Welcome to Mumbai, India’s biggest, fastest and richest city.
The moment you leave the airport this metropolis, perched on the edge of the Arabian Sea, will, quite simply, bowl you over. Here you don’t really breathe the air so much as gargle it. The noise is deafening and your sense of smell begins to adjust to a variety of odours that are strange and surprisingly “exotic”.
Formally known as Bombay, this mega-city barely contains its population between the beaches and the surrounding hills. The residents make this place a vibrant, confident city that is incredibly high in energy.
For the visitor it takes a little getting used to but once you are over the “culture shock”, hang on for the ride of your life.
Originally a fishing village populated by the Koli people; Mumbai was spread over seven islands. Massive reclamation projects over the years have transformed it into one landmass that has become India’s principle port.
You will share this city with another eighteen million souls, with 1000 new arrivals every day. This is a population density four times greater than New York and nearly the population of the whole of Australia. This staggering number of people all go about their daily life in what can only be described as highly organized chaos. Put simply, this city works!
This is a city of two identities. Flamboyantly materialistic while at the same time choking on its own squalor and social deprivation. Here is a place that pays over 40% of the nation’s taxes yet more than half of its residents are homeless.
Opulence is shamelessly flaunted by the young and growing middle classes, resplendent in their designer gear, who retreat to the apartments of the Malabar hills when the sun goes down. Side by side with these mobile phone clutching, movers and shakers are the destitute, the homeless and emaciated survivors who stumble to their tiny shacks in the slums or to a patch of pavement that often or not will be their home for life.
You will be accosted by these homeless souls at every intersection set against a backdrop of massive billboards promoting the latest Bollywood blockbuster or provocative ads for underwear or phones. This is a daily occurrence and in most cases is harmless even though for many a First World visitor can be upsetting.
To get a perspective of the city, take time to visit the Hanging Gardens on the Malabar Hills where you will get a perspective of this modern metropolis with its high rises and throbbing streets. To the south can be seen Banganga Tank one of Mumbai’s holiest shrines where pilgrims come to bathe in the waters overlooked by high rise apartments.
This scene encapsulates Mumbai as a brassy and self-centered corner of the globe yet at the same time it has the ability to transport you back in time to another epoch.
All too often the visitor’s time in Mumbai is short so try to squeeze in as much as possible during your stay. Dine in some of the finest restaurants in the world. Discover the architecture at its heart, which is classically Victorian. Take a ride on the suburban rail system which carries a staggering 2.2 billion passengers a year! Shop till you drop, Mumbai will cater to even the most ardent shopaholic. Take a sunset stroll on Chowpatty or Juhu beaches or a wander Marine Parade to the Gateway of India and the magnificent Taj Hotel.
Give Mumbai a little time and you will find it embraces you with its pulsating soul.
When to visit: Best times are November to March
Where to stay: A large range of 4 and 5 star hotels abound in South Mumbai depending on your budget. Near the airport is a range of 4 and 5 star hotels within walking distance of Juhu beach.
Getting there: Qantas offers flights directly to Mumbai from Sydney. Singapore Airlines offers a daily service from Singapore.