Maria Visconti discovers the best things to do in Mumbai.
There is something about Mumbai…
…a sense of being part of a massive enterprise, a feeling of palpable energy coming from the most populous and wealthiest city in India with the highest GDP of any city in South, West or Central Asia. Mumbai has the largest number of skyscrapers and the highest number of billionaires and millionaires in India.
As much as I admire the grand Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway Terminus (known before as the Victoria Terminus Station and now a UNESCO World Heritage site) the futuristic, multi-lane Sealink connecting Worli to Bandra makes me gasp with admiration.
This 6km-long engineering feat curves like a silvery scimitar over the Arabian Sea helping decongest the most popular roads in the city. I cannot but chuckle with glee at the sight of the new India, created by Indians. The Sealink is an explosion of freedom, a manifestation of ‘’can do’, a proclamation of well-earned wings. I just love the feeling… And this is exactly what is so special about Mumbai: vibrancy.
What we call Mumbai today was originally seven islands stitched together. Reclaiming the land between them – an ambitious colonial project completed in 1845- transformed a handful of sleepy fishing villages into the biggest seaport on the Arabian Sea.
Today, this huge conurbation is also home to a national park within its borders. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park has a few wild leopards left – sighted very close to the ever-spreading suburbs recently.
The ancient Kanheri Caves carved out of sheer rock and dating back 2,400 years are also found within the park.
This city has been a very progressive one from the start, a place where ‘dreams come true’. Yes, there is a big mafia-style sector. Yes, there are big slums. But even the well-organised slums are now conducting tours for visitors guided by resident students. Enterprising? You got it…
City of Dabba-Wallahs
This is the city of the dabba-wallahs (or tiffin-wallahs) an army of some 5,000 men who still deliver lunches to thousands of office workers in the city.
These men worked out a foolproof system of tagging which guarantees the delivery of each lunchbox to the right person (yes, I know, except in the film The Lunchbox).
You can easily identify the dabba-wallahs by their starched white shirts, the ubiquitous Nehru caps and the unbelievably big loads of tiffin boxes they carry on their heads to load on trains and then transport by bicycle to their customers.
The men are mainly from the same area around Pune and are distantly related.
Home of Bollywood
Mumbai is also home to Bollywood, the big earner of the region and ever present here. Inescapable, alluring, filming crews can be seen on Juhu Beach, the Bondi of Bombay and everywhere really. You might even be asked to be an extra if you hang out near the Leopold Café.
Always at cutting edge of things and starting with a solid economic base, (this first Indian Stock Exchange is here) Mumbai was also a significant base for the Indian Independence movement. It is also home to Asia’s oldest newspaper, Bombay Samachar a Gujarati language publication since 1822.
The vibrant character of the place is also represented once a year, on the third Sunday of January by the Mumbai Marathon, the largest marathon in Asia as well as the largest mass participation-sporting event on the continent.
Runners are from all walks of life including Bollywood celebrities, sports personalities, business tycoons and amateur athletes. Charities benefit from the funds raised (USD 17 million from 2004 to 2013).
Mumbai has two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and the Elephanta Caves, a pleasant ferry ride departing from the Gate of India.
Dated between the 5th and 8th centuries, these caves were hewn from solid basalt rock and dedicated to Lord Shiva. Later additions are Buddhist.
When the Portuguese took hold of the region in 1534, the temples were desecrated and vandalised by their passing armies.
Abandoned for centuries and left to decay, the caves were restored in 1970.
If you enjoy great writing and would like to get an insight into Mumbai life (including its underworld) meet alluring Inspector Sartaj Singh (guaranteed to steal your heart) in Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games –take it from me…
Vibrancy, energy, marathons and rock temples…Mumbai truly rocks!
The Sun-n-Sand Hotel on Juhu Beach is a 5-star hotel on the north side of the city
The Hare Krishna Templeis walking distance from the Sun-n-Sand Hotel where Govinda’s Vegetarian restaurant is located. Highly recommended by locals because of the delicious, ‘Karma free’ vegetarian meals.
A guide and a car can be arranged with Amigo Travel Maharashtra