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24 Hours: Mumbai

Nowhere else in India is the contrast between ‘slumdogs’ and millionaires so striking as in Mumbai, the subcontinent’s largest, most buzzing city.

24 Hours: Mumbai
Image: Getty

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01 Cave carvings
Ferry across the harbour to Elephanta Island to explore an underground maze of caves cut into the basalt rock, rich with Hindu carvings that date back to the sixth century. The main temple, a labyrinth of courtyards, corridors and intricate shrines, is dedicated to Shiva and dominated by a stupendous, 20ft central statue depicting the god in his three-headed form as creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.www.asi.nic.in

02 Quay ingredient
Make pilgrimage to Colaba, Mumbai’s unofficial tourist hub, with street markets, bars and tumbledown mansions. Don’t miss Sassoon Docks, to the south — a fishy, frenetic quay where you can see rows of bombil (lizardfish: the main ingredient for the native Bombay Duck dish) drying in the sun.

03 Cultural hotspot
At the National Centre for the Performing Arts, theatres, libraries and art galleries combine to offer a programme of English language theatre, dance and music. Another Mumbai cultural institution, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum), designed by George Wittet (architect of the city’s iconic Gateway of India) houses a beautiful collection of miniature paintings and figurines. www.ncpamumbai.com   www.csmvs.in

04 Bollywood calling
A visit to the recently restored Regal Cinema is a must for Bollywood movie buffs, with art deco-style mirrored interiors and a Hindi/English language programme. Take a sunset stroll along Chowpatty Beach and join the crowds for a beer at one of the waterfront bars.

05 On course
Have a post-dinner drink at Tote on the Turf, a bar/restaurant cleverly converted from a colonial-era racecourse, complete with century-old rain trees, inside and out. Be it Bollywood stars, models or crorepatis (Mumbai’s legion of millionaires), this is the place to spot the city’s movers and shakers, under the soaring wooden beams of this contemporary cathedral to conspicuous consumption. Mahalaxmi Race Course, Keshva Rao Khadye Marg, Mahalaxmi.

06 High life
The dress code is conservative (no flip flops) and the clientele are barely out of school but the rooftop Aer bar at the Four Seasons really is the most impressive lofty drinking spot in town. Expect Champagne cocktails, DJs and frantic queues at weekends. www.fourseasons.com/mumbai

Eat

£££ Indigo: Book
Early for a table in this restored colonial-era bungalow for Indian-influenced European food. 4 Mandlik Road, Colaba. www.foodindigo.com

££ Britannia & Co: It’s been around since the 1920s, serving Parsi dishes such as berry pulao: rice with masala mutton or chicken, crispy onions, cashews and barberries. 11 Sprott Road, Ballard Estate. T: 00 91 22 22615264

£ All Stir Fry: In locations across the city, this open-kitchen restaurant serves pan-Asian dishes. House specialities include Fire Chicken — stir-fried in soy with chilli prawns, bell peppers and onion. Ouch! www.mars-world.com/restaurants/asf.html

Mumbai madness? Head for the maidans, a series of centrally located parks lined with colonial buildings where you can sit back, catch your breath and take in endless rounds of impromptu cricket games

Did you know? As the film, fashion and business capital of India, Mumbai witnesses a daily influx of international investors and native fortune hunters. With a current population of more than 16 million, forecasts suggest that by 2015 this teeming metropolis will be the world’s most populous city. www.un.org

Published in the Mar/Apr 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)