Bombay (aka Mumbai)

  Exciting and charismatic, Mumbai (Bombay) is India's past, present and future mixed into one dilapidated, overpopulated, irrepressibly vibrant whole. Like the slick, kaleidoscopic and crazy Hindi movies the city churns out with machine-gun rapidity, it's a city that, on the face of it, makes little sense but is still enormous fun.

  Mumbai is the country's economic powerhouse, producing everything from software to petrochemical, and yet it is also home to Asia's largest slums. It's a multicultural metropolis where everyone shares in and enjoys the packed schedule of festivals. At the same time religion divides Mumbai along suspicious and occasionally violent political lines. Making no excuses for theirs being a city of such extremes, Mumbaikers are in equal turns relaxed and vivacious. You might spend one languid day watching a casual cricket game on the maidans (open grassed areas) or admiring grand colonial and Art Deco architecture; the next you could be overloading your senses in Mumbai's teeming bazaars and dancing the night away beside Bollywood starlets and wannabes.

  If you stay cocooned in the main tourist district of Colaba or stick around long enough only to organize transport elsewhere, you will only have seen a fraction of what Mumbai offers. Spend a few days wandering the city, soaking up its vital streetlife, and you'll discover that Mumbai draws you in like no other Indian metropolis.

  Now that it looks like my dad will be joining me in India, I'm hoping Bombay will be as crazy as New Delhi was when Jean and I visited back in 2007. I'm not sure if there will be elephants in the streets again, but I'm excited to see what he thinks after his first impression of India. Bombay may be more cosmopolitan than Delhi was, but I'm guessing it'll still be just as quixotic as the rest of the country. I'm a little nervous that there could be a repeat of the violence experienced in Bombay back in November 2008, but hopefully security is too tight for anything of that scale.

Goa

  It's easy to see why Goa is so appealing to travellers. The sun-kissed, palm-fringed beaches of the former Portuguese enclave are justly famous, as is Goa's renowned party scene. But apart from this, Goa has a character quite distinct from the rest of India. Roman Catholicism remains a major religion, skirts far outnumber saris, and Goans display an easy-going tropical indulgence, humor and civility. Whitewashed churches, paddy fields, coconut-palm groves and crumbling forts guarding rocky capes make up the Goan landscape. Markets are lively, colorful affairs and there are feasts and festivities throughout the year.

  Goa splits into three general districts: north, south and central Goa. North Goa has the state capital of Panaji (Panjim), the former capital of Old Goa with its fascinating churches and cathedrals, the market town of Mapusa and a string of beaches running right up the coast to Maharashtra. This is where the party crowd settles. With generally less tourist development, south Goa has more of a laid-back feel than the north. The beaches include travellers' centers such as Colva and Benaulim, a sprinkling of upmarket resorts and the picture-perfect Palolem. Central Goa takes in the inland town of Ponda, which is surrounded by spice plantations, as well the Dudhsagar Falls and several of Goa's wildlife sanctuaries.

  The Portuguese influence lingers on, notably in the state's unique architectural heritage. In recent years, Goans have taken to restoring decaying mansions. Explore Goa - preferably on a motorbike or moped - to discover these grand houses nestling amid the lush foliage of the countryside. It's proof that Goa offers so much more than sand, sea and partying - although that is reason enough alone to visit this supremely laid-back state.

  Goa should be a very relaxing part of my trip. I want to hang out at the little beach bars all afternoon and night, rent motorcycles or mopeds each day and drive around the countryside. Basically I'll be recharging my batteries after a month in China and Southeast Asia. Jean is sad that she won't be going to Goa because it's supposedly a hippie Mecca and she loves the clothes and beads hippies wear. Maybe I'll be able to pick up a few things for her while I'm checking out the markets.

Government Links

US Consulate - Bombay

Indian Embassy - Washington, DC

Indian Consulate - San Francisco

Transportation Links

Train Travel - Tips for first time Indian train passengers

IRCTC - Make train reservations here up to 90 days before travel

Thomas Cook - Indian Railway reservations through a third party

Indian Railways - Train reservation inquiry website

Indian Airlines

Air India

Jet Airways

Jet Lite, formerly Air Sahara

GoAir

IndiGo

Kingfisher Airlines

Paulo Travels - Bus service to/from Goa (including Hampi)

Goa Central - Tourism information portal with details on bus travel to/from Goa

Accommodation Links

Budget Hotels in Bombay

Site-seeing Links

UNESCO World Heritage Site - Goa

UNESCO World Heritage Site - Bombay

Elephanta Island

Chowpatty Beach

Gateway of India

Bazaars in Bombay

Arambol

Panaji (Panjim)

Mapusa Beach

Chapora to Terekhol motorcycle ride

Anjuna Beach

Palolem

Old Goa

Vagator Beach

Spice plantations in Ponda

Spice plantation in Savoi

India Mike - India travel forum

Movies & Books

Monsoon Wedding

Gandhi

Earth (Deepa Mehta)

English August

Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (Aparna Sen)

Salaam Bombay (Mira Nair)

A Passage to India

City of Joy

Leg 2 RTW 2009 Leg 4

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