Sprawling, overcrowded and chaotic Mumbai is one of the most stifling and stimulating cities on the planet. Home to Bollywood, India’s fashion capital and the capital of Maharashtra state, Mumbai can at times be overwhelming, but this metropolis is also endlessly fascinating.
Squeezed onto a small island connected by bridges to the mainland, Mumbai is India’s largest city and financial epicentre, home to great wealth, glistening skyscrapers and fashion-savvy locals. But Mumbai is also a city of extreme inequality where affluence and abject poverty sit side by side. At one extreme, the city boasts extortionate real estate prices; at the other, Mumbai is home to Asia’s largest slum population.
The busy streets are packed with grand colonial architecture, a myriad of temples and mosques, and many ancient bazaars. Visitors can immerse themselves in colonial history at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Gateway of India and the nearby legendary Taj Mahal Hotel. Alternatively, head towards Marine Drive to gawp at a surprising number of art deco buildings; in fact Mumbai is second only to Miami when it comes to this architectural style.
Or dive into modern-day life at the Dhobi Ghat; dance ’till dawn in swanky bars or hang out with a cold beer in legendary backpacker haunts; eat at some of India’s best restaurants or find a sandy seaside spot to sample Mumbai’s most popular snack, bhelpuri. Be warned though, the city’s beaches are great to hang out in but the seas are notoriously polluted. If you want to escape the din, head to the city’s well-maintained city parks or clutch of peaceful museums and art galleries mainly located to the south of Mumbai. This is where most of the city’s wealthy inhabitants live; shops like Armani and Hermes lure the big spenders, while real estate prices are comparable to Manhattan.
However, to truly get under the skin of the city, head to one of Mumbai’s bustling bazaars, a riot of colour and people; take in a movie where enraptured cinema-goers enthusiastically clap, cheer and whistle at their Bollywood heros and heroines; watch cricket, the nation’s sporting passion, being played by young and old alike at Azad Maidan or time your visit to coincide with one of the major festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali when Mumbai’s streets teem with festival goers of all ages.
Cosmopolitan and liberal, Mumbaikers, as the locals are known, ensure the city is a diverse melting pot, thanks to a regular stream of migrants from other parts of India. This is reflected in the vast array of temples, mosques, churches and even synagogues that dot the cityscape. However, on the flip side, tensions between communities have erupted with devastating consequences for the city. Hindu-Muslim religious tensions in the early 1990s sparked bombs and communal rioting, while in 2008, the city endured its own 9/11 when coordinated terrorist attacks across Mumbai resulted in hundreds of injuries and deaths.
But however you choose to experience Mumbai, one thing is for certain: amid the colour and chaos, the city is certain to leave an impression.