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Situated on a peninsula halfway up the west coast of India, Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is India's economic powerhouse, and home to more millionaires than any other city on the Indian subcontinent. As well as being the country's financial capital, Mumbai is also an important port, handling a third of all international trade; and a base for many of India's largest companies. However, among all this wealth and the Bollywood lifestyle are cases of extreme poverty, with almost half of the 21 million-strong population living in slums.
The Portuguese established this old Hindu city as a colony in 1509. In 1661, it passed to England as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II, and became a vital trading base for the East India Company and later the Crown. The centre of Imperial Bombay, the city contains a breathtaking array of High Victorian buildings and is reminiscent of a prosperous 19th-century English industrial city. The fascinating range of architectural styles reflects the British passion for the Gothic and demonstrates the wealth, panache and confidence of British Bombay. Prosperity has always been considered more important than religious homogeneity in Mumbai, and this is reflected in the range of places of worship throughout the city: churches and cathedrals sit alongside countless mosques, and Hindu and Buddhist temples.
Like many Indian cities, the streets of Mumbai are congested with cattle, carts and motor vehicles, and the air is thick with smog and the sound of horns. But despite this, the city has much to offer, and those en route to Goa should take time to discover Mumbai's colourful and fascinating history, as well as its vibrant, energetic and friendly people.
The magnificent Gothic Victorian buildings in Mumbai's Fort Area highlight the power and wealth of the British Empire at its might. They are reminiscent of many of the great public buildings in London or Glasgow. The Victoria Terminus (known as CST) was opened in 1888, and is one of the world's grandest railway stations, on a par with New York's Grand Central Station or London's St Pancras. Built in the Italian Gothic style, it looks more like a lavishly decorated cathedral than a railway station: massive arches soar splendidly above the scurrying crowd, and carved into the pillars and buttresses are images of monkeys, peacocks, elephants and lions.
The southernmost peninsula of Mumbai, known as Colaba, is where most travellers gravitate. It has a good range of hotels and restaurants and houses two of the city's most famous landmarks: the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal Hotel. The Gateway to India was built in 1911 to commemorate the visit to India of King George V and Queen Mary. The archway is built from honey-coloured basalt in a style derived from Gujarati architecture of the 16th century. In the days of the steam liner, the Gateway was for many visitors their first and last sight of India, but today it acts purely as a colourful tourist stop, and attracts hawkers, snake charmers, and beggars.
Built in the 1920s, Marine Drive runs along the shoreline of the Arabian Sea, from Nariman Point to the foot of Malabar Hill. It is Mumbai's most famous thoroughfare, and a favourite spot for watching the sunset. Lined on the landward side by a crescent of crumbling Art Deco buildings, it is lit up memorably at night, prompting travel agents to dub it 'the Queen's Necklace'. At the top end of Marine Drive is Chowpatty Beach, the only beach in the central part of Mumbai. Though not ideal for sunbathing or swimming, it is a popular (though hectic) place to spend an afternoon, surrounded by beach traders, entertainers and beggars.
The colourful indoor Crawford Market (Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market) is where locals of central Mumbai go shopping for their fruit, vegetables and (for the brave) meat. Rudyard Kipling was born just south of the market, in 1865. An ornate fountain designed by his father, Lockwood Kipling, sits between old fruit boxes at the market's centre. He also designed the frieze depicting Indian peasants in wheat fields that hangs above the main entrance. Visitors can find almost anything at the market, which is large and full of surprises, and will enjoy a stroll around the narrow lanes of Kalbadevi, north of the market.
Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is India's economic powerhouse, and home to more millionaires than any other city on the Indian subcontinent. The city contains a breathtaking array of High Victorian buildings, reflecting the British passion for the Gothic and demonstrating the wealth, panache and confidence of British Bombay. Mumbai's countless attractions are reached via the iconic colonial-era arch that is the Gateway of India. Nearby stands the Taj Mahal Palace, India's second most-photographed monument, and the equally imposing Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, an extravagant Gothic building. For those seeking a break from the madness of modern Mumbai, the 180-year-old village of Khotachiwadi offers a quiet glimpse into life as it was before the high-rise buildings of today's mega-city.
The Haji Ali Dargah is both a mosque and a tomb, located in southwestern Mumbai, on an islet off the coast of Worli. The dargah (tomb) was built in memory of Muslim preacher Syed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari in 1431, who was inspired to change the course of his life after embarking on the Hajj to Mecca. Haji Ali is only accessible by a 1500-foot (457m) walkway during low tide. The walkway is generally lined with beggars and vendors, and Thursdays and Fridays see thousands of pilgrims flocking to Haji Ali to receive blessings from the dead saint.
