Come to Bombay, Come to Bombay, Bombay Meri Hai

Mumbai is the bubblegum glamour of Bollywood cinema, shopping malls full of designer labels, cricket on the Oval Maidan, promenading families eating bhelpuri on the beach at Chowpatty, red double-decker buses queuing in grinding traffic jams and the infamous cages of the red-light district.

This pungent drama is played out against a Victorian townscape more reminiscent of a prosperous 19th-century English industrial city than anything you’d expect to find on the edge of the Arabian Sea. It’s a city with vibrant streetlife, India’s best nightlife, and a wealth of bazaars.

Destination Facts

Full Name: Mumbai

Pre 20th Century

The seven islands that now form Mumbai were first home to the Koli fisherfolk, whose shanties still occupy parts of the city shoreline today. The islands were ruled by a succession of Hindu dynasties, invaded by Muslims in the 14th century and then ceded to Portugal by the Sultan of Gujarat in 1534. The Portuguese did little to develop them before the major island of the group was included in Catherine of Braganza’s dowry when she married England’s Charles II in 1661. The British Government took possession of all seven islands in 1665 but leased them three years later to the East India Company for a meagre annual rent of GBS10.00.

Bombay soon developed as a trading port thanks to its fine harbour and the number of merchants who were attracted from other parts of India by the British promise of religious freedom and land grants. Migrants included sizeable communities of Muslim Gujaratis, south Indian Hindus fleeing Portuguese persecution in Goa, and Zoroastrian Parsis fleeing persecution by Muslims in Persia. Their arrival, and that of later immigrant groups, laid the basis for Bombay’s celebrated multicultural society. Within 20 years, the presidency of the East India Company was transferred to Bombay from Surat, and the town soon became the trading headquarters for the whole west coast of India.

Bombay’s fort was built in the 1720s, and soon after land-reclamation projects began the century-long process of joining the seven islands into a single mass. Although Bombay grew steadily during the 18th century, it remained isolated from the surrounding territory until the British defeated the Marathas and annexed substantial portions of Western India in 1818. Growth was spurred by the arrival of steam ships and the construction of the first railway in Asia from Bombay to Thane in 1853. Cotton mills were built in the city the following year, and the American Civil War – which temporarily dried up Britain’s supply of cotton – sparked Bombay’s cotton boom. The fort walls were dismantled in 1864 and the city embarked on a major building spree as it sought to construct a civic townscape to match its new-found wealth and status. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the massive expansion of Bombay’s docks cemented the city’s future as India’s primary port.

Modern

Bombay played a formative role in the struggle for Independence, hosting the first Indian National Congress in 1885 and the launch of the ‘Quit India’ campaign in 1942. After Independence the city became capital of the Bombay Presidency but this was divided on linguistic grounds into Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960. Since then, a massive influx of rural (especially Maharashtran) migrants has strained the city’s infrastructure and altered its demographics. The most unfortunate development was the rise of a militant pro-Marathi regionalist movement, spearheaded by the Shiv Sena municipal government, which shook the city’s multicultural foundations by discriminating against non-Maharashtrans and Muslims. Communalist tensions erupted into murderous riots in the aftermath of the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque in 1992, attributed to supporters of the Shiv Sena. This was followed by 13 bomb blasts that ripped through the city on a single day in March 1993, killing hundreds of Mumbaikers. Blame for the attacks fell squarely on Dawood Ibrahim, a Muslim gangster with links to Pakistan’s secret service agency and the Taliban in Afghanistan; he is now believed to be hiding in Canada. In both cases, the dividing line between political establishment, organised crime and terrorism has been hard to pinpoint.

