Fate works in any number of ways, and that’s especially true in the travel experience. Small hiccups can have dramatic ramifications on our enjoyment when seeing the world. A lost bag or an unfortunate encounter can color a long planned adventure, forever impacting how we feel about that new place. That’s one reason of many why I’m so very thankful that my Tailor Made Journey in India with luxury pros and longtime partners Abercrombie & Kent began in the seaside city of Mumbai. I naturally didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the ideal introduction for someone like me who was skeptical about India from the beginning. Regardless of one’s feelings about India though, I think that Mumbai is the perfect starting place for any first time visitor to the country, for these reasons and more.
I didn’t realize how many people I knew who either lived or had lived in Mumbai until I visited. Chatting with them both in person and on social media, they each had very similar comments about the city they all love so much. One of them called it the Mumbai Bubble, which I think is certainly appropriate. Thanks to its size, the large financial industry presence and the entertainers who all call it home, it’s sort of a combination of New York and LA all wrapped into one Indian bubble. It’s simply very different from any other city in the country and, as such, is an easier introduction to the organized chaos of India than other cities would be. I remember the first time I visited Thailand. As soon as I stepped out of the airport I was overwhelmed by everything. The sounds, the smells, the humidity and it was almost too much. Throughout that first foray into a developing nation I had many similar instances of feeling overwhelmed and while I eventually came to love Bangkok, it was perhaps not the ideal way for me to get used to traveling outside of places like Europe. The same holds true for India I think. If it’s your first time visiting, Mumbai is frankly an easier place to appreciate than perhaps Delhi or Varanasi. Add to that the care and attention of a luxury tour operator like Abercrombie & Kent, and the travel experience isn’t just hassle free, it’s fun. As soon as I stepped off the plane, A&K representatives were there to whisk me through the airport, ease me through immigration and quickly collect my bags for me. I was asleep in my bed at the Taj Mahal Palace before I even fully realized what had happened. So arriving into Mumbai with the help of Abercrombie & Kent truly is, I think, the easiest way to gradually acclimate yourself to what can at times be an overwhelming country.
Great city in its own right
There is a lot to see and do in Mumbai, more than I had time for actually. Luckily I had my professional Abercrombie & Kent guide and driver to help me see the best of Mumbai as efficiently as possible. I think what surprised me the most about the city were the many leafy boulevards and neighborhoods. I’m not sure what I expected from southern Asia, but oak-lined streets wasn’t it. Mumbai is also a great city for a history aficionado such as myself, tracking the story of the city from colonial times to the present. A strange blend of Flemish and Norman architecture is the theme in some of the city’s more historic areas, temples and churches occupying spaces practically next door to each other. For those interested in more modern history, visiting Mani Bhavan, the Gandhi house museum, is an important stop, not just to learn more about the peacemaker’s life, but the incredible effects he has had on India through to today. Although Mumbai really isn’t that old of a city, about the same age as New York, there are ancient monuments to be found. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Elephanta Island is a fun hour-long boat ride out of the city and once on the island, the temples built into the cave structures comprise one of the most incredible archeological sites I’ve had the great pleasure to visit.
Mumbai isn’t just about touring historic sites though, there’s a lot to learn about Indian culture here, which is why I’m so happy that Abercrombie & Kent organized a very unique morning tour for me. Getting up at 5am is never easy, but I was excited to join a special trek around Mumbai, watching the city wake up and discovering a different side to the metropolis. India is the king of the side-hustle, and it seems that many people have multiple jobs they work in order to make ends meet. I saw a lot of that during our morning explorations, starting off at the still very dark hour of 5am at the city’s wharf to witness the daily fish auction. People started to stream in with baskets, all there to purchase wholesale fish for customers throughout the city. It seemed chaotic at first, but there’s definitely a rhythm to the event, although certainly not for the weak of heart. From flower merchants to newspaper sorters, I met with many people around the city working jobs only around for a few hours every morning, a side to Mumbai you’d miss if you wake up after 9am. It was also a great way for me to experience daily life in the city, aside from the museums and monuments, and to get a feel for what it really means to be in India. There were many special touches like this throughout my trip, helping make the experience one that was honestly very well rounded. I wasn’t shielded in any way, and for that I am grateful.
Looking back at my journey around India as a whole, I couldn’t imagine a better way to ease myself into the experience than by exploring Mumbai first. It’s probably not a fair way to describe it, but for me at least it was very much India Light. The chaos of honking cars and the incredible mass of people was tempered by the worldly influences of the city. It was a good way for me to slowly learn more about the country without feeling overwhelmed. It helped me appreciate and ultimately learn to love the country. Had I started in a more intense city, I’m not sure I would feel the same today about my experiences in India. This is yet another example of how traveling with true professionals is helpful in every way. Abercrombie & Kent tailored the trip for me and at every turn worked hard to ensure I enjoyed the experience as much as possible. That’s the value of traveling with experienced luxury professionals. They know the destinations as well as anyone and, even more importantly, know what does and does not work for any type of traveler. On my last morning in the city, walking around a cricket pitch I felt comfortable. I didn’t feel as if there was danger around every corner, because there wasn’t. I had spent decades listening to the opinions of others, people who clearly did not have similar experiences in India. It’s one thing to read someone’s account, but it’s another to take it at full face value. I quickly learned that India, while intense at times, isn’t all that different from many other places I’ve visited. In fact, I’ve felt less confident in many other countries around the world. I have both Abercrombie and the city of Mumbai to thank for that, for helping me experience one of the most interesting countries in the world and to leave vowing to return, eager to see even more of incredible India.