Incredible India Part 2 - Mumbai

 
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Contributor:
Andy

Nationality:
Australian 

Social Links:
Instagram: @andymtravel

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual, photography

 

Destination: Mumbai, India - May, 2018

Inspiration:

India had always been a destination that I had planned to travel to, so when the opportunity to combine a trip with my love for sport, it seemed like the perfect timing! The Indian Premier League cricket tournament held each year has rapidly become the highlight of the indian sporting calendar. Through an association with Australian clothing company, Big Dogg Clothing, I had the opportunity to meet with many of the players and go to games.

I also took the opportunity to ensure I had time to dedicate to seeing the sights and experiencing the culture of one of the most fascinating travel destinations in the world. My second stop on a 18 day tour around India was India's biggest city - Mumbai.

Getting There:

I flew into Mumbai on flydubai before getting a car to Pune. I then came back to Mumbai the same way. Getting around India with Uber proved to be really easy, clean and not expensive when converted into foreign currency. There are definitely cheaper ways to travel internally through India, but if you have a schedule to keep and just want to get from one place to another, Uber or private taxis is a great option.

Getting around Mumbai was a similar story. There weren't anywhere near as many rickshaws as there are in other parts of India, but Uber worked well and there are loads of local taxis. I didn't have any great issue catching the local taxis - they were relatively clean and very cheap.

Local Knowledge:

I was fortunate to meet someone living in Mumbai over Instagram before I travelled and made a good friend - local photographer Atul (Instagram, @atuljoshiphotography). It's always great when travelling to meet new people along the way and Atul was able to give me a few insights not Mumbai and take me to the Mumbai Press Club for dinner, where he has access through his job with Times of India

Where To Stay:

I chose to stay at the Taj Vivanta (map)- it is close to Whankhede Stadium for the cricket and in a nice area of Mumbai on Nariman Point - close to places like Gateway of India, Colaba Causeway and Girgoan Chowpatty.

The Taj Vivanta was a breath of fresh air compared to Sagar Plaza in Pune. It is a genuine 5 star property and the staff are wonderful. I couldn't fault the service of the staff and they helped me arranged shipments to Delhi, booked cars and sorted out issues with my sim card.

There is a very nice pool, fitness centre and spa - which in the Mumbai summer of 44 degrees and high humidity is a welcome sight to com back to.

The rooms are excellent and the buffet breakfast was one of the better ones I had in India. There are certainly cheaper options to stay in Mumbai that you may consider, however if Taj Vivant is in your price range, you wont be disappointed.

What To Do:

There is a small observation deck (map) close to the BMC Commissioner building that looks directly at the facade of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Its a great spot to go and visit at night when the BMC building an date terminus are both brightly lit up. The BMC building changes colour each night. Its a great spot for some night photography in Mumbai.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus facade illuminated at night

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus facade illuminated at night

The Colaba Causeway (map) is a busy street (Shahid Bhagat Singh Rd) that is lined with shops, restaurants and street sellers. At night especially it becomes very busy and there is plenty of street life. You will get hassled by people trying to sell all sorts of different things. It isn't clean by any stretch, its Mumbai.

The Gateway of India (map) is probably Mumbai's most iconic landmark. It is on the water's edge in front of the Taj Palace Hotel. The structure was commissioned to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. It overlooks the Arabian Sea and for many years it was seen as a ceremonial "gateway" into India. Following Indian independence in 1948, the last British soldiers left India after marching through the giant arch. It is a very popular tourist attraction and becomes extremely busy later in the day. Entry is free, but you do need to pass through a small security check point. If you want to get photos without a crowd, you're much better off coming early in the morning. Boats leave from the docks close to the Gateway to go on tours of places like Elephantra Island.

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There is an enormous outdoor laundry known as Dhobi Ghat (map). Its a functioning laundry that does the washing for hotels and hospitals in Mumbai, but it has also become a popular tourist atttaction. To get a good view of the vast rows of "Dhobis", go to the flyover bridge at Mahalaxmi Station (map).

I ended up using my flag to combat the heat and humidity

I ended up using my flag to combat the heat and humidity

An obvious highlight for me was attending the IPL game at Whankede Stadium (map) - a famous cricket ground on Marine Drive. It was incredibly hot and humid, with the game starting at 4pm. We spent a lot of the first innings trying to find a spot to watch that wasn't in the sun. The crowd in Mumbai was one of the most intense I have ever seen at a sporting venue and something I will never forget. The team owners supply a flag to everyone, so when Mumbai scored a boundary or took a wicket, the entire crowd was a sea of blue flags.

