Mumbai’s simple origins — it was once but a small batch of fishing villages scattered over a handful of islands — are hard to remember and believe when you step out into its cosmopolitan and ever-hastening streets. Over 18 million people call this city home, and while a few of them do fish, all of them — and all of India for that matter—look to Mumbai as the country’s financial, entertainment and commercial capital. While the city is diverse and complex enough to easily take up a month or more of concerted touring efforts — the food! The temples! Bollywood! The buildings! Cricket! — sometimes all you can spare is a couple of days.
If you’re looking to take a quick city break to Mumbai, and you want to make the most of it, do not fear. Here are eight essential places and happenings for the weekend traveller.
Gateway of India
While it doesn’t have to be the first place you stop when you’re trying to experience Mumbai, the Gateway of India is often the first thing anyone coming into the city by boat will see. Mumbai’s most-recognized monument, built to commemorate King George V and Queen Mary’s visit to Mumbai, the Gateway of India still maintains its air of grandeur and stateliness, but these days the atmosphere around it has loosened. Vendors and peddlers, balloon sellers and Indian tea merchants all conduct business here among the tourists and sightseers.
Haji Ali Dargah
Built in 1431 by a wealthy Muslim merchant whose trip to Mecca inspired him to become a Sufi saint, the Haji Ali is a mosque and a tomb that bears the interred body of the man who built it. Located offshore in the Arabian Sea, the Haji Ali Dargah is only accessible at low tide when the 500-metre walkway is above the water and can, therefore, be traversed.
Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat
There is little that compares with the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat in any other part of the world. The largest open-air laundry on the planet, this section of the city and the thousands of dhobis, or washer-men, who work here, take in tons — literally — of dirty laundry from all over the city. For hours, the dhobis wash mountains of laundry by hand. It is a fascinating look at industry, human effort and dirty laundry.
Eating at Peshawri
Located near the airport, Peshawri is expensive — but worth it. If you fly into Mumbai, eat there right after you arrive or right before you catch your flight home. Specializing in North Indian food and exquisite atmosphere, the food is locally sourced and painstakingly prepared. The kebabs and tandoori are excellent.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (or Prince of Wales Museum)
Whether or not you’re a history buff, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya is a delight to visit. Built in the early 20th century to mark the visit of the then Prince of Wales, the museum is an impressive architectural structure with features that are Mughal, Maratha and Jain. The museum grounds are lush, green and showcase formal flowerbeds. Around 50, 000 artefacts are on display.
The Ferry Ride to Elephanta Island
Elephanta Island is located off the coast of Mumbai, and the half-hour ferry ride is part of the charm. Being out on the open water with people from all over the world while you all watch the Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel recede into the distance is an experience that cannot be had anywhere else. The ferries are large and reliable, and they run regularly so getting out to the island and back on your own schedule isn’t difficult.
Of course, the destination of the ferry ride is its own reward. Elephanta Island is notable because of its caves. A World Heritage Site, the Elephanta Caves were built in the 5th and 6th centuries and are some of the most notable examples of Indian religious art on the sub-continent. Huge reliefs, pillars, statues and carvings fill the caves, and no trip to Mumbai is complete without stepping into them.
A three-kilometre promenade that has been featured in score of Bollywood films, Marine Drive is a perfect spot for relaxing by the ocean on a sunny afternoon. Also known as the Queen’s Necklace, due to the glittering lights that line it at night, this area will provide you with easy access to plenty of shops, food vendors and people watching.
Even if all you have is the weekend, a trip to Mumbai will deliver. From the mystique of Elephanta Island to the wonder of the world’s largest open-air laundry, Mumbai provides a perfect weekend holiday.