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Mumbai See And Do

Banganga Tank
Walkeshwar
Malabar Hill
Mumbai
India

Even as housing prices atop Malabar Hill approach those of Manhattan, the sleepy temple area at its base appears untouched by the strains of modern life. Its 17 temples overlook a tranquil water tank, painstakingly built over 400 years, and finished in the 13th century. The smell of burning incense sticks and fresh jasmine wafts through the air, while strains of priestly chanting echo in the dense silence. Tours are available, but this is really just a place to get lost, wander, and take in the mellow vibe. The crowds descend here every winter during the Banganga Festival, when maestros of Hindustani classical music give open-air performances against the backdrop of the temple town.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum)
159 Mahatma Gandhi Road
Kala Ghoda near Regal Circle
Mumbai
India
Tel: 91 22 2284 4519
www.bombaymuseum.org

Imposing cast-iron gates near Regal Circle lead into lush gardens peppered with ancient statues of various Hindu gods. Behind it all stands the grand old Prince of Wales Museum, a majestic blend of British, Hindu, and Islamic architectural traditions. The building stone was laid by the Prince of Wales when he visited the city in 1905, and it served as a military hospital during World War I. The museum has an impressive store of opulent artifacts from India's former princely states, a beautiful collection of miniature paintings, and Mughal emperor Akbar's dazzling personal armor. The 90-minute digital audio tour of 38 key displays is highly recommended.

Open Tuesdays through Sundays 11 am to 5:30 pm.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus)
Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Road
Mumbai
India

Built in the colonial era as a sign of British power, this throbbing railway terminus serves three million commuters each day. Its architect was a proponent of the Indo-Saracenic style—which combined native Indian traditions with Gothic Revival elements from Victorian Britain—and the grand, stone structure is an immaculate example, fusing Venetian-Gothic flamboyance with intricate local detailing. Snarling gargoyles leap off its facade, and a pair of imperious lions guard its entrance. The British christened the building "Victoria Terminus" in honor of the reigning queen, but in a show of regional strength, it was renamed in 1996 after a revered Maratha warrior-ruler. CST, as it's better known these days, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, and is the second most photographed building in India, after the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Chowpatty Beach
In the City
Mumbai
India

Situated north of the city center, near Malabar Hill and along Marine Drive, this is a Mumbai institution, which really comes to life at night and on Saturdays. People don't come here to swim, since the sea is polluted, but instead they wander, sit on the beach, have a massage, get their ears cleaned, picnic, and people-watch. You'll see astrologers and snake charmers, as well as children riding the rickety Ferris wheels. Bhelwallahs sell addictive bhelpuri, the local snack of puffed rice, vegetables, and fried noodles laced with chili, mint, and tamarind, then scooped up with a puri, or deep-fried bread.

City Tours

Navigating around Mumbai's intense streets can be exhausting and overwhelming at the best of times, so go easy on yourself and sign up for a tour. Bombay Heritage Walks conducts a variety of tours focusing on the architecture of various neighborhoods, from the Gothic delights in Fort to Churchgate's Art Deco buildings and Bandra's Portuguese-era hamlets. If you'd prefer to be shuttled around, hop a ride aboard Nilambari, an open-roofed double-decker bus that traverses the historic streets of Fort by night, to soak in the illuminated colonial-era buildings that are still Mumbai's most impressive structures. Nilambari operates tours every Saturday and Sunday 7 to 8 pm and 8:15 pm to 9:15 pm, starting at the Gateway of India.

To get some perspective on the more complicated nature of Mumbai, take one of Reality Tours and Travels' sensitively run forays into Dharavi, Asia's largest slum. More than a million people crowd into Dharavi's 430 acres, and 15,000 small industrial units chug away within its narrow alleyways, recycling plastic and manufacturing leather, jewelry, chemicals, and clay pots. You will see men laboring in steamy warehouses, families living cheek by jowl, and children playing near open drains. The chirpy 18-year-old guide, Ravi, keeps the mood light with incessant banter, but there's no escaping the reality that this is how 60 percent of Mumbai lives. Eighty percent of the profits after tax go to local NGOs who work in Dharavi.