In 1996 the Shiv Sena officially renamed the city Mumbai. The change of name led to linguistic confusion, and signalled the intention of the Maharashtra state government to assert the city’s Marathi identity. The Shiv Sena and their leader, Bal Thackeray (noted for his stated admiration of Adolf Hitler), ruled the state of Maharashtra behind the scenes until October 1999, when the administration that had protected them lost to the Congress Party in assembly elections. Attempts by the state’s new political leaders to prosecute Thackeray in July 2000 for his alleged involvement in the 1992 anti-Muslim riots led to his supporters effectively shutting Mumbai down for several days through violent protests – the charges against this still influential person were then quickly withdrawn.

A further wave of violence followed in 2003, when Islamic militants detonated car bombs at the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar in Kalbadevi. Muslim gangsters with links to Dawood Ibrahim have also been blamed for a string of blackmail and kidnapping attacks in the city, many targeting players in the Bollywood film industry.

Recent

Mumbai leapt into the new millennium determined to become the most populous city in the world by 2020, when it might hold as many as 28.5 million people. This upcoming stature is, however, of little comfort to the 50% of the city’s inhabitants who presently still live without water or electricity. Nothing demonstrates Mumbai’s deteriorating environment better than a recent report which claims just breathing the air in Mumbai is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day: hence the popularity of recently opened ‘oxygen bars’.

In June 2005 Maharashtra was devastated by flooding after the heaviest rains in Indian history. More than a thousand people died and 60,000 were left homeless, triggering fears of a new influx of refugees into Mumbai. The cost of the disaster has been estimated at
1000000000.00, putting future plans for urban renewal in doubt. Nevertheless, the municipal government is committed to the idea of creating a futuristic city of space-age skyscrapers on the north side of Mahim Creek. The ground work has already begun, but part of the scheme involves clearing the slums and there is no clear plan for relocating slum dwellers. So far, more than 300,000 people have been left homeless by slum demolitions.

The city was dealt a further blow in July 2006, when seven train bombs caused the deaths of over 180 people and injured over 700 more. Suspicion fell on the Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, although it denied responsibility for the attack. Tension between the Hindu and Muslim communities was exacerbated by the incident, but fortunately did not erupt, and the resilient city quickly resumed its routines.

Pre 20th Century

The seven islands that now form Mumbai were first home to the Koli fisherfolk, whose shanties still occupy parts of the city shoreline today. The islands were ruled by a succession of Hindu dynasties, invaded by Muslims in the 14th century and then ceded to Portugal by the Sultan of Gujarat in 1534. The Portuguese did little to develop them before the major island of the group was included in Catherine of Braganza’s dowry when she married England’s Charles II in 1661. The British Government took possession of all seven islands in 1665 but leased them three years later to the East India Company for a meagre annual rent of GBS10.00.

Bombay soon developed as a trading port thanks to its fine harbour and the number of merchants who were attracted from other parts of India by the British promise of religious freedom and land grants. Migrants included sizeable communities of Muslim Gujaratis, south Indian Hindus fleeing Portuguese persecution in Goa, and Zoroastrian Parsis fleeing persecution by Muslims in Persia. Their arrival, and that of later immigrant groups, laid the basis for Bombay’s celebrated multicultural society. Within 20 years, the presidency of the East India Company was transferred to Bombay from Surat, and the town soon became the trading headquarters for the whole west coast of India.

Bombay’s fort was built in the 1720s, and soon after land-reclamation projects began the century-long process of joining the seven islands into a single mass. Although Bombay grew steadily during the 18th century, it remained isolated from the surrounding territory until the British defeated the Marathas and annexed substantial portions of Western India in 1818. Growth was spurred by the arrival of steam ships and the construction of the first railway in Asia from Bombay to Thane in 1853. Cotton mills were built in the city the following year, and the American Civil War – which temporarily dried up Britain’s supply of cotton – sparked Bombay’s cotton boom. The fort walls were dismantled in 1864 and the city embarked on a major building spree as it sought to construct a civic townscape to match its new-found wealth and status. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the massive expansion of Bombay’s docks cemented the city’s future as India’s primary port.

