Mumbai is less of a city and more of an experience. The fact that the gateway of India is perched at the edge of this city is no mistake. Mumbai is the literal doorway into India. Upon crossing the threshold you are greeted with all of India in a rush. The vendors accost you with flowers and spices, hawkers thrust brass telescopes and compasses in your face, and everywhere you look the signs of Bollywood, cricket, and history smile down. Getting to Mumbai is easier than leaving. Here’s some places to look for your airline tickets today. You might want to consider picking up a few items before you go too. India is a dirty place.
Depending on where in the world you’re coming from, there are a lot of cheap options. When we flew in from New York we came in on Emirates and found that they had the cheapest flights. We looked around for cheap flights when we wanted to leave Amritsar and return to Mumbai and found that all the trains were booked for two weeks. From Amritsar to Mumbai the cheapest flights were on Virgin Atlantic and Turkish, for whatever reason. We ended up booking Turkish airlines.
The best part of Mumbai is that all its taxi’s are metered, or should be. While you’ll find yourself in the bartering battle of your lifetime with any other Indian cab, you’ll be relieved to discover that all of the cabs in Mumbai have meters and rate cards. If they don’t or if the driver tells you that “the meter isn’t working” make sure you insist that he tries again. Another great part is that most of these cabs look like they’re straight out of the 1940’s and are sure to let you arrive in style.
Wherever you choose to visit, there are a few places that should absolutely make your list. Dharavi is one of the largest slums in Asia and nothing like you would expect. A local company, Reality Tours, offers remarkably insightful tours through the slum and explain how the economics of the place really work. We learned that the Dharavi slum houses hospitals, scooter dealerships, stores, churches, and schools. It also has a 0.001% crime rate per capita. Not only was the tour incredibly insightful, but a large portion of your admission goes into developing the slum.
If you’re still looking for cheap things to do while in Mumbai, consider heading to Chor bazaar. This is by far one of the top ten things to do in Mumbai. This section of the city is a labyrinth of dusty alleys each with its own theme. This is the most affordable place in Mumbai to buy silk, gift, antiques, or furniture. Anything you’re looking for, you can find in some hidden alley of the bazaar.
Talk a walk down the Colaba Causeway to discover Leopold’s Cafe. This local hotspot has amazing lassi and chicken tikka masala. The real allure of the cafe though lies with the fact that it is a scouting locale for local directors looking for foreigners to appear in their Bollywood films. People get cast here frequently. (Clearly there weren’t any directors there while we were or we would have been scooped up right way.)
If you’re looking for a place to park your stuff while you shop and eat your way around Mumbai, there are a lot of great options for travelers who want to compare hotel prices and read reviews online. You’ll find a few really reasonable hotels downtown and some other cheap hotels in Mumbai a little farther away from the Gateway of India.
Whatever it is that pulls you to the economic heart of India make sure you take the time to dig in and get to know this city. It can be a little daunting at first, but it offers a great deal of incredible things to do in India.