Elephanta Island
Outside the City
Mumbai
India

The rock-cut temples on peaceful Elephanta Island are thought to have been carved between 450 and 750 AD. These holy places survived Portuguese vandalism and remain equal in size, beauty, and power to the caves at Ajanta and Ellora. The main cave contains large sculpted panels, including an astonishing 18-foot depiction of Shiva in his roles as creator, preserver, and destroyer. Boats make the one-hour trip every half hour from the Gateway of India (9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.). Tickets are sold at the kiosks nearby.

The Gateway of India
In the City
Mumbai
India

Nothing reinforces your sense of having arrived in the city quite as emphatically as the Gateway of India, Mumbai's defining landmark (at the end of C. Shivaji Maharaj Marg, near the Taj Mahal Hotel). Designed by George Wittet (who also designed the Prince of Wales Museum), the 85-foot yellow basalt gate was intended to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V and Queen Mary. Unfortunately, it was not finished until 1924. In 1947, the last British troops departing from India marched away through the arch.

Haji Ali Dargah
Near Mahalaxmi Temple
Mumbai
India

The windswept dome and minarets of the Haji Ali shrine, built in 1631, appear to float in the Arabian Sea when the tide is in; as the water recedes, a narrow walkway emerges between the mainland and shrine for believers to cross over. The mausoleum is open to anyone, and contains the tomb of Haji Ali, a merchant-saint who died while sailing toward Mecca, and whose body is said to have washed up on Mumbai's shore. The best time to visit the tomb is at dusk, when a raucous group of mystics and musicians assemble and perform devotional songs.

Kanheri Caves
Outside the City
Mumbai
India

The Buddhist Kanheri Caves are spread out over the hills in a virtually unspoiled forest overlooking the northern suburb of Borivli. Most of the caves, which date from the second to the ninth century AD, were used by monks for shelter and meditation during the four months of the monsoon season. To enjoy the blissful peace and quiet that attracted the original occupants, avoid visiting on weekends. To reach the caves, catch one of the many trains on the suburban line from Churchgate Station to Borivli East. The trip takes about 50 minutes.

Mani Bhavan
19 Laburnum Road
Gamdevi
Mumbai
India
Tel: 91 22 2380 5864
www.gandhi-manibhavan.org

This quaint bungalow on leafy Laburnum Road was Mahatma Gandhi's Mumbai home. Now a museum dedicated to his memory, its musty shelves are filled with books on his philosophy and political strategies. Don't miss Gandhi's chilly letter to Hitler, the note of praise from Einstein, or the black-and-white photographs of his meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. The highlight of the museum is Gandhi's airy room, complete with his mattress, slippers, and yarn spinning wheel. The museum is a smaller version of the National Gandhi Museum in Delhi.

Open daily 9:30 am to 6 pm.

Marine Drive
In the City
Mumbai
India

Netaji Subhash Chandra Marg, better known as Marine Drive, is Mumbai's seaside promenade, an eight-lane highway with a wide walkway built in the 1920s on reclaimed land. It extends from the skyscrapers at Nariman Point in the south to the foot of Malabar Hill and Chowpatty Beach. The walkway is a favorite place for a stroll, with uninterrupted views of the Arabian Sea virtually all the way. The apartment blocks here are some of the most desirable and expensive in the city. It's a great place to watch the sunset.

Oval Maidan
In the City
Mumbai
India

Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium is the place to be if you want to watch a professional cricket match, but it is best to book well in advance, as tickets can be hard to come by. A far livelier option (and it's free) is to head for the Oval Maidan, essentially a large park near the Fort area of Mumbai (Maharishi Karve Rd., between Colaba and the Fort area). On weekends, the place is jam-packed with hundreds of amateur cricketers of all ages seemingly dreaming of becoming the next Sourav Ganguly, India's idolized cricket captain.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.