Modern

Bombay played a formative role in the struggle for Independence, hosting the first Indian National Congress in 1885 and the launch of the ‘Quit India’ campaign in 1942. After Independence the city became capital of the Bombay Presidency but this was divided on linguistic grounds into Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960. Since then, a massive influx of rural (especially Maharashtran) migrants has strained the city’s infrastructure and altered its demographics. The most unfortunate development was the rise of a militant pro-Marathi regionalist movement, spearheaded by the Shiv Sena municipal government, which shook the city’s multicultural foundations by discriminating against non-Maharashtrans and Muslims. Communalist tensions erupted into murderous riots in the aftermath of the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque in 1992, attributed to supporters of the Shiv Sena. This was followed by 13 bomb blasts that ripped through the city on a single day in March 1993, killing hundreds of Mumbaikers. Blame for the attacks fell squarely on Dawood Ibrahim, a Muslim gangster with links to Pakistan’s secret service agency and the Taliban in Afghanistan; he is now believed to be hiding in Canada. In both cases, the dividing line between political establishment, organised crime and terrorism has been hard to pinpoint.

In 1996 the Shiv Sena officially renamed the city Mumbai. The change of name led to linguistic confusion, and signalled the intention of the Maharashtra state government to assert the city’s Marathi identity. The Shiv Sena and their leader, Bal Thackeray (noted for his stated admiration of Adolf Hitler), ruled the state of Maharashtra behind the scenes until October 1999, when the administration that had protected them lost to the Congress Party in assembly elections. Attempts by the state’s new political leaders to prosecute Thackeray in July 2000 for his alleged involvement in the 1992 anti-Muslim riots led to his supporters effectively shutting Mumbai down for several days through violent protests – the charges against this still influential person were then quickly withdrawn.

A further wave of violence followed in 2003, when Islamic militants detonated car bombs at the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar in Kalbadevi. Muslim gangsters with links to Dawood Ibrahim have also been blamed for a string of blackmail and kidnapping attacks in the city, many targeting players in the Bollywood film industry.

Recent

Mumbai leapt into the new millennium determined to become the most populous city in the world by 2020, when it might hold as many as 28.5 million people. This upcoming stature is, however, of little comfort to the 50% of the city’s inhabitants who presently still live without water or electricity. Nothing demonstrates Mumbai’s deteriorating environment better than a recent report which claims just breathing the air in Mumbai is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day: hence the popularity of recently opened ‘oxygen bars’.

In June 2005 Maharashtra was devastated by flooding after the heaviest rains in Indian history. More than a thousand people died and 60,000 were left homeless, triggering fears of a new influx of refugees into Mumbai. The cost of the disaster has been estimated at
1000000000.00, putting future plans for urban renewal in doubt. Nevertheless, the municipal government is committed to the idea of creating a futuristic city of space-age skyscrapers on the north side of Mahim Creek. The ground work has already begun, but part of the scheme involves clearing the slums and there is no clear plan for relocating slum dwellers. So far, more than 300,000 people have been left homeless by slum demolitions.

The city was dealt a further blow in July 2006, when seven train bombs caused the deaths of over 180 people and injured over 700 more. Suspicion fell on the Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, although it denied responsibility for the attack. Tension between the Hindu and Muslim communities was exacerbated by the incident, but fortunately did not erupt, and the resilient city quickly resumed its routines.

Mumbai is prone to high temperatures, high humidity and tropical rain, though the climate is tempered by the influence of the Arabian Sea. Rainfall averages a soggy 2200mm (85in) per year, with the heaviest falls coming in the monsoon season from June to September. Recent years have seen massive floods, cited by many as evidence of global warming. January is the coolest month, though 12°C (53°F) is about as low as it goes. March and October tend to swelter, with temperatures rising as high as 38°C (100°F).

