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Insider Guide: Best of Mumbai
By Pri Shewakramani and Purva Mehra, for CNN
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What to see in Mumbai – When we say visitors to Mumbai are over-stimulated in the best way, we're not exaggerating. Here's a guide to prepare you for the colorful experience of India's most populous city.
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Adventures for taste buds – Can one have too many chutneys in one go? Here's a papad sampler -- aloo papad, rice papad, applam, black pepper papad, banana chips, potato chips -- with a selection of chutneys from Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, a modern Indian restaurant in Mumbai. Our restaurant selections -- from molecular Indian food to traditional Gujarati thali joints -- can be found below.
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New landmark – Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link, or Bandra-Worli Sealink, is an eight-lane 5.6-kilometer-long bridge linking Bandra and Worli in South Mumbai. Fully opened in 2010, the bridge has become one of the city's new landmarks.
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Gothic architecture in technicolors – The Chhatrapati Shivaji railway terminus is one of the most beautiful buildings in Mumbai. Some say the Gothic architecture looks best when lit up at night.
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Bollywood glamor – On top of being the richest and most populous city in India, Mumbai is home to Bollywood. Indian Bollywood actress Isha Sharvani (center in the picture) performed during the Hindu festival Janmashtami, the birth of Hindu god Lord Krishna, in Mumbai in 2014.
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The beach for the elephant-headed god – Chowpatty, a stretch of sand in Mumbai, hosts the annual festival of Ganesh. Indian Hindu devotees carry idols of elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha and immerse them in the sea at the end of the 10-day festival as a part of a cleansing ritual.
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Chowpatty – Ganesh Chaturthi is usually celebrated between August and September. The rest of the year, the beach is popular among Mumbaikars, especially in the evening. At Café By The Beach customers can enjoy a sunset along with a fresh juice (no alcohol is served here).
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Army of dabbawalas – Not only is the city's iconic dabbawala (lunchbox-delivery) service still going strong, it's going digital this year. It's estimated that about 200,000 home-made tiffins are delivered to Mumbai office workers by a dabbawala or lunchbox deliveryman daily.
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Celebrate, Mumbai style – If there's one thing Mumbai knows, it's how to throw great parties. In March, this procession celebrated Gudhi Padva, or the Hindu new year for the people of Maharashtra state.
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End of Victorian carriages – Ornate Victorian-style horse-drawn carriages have been strolling Mumbai's streets since British colonial times. Earlier this year the government announced the carriages would soon cease operations in the city to protect animal welfare.
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CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.
Mumbai, India (CNN)The best of Mumbai is heart-wrenching and energizing at the same time.
Mumbai is India's richest and most populous city.
It's home to Bollywood and the nation's financial institutions.
It also has the country's biggest slum.
So when we say Mumbai is a city of extremes, it's not just for dramatic effect.
The juxtapositions can be difficult for some travelers, but they also can be inspiring.
Visitors to the city are over-stimulated in the best way.
Fruity and spicy punch (left) and a plate of tandoori pork spare ribs (right) start nights right at The Bombay Canteen.
Since its launch in February,The Bombay Canteen has swiftly become the city's favorite drinks and dining spot.
Fans love its vintage decor, which recalls old Bombay, and its creative rendering of regional Indian cooking.
The food is both familiar and unexpected.
Pulled pork vindaloo thepla (Indian flat bread) tacos, seafood bhel (puffed rice, vegetables, chutneys), kamal kakdi (lotus stem) chips, tandoori pork, masala chai popsicles with caramel sauce and rum-soaked gulab jamun (dumpling dessert made with thickened milk and rose-flavored syrup) -- there's not a bad line on the menu.
Even the alcohol isn't spared from the Indian twist.
The sharing bowl of punch -- you know punch is a drink that originated in India? -- is a bestseller among the restaurant's mixed-spiced cocktails.
The Bombay Canteen, Unit-1, Process House, Kamala Mills, near Radio Mirchi Office, S.B. Road, Lower Parel; +91 (0)22 4966 6666
South Mumbai seafood establishment Trishna gets the lion's share of attention from tourists and expats.
However, also a coastal spot, the underrated Gajalee has been serving worthy Malvani food and what's arguably the city's best tandoori crabs for years.
While it's a three-outlet chain, its most consistent branch is the old school Vile Parle flagship, where locals flock for fried bombil (Bombay duck) and spiced tisriya (clams) masala in addition to the crabs.
The "caviar" is actually jalebi -- a traditional sweet snack made by deep-frying wheat flour in ring shape.
Indian food is given the molecular treatment at this perennially booked fine dining restaurant.
What Masala Library lacks in ambiance it makes up for with its inventive plating and flavors.
Favorite selections include the silken butter chicken, sweet and pungent pepper and kokum glazed ribs, ghee roast lamb shank, chicken stuffed kulcha (a leavened bread) and the stellar Bhindi Jaipuri (a crispy Rajasthani salad) served on choorma (a wheat flour ball dessert).
