Mumbai is huge, crowded, and vies with Vietnam for the craziest traffic on my trip. It also was one of the largest cities on my itinerary, both population-wise and in pure size. Thankfully, right after beginning my walk I met a guy who just wanted to practice his English for a bit and who ended up accompanying me for most of the day and showing me around.
The first stop was Victoria Terminus, a beautiful train station from the British era boasting some iconic architecture. From there, we walked to the waterfront, imposing Gateway of India and the facing ultraposh Taj Mahal Hotel, which you may recognize from news coverage of the 2008 Mumbai bombings. It’s all repaired now, but the new facing is a constant reminder of the terror of that time.
The rain that the skies had been threatening all morning finally started to pour, so we stopped in a cafe and had some sweet, milky Maharashtra chai, generously spiced with ginger. When the rain finally slackened we headed to a colorful central market than an even more colorful Jain temple, which was quite ornate, surprising from a sect so strict that they can’t even eat onions (take that, Mormons!)
The Hanging Gardens nearby wasn’t terribly impressive (gardens on a hill?), but Indian multibillionaire Tata’s business tower/penthouse that is visible from there sure was. Below was Chowpatty Beach, which is unfortunately too polluted to swim in, but a good enough vista I guess from the rich that live on the overlooking Malabar Hill.
As evening fell, I stopped by a local tailor to buy some scarves for the ladyfolk in my life who tried to cut me a deal on an Indian wedding jacket.
Cool, but not 70 bucks cool
Our last stop was an Indian homestyle restaurant where I had the best Tandoori chicken I’ve ever had.
Mumbai was great for food all around, from all varieties of samosas (Punjabi was my favorite, another great one reminded me of an Indian jalapeno popper) and chaats (similar to samosas- a small meat & sauce pie) to a pepper chicken masala that was almost like an Indian-spiced fajita with the flatbread it came with. For all the bad reputation of Indian streetfood, I wouldn’t have one gastrointestinal issue the whole time I was there (but still… don’t drink the water!)
The next day I went on a tour of the Dharavi slum provided by Reality Tours and Travel that was excellent. Dharavi is a slum, but in the Indian sense, not the U.S. or Brazilian one. Sure, it’s a shantytown, and yes, trash is everywhere, but the crime rate is actually quite low due to the sense of community the people have there, and there are plenty of jobs that actually draw rural people into the slums, primarily in the recycling industry, which is so huge there that reportedly cargo ships will return from dropping off goods in the U.S. and elsewhere refilled with trash to sort through. It’s one of the biggest plastic and (much sketchier) aluminum recyclers in the world. Outside of that, about 40% of Mumbai’s police officers and most of the downtown restaurant and office workers actually live in slums like Dharavi and take the train in each morning (the trains are insane at rush hour, as apparently all you have to do to get on/off is stand by the door and let the human crush propel you in/out). It was sobering to see the poverty in Dharavi, but also incredible to see the society that sprung up there. I would recommend this tour to anyone wishing to get a real perspective on Indian slum life.
Not my picture- picture taking wasn’t allowed in the slums