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I recently traveled to Mumbai for a quick business trip. I had been there once before, but I didn’t really know the city. All I had felt was that it was crowded and hot. It seemed impenetrable. For this trip, I had free time on only one night. Was there any way I could come away with a better sense of Mumbai?

I decided to reach out on Afar Connect, our new online community at afar.com that brings together travelers and locals. I asked a simple question: Would anyone like to connect me with a favorite or distinctive place, activity, or person in Mumbai?

I got some great recommendations of things to do and places to go. Even better, Annie from New York offered to introduce me to an interesting woman named Aparna she had met on her last trip. Aparna joined Afar Connect and we agreed to get together for dinner.

My flight from Delhi was a couple of hours late. I arrived at the Taj Palace around 10 p.m. and had a breakfast meeting scheduled for 8 a.m. Now my great idea didn’t seem so great. I just wanted to have dinner in the hotel and go to bed. But I knew Aparna was going out of her way, so I walked a few minutes from the hotel to Indigo, a restaurant she had picked out for my convenience.

Aparna and her friend Gioia were just arriving at the same time. We ordered—I had some delicious snapper—and began to chat. Aparna was born in Kerala but has lived in Mumbai for most of her life. She is a photographer, and she showed me photos she had taken for a book she was publishing on Mumbai’s classic Fiat club car taxis that were being phased out after more than 50 years. Aparna had spent much of the last year with taxi drivers, and she was full of stories. Gioia is an Italian translator who spends half the year in Mumbai, half in Turin. She loves Mumbai. She says it is never boring. Most of the population is under 30, and the people are full of energy. Gioia would stay year-round, except she can’t deal with the monsoons. Aparna, on the other hand, loves the monsoons. They change the character of the place, she says. They are so dramatic.

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By the end of the evening, after many stories and many laughs, this formerly faceless megacity had a personality. It became a place I wanted to get to know and enjoy. Alas, I wasn’t able to extend my trip. I had to get on my way. But I had new friends, and new insight into Mumbai. I am determined to get back soon to experience the city more fully.

I am really appreciative of Annie, Aparna, and others like them—like you—on Afar Connect. People so willing to help travelers looking to get below the surface and come away with experiences that enrich their lives and understanding. Thank you all. And if you haven’t yet joined Afar Connect, I urge you to do so. Take it at your own pace, but I think you’ll see that when you engage with others, it can expand your ideas about where your travels can take you.

Good travels,

Greg Sullivan


P.S. You may have noticed that our cover boasts America’s Best Travel Magazine. That’s not just our opinion. The Society of American Travel Writers honored us with the 2010 Lowell Thomas Award for best travel magazine. We look forward to living up to the title.

This appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of AFAR Magazine