On our way to our hotel from the Mumbai airport, our driver pointed out a huge skyscraper to our left. This is the home of India’s richest person, he said. It’s 27 storeys high, it has three helipads, swimming pools, underground parking for 160 cars and hundreds of staff members work in the building. All that for a family of five, he added. This building stood high and out of place in a city where extreme poverty is seen at every corner.
Mumbai was our last stop in India and as we flew over the city we were rather disturbed by the view below us. The sight of the slums spread all over the city made us feel rather uncomfortable. From up in the sky, the city looked blue from all the tarpaulins covering the slums. It’s a common sight all over Mumbai. From the air, it almost seemed like the slums went on forever.
With around 25 million people living in and around it, Mumbai is the most populated city in India. Forty per cent of Mumbai’s population lives in slums. As we sat in the car stuck in traffic (again!), we saw some of this poverty first hand when beggars came knocking on our windows. Some of the children looked so dirty and malnourished; it was heartbreaking. We had seen a lot of poverty elsewhere in India but somehow Mumbai seemed worse.
But even with the constant sight of poverty, we quite enjoyed exploring Mumbai. It was actually a complete surprise to us because we hadn’t expected much from it at all. In fact, we’d only planned a single day there, thinking that would suffice. Turns out it was nowhere near enough time but we made the most of exploring this city with the short time we had.
If you only have one day in India’s largest city, here’s what you should check out:
Gateway of India
The Gateway of India is the most iconic and famous site in Mumbai. This stunning archway is located right on the waterfront and commemorates the landing of King George V when he visited India in 1911. It’s packed with local people as well as tourists and seems to be “the place” for selfies. Be prepared to be asked by locals to join in with a selfie. And it’s not just for ladies; Simon was asked all the time as well! Eventually, as bad as you feel, you have to say no to someone. Otherwise, you’ll be there taking selfies all night!
The Gateway of India is free to enter, but you will need to queue to go through security. Like in all places in India, men and women are required to queue separately.
From the Gateway of India, you’ll have a great view of the heritage five-star luxury Taj Palace Hotel. The architecture of this building is incredible, with a mixture of Gothic, Greco-Roman, Islamic and Rajasthan styles. If like us, you can’t afford to stay there, it’s nice to at least be able to admire it from the outside.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway Station
This station was built in 1887 and is a historic railway station and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The British architecture really stands out and it is a beautiful building to visit inside and out. It commemorates the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Chhatrapati Shivaji is one of the busiest railway stations in India, serving both long-distance trains and commuter trains. That makes it a very crowded place to visit but it’s worth the detour anyway.
Marine Drive is a 3.6-kilometre long curved beachfront promenade. By day, it’s a great place to go for a walk or a drive to enjoy the view of the beach and the Arabian Sea or to join in some beach activities. Bear in mind that the beach is heavily polluted and is not safe for swimming, despite the fact that you’ll see locals doing just that.
Marine Drive is also a very popular spot to watch the sunset. By night, it turns into lines of street food vendors, a picnic spot for the locals, and a great place for romantic evening strolls.
Our favourite experience in Mumbai was a visit to Dhobi Ghat. It’s an open-air laundromat where around seven thousands Dhobis (washers) clean clothes and linen in the open air each day. For over eighteen hours a day, they scrub, flog, dye and bleach clothes on concrete wash pens and dry them on ropes. Once dried they press them, then transport them back all over the city.
Dhobi Ghat was built in 1890 and even in the age of the washing machine, it still makes an annual turnover of close to US $14 million. It was very interesting to see the Dhobis going about their work.
Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum
The Mani Bhawan is an old building that was Gandhi’s headquarters from 1917 to 1934. From there, he initiated many of his activist movements. When you enter, you’ll find a library on the ground floor. A staircase, dotted with pictures depicting Gandhi’s life, leads you up to the first floor. There you’ll find a gallery with photographs from his childhood, up to his eventual assassination. There is even a copy of the letter he wrote to Hitler.
On the second floor, through a glass partition, you’ll see a small room where Gandhi worked and slept. You’ll also find his life portrayed through hundreds of well-crafted figurines. It’s a very interesting place and well worth a visit.
Entrance fee: 10 Rupiah
Visit the Choor Bazaar
The Choor Bazaar is one of the busiest marketplaces in South Mumbai and it’s a market like no other. At the Choor Bazaar, you can buy stolen goods at very cheap prices. That’s right, in this market some of the goods being sold were stolen!
If you lose anything in Mumbai be sure to visit this place because you might be able to buy it back for a cheap price! If not, it’s nice to visit anyway as they sell pretty much anything under the sun. Just make sure you hold on to your belongings!
Where to stay in Mumbai?
Located in the heart of Colaba just minutes from the Gateway of India and many other local attractions. This hotel is low key but comfortable. Prices start at AU$110, click here for the latest prices.
If money is no issue then you should totally stay here. Built in 1903, this iconic hotel stands majestically opposite the Gateway of India, overlooking the Arabian Sea. It has ten restaurants and a Spa that provides a variety of traditional Indian therapies. All rooms are stylishly designed with Indian inspired decor and architecture and offer amazing sea, city or pool views. Prices start at AU$475, click here for the latest prices.
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