Month Temp (°C) Rainfall (mm) Humidity (%) Sunshine (hours)

St Thomas’ Cathedral
Veer Nariman Rd Fort btw Flora Fountain and Horniman Circle This charming church is the oldest English building in Mumbai. Construction began in 1672, but the church remained unfinished until 1718. It was restored in 2004 (winning a Unesco World Heritage award in the process) and its airy, whitewashed interior is full of colonial memorials and ornately carved gravestones.

Mani Bhavan
19 Laburnum Rd near August Kranti Maidan Chowpatty The building where Mahatma Gandhi stayed during his visits to Bombay is now a small, but engrossing, museum that shouldn’t be missed. Gandhi’s simple room remains untouched and there’s a wonderful photographic record of his life, along with dioramas and original documents such as letters he wrote to Hitler and US President Roosevelt.

Nehru Planetarium and Nehru Centre
Dr Annie Besant Rd Worli The most striking thing about this cultural complex is the bold modern architecture. The tower looks like a giant circular honeycomb and the planetarium looks like a UFO. There’s a theatre and restaurant here plus an interesting, and free, history exhibition.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum
K Dubash Marg Kala Ghoda Also known as the Prince of Wales Museum, this institution is set in an ornamental garden and boasts a galleried central hall topped by a huge dome, said to have been inspired by the Golgumbaz in Bijapur. The gallery’s collection includes impressive sculptures, terracotta figurines, miniature paintings, porcelain and weaponry.

Chowpatty Beach
Chowpatty Chowpatty is still a favourite spot for anyone out to enjoy what passes for fresh air. Get the full experience by strolling through the many beachside stalls for some bhelpuri or a head massage. The water is not the cleanest but the beach is litter-free, patrolled by lifeguards and lit up at night. Visiting Chowpatty in the evening is an essential part of any trip to Mumbai.

Leopold Café & Bar
cnr Colaba Causeway & Nawroji F Rd Colaba A Mumbai institution dating back to 1871, Leopold’s is the most popular travellers’ hang-out in the city. There’s an extensive menu of food but most people just come here for a cooling beer or juice and to soak up the old time atmosphere.

Insomnia
Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Apollo Bunder Colaba Spread across two levels, Insomnia is the place to rub shoulders with Bollywood starlets and young professionals. In true jetset style, it doesn’t really get going till after midnight. This place is deeply cool and it knows it.

Seijo & the Soul Dish
206 Krystal Bandra Waterfield Rd 2nd fl Probably Mumbai’s most space-age bar, upstairs in a office block and decorated with Manga comicbook art on the walls. Expect ambient house, r’n’b and soul, and neon lights shining at spacy angles. And don’t miss the toilets, hidden in rounded alien pods.

Trishna
4 Sai Baba Marg Kala Ghoda If you feel like splashing out, this local legend just keeps getting better with age and has a strong reputation for seafood cooked in a myriad of ways. The prawns and lobsters will be brought to your table for inspection before you order. Try the Hyderabadi pomfret and koliwala (fisherman’s style) prawns.

Lotus Café
Marriott hotel Juhu-Tara Rd Juhu Set in the huge, airy foyer of the Marriott Hotel, Lotus Café offers one of the best buffets in Mumbai. You can come for breakfast, lunch or dinner and enjoy a mixture of slow-cooked curries and dishes cooked on the spot.

Bade Miya
Tulloch Rd Colaba A takeaway kebab cart with a phone number? Such is the city-wide popularity of this place that the whole street is blocked every night with metal tables and chairs in the street and diners eating in cars. The tiny menu includes tandoori chicken with naan bread, seekh kebabs and paneer masala, all delicious.St Thomas’ Cathedral
Veer Nariman Rd Fort btw Flora Fountain and Horniman Circle

This charming church is the oldest English building in Mumbai. Construction began in 1672, but the church remained unfinished until 1718. It was restored in 2004 (winning a Unesco World Heritage award in the process) and its airy, whitewashed interior is full of colonial memorials and ornately carved gravestones.

