Mumbai – Political capital of Maharashtra and commercial capital of the nation, Mumbai, pulsates with energy. It is an incredible city with varied cultures and amazing contradictions.
It is the industrial centre of almost everything from textiles to petrochemicals, is responsible for 50% of India’s foreign exchange earnings, contributes 33% of the income tax and handles over 40% of the maritime trade.
Bollywood (India’s Hollywood) is a place where dreams are made. Starry eyed youngsters arrive on its streets in search of instant stardom. And where there is film there is fashion. Being the world’s largest textiles market makes it the hub of haute couture. India’s ‘Little Paris’, Mumbai throngs with versatile designers, hip boutiques and beauty queens of yesteryears.
Cricketers are the other celebrity breed. Maidan cricket, played on every available empty space, is a major institution. The Mahalakshmi Race Course is where the elite congregate on Sundays to lead in the winners. This is the only legal gambling opportunity in the city.
Renamed from the old ‘Bombay’, Mumbai hums like a giant bee-hive, as its estimated 13 million residents and some 3 million commuters seem to be constantly on the move. It is easy to spot the red double-decker buses amid the nose-to-tail traffic, which crawls along in a remarkably orderly fashion. The ‘local trains’ are used extensively, disgorging millions from the suburbs.
In spite of these new world statistics, the city buildings retain an old world charm. It passed to the British from the Portuguese, as part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry when she married Charles II in 1661. And as it grew it attracted Parsis (whose Persian ancestors landed in neighbouring Gujarat in 700 AD), Marwaris, Gujaratis and South Indian Hindus, laying the basis for its multicultural society. Later, it was at the forefront of the freedom struggle, and the Quit India Movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi, was launched at the August Kranti Maidan.
Mumbai has something for everyone. The magnificent ‘Gateway of India’ was built to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1911. The Taj Mahal Hotel situated opposite, offers a splendid view of the harbour from its coffee shop. Standing nearby, the majestic statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji on horseback forms a popular backdrop for family photographs. Victoria Terminus(VT), the main railhead, is a lavish Gothic structure with stained glass windows, turrets and spires. And the Prince of Wales Museum is an art enthusiast’s delight with excellent collections of Indian sculpture, miniatures and Tibetan art.
The Chowpatty Beach is a magical fairground at night with pony rides, performing monkeys, fortune tellers, fishermen and picnicking families. Ship lights twinkle on the horizon, and Marine Drive, Mumbai’s most famous boulevard, adorns the bay in a dramatic curve of street lights dubbed the Queen’s Necklace.
Mumbai is India’s heartland for the performing arts. The NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts) has an eclectic agenda of Bengali plays, Indian classical music recitals and experimental dance performances. The old Prithvi Theatres, started by the late actor Prithvira) Kapoor, is the venue for theatrical performances with social themes. Four generations of the Kapoor family, from Prithviraj to his great granddaughter, Karishma, have contributed in a big way to the Hindi film world as actors, producers and directors.
A pot-pourri of different faiths, it is here that Haji All’s Mosque on the sea attracts thousands of visitors; where brides are given away at St Thomas’ Cathedral, where Parsis worship at Zoroastrian Fire Temples and lay out their dead in the Towers of Silence, where the Jains pay homage to the first tirthankara, at the Jain Temple; and where Hindus pray at the Temples of Mahalakshmi and resident goddess Mumbadevi.
Lord Ganesha is a popular deity, and his festival Ganesh Chaturthi, the most colourful. All across the city, huge idols of the elephant-headed God are installed on decorated platforms and streets are turned into worship halls. On the last day of the 10-day celebrations, hundreds of idols are immersed into the sea.
The city stays forever young as the pulse of its night-life vibrates to the beat of its numerous discotheques and bars – Raspberry Rhinoceros, 1900s, Ghetto’s and Copa Cabana to name a colourful few. You can dance the night away, grab a quick drink, choose your favourite cuisine for an evening meal or watch the latest Bollywood release at one of the many cinema halls.
There is so much choice and so many wonders to see around Mumbai. A greater and even more ancient wonder awaits east of Mumbai in Maharashtra, where the thirty Buddhist caves at Ajanta which are cut into the steep face of a deep rock gorge sit in silent contemplation. Feel the aura and power left behind by the Buddhist monks living 2000 years ago.
Compare them with the dynamism and energy radiating from the huge Hindu caves in nearby Ellora. Imagine the workers carving a way at solid rock on the hillside to form the thirty-four Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Caves with the stories of their religions and beliefs etched onto the walls. Stay at one of the cool and relaxing hill stations such as Matheran or Mahabaleshwar, popular with the inhabitants of Mumbai. Take an evening stroll around the peaceful Bund Gardens in pleasant and airy Pune. All these adventures will entertain and fascinate in the magic and beauty around Mumbai.