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Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is big. It’s full of dreamers and hard-labourers, starlets and gangsters, stray dogs and exotic birds, artists and servants, fisherfolk and crorepatis (millionaires), and lots and lots of people. It has India’s most prolific film industry, some of Asia’s biggest slums (as well as the world’s most expensive home) and the largest tropical forest in an urban zone. Mumbai is India’s financial powerhouse, fashion epicentre and a pulse point of religious tension.
If Mumbai is your introduction to India, prepare yourself. The city isn’t a threatening place but its furious energy, limited public transport and punishing pollution make it challenging for visitors. The heart of the city contains some of the grandest colonial-era architecture on the planet but explore a little more and you’ll uncover unique bazaars, hidden temples, hipster enclaves and India’s premier restaurants and nightlife.
Nibble a paper cone of bhelpuri while you stroll the sands of Chowpatty Beach. Then, take a short walk to Mani Bhavan, where Mahatma Gandhi once lived, strategized, and was ultimately arrested. The markets are spirited places to bargain for spices or souvenirs. Take a guided tour of Dharavi – made famous by “Slumdog Millionaire” – for an eye-opening glimpse into what Mumbai life is like for nearly a million people.
Mumbai Island, the heart of Mumbai city, is only 65 square kilometers (25 square miles) in area and extremely congested. Six million people commute daily on Mumbai’s public transportation system.
With a population of 9.9 million people in the central city, Mumbai is the third-largest city in the world. Some 15.4 million live in Greater Mumbai (Mumbai and its suburbs). Though much of the city’s population are Marathas, inhabitants of Maharashtra and speaking the Marathi language, Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city. Its inhabitants include diverse ethnic groups, such as Gujaratis, Marwaris, Sindhis, and people from other Indian states, as well as religious minorities, such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains. Mumbai is home to the largest community of Parsis (Zoroastrians) in India, as well as a small population of Jews.
Mumbai is among the best shopping centers in all of India. It offers the shopper everything from modern, air-conditioned department stores to traditional bazaars and open-air, roadside stalls. Most modern shops, where prices are fixed, accept credit cards. In private handicraft shops, antique and curio shops, and on the street, prices are usually negotiable, and bargaining is part of the shopping experience.
As a major textile and fashion center, Mumbai is known for its fabrics and clothes. Boutiques at Kemp’s Corner sell trendy western-style designer clothes though more traditional Indian clothes and fabrics may be found at Mangaldas Market in Kalbadevi, the nearby Mulji Jetha Market, and along M. Karve Road north of Churchgate Station.
Other shopping areas are Crawford Market (fruits and vegetables), Zhaveri Bazaar (jewelry), and Chor Bazaar (“Thieves’ Market”), where everything from used car parts to furniture can be bought. Stalls along Colaba causeway sell handicrafts, watches, perfumes, clothes, jewelry, and leather goods. Many luxury hotels, such as the Oberoi and, have exclusive (and exclusively priced) shops while a variety of traditional handicrafts can be purchased at government emporiums, such as those found in the World Trade Centre Arcade in Cuffe Parade.
If you take a walk down any street in Mumbai, you’re bound to quickly come across vada pav, one of Mumbai’s most popular and widely available street food snacks.Also referred to as the Mumbai vegetarian burger, vada pav consists of a spiced mashed potato mixture, which is deep fried into a patty, packed into a white fluffy bun, and garnished with a variety of different chutneys and spices for seasoning.Although it sounds rather simple, and it is, it’s one of greatest tasting vegetarian burgers you’ll likely ever eat. The chutney makes all the difference. And also, don’t miss those fried chilies on the side to give you a kick of heat and flavor.
Another Mumbai street food you’ll commonly find throughout the city, especially along the busy beaches like Girgaum Chowpatty and Juhu, is bhelpuri. Although it’s common around India now with many variations, bhelpuri is one of the homegrown Indian snacks from Mumbai.The basic recipe includes puffed rice and sev, which are mixed together with potatoes, onions, tomatoes, again a variety of chutney, and it’s often topped with a handful of chopped cilantro. The result is a crunchy snack that’s tangy, spicy, and sweet from all the sauces, with a wonderful balance of flavor. It’s the type of Mumbai street food that once you start eating it, you can’t stop.
Pav bhaji is a fast food dish from Maharashtra, India, consisting of a thick vegetable curry fried and served with a soft bread rollThe dish originated in the 1850s as a fast lunchtime dish for textile mill workers inmumbai Pav bhaji was later served at restaurants throughout the city.Pav bhaji is now offered at outlets from simple hand carts to formal restaurants in India and abroad.
Mumbai’s most recognized monument, the Gateway of India, was constructed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the city. It’s also where the last of the British troops departed, marking the end of British rule when India gained Independence in 1947. The looming Gateway is designed to be the first thing that visitors see when approaching Mumbai by boat. It’s a popular place to start exploring Mumbai. These days the atmosphere around the monument resembles a circus at times, with numerous vendors peddling everything from balloons to Indian tea.
Kala Ghoda, meaning “Black Horse” in reference to a statue that was once located there, is Mumbai’s cultural center. This crescent-shaped stretch is home to Mumbai’s best art galleries and museums. It’s also filled with cultural spaces, including some wonderful pavement galleries. Stroll around at leisure, but be sure to visit the acclaimed Jehangir Art Gallery. Every year in February, the Kala Ghoda Association hosts a nine day Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, which is interesting.
The imposing Haji Ali is both a mosque and tomb. It was built in 1431 by wealthy Muslim merchant and Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, who was inspired to change the course of his life after going to Mecca. It also contains his body. Situated in the middle of the ocean, Haji Ali is only accessible during low tide from a narrow, 500 yard long walkway.