Mani Bhavan
19 Laburnum Rd near August Kranti Maidan Chowpatty

The building where Mahatma Gandhi stayed during his visits to Bombay is now a small, but engrossing, museum that shouldn’t be missed. Gandhi’s simple room remains untouched and there’s a wonderful photographic record of his life, along with dioramas and original documents such as letters he wrote to Hitler and US President Roosevelt.

Nehru Planetarium and Nehru Centre
Dr Annie Besant Rd Worli

The most striking thing about this cultural complex is the bold modern architecture. The tower looks like a giant circular honeycomb and the planetarium looks like a UFO. There’s a theatre and restaurant here plus an interesting, and free, history exhibition.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum
K Dubash Marg Kala Ghoda

Also known as the Prince of Wales Museum, this institution is set in an ornamental garden and boasts a galleried central hall topped by a huge dome, said to have been inspired by the Golgumbaz in Bijapur. The gallery’s collection includes impressive sculptures, terracotta figurines, miniature paintings, porcelain and weaponry.

Chowpatty Beach
Chowpatty

Chowpatty is still a favourite spot for anyone out to enjoy what passes for fresh air. Get the full experience by strolling through the many beachside stalls for some bhelpuri or a head massage. The water is not the cleanest but the beach is litter-free, patrolled by lifeguards and lit up at night. Visiting Chowpatty in the evening is an essential part of any trip to Mumbai.

Leopold Café & Bar
cnr Colaba Causeway & Nawroji F Rd Colaba

A Mumbai institution dating back to 1871, Leopold’s is the most popular travellers’ hang-out in the city. There’s an extensive menu of food but most people just come here for a cooling beer or juice and to soak up the old time atmosphere.

Insomnia
Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Apollo Bunder Colaba

Spread across two levels, Insomnia is the place to rub shoulders with Bollywood starlets and young professionals. In true jetset style, it doesn’t really get going till after midnight. This place is deeply cool and it knows it.

Seijo & the Soul Dish
206 Krystal Bandra Waterfield Rd 2nd fl

Probably Mumbai’s most space-age bar, upstairs in a office block and decorated with Manga comicbook art on the walls. Expect ambient house, r’n’b and soul, and neon lights shining at spacy angles. And don’t miss the toilets, hidden in rounded alien pods.

Trishna
4 Sai Baba Marg Kala Ghoda

If you feel like splashing out, this local legend just keeps getting better with age and has a strong reputation for seafood cooked in a myriad of ways. The prawns and lobsters will be brought to your table for inspection before you order. Try the Hyderabadi pomfret and koliwala (fisherman’s style) prawns.

Lotus Café
Marriott hotel Juhu-Tara Rd Juhu

Set in the huge, airy foyer of the Marriott Hotel, Lotus Café offers one of the best buffets in Mumbai. You can come for breakfast, lunch or dinner and enjoy a mixture of slow-cooked curries and dishes cooked on the spot.

Bade Miya
Tulloch Rd Colaba

A takeaway kebab cart with a phone number? Such is the city-wide popularity of this place that the whole street is blocked every night with metal tables and chairs in the street and diners eating in cars. The tiny menu includes tandoori chicken with naan bread, seekh kebabs and paneer masala, all delicious.Maidan cricket is a Mumbai institution; generations of Mumbaikers have grown up aiming leather at willow on the green expanse of the Oval Maidan. It’s not unheard of for players to welcome strangers to join informal games in progress; spectators are always welcomeEvents

In February or March, followers of Vishnu go into celebration overdrive for the annual festival of Holi, celebrating the defeat of the demon king Hiranyakashipu by Narasimha (Lord Vishnu in his man-lion incarnation). Huge quantities of water and coloured powder are thrown around and everyone gets a drenching, including tourists. Many visitors buy some cheap clothes to wear and throw away at the end of the festival.

