Mumbai Magic: Places to see in India’s Glamorous and Artsy Mega City

India is not for the faint of heart.

I say that with a lot of love and affection for a country I consider my second home. I have been coming to India from the first time I ever set foot on it in 2008. I have visited quite a number of cities, too: Bangalore, Goa, Trivandrum, Cochin, New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. 

With India, one cannot say that when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen it all. Each state and city is different from the other; not only in dialect but also in cuisine, traditions, even certain beliefs. What binds them is their overwhelming appeal to the senses: An explosion of colors, a myriad of tastes, and a shindig of scents.

Last April 3, I had the chance to visit Mumbai, the capital of the state of Maharashtra, to cover the launch of vivo Smartphone’s newest models – the V3 and V3 Max – and to visit friends at Zee TV. I went with two colleagues: Oz Arcilla of Jump Digital and Noel Escondo of Buzz Productions.

Team Jai Ho! Oz Arcilla (left), Noel Escondo (far right), and this columnist with Vinita Shrivastav of Zee TV and television actor Siddhant Karnick at RamDev Film City
It was their first time in Mumbai. I had been to the city once before but very briefly, when my flight from Jaipur to Trivandrum had to be redirected due to heavy fog. Hence, it was my first time to explore the city, too. Oz, Noel, and I did not have a plan set in stone, and we flowed with every challenge and opportunity that each day brought. After a week – lo and behold – we covered more of Mumbai than we ever thought we could, and I loved more about it than I thought I ever would. The pre-colonial architecture, the art, the dining, the history, the shopping – Mumbai was breathtaking.

Here are some of my favorite spots.

The Taj Mahal Palace 

This 5-star hotel – like its namesake in Agra – takes your breath away the moment you see it in real life. It’s one of those landmarks one frequently sees in photos, but they do not do justice to the actual structure. She sits like a queen facing the Arabian Sea in Colaba, South Mumbai, and is a worthy companion to another Mumbai landmark, which is…

The Gateway of India 

This arch overlooking Mumbai harbor  was built in 1924 mainly to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. Designed by architect George Whittet, it reportedly took four years to build. Expect to be approached by photographers who will offer to take your picture and print it on the spot. Pay toilets and bottled drink stalls are nearby.

Elephanta Caves

This UNESCO Heritage Site  on Elephanta Island, also known as the Island of Gharapuri, is about an hour’s ferry ride from Mumbai harbor, right in front of the Gateway of India. The caves are  dedicated to Shiva, dominated by the seven-meter-high “Sadashiva,” the sculpture that represents the Hindu god’s three aspects:  Creator,  Preserver, and Destroyer. 

Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum

In my last long trip to India in 2014, I visited Rajghat, the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi. It seemed fitting that I visit his residence in Mumbai, where he lived for 17 years. Entrance was free, and the most memorable areas for me were his room with his bed and spinning wheels, and his letter to Hitler.

Mahatma Gandhi Road

This road is alive with the energy of the Arts, as it’s where you’ll find museums and galleries one after the other. It seems to be Mumbai’s cultural hub, and probably the most relaxed part of the capital city. I enjoyed walking on the sidewalk and marveling at the work of artists who were there to sell. We went inside the Jehangir Art Gallery and the Goethe Institut, until we realized it was time for coffee at…

Café Mondegar

This café is hailed as one of the oldest and most iconic restaurants in India, along with Café Leopold. The café – which opened in 1932 – is also popular for the murals of Indian artist Mario Miranda whose style is unlike any in the world. We went there on a Saturday evening and the place was packed with families, couples and friends getting ready to watch cricket. Did we have coffee? Nope. We tried the beer!

Marine Drive

This 3.5-kilometers long  boulevard is, for me, Mumbai’s answer to Baywalk and Manila Bay. We got there after a long day of walking, and it was great to just sit and enjoy the breeze while viewing the Mumbai skyline and the lights from the nearby cricket stadium. Behind us was the Oberoi Mumbai, one of India’s most popular hotels.

Other places worth visiting

Malls are aplenty in Mumbai: From the high-end Palladium Mall to the mid-level Oberoi Mall. Bargain shoppers will enjoy walking along Ganapatrao Kadam Marg, where one can find super affordable sarees and kurtas (another option is Santacruz). 

We chanced upon Bebot, a shop owned by a Filipina married to an Indian. Their shop was near the flat we were staying at in Cumballa Hill, and the moment we introduced ourselves to her as Filipino, the couple immediately served us a cup of hot masala chai. 

I’ve never gone on a trip as free-flowing as my Mumbai trip, which led me to experience more than I ever thought I would. Sometimes it’s good to let go of expectation and control, and just let your feet take you to where they want to go.

Only then will you open yourself to new friends and experiences, which you would not encounter if you approached everything with logic. Sure, practice the necessary precaution; keep your passport and valuables with you at all times. 

But it’s also good to trust: Trust in the timing of things and of people, in what the world is ready to show you. and keep your eyes and heart open. This is exactly what I did, and I left India once more, a changed person.

Follow me on Instagram and Twitter for more pictures of Mumbai: @kaimagsanoc

Topics: Mumbai magix , india , glamorous and artsy mega city

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