Photograph by Vignesh Kamath, Alamy Stock Photo
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The Gateway of India is one of Mumbai's most unique monuments.

Photograph by Vignesh Kamath, Alamy Stock Photo

Everything to Know About Mumbai

Mumbai is a blend of traditionalism and modernity.

Once it became British India's primary seaport, merchants, traders and white-collar workers started flocking to the city to make a living. And, to this day migrants continue to arrive in Mumbai every day in search of success. Many have made a fortune here which is why the city seems to be going through a never-ending building boom. It is also the reason why it is India's most cosmopolitan, densely-populated and liberal city.

When to Go

The best time to visit is between November and March, which is supposed to be winter but in reality simply means that the heat isn't torturous. The Mumbai Monsoons do have a charm of their own but often mean a slowdown in public transport from June to October. If there is a true longing for the burning heat of the sun, then the humid summer runs from April to June. It is also the best time to enjoy the king of fruits—the Mango.

Celebrate

The calendar year in India is packed with festivals and Mumbai celebrates quite a few of them with gusto. In March, Holi—the festival of color—is celebrated with revelry on the streets of Mumbai and rubbing on colored powder or pelting someone with water balloons is fair game. The celebrations wind down by imbibing a milk drink lightly laced with marijuana. In August through September the 10-day Ganesha festival is celebrated. Residents bring home idols of the elephant-headed God and worship it for 10 days with a lot of pomp. On some streets huge idols (some more than 20 feet tall) are installed and worshipped. At the end of the festival the idols are immersed into the sea with a lot of music and dance. Then there is Diwali—the festival of lights that celebrates the return of the Hindu God/King Rama from exile—in October through November. This is celebrated by residents decorating their homes with lights and oil lamps and setting off fireworks making it quite the noisy time to be in Mumbai.

What to Eat

Mumbai is known for its street food, namely paani puri, bhel puri and pav bhaaji. The first two are spicy, tangy and sweet while pav bhaaji is a mash of spices and vegetables fried in butter and served with hot bread drenched in butter. A good place to sample this is Chowpatty Beach on Marine Drive in South Mumbai or Juhu Chowpatty Beach in North Mumbai.

Souvenir to Take Home

It should be easy to find a memento of your travels in Mumbai. The Thieves Market (locally known as Chor Bazaar) is a great place to browse everything from knick-knacks and ancient gramophones to old coins and artefacts. The Bombay Stores (on Sir Phirozshah Mehta Road in South Mumbai) have plenty of artifacts, textiles and tea to choose from and take home. Fab India, which has outlets all over the city, is a great one-stop shop for ethnic Indian wear.

Sustainable Travel Tip

South Mumbai is fine to get about on foot. To get to the suburbs (Bandra for example) the quickest and most environmentally friendly way is to take the local train, but be sure to do this outside rush hour. Uber also has an Uber Pool that is a share-a-cab option. Cycling is not recommended in Mumbai. Some people often put on a show with trained monkeys (captured from the surrounding forests) doing a somersault or dancing to the beat of a drum. Please do not encourage this.

Instagram-Worthy View

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and the Mumbai Municipal Corporation building across the road are lit up most evenings and the light scheme depends on the time of year (Indian national flag colors close to Republic Day and Independence Day on Jan 26th and August 15th respectively). They certainly make a grand picture. The view of the Gateway of India from the windows of the Harbour Bar or the Sea Lounge in the Taj Mahal Hotel is also Instagram-worthy.