The Elephanta Festival is a classical dance and music event held on Elephanta Island, usually in February.

The highlight of the religious calendar is Ganesh Chaturthi, an 11-day Hindu festival held in August or September to honour Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of wisdom and prosperity. Hundreds of colourful images of Ganesh are sculpted from mud and displayed in pavilions around the city, before being ritually immersed in the ocean. At about the same time of year, Naag Panchami sees offerings made to snake images; snake charmers flock into the city with the real thing to celebrate the serpent Ananta, upon whose coils Vishnu rested. Snakes are believed to have power over the monsoon rains and can keep evil from homes, but animal welfare groups have raised concerns about the treatment of snakes during this festival.

On the last day of the monsoon, in a ritual called Nariyal Poornima, Mumbai’s fisherfolk offer coconuts and flowers to the sea god Varuna to calm the turbulent monsoon waters on the last day of the rainy season. Freshly painted boats are launched and a new fishing season begins. This festival is best seen at fishing communities in Colaba and Versova.

Every September, Mumbai’s Christians celebrate the Feast Day of the Virgin Mary at the Bandra Fair, centred on the Basilica of Mount Mary in Bandra.

Each year, Muslims celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan when the new moon appears at Id-ul-Fitr. The festival moves back 11 days every year – it will take place in October in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Celebrated in Mumbai during October or November, Diwali – the festival of lights – goes off with gusto. Commemorating Rama’s return from exile, families place butter lamps in doorways and windows and a barrage of fireworks explode across the city. For a quieter spectacle, watch the traditional Diwali lamps being floated on the Banganga Tank.

The Gregorian New Year’s Eve is also celebrated: effigies of old men symbolising the dying year are paraded through the street accompanied by fervent drumming and dancing. At the stroke of midnight the effigies are set alight and bombarded by firecrackers. This whooping event is best witnessed on Colaba’s harbour front between the Taj Mahal Hotel and Arthur Bunder Rd.

Independence Day

Type: official holiday
Date: 15 Aug
  

Gandhi Jayanti

Type: official holiday
Date: 2 Oct
  

Republic Day

Type: official holiday
Date: 26 Jan
  

Elephanta Festival

Type: festival/event
Date: Feb
  

Ganesh Chaturthi

Type: festival/event
Date: Aug/Sep
  

Diwali

Type: festival/event
Date: Oct/Nov
  

Naag Panchami

Type: festival/event
Date: Jul/Aug
  

Nariyal Poornima

Type: festival/event
Date: Aug
  

New Year’s Eve

Type: festival/event
Date: 31 Dec
  

Holi

Type: festival/event
Date: Feb/Mar
  

Feast Day of the Virgin Mary

Type: festival/event
Date: Sep
  

Id-ul-Fitr

Type: festival/event
Date: Oct

Health and Safety

Colaba has its share of beggars, con-men and pickpockets but crime is fairly low key. Locals often complain about shady characters and heroin users loitering around Grant Road train station, which is the city’s most unsavoury neighbourhood. If you’re on foot, avoid the red light area in Kamathipura at night (you may want to avoid this dispiriting area at all times).

Indian attitudes to skin colour are closely bound to notions of caste: generally (but not always), the darker the skin, the lower the caste. Some black travellers and many African students in Mumbai report incidents of racism – usually name calling, mockery and petty acts of discrimination. Conversely, Indian bar and restaurant owners report regular problems of drunkenness and sexual harassment of customers by African students. These attitudes may affect the welcome black travellers receive in some areas.

Another potential problem area is the ongoing tension between Hindus and Muslims in the city. Muslims accuse the Hindu majority of bigotry and discrimination; Hindus blame the Muslim community for the spate of terrorist bombings that have rocked the city since the 1990s. This is a conflict that has been going on since the Muslim invasion of India – the best travellers can do is avoid potential flashpoints like temples and mosques at times of heightened tension – for example, during upsurges of violence in the Middle East.

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