Everything about India feels enhanced in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). Home to an eclectic mix of people, Mumbai is more modern and less conservative than other parts of India, and stepping into this city is like stepping into a different country completely.
From visiting a fishing village with a local fisherman to catching a glimpse into the life of Bollywood stars on a set tour, our India specialists share the best ways to get to know the city.
Visit a fishing village with a local
Exploring a fishing village in Mumbai is a unique experience because it has to be done with a guide. Many villages will not allow visitors to enter without a local guide, and without their knowledge of the area you would easily get lost. Because of this, it’s an experience many people miss. Your guide will have personal relationships with the villages and their people, and through their eyes you’ll gain first-hand knowledge of the culture and the way of life.
Some of the villages are over 800 years old, and many are a bit like labyrinths: a guide is therefore essential to make sure you don't get lost. The villages are very much matriarchal societies, with the women running the docks and the men fishing. The fishermen will then sell their fish to the markets and bring home the best cuts for their families. The fishing docks are situated on the seemingly endless waters of the Arabian Sea with the contrasting backdrop of the city behind them.
Many fishermen in Mumbai are very superstitious, and when I was there my guide also took me to one of the temples the fishermen regularly attend. The fishermen will first visit a statue of a goddess and a priest will stick little silver beads on each of her shoulders. One of her shoulders represents "yes," the other "no." The fisherman will then ask the goddess a question about the day that lies ahead, and whichever bead drops first provides the answer. A large portion of fishermen participate in this ritual, and many will not go out for the day if the goddesses answer implies a bad day ahead.
A place of extreme poverty, but equally a hub of continual hope and hard work, Asia's largest slum Dharavi is home to more than a million people. Many of them came to Mumbai to seek their fortunes but couldn't afford the city's high rents. Eighty percent of the money spent on these tours goes back into the community and local companies in an effort to help those living there.
The residents of Dharavi run many businesses from pottery and recycling to soap making and embroidery. The inhabitants welcome visitors and are all-around positive people. Dharavi is a self-sustaining microcosm, and a visit there is eye-opening to the reality of life for some in Mumbai, as well as the good-natured manner of those living in difficult conditions.
Mumbai at dawn
There’s the opportunity to see Mumbai at dawn with a local tour guide, typically the same guide who will take you on the fishing village tour. Waking up at dawn, you’ll see a whole new side to the city as it comes to life. Mumbai is home to over one million people, and rising at daybreak will allow you to watch them all begin their days and get a glimpse into the city’s heart.
When I went on this tour, my guide drove me to several different locations to watch the morning action. We visited a newspaper sorting facility and watched the papers be sorted and bundled in seven different languages, visited a fish auction, and watched the herb, flower, and food markets open up. As the sun came up, people began to stream into the previously empty streets, allowing me to watch the city wake up right before my eyes.
Watch the dhobi wallahs at work
A visit to a traditional open-air laundry area called a dhobi ghat offers visitors a revealing insight into the workers who keep the garments of the city clean. The dhobi-wallahs (laundry workers) wash thousands of pieces of laundry every day from hotels, hospitals, restaurants and private homes. I spent the day with the dhobi-wallahs while in Mumbai, and I was able to watch hundreds of families tirelessly working together on their difficult day-to-day laundry tasks. I also ate lunch with them, which showed me what upbeat and hard-working people they are, despite their strenuous daily work.
Take a Bollywood Tour
Mumbai is well-known for its Bollywood films, an industry that produces movies at almost twice the speed of Hollywood. A driver and guide can take you around the city’s to many vibrant film sets and post-production studios for a behind-the-scenes look at how these movies are made. You'll enjoy the lights and music of India's fascinating and fun, glitzy side, and at the end of a Bollywood tour, you can even take a classic Bollywood dance class.
Learn more about Mumbai
Goa’s relaxing beaches are a welcome contrast after spending time exploring chaotic Mumbai, according to our India specialists Nick and Louisa. They share their experiences including waking before dawn in Mumbai and delving into south Goa’s secluded beaches.
Mumbai is India’s most cosmopolitan city and its commercial capital, with a progressive and vibrant atmosphere and a wonderful collection of British-built Indo-Saracenic and Gothic architecture.
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