Eating:

I had a great meal after the cricket at Mumbai Press Club (map). If you know someone working in press in Mumbai who can get you access to this restuarant, the food is really good and a great price.

Mumbai was the first place I tried some genuine street food. The beach area known as Girgoan Chowpatty (map) is extremely popular in the evenings during the summer, with lots of families, couples and groups of friends coming to enjoy the water. Lots of food vans set up near the beach making all sorts of local fare. I had a dal and a fresh mango juice. There are all different sorts of fried samosas, burger type things and grills that I have no idea what the names are. If you want to venture into a bit of street food, this might be an option!

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Just off the main road of Colaba Causeway is a place called Bademiya. There are actually 2, one is a sit down restaurant, the other is more of a street shop. It had been recommended as a good place to get a grilled kebabs. You order from the street shop and they will cook your meal literally in front of you. The chicken and lamb kebabs come with a small amount of salad and some sauces. I ended up waiting next to a man from Saudi and we ended up spreading our meal out on the bonnet of his hire car and enjoying a street side picnic! Not far from here are some other more western restaurants like Leopold Cafe that is very popular for tourists. If you ant to try some authentic Indian in the Colaba Causeway area, go to Delhi Darbar - the original in what has become a chain of popular restaurants.

Must Do:

Mumbai can be an overwhelming city - the sheer number of people is intense. On a warm evening, go down to the foreshore of Girgoan Chowpatty (map), where thousands of locals flock to enjoy the beach. Its a place where young couples come and are free from displaying affection in public. Families bring children to swim and play in the water. Large groups set out rugs and blankets up closer to tech road and sit for hours enjoying the food and lights. For a tourist, there is simply an overwhelming volume of people! It is not recommended to swim in the water and I wasn't interested in finding out, but many locals do 

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Must See:

My must see in Mumbai was somewhere that I doubt features in many tourist brochures! I stumbled across a really nice sunset spot by pure accident, which is why its my "must do" - because sometimes just being spontaneous when you travel leads to some of your best memories. I didn't have much luck finding a good sunset at either the Girgoan Chowpatty or Gateway of India, so on my last night in Mumbai just started walking from the hotel, waiting for a rickshaw to drive past and go looking for somewhere along the water. No rickshaws came and I just ended up waking to a little place called Kasav Point (map). The road came very close to the water and a really small "bay" with lots of fishing boats. The beach area was absolutely filthy, covered in rubbish and worse (perhaps one of the reasons it doesnt feature in tourism brochures). There was a group of kids playing football, who all wanted their photo taken. Along the "beach" were some building and a group of young boys were making dinner up on the rooftop of one of the buildings. They invited me up to get a better view for photos and have something to eat. I went up for the photos, but politely declined the food. Was a really great spot to take some unique sunset photos in Mumbai. Whilst I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, if you are into trying something a bit different, this is a for you. The area along the street is a small local market selling fresh fish and other foods. I later found out that this was also the site where the people involved in the Taj Palace bombings entered Mumbai.

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Number 1 Travel Tip:

Many people had warned me about security and safety in Mumbai - theft, assault, etc. For me personally, I did not find this to be an issue. However, I met up with 2 ladies travelling from Northern India who did say that were subjected to frequent insults regarding their "asian" appearance, as well as sexual harassment. Unfortunately, it certainly appears that as a Western male, travelling in India is more comfortable than for a females. As general advice, based purely on my experience, I would suggest travelling in a small group with at least 1 male companion.

5 Word Travel:

An overwhelming number of people.

Excess Baggage:

Somewhere that didn't have a chance to visit was the Dharavi Slums. It is possible to do "guided tours" of what is regarded as the worlds largest slum/informal settlement. I've read some people suggesting that visiting the slums is unethical and that seeking "entertainment" from the unfortunate situation of others is poor taste. I tend to believe it is entirely personal preference and it is more to do with one's intentions. Probably the biggest thing that struck me in India on the whole was the overwhelming poverty and in particular child poverty. It put a lot of things in perspective for me and I hope influenced my life in a positive way. I believe that visiting these slums, if done in a way to gain a broader undetsanding of teh situation huge populations of people find themselves in and to educate yourself, then it is both worthwhile and ethical. I did a similar tour of the informal settlements in Soweto, South Africa. It was confronting, somewhat depressing, yet at the same time inspiring. I do feel that I spent a lot of time in India out walking the streets, markets and local areas to see and understand the enormity of substandard living and poverty. I didn't do that for entertainment, rather to get a better understanding of the situation so many people have found themselves in. This is only my opinion and I respect the opinion of those who do not want to visit these places.