The exciting Nehru Centre features a world-class planetarium, an art gallery filled with emerging talent, and an interesting culture wing. However, the highlight of the centre is the (permanent) Discovery of India exhibition, with consists of 14 galleries showcasing every aspect of artistic, intellectual and philosophical attainment in India through the ages; visitors walk through the history of India from ancient times to independence. This is a wonderful place to start for those looking to get to grips with the history and identity of India, one of the most mercurial and fascinating countries in the world.
The Prince of Wales Museum, now officially known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, was founded in the early 20th century to commemorate the visit of (eventual King of the United Kingdom) George V. The museum houses more than 50,000 exhibits of ancient Indian history, as well as artefacts from other lands. The museum's greatest areas of focus are art, archaeology and natural history. The Indus Valley Civilisation section is particularly impressive. The museum is surrounded by a lovely garden, which provides a nice area to stroll in after exploring the exhibitions.
The former home of Mahatma Gandhi, the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum is a Gujarati-style house featuring three floors for visitors to explore. The house did not belong to Gandhi but served as his home and headquarters in Bombay for 17 eventful years between 1917 and 1934; it belonged to a friend of his, who was his host whenever he visited the city. Several important events and activities in Gandhi's political life took place or were initiated at this place. The museum houses an incredible library, full of Gandhi-related books, periodicals, photographs, posters and even the great man's old charkha (spinning wheel).
Known as the 'world's largest laundromat', the Dhobi Ghat provides a scene many travellers might have already seen in movies. Every day, thousands of dhobis (laundry washers) collect dirty laundry and descend upon the concrete washing areas, all fitted with their own flogging stones, to wash the garments. To the dhobis themselves, the washing and drying of clothes is a menial task but, to inquisitive tourists, this practise can be a fascinating insight into India's daily life, as well as a surviving relic of old India. The job is traditionally hereditary, and many of the men at work have families that have been doing the same job, and using the same age-old techniques, for generations.
Located on Elephanta Island in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai, the Elephanta Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an absolute must for visitors to Mumbai. The island can be reached by an hour-hong boat ride from the Gateway of India pier. The caves feature Shaivistic (the oldest of the four sects of Hinduism) stone sculptures of Hindu deities important to worshippers of Shiva. Unfortunately, the Portuguese defaced many of the sculptures in the caves when they used them for target practice in the 17th century. However, there is still a lot of intricate and impressive art to see.
For three months, between November and January each year, street musicians and performers of all kinds add to the colourful atmosphere of Mumbai's Sunday street bazaars, held near the Jehangir Art Gallery in the city's pedestrian plaza. The area becomes a hive of activity and excitement, with cultural performances and stalls selling a variety of crafts, folk art and food. The stretch has become such a hub of cultural and artistic activity that it is now known as an art precinct all year round. The Kala Ghoda Art Precinct stretches from Regal Circle at the southern end of Mahatma Gandhi Road to Mumbai University, which is further north on the same street.
Mumbai has a tropical climate, with two seasons: wet and dry. Between March and October, the summer months, the weather in Mumbai is uncomfortably hot and humid. Monsoon rains deluge the city in mid-summer, and an excess of 30 inches (762mm) of rain has been known to fall in one day. July and August are the months that suffer most from the monsoon, and travel to Mumbai should be avoided during these months as it is inconveniently wet and travel can be disrupted. Between November and February, winter, the weather is dry and warm, with occasional chilly spells brought on by cold northerly winds. The winter months are the best time to visit Mumbai, as temperatures range comfortably between 74°F (23°C) and 86°F (30°C), meaning that visitors from colder climates certainly won't feel like they are experiencing winter. The spring and summer months are uncomfortably hot, with high humidity and temperatures often reaching 104°F (40°C).
Mumbai is a melting pot of cuisines, both regional and international, and the city is simply bursting with wonderful restaurants. With so many migrants in Mumbai, the city caters to everyone, and travellers can enjoy anything from a modest street-side café meal, to fine-dining and trendy eateries where patrons rub shoulders with Mumbai's silver screen stars.
From traditional Tandoori food, kebabs and the delicious and inventive Gujarati cuisine, to Mughlai and the highly popular Punjabi cuisine, Mumbai represents every single kind of Indian fare. Dishes such as butter chicken and chicken tikka masala have been exported to the rest of the world, but are still staples on most Indian menus. Indians make wonderful use of vegetables and vegetarians will have no problem finding something to suit them. Seafood from the Konkan coast is also quite famous, and considered to be a local specialty in Mumbai. Visitors should try the local street-snack pani puri, also known as gup chup, a round, hollow bowl made from crisp-fried unleavened bread and filled with a mixture of tamarind, chilli, chaat masala, onion and potatoes. Authentic masala chai is a must while visiting Mumbai; this sweet tea, boiled in a mixture of water, milk and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger, might well be one of the abiding memories of India.
