Mumbai & Goa with Janhavi Acharekar

1. Mumbai and Goa are vastly different. How would you briefly describe these two destinations?

Mumbai’s crazy traffic, vibrant nightlife and daily buzz contribute to a frenetic city where it’s always rush-hour. Its nightlife is vibrant and international. At the same time, this is where you can view migratory flamingos in an industrial area and visit a heritage village or a 9th century stepped well in the middle of the city. Goa, on the other hand, is defined by its attitude of ‘sossegarde’ – a laidback, unhurried pace of life where everything can wait. Goa’s meditative calm in the daytime is complemented by its carnival-like beachside parties, flamethrowers and acrobatic shows. What they have in common is their energy and unpredictability.

2. Both destinations have great carnivals and festivals. What are the most popular and when do they occur?

The Banganga Music Festival, the Elephanta Festival and the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival vie for top place in Mumbai, along with the religious Ganesh Festival. The latter takes place around September and is a treat for tourists with its colorful clay images of the elephant-headed Hindu god, Ganesh, while the other three are a celebration of the arts amid the city’s heritage architecture, in the months of January and February. Gokulashtami, a religious festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, makes for an interesting sight as the city’s youth form human pyramids across the city and break earthen pots strung at a height of up to 30 meters.

In Goa, it has to be the Carnival. A three day extravaganza of colorful parades, floats and music held on the Saturday just before the period of Lent, it’s the state’s biggest draw.

3. There are many beautiful beaches on the Northern Coast of Goa. What are a couple of your favorites?

My personal favorites are Vagator Beach with its nearby Chapora Fort, and the Morjim to Mandrem stretch if I’m in a pensive mood or looking for some quiet time. When I’m in the mood to party, or simply seeking a festive atmosphere, I head to the restaurant shacks and bars of Candolim, Baga or Anjuna.

4. When is the best time of the year to visit?

November to March is certainly the best time of year, weather-wise, to visit. It is also when most of the festivals take place. If you’re looking for bargains in accommodation, the off season or the monsoon period from June to September is when room rates are considerably reduced. Be prepared, however, for heavy rain (that could ruin travel plans) and closure of Goan shacks.

5. Mumbai is famous for Bollywood. Where should visitors go to see the stars?

It depends on whether you prefer the on-screen version or the real thing. To catch a Bollywood flick, the old art deco theatres – Regal, Eros, New Excelsior and Metro – are the most charming.

If you’re looking for the off-screen persona, Mumbai’s Film City (located in the suburb of Goregaon), is a complex of studios where you are likely to chance upon a Bollywood star. Five star restaurants and bars such as Olive and Aurus too have their share of Bollywood visitors. If you’re really desperate, stand below the balcony of actor Salman Khan in Bandstand, Bandra. If you’re lucky, he may blow you a kiss or two.

6. Goa seems to have some hippie history. Can you talk about the beach shacks?

Goa’s beach shacks are makeshift straw and bamboo structures, made available as both accommodation and as restaurants/ bars. Goa’s best form of budget accommodation in the peak season, the shacks find their origins in the hippie era when flower children landed on Goan shores. The shacks were where they (literally) shacked up for the night, did drugs and listened to rock and roll. Today, these are the best places to chill with a beer, lounge around on deck chairs by day and watch live entertainment at night.

7. What are a few of your favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations that you would recommend to visitors?

Mumbai is all about experiences while Goa is about exploration. Be sure to combine the usual with the unusual. While tourist attractions are must sees in Mumbai, so are the ‘dabbawallas’ or tiffin carriers, the train stations, the flamingos and the massive laundry vat called Dhobi Ghat.

In Goa, it’s best to rent a bike and make your way into the interior once you’ve sunned yourself a bit on the beaches. The spice plantations make for an interesting lunchtime detour from Old Goa. In the north, the beaches of Anjuna and Vagator may be combined with a ride through the villages of Saligao, Sangolda, Aldona, and Assagao. In the south, make sure you catch a casa or two at Loutolim and Chandor along with the southern beaches. The northern beach of Mandrem and the southern beach of Agonda are wonderfully pristine. Also, not enough people visit the quaint and historic Latin Quarter in Panaji called Fontainhas. It makes for a wonderful break from the beaches.

8. What’s the best way to get around in Mumbai and Goa?

The best way to get around in Mumbai is to take the black-and-yellow taxi (or the autorickshaw if you’re in the suburbs). Make sure you ask for the tariff card once you’ve reached your destination or you could be (literally) taken for a ride. If you have the courage to face the crowds, try the local train.

In Goa, rent a car, motorbike or even a bicycle. The Goan landscape is lovely but be warned that milestones and signboards are scarce, if you’re traveling long distances. If you have a driver for the journey, fix the rate before you set off on your trip. Goa is also well-connected by bus and train for those who prefer these modes of transport.

9. What are a couple of your favorite restaurants in Mumbai, and what do you consider a can’t miss Indian dish?

That’s a tough one – there are so many! Leopold Café and Café Mondegar in Colaba are favorites for their relaxed ambience and light eats; Starlit Café for its kebabs and harbor view; Rajdhani near Crawford Market and Chetna at Kala Ghoda for their vegetarian ‘thalis’ or unlimited platters; Samovar at the Jehangir Art Gallery and Tea Centre near Churchgate Station if I’m in the mood for tea and a light meal.

There is no one can’t-miss Indian dish as the cuisines of each state are so varied and equally tempting in their offerings. The one Mumbai dish that I find irresistible is the street snack called ‘paani puri’. It’s sweet, spicy, tangy and crunchy all at once but make sure you try it at a place where it’s made with mineral water.

10. Where are the best places to stay for a budget-conscious traveler?

In Mumbai, the YMCA, Bentley’s Hotel and the heritage Regency Inn are great low-range accommodations that are conveniently located in the downtown area of Colaba.

Goa has no dearth of budget hotels and shacks with Afonso Guest House and Panjim Inn making for great living options in the Latin Quarter in Panaji. On the northern beaches, the heritage Hotel Bougainvillea and the secluded Lotus Inn in Anjuna are great value for money. In the southern beaches, it has to be the beachside Common Home in Agonda, as well as the beach huts of Ordosounsar and eco-friendly Bhakti Kutir in Palolem.

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