Meals here are typically rich, but it's worth saving room for the jalebi (India's deep-fried pretzel) made as caviar, and the crowd-pleasing paan-flavored cotton candy served as a palate cleanser.
Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, G/F, First International Financial Centre, G Block, Bandra East, opposite Sofitel Hotel, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra (East); +91 (0)22 6642 4142
Located at the ITC Maratha near the international airport, Dum Pukht is a trek for those staying in the heart of the city.
However, the food at this award-winning, best of Mumbai restaurant distinguishes it from all other Indian restaurants around.
Inspired by the cuisine of the Nawab of Awad, dishes are as intricate as they are heavy.
The inevitable food coma means you can forget about a night out after eating here.
House specialties are raan-e-dum pukht, a leg of lamb that melts in your mouth and dum pukht biryani, also made with lamb.
There are also fancy seats at The Table.
The Table is Mumbai's top swank restaurant, the place to get the best of Mumbai's fine dining.
The menu mixes cuisines and styles, with a focus on fresh ingredients.
Small plates are the stars, from boneless chicken wings to spicy grilled calamari.
The slow-roasted New Zealand lamb shank is a reliably good selection.
For dessert, the fig and almond tart with cinnamon ice cream is worth busting your daily calorie quota for.
The Table is also a popular weekend brunch spot. It serves a killer warm cinnamon bun and blueberry pancakes.
Shree Thaker Bhojanalay
You can't really claim to have eaten in Mumbai unless you've tried one of the city's famed Gujarati thali joints.
While each foodie has their favorite, we've been longtime regulars at this tiny but terrific restaurant in one of the city's most bustling markets, Kalbadevi.
It's hard to locate, but once you do you'll be rewarded with a heaving plate of seasonal vegetables, curries, fried snacks and desserts, made rich and delicious with ghee and a vibrant range of condiments.
The soporific meal is an excellent value -- you get unlimited top-ups on all of the dishes on your plate.
Housed within the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum, this gift shop offers plenty of Mumbai memorabilia in addition to home decor items and handicrafts acquired from across India.
Particularly delightful is the selection of traditional Indian games, toys and coffee table books about the country.
This sacred water tank built within the Walkeshwar temple complex in South Mumbai is one of the city's best kept secrets.
The rectangular-shaped pool surrounded by steps on all sides serves as an oasis of calm in the otherwise frenetic Mumbai.
The tank dates to 1127 A.D., but was rebuilt using a private donation by a Mumbai philanthropist in 1715 after it was destroyed by the Portuguese.
It's a nice spot to bring a book.
Walkeshwar Road, Malabar Hill
The best way to experience the full range of life in Mumbai is to take a walk through the neighborhoods of extremes.
These places embody the contradictory nature of Mumbai.
Laborers: Dhobi Ghat
At Dhobi Ghat, washing is powered by sweat and sinew.
Dhobi Ghat is Mumbai's human laundromat.
The world's largest washing machine, the dhobi ghat is made up of rows and rows of washing pens where dhobis (washers) toil daily.
There are 200 or so washers, all pounding and boiling dirty clothes in a laborious method.
While many Mumbaikers have electric washing machines in their homes, the dhobi ghat does the washing for lower-end hotels, restaurants, hospitals and other businesses in the neighborhood.
The work is pure manual labor, including boiling the laundry and beating it to get rid of dirt.
Jobs are hereditary in the dhobi ghat -- dhobi is an occupational caste group that practices endogamy.
Hipsters: Kala Ghoda
The annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival includes events like this Indian cinema art installation.
Khala Ghoda represents the best of Mumbai gentrification.
The neighborhood is undergoing a renaissance.
Kala Ghoda features some of the most beautiful examples of colonial architecture in the city, including Mumbai's oldest synagogue.
The coolest galleries, cafes and stores in South Mumbai are all found here.
The Jehangir gallery is the place for a dose of art; Kala Ghoda Café serves a mean slice of carrot cake and coffee; Obataimu shows how far Indian contemporary fashion has come.
Kala Ghoda is also home to Fabindia, a store that brings together India's best products, from organic tea to clothing.
Star power: Bollywood celebrities like Pooja Chopra can be seen at Bandra.
Mumbai's hippest and youngest neighborhood, Bandra is filled with young professionals, college students, rickshaws and Bollywood stars.
A ride in an auto-rickshaw is the best way to maneuver the narrow streets.
If you ask, the driver will show you homes of Bollywood stars, such as the one belonging to Shah Rukh Khan.
The ideal place for a coffee break is on Carter Road, a waterfront promenade filled with restaurants, pubs and lovey-dovey couples.
Eclectic shops include The Shop at Pali Naka for handcrafted stoneware, and Play Clan, a design store.
This best of Mumbai neighborhood has a more relaxed vibe than South Mumbai.
An easy mood is found at bars such as Big Nasty and The Elbo Room.
Pri Shewakramani is a Mumbai-based writer. She was formerly an editorial consultant for Conde Nast Traveller India. Purva Mehra is the co-founder and editor at thedailypao.com, a Mumbai-based website that offers insights into the city's culture, food and shopping.