Many might not anticipate that Mumbai boasts a fabulous nightlife, but this city will not disappoint with its dazzling display of clubs, discos, bars and restaurants all bustling into the early hours. With so many Bollywood stars, millionaires, and high-profile social butterflies around, Mumbai boasts the cream of India's nightlife, with plenty of chic and trendy spots for travellers to enjoy.
Visitors can sip on their favourite drinks in one of Mumbai's rooftop bars overlooking the Arabian Sea, before heading out to a bouncing nightclub to dance the night away. The lively Colaba Causeway is a great place to start, with plenty of down-to-earth pubs with zero pretence.
Those looking for somewhere to shake a tail feather can head to Churchgate or Juhu; while Bandra is a very chic area, where style is the order of the day and everyone seems to work really hard at looking good. Visitors can join locals on the dance floor and jam to some bhangra and RnB, or for something completely unique, go wild to some Hindi house hits.
Being the home of Bollywood, visitors to Mumbai should definitely head to a local cinema to take in a movie. Fort and Churchgate areas are the best places to do this. Visitors who make a night out of this will not be disappointed.
The cosmopolitan city of Mumbai is a shopper's paradise. With everything from haute couture to local markets and dinky shops tucked away in side streets, Mumbai is a fabulous place to spend some time and money.
Mahatma Gandhi Road is a great place for fashionistas to go searching for designer brands. Known as 'Fashion Street', travellers can buy brand-label clothing and other wares for a fraction of the price that they would in countries like the United States. Department stores such as Shopper's Stop and Globus are also common, while Frazer and Haws in Bandra is worth a visit.
Those with a knack for haggling are in luck. All the markets in Mumbai follow this practice, and markets such as Chor Bazaar, Crawford Market, the Silversmith's Bazaar and Dharavi are all great places to hone bargaining skills. The rule of thumb is to start haggling from half the price quoted, and go up from there. Brass, copper and silver items are great to buy in Mumbai, and other popular souvenirs include carved sandalwood boxes, and wooden Buddha or Hindu deity statuettes.
Shops are generally open Monday to Saturday from 10am till 8pm, but markets and street vendors often open earlier. Taxes can be added on to the cost of goods, depending on the item. Tax-free shopping is usually confined to special stores, often located in ports and airports. There is no tax refund system in place in Mumbai.
The streets of Mumbai are chaotic and difficult to negotiate, but most attractions are fairly central and can be reached on foot. However, visitors generally opt for hiring a car with a driver by the day. The city's public bus service is government-run and consists of a fleet of red single and double-decker buses. The bus service is cheap and extensive, but the buses are almost always hot and crowded and it is not generally a pleasant way to get around. Suburban electric trains connect to the outlying areas, but are crowded, particularly during rush hour. Auto rickshaws are not allowed to operate in the centre of the city, but are cheaper than taxis and good for short distances. Metered taxis are plentiful all over the city and its surrounds. Uber and rental bicycles are also convenient ways of getting around the city.
Mumbai's countless attractions are reached via the iconic colonial-era arch that is the Gateway of India. Nearby stands the Taj Mahal Palace. India's second-most photographed monument (after its namesake) has played an integral role in the country's history. Equally imposing is the poetically named Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, an extravagant Gothic building, and a UNESCO world heritage site.
Mumbai Harbour is home to Elephanta Island, a labyrinth of impressive temple carvings, while the Colaba peninsula hosts Sassoon Docks, the oldest and largest fish market in Mumbai. The peninsula is a hive of activity, with high-end fashion boutiques, souvenir craft markets, and a collection of restaurants and cafes.
Mumbai continues its theme of long names with the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya museum. Beneath an impressive dome, the museum houses an extensive collection of sculptures, terracotta figures, paintings and ancient weaponry. The Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum is a beautiful renaissance style building housing exhibits focusing on Mumbai's history, and the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum celebrates the life and times of the Mahatma Gandhi
Tourists can visit the Iskcon Temple to witness scenes of intense, joyful worship accompanied by dance and music, or plan a trip to Film City to see first-hand how Bollywood shoots its films. For those seeking a break from the madness of modern Mumbai, the 180-year-old village of Khotachiwadi offers a quiet glimpse into life as it was before the high-rise buildings of today's mega-city.
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