KARISHMA VASWANI'S TRAVEL BLACK BOOK

Mumbai on the move

Karishma Vaswani on the streets of Mumbai, where busy modern traffic swirls around grand old buildings.
Karishma Vaswani on the streets of Mumbai, where busy modern traffic swirls around grand old buildings.PHOTO: BBC

BBC correspondent Karishma Vaswani thrives on the Indian city's frenetic pace

Who: Karishma Vaswani, 38, Asia Business Correspondent for BBC World News. The Singaporean is married and has two children, Aryana, four, and Krishna, 20 months.

Favourite destination: Mumbai, India

Why: India's financial capital is my favourite city because it is full of life, colour and vibrancy. For me, it's like the New York of Asia.

I went to Mumbai almost every year as a child. I am Sindhi and as a result of the India-Pakistan partition, Sindhis don't have a distinct homeland so Mumbai became the de facto city for my community to celebrate special events such as weddings or big occasions.

There's a real hunger in that city - and it's palpable, the energy is everywhere. Everyone is trying to get ahead and live the Mumbai dream.

Best place to watch the sunset: Mumbai is particularly fantastic for a good sunset. Some of my favourite places to go are the iconic Marine Drive promenade, where you can take in the beautiful sunset over the Arabian Sea and watch a slice of Mumbai life go past.

It's one of the few places in this crazy frenetic city where you get a chance to breathe, take in the fabulous view of the ocean and just decompress.

Buy a hot cup of "cutting chai", the spicy, sweet and milky Indian tea served to you in a shot glass, and a "bhutta", an Indian version of corn on the cob, and you've got a cinematic experience like no other, watching the sunset over the ocean.

Favourite park: Priyadarshini Park and Sports Complex (www.priyadarshinipark.org) in Nepean Sea Road. A long walk in the park in the evening, even during the monsoon season if the rains weren't too bad, used to be a Sunday ritual for me.

It's also a great place to do yoga in the early hours.

Day tripping: Alibag, a coastal town about 100km south of Mumbai, is just a 45-minute boat ride from the Gateway of India.

Kids will enjoy the boat ride and the island has lots of lovely villas with pools and secret gardens. There are also some beaches and Fort Murud to explore.

The local seafood is fantastic and the local Konkan - East Indian Roman Catholic - culture is warm and welcoming.

Event to bookmark: Mumbai is known for its massive religious festivals, but perhaps there's none like the Ganesh Chaturthi (www. ganeshchaturthi.com), the festival celebrating the elephant-headed god Ganesha. He is the remover of all obstacles - and for folks living in Mumbai who have to deal with the infamous traffic and daily bureaucracy, it's not hard to see why he is so loved.

Residents spend 10 days praying and giving offerings to statues of Ganesh before submerging them in a body of water during the festival, which takes place in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada every year. Next year's festival starts on Sept 5.

Ideal length of stay: A week if you are doing just one trip. If you're planning to use Mumbai as a base to travel to other parts of India, it might be good to spend three to four days there before heading off on your travels and spend another couple of days decompressing on your way back.

Safety tips: In all my time in Mumbai, I never felt unsafe, but I was usually travelling with a male companion.

I would go out at night with my girlfriends, but we were sensible, taking cabs together to a mutual friend's place and no one would travel by themselves at night.

I was also always culturally sensitive in my choice of clothing.

My advice would be to treat Mumbai like any big city - be alert, travel in pairs or in a group and watch what you're wearing.

Trust your instincts - if the place feels dodgy, get out.

Favourite Mumbai neighbourhood: I lived in south Mumbai for the time I was posted there by the BBC and it is the part of the city I am most familiar with as my family lives there too.

The old, crumbling but still beautiful Art Deco architecture in some parts of south Mumbai is worth checking out.

Although Colaba, the old British quarter, is a tourist trap, you really can't leave the city without walking through its maze of shops and alleys at least once.

And if you're a fan of the book Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, then a stop at Leopold's Cafe (www.leopoldcafe.com) - one of the city's oldest Irani-run restaurants and an institution among tourists and locals alike - is a must.

Beyond sightseeing: A carriage ride in Colaba or Marine Drive is a fun way to pass an evening and is also an opportunity to discuss the starker realities of life in India, such as the widening income gap despite strong economic growth in India.

Best way to get around: Mumbai taxis are cheap and reliable. Most taxi drivers understand basic English, but it does help to have a Hindi speaker with you. If you're feeling adventurous, try the trains.

Don't leave without: Trying Mumbai street food such as chaat (fried dough) or vada pau (a potato bun) - both are delicious if you like spicy food.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 04, 2015, with the headline 'Karishma Vaswani's Travel Black Book Mumbai on the move'. Print Edition | Subscribe