India is such a large diverse country with so much to see and do, and for a first time visitor it can be daunting. If you don't know where to start and if you are short on time, here is the perfect itinerary for a short getaway to Mumbai which will leave your senses tingling for more of Incredible India.
I love been surprised and wrong. A quick to trip to India for a girls weekend blew my mind open to Mumbai. A city that wasn't on my horizon to visit - it was always going to be Delhi. Yet on a long weekend in late November I find myself lining up at Immigration for my e-visa at Mumbai International Airport. Don't expect the process to be fast and you will already be starting off your adventure on the right foot.
The first thing that strikes me as I eventually get out of the airport is how green Mumbai is. I wasn't expecting it to be so tropical. But that's my comparison to Rajasthan - the desert of India. The second thing that strikes me as I jump in a car and head towards the city is any underlying spinal problems I didn't know I had! Mumbai highways found them for me as we drove through the many huge potholes.
A palace fit for a king - and me!
The place for my stay was the majestic Taj Palace Mumbai and if you have any spare change to spare it’s a place not to miss. This is truely a stunning place to lay your head at night. Not only are the rooms tasteful but the service is delightful. The food delicious. The grounds green and stunning. It felt safe and welcoming. In a central tourist district - the Gateway of India is across the road - there are some nice places nearby that you can walk to - something that is normally unheard of in India.
Day 1 - Mumbai temples and sights
We started off our adventure with a lovely breakfast in the hotel's tropical garden by the pool. From here you can hear the beeping horns but its a dimmer and more relaxed vibe from here. The garden by the pool is a great way to start your adventure and plan ahead. After a beautiful breakfast it was time to meet our driver and head off to explore Mumbai.
First stop of the day was to check out the work of the amazing Dabbawal's who are the key to the tiffin delivery service - something that is unique to Mumbai. The Tiffin contains a homemade lunch box (although many catering companies are providing these days) which is collected and transported through a maze of systems to get in to the hands and belly's of those intended for it. These guys deliver around 175,000 lunchboxes a day and have a high success rate!
This ingenious system uses a unique ID number which somehow makes it to the recipient. The service costs 900 rupees a month which is about $12 US dollars or 10 pounds.
This system originated in the 1890s during mass immigration of workers to the city at a time before fast food outlets and coffee shops. Employing those men who didn't have an education but were strong and hardworking provided incomes to those who didn't have one. They invented a unique hand delivery service which has survived the onset of technology; Eat your heart out UrberEats.
Next on the itinerary was some of the temples of Mumbai. India is home to over 33 million gods in Hinduism alone. Trying to see and experience all the religions is virtually impossible. We visited four differently temples which were all celebrating different gods. They were all beautiful ornate buildings that were bustling with activity. Some people travelled to the temples from outside the city and were tourists just like us.
Around the temples you can buy goods such flower garlands, fruit, candy and even postcards to take as offerings to the gods of the temple. You can buy prearranged trays with flowers and rice to leave at the feet or alter of the god. To visit the more popular gods and goddess the lines will be longer and busier and sometimes separated into mens and females lines. For some tourists you may be stared at and many may try to take your photo. Be polite and remember you are a visitor to the country. Some of these pilgrims have travelled from miles away and their villages aren't teaming with foreigners.
Importing things to note when visiting temples in India:
Day 2 - flower markets and the laundry
To start the day we had after another wonderful breakfast in the Taj Palace's main restaurants which overlooks the Gateway to India - one of Mumbais iconic landmarks. Thankfully the breakfast included my favourite - dosa and Dahl and an array of fresh fruit. We needed a good healthy start to the day as we were going to busy touring around the flower markets and a rather interesting laundry!
When one thinks of India you conjure up images of stunning colours - from its saris to its beautiful buildings. Well add the Mumbai city flower markets to this imagery as its another world of beauty. This buzzing market brings in people from our the city and trucks full to the brim with amazing smells and colours.
