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Mumbai - a cosmopolitan Indian city of culture, contracts and superb curries
Mumbai ( Bombay )
Member Name: julwhite
Mumbai ( Bombay )
Advantages: Lots going on, huge city, cultural and friendly
Disadvantages: Can be very hot and the infra-structure is creaking in places
I visited Mumbai, better known in the past as Bombay, for two weeks this summer and found it a very positive experience. The city is situated in the south east of India and is the largest city in the country and one of the largest in the world. It is difficult in a review to even begin to sum up this city so I will try and just highlight my particular experiences.
The British left India in the 1940s and when they left they went through the Gateway to India, which is also better known by many as one of the main entrances to the city. It remains today as one of the most visited tourist locations in the city, situated near to the Colaba district, and is an impressive site. It was built nearly 100 years ago to mark the visit of King George V and Queen Mary and hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets to see them arrive.
For visitors today the temperatures can be very hot and humid and although I visited in September it remained very hot, although still cooler than in previous months. The heat can be quite intense so visitors who might be affected by that are best to travel in winter months and I did see numerous children struggling with the heat as well. There are though lots of air conditioned locations in the city for when it gets too much. If I visited the city again I would personally rather travel in the winter months, although I did find that the trains and taxis were generally sufficiently cool with their fans and air conditioning.
For those who like visiting historic attractions there are plenty of these in Mumbai, many a legacy of British rule. Sometimes not as well maintained as they should be there a few museums such as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum) and the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum of Mumbai (formerly the Victoria and Albert Museum). Also worth visiting is the Mani Bhaven, the former home of Gandhi and which is now a museum. The architecture of the buildings in the city centre is staggering and the old station building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. My own personal preference was the Prince of Wales Museum with its large number of artefacts and which offered a good introduction to the city's history. Charges for non-Indians are much higher than for residents, but they still represent very good value for money.
One thing which is noticeable are the amount of name changes there have been to locations in Mumbai, including the name of the city itself. Contrary to expectations I discovered that the use of the name Bombay wasn't politically incorrect and that many locations are known by their former British names. Most of the changes were made in the 1990s when a right-wing party took control of the city and wanted to assert its independence.
For me one of the greatest parts of the city was the food which was available. Whether eating at the hotel or in the city centre the quality of the food was superb and there is a great range to choose from. I generally stuck to Indian food during my visit and the quality of the sauces used in the curry was very high and they had a rich and intense flavour. My own personal favourite restaurant was the Konkan Cafe on Cuffe Parade.
In terms of my favourite part of the city I personally really enjoyed the Colaba district and the walks by the sea nearby. The views over the harbour are fantastic and it's a reminder of when the city was once comprised of seven different islands, with water playing a large part in the city's history. The layout of the city, it is bordered by sea on each side other than the north, is what has made expansion so difficult in recent decades. A project in the 1980s
Transport in the city can be chaotic to say the least and the suburban rail network struggles to cope with thousands of people hanging out of trains at rush-hours as there is no space inside. An average of nearly ten people are killed per day on the railways, a quite staggering number, many simply trying to cross the railway lines to get where they need to be. For those wanting to use the trains it is very cheap, just a few pence (although first class tickets are usually no more than a pound) but do all that is possible to avoid busier times. Trains don't tend to have doors and stop for only around 15 seconds at stations so get off quickly. On a positive note though the metro system which is under construction will make things much easier for visitors to the city and relieve some of the pressures from the current railway network.
There are though lots of taxis and rickshaws available for hire in the city, and these tend to be quite cheap. It is best to either agree a price in advance or check that the meter is running as a few drivers will try and charge exorbitant sums at the end of the journey. Taxis can be harder to find in the north of the city where there are more rickshaws and in the city centre itself only taxis are allowed, although they are easy to hail off the street.
The poverty in the city is manifest and affects a significant proportion of those who live in Mumbai, with about 65% of the city's population living in slums. One of the most famous slums, which appeared in Slumdog Millionaire, is the Dharavi slum which houses around one million people and thousands of small businesses. I visited a slum tour here which showed just how innovative and hard-working the people were and how complex the whole slum was.
Terrorism is a problem for the Mumbai authorities, although there have been no recent attacks and the chances of being involved in any action are small. In recent years most attacks have involved railway stations and the transport infra-structure, although in 2008 there were serious attacks on key tourists locations in the heart of the city, including some of the most expensive hotels in the city such as the Taj Mahal Hotel.
There is much which does need improving about the city, whether that be the transport infra-structure, housing, heritage or just the general living conditions. The number of people coming to the city though does make this difficult as hundreds come to live and work in the city in a hope for a better life and providing housing for everyone is a huge challenge. That said the city hasn't recently been served by particularly effective governance and it can only be hoped that in the future it changes for the better.
Mumbai is a huge city, which like all others has good and bad to it, but it is one which has a very vibrant atmosphere and is multi-dimensional. It might not be the most obvious tourist destination, although it isn't geographically that far from Goa, but it is one which is rewarding to visit and offers a perspective on what the future India might look like. Definitely a recommended place to visit and my personal favourite of all of the Indian cities which I visited.
Summary: Not the most obvious tourist spot for some, but recommended