyn around looking for sandals, we gave that a miss.
For one, Mumbai is not a cheap place for tight budgets when it comes for a place to rest your head for a couple of nights; but it’s still definitely worth forking out a little bit extra to be able to explore the city – just be warned! There are several options for dorms if that’s your style as well.
Originally we’d booked a few nights at the popular Travellers Inn but due to an error with Agoda, they never got our booking so we were sent to a hotel a few streets over for the same (cheapish) price. We stayed at Hotel Windsor, a popular place for travellers, Westerners and Indians alike and they even had a restaurant. The hotel itself is nothing fancy, the hallways reminded me of those you’d see in a film for a mental asylum but at least the staff were really helpful. We had a triple room that may have had the same original furniture from when it did house mental patients (I’m kidding, I have no idea if it actually did), a small bathroom complete with the eggiest smelling water, and a ‘balcony’ that was enclosed, so really just another space.
The room was clean and the beds were comfy, and overall the room was quite spacious so it meant there was plenty of space for me to throw some yoga shapes around in it. We were also told breakfast was ‘included’ and then it wasn’t, but this is India!
The surrounding area of Ballard Estate/Fort was also pleasant too, and we felt very safe walking around the streets at night to some of the many restaurants on the main strip.
Overall, its a fairly decent place to stay and it was one of our only options due to the price, so if you are looking for somewhere clean and cheap we’d recommend it. Book Hotel Windsor here.
Where to eat in Mumbai
Mumbai has unlimited options when it comes to cuisine from around the world jazzed up with an added Indian touch. Veg and Non-veg restaurants are clearly stated but most Non-veg restaurants have a section of the menu with veg options too. Popular Western fast-food chains such as Mcdonalds, Subway, and Starbucks also pop-up on most corners if you are craving some junk. That being said, for us the local food was simply the best but now my belly is craving anything that’s not deep-fried. Vegans can also rejoice because Mumbai even offers plant-based options too!
Ankshita Veg Restaurant
We frequented this place for breakfast and dinner as it was only a short 3-minute walk from our hotel. Again, as its Mumbai prices are a little higher than you’d usually find for casual places like this, but the service and the quality of the food was good. We did have to request for less oil and sometimes it got a little too much but there are many options to choose from. The staff also understand a ‘no dairy’ request too. Find them here.
A cute European looking restaurant perched on the corner of Shahid Bhagat Singh road serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. They offer cuisine from different countries as well as Indian and Chinese, The atmosphere is nice and calm which can be a lovely break from the chaos of the city around you. Staff understand ‘no dairy’ but options can be a little limited as meat and dairy feature heavily in their menu. They also serve many Western alcoholic beers and spirits too. Find them here.
Maharaja Bhog Veg Restaraunt
We met up with a friend who took us here for an all you can eat style thali lunch. The restaurant itself is stunning and usually totally out of our budget but it was one of the best lunches we’ve had in India. Servers are constantly walking around to offer extra dhal, rotis, rice and other curries which was something we hadn’t experienced before! I was slightly confused at washing my hand in a beautiful copper bowl held out by one of the servers but like I said, I’ve never quite experienced service like it. It was a lovely change!
Prices start at 600 rupees per person, find them here.
The Village Shop
A health-conscious small cafe tucked away in Bandra West serving meat, vegetarian, and clearly labelled vegan options. We loved the cafe although the prices are rather high it was worth the price! They have an extensive menu from breakfast to lunch to dinner and for all snacks in between. They serve large main meals, desserts, cakes as well as soups and salads. The majority of the vegetarian options can be made vegan, all you have to do is ask. Martyn went for the vegan pizza that actually had decent vegan cheese and I had the vegan buckwheat pancakes with fruit compote. If I’m completely honest I’ve made better vegan pancakes myself but that was a long time ago and they still filled me up. Try the cakes too as many are vegan, I particularly enjoyed following my pancakes with a coconut milk chai and a brownie, oops. Find them here.
What to eat in Mumbai
Each state in India has its own traditional local dishes to tempt a hungry traveller’s belly and Mumbai’s unique food offering doesn’t disappoint either. Here’s what to try in Mumbai:
Pav is bread, a fluffy white bread bun served with a thick spiced vegetable based curry for dipping. Different restaurants will add different vegetables but traditionally it comes with tomatoes, peas and, sweetcorn and then it is served with chopped raw red onion and lime to garnish. My friend recommended that we try pav bhaji when we were further south but we wanted to experience it in its home state of Maharashtra. The possibilities for pav bhaji in Mumbai are endless. I settled on trying a mushroom pav bhaji and it was great, but if you aren’t a fan of really oily food tell the restaurant to go easy on the oil. Also if you are vegan request for it to be made ‘sans’ dairy as normally the bread is slathered in butter.
Ok, so we didn’t get to try this in Mumbai as believe it or not we couldn’t find any! But my friends from the city reassured me it is usually easy to find, better luck next time me, and its safe enough to eat from street vendors. Think of it as a fried potato patty served in a pav bun with green and red chutneys -why, oh why, didn’t we find it!?
As we couldn’t find vada pav anywhere we tried this instead as I instantly fall in love with anything remotely potato-esque. Batata Vada is made from mashed potato, spices, chilis (some numbed my mouth) all mixed together and deep-fried. Its usually be served with dipping sauces too. A great snack for any time of the day and they aren’t small in size either.
Travel tip: Sometimes being vegan in India isn’t always so easy as often milk and ghee are added to meals. Always ask for ‘no dairy’ or be a specific as possible if you are unsure of your request isn’t understood. We’ve had to sometimes take a deep breath and hope that the least amount of dairy had been added to our food.
Getting there and away
We flew into Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj airport from Bangalore International Airport which is the closest airport from Mysore, with budget Indian airline Indigo and we had a really good flight. I don’t know if I was just tired from an early start, but I swear I had much more leg room than in an Air Asia plane, making it easy enough to sleep virtually the entire journey. They didn’t sneakily add an extra charge for our hold luggage either and we felt the overall service was excellent. Flights from Bangalore take around 1 hour 15 minutes. Book flights with Indigo here or with Skyscanner here.
The airport is located right in the middle of the city so getting to tourist areas shouldn’t take that long but this is traffic dependent. You can book a prepaid taxi or like us, take a trackable journey with OLA or Uber.
Mumbai is well connected with its rail system so you can get away or to it easily. We took an overnight train from Mumbai to Jodhpur, just check which station you’ll be leaving from or getting into, as we had to make a journey back over to Bandra to depart at Bandra Terminus. Check trains times and routes here.
We really loved the chaos and noise of Mumbai and wished we’d had more time (and money!) to stay for a few extra days. We hope you enjoy Mumbai and let us know if there are any places you love to visit when you are in the city.
Peace + plane tickets ✈