Mumbai for the Clueless
February 18, 2016 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I’m an American thinking about traveling to Mumbai in the next few months. I’ve never been to India. What should I know?

I’ve always wanted to go to India - Mumbai in particular - and circumstances in my life are aligning in such a way that I’ll be able to visit for a week or two in the next few months. I’d love to hear any tips or advice other people have on this. I’m a fairly seasoned traveller in the US and Europe, but (aside from a brief stint living in Israel) I’ve never really travelled outside of the “west”. I know this is a huge question, and I’m sorry for how broad it is, but at this point I basically don’t know what I don’t know. In a nutshell:

-What are the things I absolutely must do and see? What are the things everyone says you should do that actually aren’t worth it? I want to see DDLJ at the Maratha Mandir, but other than that my itinerary is wide open.
-Americans who have been to Mumbai: what do you wish you had known before you went? Mumbaikars: what do you wish Americans visiting Mumbai knew ahead of time, both to make the most of their visit and to keep from making total asses of themselves?
-Will language be a problem? I’ve been working on learning to read Devanagari, but I don’t speak any Hindi, Marathi, or any other Indian language.
-How long should I expect the tourist visa process to take? I’ve heard horror stories.

Thanks in advance (and any Mumbai-based mefites; memail me! I’d love to grab coffee or something while I’m there).
posted by Itaxpica to Travel & Transportation around Mumbai, India (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Oh, also: if you think I shouldn't visit Mumbai because of [reasons] and have a suggestion of someplace else you'd recommend visiting in India instead, I guess I'd like to hear that too!)
posted by Itaxpica at 10:53 AM on February 18, 2016

Can you please nominate a gender and clarify if you will be travelling solo?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:58 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Male, 25, travelling solo.
posted by Itaxpica at 11:01 AM on February 18, 2016

Language: English is mostly fine to get around especially if you're at mostly tourist places. If you want to go off the beaten path, a guide is probably a better bet.

Visa: you can get a tourist visa on arrival (TVOA) here
with fairly little hassle, and when I was there last year, the line was actually quite a bit shorter than the other lines.

Tips: I assume you won't blend in and look like a local, so it's possible you'll get hassled a little more aggressively, but nothing crazy (for example, our driver got stopped and basically shaken down by cops because we were clearly non-Indians in a nicer car, and hawkers and salespeople would make a beeline for us at markets, etc.)
You might want to get vaccinations and malaria prophylaxis before you go.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:12 AM on February 18, 2016

Language won't be a problem. English is widely spoken in India and signs in Mumbai will often be in English (some parts of the country that's less the case). I spent three months in the country and only very rarely did I meet someone I couldn't soeak to (and then usually someone else would offer to translate).
posted by Pink Frost at 11:18 AM on February 18, 2016

I went to Mumbai for a wedding in Dec 2014. We were with a bunch of locals doing family/wedding stuff most of the time, but I can weigh in on the following:

what do you wish you had known before you went?
I knew it was going to be hot, but it was like really really hot. Make sure you have adequate water whenever you're going out exploring.

Even if you tell your bank you're going there, they might still put a hold on your ATM card. Make sure you have the international customer service number for your bank available (or plan to call with skype) to reactivate your card. Also, know the exchange rate and check the exchange rate for the ATM you use -- not all are created equal. The first one I went to, across the street from our hotel, offered an exchange rate significantly worse than the one down the block.

Will language be a problem?
The only time we had an issue with language was dealing with cab drivers. We mostly used Uber (or our friend's driver) when going out by ourselves, because it was easier and we could input the destination into the app (and the cars are nicer). There were a few times that we would have had issues w/ cabs had we not had Hindi speakers with us (tourist destinations are easy to communicate, but other points less so). Even then, a quick iphone/map illustration would have worked fine.

How long should I expect the tourist visa process to take?
We applied in person at the Cox&Kings in NYC (well, I applied in person for both my husband and myself). I had a "9am appointment" but so does everyone else, so be prepared to wait in line for a while. It was ready for pick up in less than a month, no issues whatsoever.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:29 AM on February 18, 2016

India has an e-visa for tourists now and you might qualify: here's the official government link.
posted by mdonley at 5:41 PM on February 18, 2016

I haven't been to India as a tourist, only to visit family, but for practical advice:

Bring medication with you for potential food issues--your primary care physician can recommend the right things. Avoid drinking non-bottled water, even in restaurants.

I agree with the other posters that language won't be a huge issue. Have fun!
posted by tinymegalo at 6:41 PM on February 18, 2016

what do you wish you had known before you went?

That westerners get overcharged for everything

Cab drivers, store owners, tour operators, bartenders--as soon as they see you're a westerner, they at least double the price that a local would pay.

Whatever price you're offered, offer 50 percent less and don't budge. Eventually, they'll take it.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 2:32 AM on February 19, 2016

India now has an easy e-visa program for citizens of most western countries.
posted by redlines at 2:14 PM on February 19, 2016

Seconding melissasaurus about ATM cards. Visited Mumbai with a friend a couple of years ago and he was very glad I went along since his card was blocked even though he called ahead, and then even though he went into the local branch of said international bank with his card and passport. (Different systems, blah blah). So, I lent him lots of cash. If possible see if you can have two separate ways to access cash through different banks or finance companies. Always a pretty good idea for extended solo travel anyway. Have a great trip. I loved visiting Mumbai. If you haven't read Maximum City yet, check it out.
posted by Gotanda at 8:51 PM on February 19, 2016 is a fantastic resource, in case you aren't yet aware of it.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 11:07 AM on February 21, 2016

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