Traveling around a city with 20 million people packed into a row of suburbs and islands linked by road and rail is bound to be an adventure, to say the least. It’s astonishing that the transportation system in Mumbai is functional, and a minor miracle that it actually works pretty smoothly. Your two main options to get around are the BEST buses and the electric trains called “locals”.
If you rent a car, remember that you drive on the left side of the road in India, and make sure to follow all the rules and road signs. The traffic cops in Mumbai are vigilant, and you’ll end up being fined or having to pay a hefty bribe. You can pay a large fine or swallow your ideals and ask the cop to ‘kahi kami-jasta kara, saheb’ (that means ‘reduce it a bit, Sir’ in Marathi).
BEST buses have long routes that will take you from any part of the city to everywhere else. The local trains run end-to-end on the central, western and harbor lines. Some stations, such as Dadar and Andheri, are on both the central and western lines, so you can switch lines at these hubs. Best way to do it is get a map, study the routes and carry the map with you. They’re also printed on the walls of the railcars, if you look up above the exits. You can buy a one-day tourist ticket that allows you unlimited travel all day long.
What people going to work and back usually do is take a bus, auto rickshaw, taxi or their own vehicle to the nearest railway station, and then take the local train from there to their destination. For example, if you fly in at the airport and you’re heading to the Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba, you can take a bus or auto rickshaw to either Ville Parle or Andheri East station, and then take a local from there to Colaba.
Getting on and off the local trains at a station is an adventure. They come in already packed to the rafters, and more people get on and off at every station along the way. Buy 1st class tickets and avoid traveling during the rush hour, or at least plan your trip so that you’re going in the opposite direction (away from CST or Churchgate in the morning, and towards them in the evening). Also remember that there are fast and slow locals. The fast ones don’t stop at all the stations.
Getting on an off the buses is not a problem, and they’re quite regular. But traffic is hellish on the roads during the day, and the local trains will get you to your destination a lot faster.
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Mumbai has plenty of luxury travel options if you so desire. You can call cool cabs, air-conditioned private taxis, elite services like Uber or luxury vehicles including limos. You’ll find booking counters at the airport arrivals, or you can book in advance online or on the phone and have them waiting to pick you up at the airport or anywhere in the city. You can also get a great look at Mumbai without moving a muscle by booking a luxury boat charter that picks you up at the Gateway of India, close to the Taj Mahal Hotel.