Incredible India Part 1 - Pune

 
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Contributor:
Andy

Nationality:
Australian 

Social Links:
Instagram: @andrewmarty_

Age Group:
30-40

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual, photography

 

Destination: Pune, India, May 2018

Inspiration:

India had always been a destination that I had planned to travel to, so when the opportunity to combine a trip with my love for sport, it seemed like the perfect timing! The Indian Premier League cricket tournament held each year has rapidly become the highlight of the indian sporting calendar. Through an association with Australian clothing company, Big Dogg Clothing, I had the opportunity to meet with many of the players and go to games.

I also took the opportunity to ensure I had time to dedicate to seeing the sights and experiencing the culture of one of the most fascinating travel destinations in the world. My first stop on a 18 day tour around India would be Pune.

Getting There:

I fly into Mumbai with flydubai. Where I can, I prefer to fly with flydubai as their rates are always the best and I dont tend to need add ons like inflight meals or entertainment, so I prefer to pocket the savings.

I had originally planned to fly into Chennai, however the team playing in Chennai had been forced to move their games due to ongoing protests that had begun to affect the cricket games. So, instead I moved my flight to land in Mumbai and transfer from there to Pune, where Chennai would now play their home game.

Landing at Mumbai airport was far less dramatic than I imagined. Perhaps it was because it was 6:00am, but there was almost no crowd and getting through immigration was really quick. As Australian passport holder, I require only an online visa to enter India - be aware you need to complete this process at least 4 days prior to travel and the online form is quite long. You dont really receive any offical visa or even a pdf - only an email which you can print and take with you.

I spoke to a lot of people about internal transport in India. I had initially intended to use trains as my main way of getting from city to city, however was warned against this for several reasons - there can be long delays, lots of cancellations, they are extremely crowded during holiday times (when I was there) and that using private cars can be far easier. In some situations, even the process of booking train tickets can be a frustrating process - see the review on Agra! So, with that in mind, I actually found using Uber to be a really reliable way to get around India! It was safe, relatively clean and not too expensive. I caught an Uber from from Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport (Sahar International) (map) to Pune for Rs3,600 ($50) and it took just over 3 hours. It was an easy drive and we stopped on the way for food. 

Local Knowledge:

I always like to stay connected when I travel - partly to keep up on social media and sports results (no seriously.....), but mostly to remain contactable for family. So I try and get a sim card in the country I land in and load it with internet data. India was one of the more difficult places I have found to get a sim card - so be prepared to use your home sim and pay for some roaming! The shop at the airport weren't open until 10am which was the first problem. Next even at teh shops in Pune, I required a letter from the hotel (police clearance form), my passport, the print out of my visa and a passport photo - so have all these things with you. Even when purchased, the sim card took 2 days to activate. The coverage from my Vodafone sim was average at best. The only positive was that the internet was very cheap!

Where To Stay:

I stayed at Hotel Saga Plaza (map) and found it to be overall very disappointing. The hotel is quite dated, with old furniture and fittings. The rooms are adequate and if you are just looking for a place to sleep it may be sufficient. The disappointing aspect for me was that the staff appeared to show very little interest in their guests, to the point of ignoring you at the front desk - which is not something i had encountered to that extent in many hotels before!

Depending on your budget and expectations, I would likely look elsewhere in Pune. For the same price you are likely able to find somewhere better.

What To Do:

Pune is largely an academic city, with many top Universities. As a consequence the city is home to a lot of younger people either studying or working.

I found the easiest way to get around in most cities in India was via rickshaw - they are cheap, easy to find and for themes part faster than anything else. 

I caught a rickshaw to the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum (map) - which is a quirky collection of everyday items used in Indian life  - everything from spoons, typewriters, doors, artwork and statues. Its an interesting look back at how cultures in Indian have lived over time. Cost is Rs200 for foreigners and extra to use a camera (Rs500). The museum is open from 10am to 5pm.

