Ever since I went to India for the first time covering its popular Golden Triangle cities – New Delhi, Agra & Jaipur – a few years back, I've been thinking about going back to discover and explore more of the country. I totally loved my time there and was thoroughly amazed by the culture and the wide range of beautiful architectures that I saw in those 3 cities. I even have a photo of Taj Mahal that I took when I was in Agra as my laptop background these days.
My problem is that I'm not so sure where to start for the next trip. India is huge and there are so many cities and states that compete for attention as a destination. With each of them offering different types of attractions, I guess it is understandable that it could get a bit overwhelming when trying to make the decision. But for now, I guess I'm settling for Mumbai - or Bombay, as it used to be known – the largest city in India and the capital of Bollywood.
Finding out that Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is actually India's second busiest airport however is giving me ideas that perhaps I should use Mumbai as a transit/ stopover point to fly to another destination as well, and make it a 2-in-1 trip. I did this when I went on a trip to Egypt (Cairo & Luxor) and had a few days stopover in Jordan whilst on the way back, to explore more of the country and revisit the Dead Sea after my first visit there a few years earlier. It's one of the ways that I use to save money on airfares whenever I travel. I guess with Mumbai being a major aviation hub in India, I can choose whether to fly to another country cheaply or simply fly domestic to another city in India and perhaps fly back home from there. Either way, I've noted that it is easy to book hotels in Mumbai online and that I can use the Airport Road metro station to get to the city if I choose to stay near the airport. That is definitely a bonus point if I finally decide to treat Mumbai as a stopover destination.
In any case, the following are some of the things that I roughly plan to do and see whilst in Mumbai:
A Heritage Walk (or two)
Those of you who know me would know that I L.O.V.E walking tours (especially heritage walking tours) and that I L.O.V.E architecture too. So imagine how I feel when I found out from Wikitravel Mumbai that there is actually a heritage walk in the city that is conducted by 2 architects. Sounds like a match made in heaven, or Mumbai, rather. Either way, I'm on cloud nine already.
These walking tours are usually among the first things that I do whenever I arrive at a new city. They not only provide a good introduction to the city, especially in terms of history and culture from a local perspective but also allow you to familiarise yourself and give you ideas on how to get around when you're on your own later. So regardless of the route of the heritage walk, I still plan to do some walking on my own and immerse myself in the atmosphere along the road between Churchgate and Colaba (and of course, take photos of Gateway of India and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), among others) before exploring Colaba Market for perhaps some souvenirs to bring home.
Catch a Bollywood Movie
I'm not exactly a fan of Bollywood movies but not to try and catch at least a Bollywood movie at the cinema whilst in the Bollywood capital sounds like a big mistake. So yes, that's what I would do. Who knows, I might just come out of the cinema being the biggest fan ever?
Slum Tour + Dhobi Ghat
Talking about movies, I think it was Slumdog Millionaire that gave rise to Slum Tours, i.e. tours around the slum areas of Dharavi, one of the largest slums in Asia. Personally, I have some reservation about taking such a tour but I understand that there are some tours on offer that give back to the community. Having walked along a slum area in the Old Delhi before, I know it can be a real eye-opening and a very humbling experience. I guess I'll just wait and decide on whether or not to do this later when I'm already in Mumbai.
In any case, there is a place which I'd definitely love to check out and that is Dhobi Ghat, the largest open-air laundry area in the world.
Haji Ali Dargah
I realise there are many old places of worship with interesting architectures around Mumbai but if there's only one place that I could squeeze in during my stopover in the city, it would have to be Haji Ali Dargah, a place that I'd never heard of until I started doing my research on Mumbai. It is a mosque and tomb of a Muslim saint from some 600 years ago that is uniquely located in the middle of the sea and accessible only by walking along a 1-km narrow strip of a pathway from the mainland during low tide. With some 80,000 visitors a week, it is apparently one of the most popular places of interest in Mumbai. Apart from the historic and architectural attraction, I'd love to be here during one of the afternoons when qawwali, a Sufi devotional singing is performed and then later watch this historic structure on a little islet from the mainland at sunset.
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I think that should be enough for a short few days in Mumbai. Next, I need to decide where to go from there. Have you guys got any suggestion? Goa/Kerala? Kolkatta? Sri Lanka? Or should I just stay longer in Mumbai? If so, where else should I go visit whilst there? Any suggestion?
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