Flowers in Indian rituals, like anywhere in the world, is something that is taken very seriously. They have beautiful flower decorations for weddings, birthdays, funerals and offering to the gods. With a country that celebrates so many gods the flower market was always going to be a central point to Mumbai.
Depending on the season, workers will work up to 20 hours a day selling and making flower arrangements. The men outside the market create 6-10 flower garlands a day during wedding season (summer). A bride and groom exchange the garlands of flowers in the ceremony which is known as the Jaimala.
The thing that always strikes me about India is how industrious everyone is. Out front of the flower markets where the old flowers were thrown out, ladies sat crouching picking out anything they could salvage to put together to sell.
For those concerned about the waste and environmental problems caused from all the flowers - take a look at this article from some amazing India entrepreneurs
The most fascinating laundry in the world
Our next experience was to explore and learn about the worlds biggest open air laundry! Sounds weird I know but trust me - this was one of my highlights of this adventure. The Laundry Dhobi Ghat was originally opened by the English to wash soldiers uniforms. According to our guide there is about 175,000 clothes washed by hand every day. It is mind blowing that not are they just laundering clothes but they are tagging every piece of laundry so none of it goes missing. As we saw with the Tiffin system - Mumbai has a unique way of tracking items.
It was a really interesting place to visit. It was so very clean - the smell of bleach and washing soap was very welcoming. The place was set up in districts where indivduals and businesses washed and laundery everything from bedding to clothes. It was all separated like you would do with your own wash - whites, business shirts, school shirts, jeans and Saris. Our guide Dinesh’s said when he was at school his uniforms were sent there and apparently English and Australian forces stationed in Mumbai still send their uniforms there.
There were many different ways that each little business was operating also. Some had big industrial washing machines while others were doing it by hand and bashing sheets against the wall. Some businesses had spin machines and huge tumble dryers.
There was also a section where men where ironing clothes (just the way it should be) - some irons were electrical and some were powered by coal burners. I tried picking up one of the coal burning irons and it was incredibly heavy.
Even the air drying system was ingenious – not a peg in sight rather the clothes line rope was twisted in a way that they would just poke the clothes through which were meant it was fast to take the laundry in.
It was an entire suburb where people lived and worked. Kids were bathing and the workers were having their mid-day nap or eating lunch. It felt harmonious and felt safe. Visiting the site gave us travellers some interesting discussion about the invasion of privacy into their homes and workplaces. Like we were invading and taking advantage of them. We also had a similar discussion about visiting the slums area – which we decided not to do due to time.
Our guide Dinesh listened with intent about our discussions. He said the slums area was just as industrious with many people relying on an income from whatever the can do. The laundry was such an interesting thing to experience. They were welcoming and proud to be showing off their work. The place wasn't teaming with tourists and bus loads so it don't feel like a tourist attraction. With automation putting many people out of work it felt like that these hardworking industrious people were doing whatever it takes to keep and maintain their income and lifestyle.
I think people from wealthy developed countries think efficiency and lifestyle should mirror their reality. Yet in fact, we all live in different developing stages and I think we should accept the differences and how they are done in each others reality.
Where to eat out in Mumbai
Eating out in Mumbai you have so many choices from cheap and cheerful to rich and ridiculous.
Lunch at San Qi at the Four Seasons Hotel was lovely, casual and cheap. It provided a great sanctuary from the dust, heat and bustle of the city. We had a range of bento boxes and Asian nibbles. The chef who was a friend of our guide Denish, gave us a beautiful tasting plater to try.
Ziya at the Oberoi for a Michelin star indian thali meal. The view was lovely, the service fantastic and the surrounds too. Obviously a favourite meeting spot for business meetings - we did stand out as tourists. The cocktails were unique and refreshing. It was lovely and something to experience once but I have had better thali before and for a fraction of the price.
A fun café bar that has a wild and diverse history from the famous (The Beatles) visitors to the shocking terrorists attacks 10 years ago. The security out front never felt uncomfortable. It was a lively bar and very rustic - but western rustic. You can stop in for bar snacks or cake and coffee.