From there I went to Shaniwar Wada Fort (map)- a palace once occupied by the Peshwar rulers. It was built in 1732 and largely damaged by fire in 1828. The huge fort walls and remained as did the enormous gateway, which was built so large because at the time, the rulers would arrive to the palace on the back of elephants. It is an easy walk around the walls of teh fort and lots of local families come of an afternoon to enjoy the gardens. Entry is Rs200 for foreigners and the gates are open 9am to 5pm

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Somewhere unique to visit close to Pune, which I dignity have time for is the Osho Meditation Resort. There are a long list of conditions, costs and procedures associated with entering the resort as a day guest. It is a luxurious property based around the practices Oshu (Bhagwan Three Rajneesh) a flamboyant "guru" who advocated sex as a pathway to enlightenment!

There is a fun nightlife scene in Pune and somewhere nice to visit on a weekend evening is Classic Rock Coffee Company (map)- a really laid back venue that hosts a lot of live music, including from local performers. It has a very chilled atmosphere and is a great place o go for a drink with friends or to meet people.

Eating:

Pune is a great place to try some traditional Maharashtran cuisine. Definitely find a restaurant serving traditional Thali style meals - you are presented with a large metal plate and the server will come and offer a range of foods which are placed around teh plate and eaten by hand. The dishes are vegetarian and range from very mild to moderately spiced. You will generally have rice, a range of dal, vegetables, pickles, chutneys and breads. It is an experience in itself to not just try the food, but the serving and eating. I ate at Shabree (map) and the food was full of flavour - definitely worth a try when visiting Pune.

There are a number of street food options everywhere in Pune. For the most part during my stay in India, I resisted the temptation of trying the genuine street food from the small stands. I normally love sampling all sorts of street food when I travel, but since i had a tight schedule and cricket games to get to, I didn't take the risk!

Pune has quite a strong food culture with cuisines from all over the world.  It is home to India's only dedicated food magazine - Trofii, so this will be a good start if you are visiting Pune and looking for some culinary inspiration!. I was lucky enough to have dinner with the magazine's director & editor, Vidhya (Instagram: @vidhyatiwari) who shared a lot of insight into the food scene in Pune and India.

Must Do:

My favourite thing to do in almost any city I travel to is to get out and walk around. I will usually try to find out where the local markets are, as thats usually the best place to find as many local people and get a great insight into a city's culture.

Shree Shiva Chhatrapati Market (Pune Yard Market) (map), the local market in Pune is relatively small and is not somewhere to visit for vegetarians or those who get a little queasy. Compared to some other markets I would visit in places like Bangalore, this market isn't really a on the same level. But for me its more about getting out, walking the streets, meeting local people and chatting with them about their lives.

Must See:

My main inspiration to visit India this time was the cricket! So my first IPL really was a highlight! Due to circumstances, this match had been shifted from Chennai to Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium. The stadium isn't actually in Pune and the traffic getting from Pune to the ground meant I probably could've stayed in Mumbai and driven from there! That said, the experience of being in the crowd for a game featuring MS Dhoni's Chennai (who would go on to win the tournament) and Virat Kholi's Bangalore was unforgettable. The atmosphere in the stadiums is intense and the passion the fans have not just for teams, but for individual players is incredible. If you love sport and even more, if you love cricket, make a point of visiting India during the IPL!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

A huge concern for travellers visiting India is staying healthy! For the most part I avoided getting really sick by only drinking bottled water/juices/soft drinks (make sure the seals are genuine and haven't been refilled), not drinking ice cubes, avoiding salad and not eating at the small food stands. I still ate at a lot of local restaurants and cafes and had few issues.

I did take with me all the precautions in terms of electrolytes and immodium in case there was an issue, I got me vaccinations up to do date before I flew and was cautious about hygiene. Standards in India will range from genuine 5 star luxury to literally seeing people defecate in the street next to a restaurant! If you are careful and do a few basic things, you should be fine. I will write a blog on "staying healthy in India soon".

Excess Baggage:

Whilst I never felt unsafe in Pune, or in India for that matter, taking care when crossing roads and in traffic is a priority! The roads are busy, nobody indicates and a short toot o the horn is the only warning you will get as a rickshaw or taxi flies past you!

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