With only one day left on our trip through India, we try to cram in as much of Mumbai as we can. Can you do Mumbai in a day?
In This India Article You Will Discover:
- An Important Fact About Elephanta Island
- Accommodation Recommendations
- Cool Mumbai Neighbourhoods
Erin and I wedged Mumbai into our month-long trip to India as a bit of an afterthought. Desiring to draw out our stay on the beaches of Goa as long as possible, we decided that one-day in Mumbai would suffice. And while we managed to get a taste of India’s most cosmopolitan city, the sprawling, bamboozling metropolis of Mumbai simply cannot be fully done in a day. But you can try…
Arriving late in the evening, we had booked a hotel near the airport — our first mistake. While the Hotel Kohinoor Elite was quite lovely, its location was of little use. A 30-minute taxi ride from the airport (in Mumbai’s staggering traffic) was hardly any handier than would have been the hour-or-so to southern Mumbai. The difference would have been the convenience the next day; rather than a second, 45-minute taxi, we could have walked to the Gateway to India.
(There would turn out to be another, even more important difference between staying downtown and the suburbs too, which I’ll explain later…)
We pass through Mumbai’s legendary slums as our grouchy cab driver grinds through stop-stop-go morning traffic from the airport-area — the suburbs — to downtown. Tin shacks line the freeway, with bumblebee-hives of electrical wires connecting the homes to one another. Some of the huts are barely 10-feet-by-10-feet, yet many have satellites on the roof and flat-screen TVs hanging on the wall — with families gathered to enjoy the latest cricket match.
This is surprising — the people in these shacks are not homeless, they are the working poor.
The famous Gateway to India marks Mumbai’s southern edge. This is the best place for exploring the city. From here, much of what you can see and do in a day is walkable. And we see a Pizza Express; don’t judge, it suited our cravings perfectly. While splitting a peperoni and a Caesar salad, our waiter encourages us to check our Elephanta Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on an island an hour’s ferry ride from the harbour. Home to a labyrinth of caves with 1500-year-old carvings and dubbed “…the most serene sight you witness in India” by The Lonely Planet, it’s too enticing to pass up.
“Isn’t it closed on Mondays?” I ask.
“No, it’s open today. For sure,” he responds.
We wander to the harbour and pose for photos beneath the imposing basalt archway of the Gateway to India — it is teeming with tourists, foreign and national. The iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel sits just behind it, mirroring the Gateway in stature and significance. Jamsetji Tata built the Taj 110 years ago after he was refused entry to a European hotel on account of being a “native.” Today, Tata’s hotel is one of the world’s finest, and the Tata family remains one of India’s wealthiest.
The ferry to Elephanta Island departs every half-hour, and costs 130 Rupees. Up top seating is an additional 10 Rupees, and it’s obviously worth it. The view of Mumbai from the water is second-to-none; we pass tankers and offshore docks, fishing vessels and tourist boats as we cruise toward Elephanta. The only downer is watching Indian families pitch their garbage into the ocean. Pop cans, chip bags… it is even more objectionable as there is a garbage can onboard and easily accessible. This isn’t cultural, littering sucks.
The caves on Elephanta Island are closed every Monday. No exceptions, not today, not any Monday. Cursing our waiter and regretting the healthy tip we had left, we decide to cut our losses and jump back on the ferry rather than spend time wandering the sleepy island. The return ferry ride is slightly less exciting, but I always love being on a boat. Any boat.
Mumbai’s chaos welcomes us back, and we window-shop the streets of the city’s Colaba area, popping into the antique and curio shops — one which sold particularly interesting antique Rupees — and even stopping into the Nike Store to pickup an authentic Sahara jersey (India’s International Cricket Team).
Mumbai is a remarkably European city, and while crowded, seems no more confusing than Manhattan during tourist season — save the occasional “cobra in a sack,” as offered by roaming touts.
The cobblestone streets and relative affluence of the area surrounding the Taj Mahal Palace in particular was a stark contrast to anything we’d seen in Delhi or Jaipur.
With night beginning to fall and our time in India coming to an end, we pop into Leopold’s Café, a classic backpacker eatery now filling up with evening revellers. A pint of beer and a dessert that never comes later, we hop a taxi and discover the second reason one shouldn’t stay in the suburbs.
We had left our backpacks at the Hotel Kohinoor Elite, and gave our driver instructions to first take us to the hotel and then to the airport, to which he agreed. An hour into our meander around the suburbs, it becomes horrifyingly apparent we are lost.
The driver has no idea where the Kohinoor is, and neither do any of the locals we stop to ask directions from. As time ticks nearer to our flight’s departure, and nervous sweat beads on our foreheads, we begin to drum up a Plan B. We would go to the airport, then call the hotel, then get them to send a taxi… and all of a sudden a familiar landmark — a neon-signed mall — appears, followed by the Kohinoor Elite. We made it, somehow. A more welcome sight I have scarcely seen.
As we step out of the taxi at the airport, I decide to give our driver a healthy tip for the inconvenience, and he decides to increase his price for the same. Whatever. I hand him a mitt-full of Rupees and, with that, bid India adieu and enter the Mumbai International Airport just in time to check-in.
Namaste, India. It’s been… unforgettable.