Planning Your Time

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TRAVEL TIPS

Planning Your Time

Spending two days in Mumbai is like sprinting a marathon. Even though the city may lack much in the way of monuments and historic sites, this is a place you have to experience to understand (and enjoy). Try cramming all of Mumbai into two days and you're likely to end up hating it, but give it a little longer and the abstract cacophony will start to make more sense and, ultimately, grow on you. Otherwise, the only impression you're likely to get is: hot, crowded, smelly, filthy. Give it a bit of time, and you'll begin to appreciate the madness, as opposed to being overwhelmed by it. So, we suggest spending a week in Maharashtra, with 4–5 days in Mumbai and a weekend trip to the Ellora and Ajanta caves, 370 km (229 miles) northeast of the city—you can take a round-trip overnight train to Aurangabad, the best place to base yourself for trips to the caves; but for the time-crunched, one-hour flights are readily available. If you have an extra day or two, head up to the gorgeously green Matheran (110 km [66 miles] away) or one of the other quaint hill stations nearby, where Maharashtra's landscape fuses stark, semiarid mountains, and rock formations with lush, green countryside.

In Mumbai it's important to catch the flavor of the colonial city: This means walking around the Gateway of India, the Prince of Wales Museum, and Victoria Terminus. To take in a bazaar, head to Crawford Market or stroll down Colaba Causeway to do some bargain hunting. Lunching at a seafood restaurant in Fort and snacking at Chowpatty Beach off Marine Drive are both great experiences, as is people-watching with a beer at the Leopold Café in Colaba. A trip to the western suburbs—Bandra and Juhu, among others—will give you a good perspective on how Mumbai has grown, and where it's going next. A day trip to the ancient Elephanta Caves will show you where it came from.

In South Bombay—“Town" to the locals—colonial mansions, remnants of the British Raj, share space with towering high-rises, and long, rectangular parks, known as maidans. To the east, in the labyrinthine streets of Kala Ghoda, the sky-blue Knesseth Eliyahoo synagogue looms. South, the majestic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel holds court with the massive Gateway of India. On the western coast, the Queen's Necklace—as the lights along Marine Drive are affectionately known—stretches out past the carnival food and games of Chowpatty Beach to tony Malabar Hill, where the Hanging Gardens provide some of the city's best non-skyscraper views. Farther north, the Haji Ali shrine, a popular pilgrimage spot for Muslims the world over, sits in the middle of the Arabian Sea like an ancient island tomb. Beyond that, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, finally finished in 2009, connects the south to leafy Bandra, the king of the western suburbs, where Bollywood stays and plays. In between, and beyond, lie the very things that make Mumbai so confounding, and alluring, and so quintessentially Indian.

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