Street food in Mumbai
Best food was panipuri kiosk on the street where the movie "Outsourced" was filmed. This vegetarian snack can be sweet or savoury depending on the sauce or gravy they include. It is a crisp fried ball that are filled with sprouts, tamarind chutney, chilli, chaat Marsala, potatoe, onion and chickpeas. Depending on where you live in the world you can buy pre-made or make it all yourself. Delicious mix of sweet and sour, spiced and savory that I like to describe it as a party in the mouth - try to stop at just one. In the northern states its called golgappa and in Bengal is a puchka. Whatever its called – you have to try one.
Close to the hotel at Colaba. Listed on to the top 10 breakfast places in Mumbai and Top 10 best bars in Colbar.. Cute and cosy modern interior. Does all breakfast but we were dinning late around 10pm so international gourmet meets delicatessen of a chain. Normally you would want a glass of local red wine but from past experience - and from the "I told you so" advice from my good friend from Delhi she will tell you that “we don’t make wine” and I agree with her. Maybe in time but I am yet to enjoy a good one - stick to the Kingfisher Beer - much nicer! .
Wasabi by Morimoto
Located at the Taj Mahal Palace and voted as One of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2018 by San Pellegrino this authentic Japanese restaurant is another in the franchise from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Chef Morimoto is all about pairing Japanese food for an American (western) palate but to me it was rather bland. Apparently all the ingredients are shipped in especially from Japan but can't say I had any lasting impressions about the food after eating Japanese around the world before. Nothing to write home about.
Best place to stay in Mumbai
Without a doubt the Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai is THE place to stay. Beg, borrow or steal to get this chance to go there. I urge you to splurge if you can and take the opportunity to enjoy it. This stunning 5 star luxury hotel dates back to 1903 and is another jewel in the crown for the Taj Hotel group.
It a whose who of people who have stayed there over its history from kings and queens to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the Australian cricket Team. Two nights cost us $1000 Australian dollars or $700 USA or 571 pounds. My friend and I shared a room and it was well worth it and a tick off the bucket list.
The High Tea and the breakfast in the garden are wonderful tasty ways to start and finish your day while sightseeing in Mumbai. From check-in to check out you can’t bet it. The service and hospitality you can’t beat – it truly is wonderful and the staff seem to genuinely appear happy to work there.
Its centrally located near the Gate Of India and many the touristy historical district of Mumbai. We did walk around the hotel streets and like you find in many places in India there is such a vast difference from street to street to building to building. We had tired feed from sight seeing so had foot massages at a Thai Massage salon behind the hotel. We also experienced from the street a traditional Indian drumming
They have just commemorated the 10 years since the terrorists bombing of the hotel and security is just as tight to get in to the hotel. I didn't want to talk about it here as I don't want the bad guys to win from stopping people living their lives and exploring this amazing world. But I think you need to let people be aware at least. Security to many hotels in India include a check under the bonnet and luggage compartment and bags go through a metal detector as you would checking into the airport. One becomes accustomed to.
The best way to get around Mumbai
You have to give it to any man that spends two days with four women touring the city. Dinesh our guide was a lovely young guy who was patient and full of facts and figures about Mumbai. He was also incredibly humble. From temples, to flower markets to the largest outdoor laundry in the world Dinesh was the man to show you his city. We felt looked after and he was extremely knowledgable about his town and was proud to show it off in all its glory.
I recommend taking an alternative view to seeing Mumbai with Amaze.
Mumbai (or Bombay as the English called it) epitomises India in that it is full of contradictions. Its busy and crazy and yet calm and peaceful. It all works in harmony. If you haven't been to India before you will not be prepared for the the range of contractions that fall before you in this huge country; it is incredible dry or incredible wet. Incredible hot or freezing cold. Incredibly rich and incredibly poor. Filthy dirty and sparkling clean. Ancient old and high tech new. It's traditional and innovative. This is one country's desintaintion marketing that actually lives up to its name - Incredible India.