If you’re flying into India for travel anywhere in the southern half of the country, chances are you’ll be flying into the throbbing city behemoth of Mumbai. But will you be staying?
Though Goa, Kerala or Chennai were nowhere to be found on our itinerary, we still made Mumbai our jumping-off point for the following 3 ½ week trek through Rajasthan and locales further north. Why, you ask? Well, it’s simple. Having a friend who is also a native Mumbaikar makes adjusting to a strange, new land so much easier.
Of course, that does not mean we wouldn’t have tried Mumbai out if we had no contacts in town. The capital city of Maharashtra - and the fifth most populous city in the world - Mumbai is a feast for the eyes, ears and nose, and any time spent here is likely to be unforgettable. We read a statistic before leaving on our trip that said for every one person in the United States, expect to find 30 in India. It was a staggering notion, but one that seemed to ring true no matter what part of town we visited.
Perhaps the best vantage point to witness Mumbai’s swarms is from one of its famous beaches. They’re just one of many eye-openers in town you’ve just got to see to believe! But beyond all the cool, Bombay-era architecture, Bollywood posters and fireworks (our 2013 visit coincided with Diwali), what we’ll most remember about Mumbai is its traffic! Trust us, you’ll only need a few days in town before you’ve had enough of the madness.
And when that time comes, we recommend a side-trip to Aurangabad, Maharashtra’s other mecca of tourist activity. It is this dusty mid-sized city seemingly in the middle of nowhere that acts as your home base when visiting the enchanting Ajanta and Ellora caves. (If you’re short on time, it’s a toss-up. Ellora offers more in terms of artistic variety while Ajanta’s natural setting is pretty hard to beat.)
We enjoyed playing "Indiana Jones" at both locations - all the while whetting our appetites for what we would see later in the trip. Bonus (or curse?): If you’re a Westerner, you’re likely to be treated like a celebrity, with photo requests flying at you left and right all day long.
We would not necessarily recommend overcrowded Mumbai on its own as a good representation of India (or even Maharashtra for that matter), but peppered with a couple days at the caves, it serves as an accurate introduction to the riches - and challenges - of this beguiling subcontinent.
For photos of our time in Maharashtra, check out our Facebook albums for Mumbai and Aurangabad.