Interesting facts about Mumbai:
- Why Bombay? When the city was in the hands of the Portuguese, they saw it was a natural water bay. Hence, they called it ‘Bom Bhaia’ (Portuguese term for ‘good bay’) which the British later adapted to Bombay
- Why Mumbai? In 1995, the right-wing Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena won elections in the state of Maharashtra. After the election, the party announced that the port city had been renamed after the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi,the city’s patron deity
- As India’s largest city, Mumbai has 13 million inhabitants. Scientists project that by the year 2020, Mumbai’s population will increase to 28 million, making it the world’s most populous city
- Dharavi slum in Mumbai is the largest slum in the whole of Asia and it has become the most expensive one with a great rush of people moving to the city from all corners of India
- Mumbai is a city of firsts – in 1853, the first train in India took its first journey in Mumbai with 400 passengers across 14 coaches; in 1926, the first ever bus service was started here; Mumbai’s Juhu Aerodrome was the first airport in India founded in 1928
- Antilia, Mukesh Ambani’s 27-story skyscraper is cited as the world’s most expensive house, valued at almost $1 billion. The business tycoon moved into the 400,000 square feet mansion in 2012 with his wife and three children
- Mumbai has been the birthplace of many international artists, including Zubin Mehta (the world’s most distinguished orchestra conductor), Freddie Mercury and Rudyard Kipling (author of ‘The Jungle Book’)
- Through vast 19th century landfill projects,British engineers combined the seven islands around the growing city into one land mass. Mumbai soon became a very valuable port city and one of the world’s biggest cotton markets
- Mumbai has therefore a coastline of 150 kilometers!
About Mumbai’s trains:
- Every day in Mumbai, more than 200 trains makeover 2,000 trips along 300 kilometres of track, carrying more passengers per kilometre than any railway on earth
- Mumbai’s trains carry six million people per day – equivalent to the entire population of Israel
- Every year in Mumbai, 3500 people die on the train tracks – an average of ten per day. Although there are pedestrian overpasses at every station, many passengers choose to save a few minutes by crossing the tracks instead
OUR DAY IN MUMBAI:
Landing in Mumbai International Airport yet again (we spent a few hours here previously on our way to Goa). Beautiful modern building with local art displayed on the walls but yet everywhere a persistent smell of grease remains – Indians are busy deep frying at each corner cafe already at this hour in the morning.
A few more security checks later (I swear our tickets, bags and passports were checked by every security officer, policeman,airline conductor and steward we encountered) we followed directions to prepaid taxi counters to arrange a car to the hotel, which is definitely a more expensive way than just grabbing a metered taxi.
After 1.5 hours of wandering around the Mumbai Andheri suburb where we were staying the night, we finally find our guesthouse- we had booked a room nearby the airport for our early flight the following morning at a guesthouse “Bombay Rooms” which was nowhere to be seen and we walked the area and each little street of it for 90 minutes losing hope to find it. After a few very expensive and unproductive calls to the mentioned guesthouse reception, they come to collect us from across the road to take us to “Mumbai Backpackers”. The receptionist confirms both places are owned by “Bombay Rooms”and is very surprised we found this and their wrong address details on booking.com confusing and frustrating.
Conscious of our budget and keen to explore the city like a local would, we choose a public train from Andheri station to take us to Churchgate, at the very heart of the city down south.
We had taken Indian trains before but this was beyond anything I’ve seen in any city I’ve ever been to before – incredible masses of people in the queues for tickets, train station passages and walkways; busy platforms and even busier trains with people leaning out of the trains through open doors and windows for a bit more space. Mumbai is one of few places in the world that still has separate coaches (and even sometimes trains) for women where they all get on leaving Rhys and I in a large company of men on the mixed coach all staring at us. Having said us, I am sure it is more curiosity than anything else, and we also had a very polite gentlemen directing us to appropriate ticket office and then navigating us to the right platform earlier.
To spoil the surprise, we never did use the return train ticket in the evening as it was enough of an adventure in the midday.
Having arrived at Churchgate, we are tired and hungry in the heat of the day so we decide to try out the famous local fast food chain The Bombay Fries which is exactly what it says it is – potato fries with a variety of toppings, including some of what you expect such as Tandoori and some more interesting ones like Nutella!
The walk from the Churchgate area towards the Gateway of India where we are going is more exciting than we expected. We walk past the Oval Maidan – the large recreation ground in the middle of the city whereby many football but mostly cricket games are taking place at any time of the day.
The Karmaveer Bhaurao Patil Marg street to the east of the park feels grand and impressive – alongside it, magnificent buildings of Bombay High Court, Rajabai Clock Tower and Mumbai City Civil & Sessions Court stand proud in the yellow light of the midday sun.
Undoubtedly the most famous attraction of the city is the Gateway of India, the arch monument built to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary at Apollo Bunder on their visit to India back in 1911.
After getting the tickets and going through security to enter the square with hundreds of local and foreign visitors, we are mostly taken aback by the attention from the Indian people – we are constantly being stopped and asked for a selfie or a photo with the whole of the family. Parents hurriedly place their children right next to us and take photos of all angles before we manage to politely refuse and move on. At one point, the crowd around us built up so much that it was attracting more people and there were queues forming behind!
After that, we are somewhat quite fast in our walking around the square trying to appreciate the beauty of the architecture and the beautiful bay behind the monument. From here, many tourists take a ferry to Elephanta Island to visit the famous cave temples that contain stone carvings showing syncretism of Hindu and Buddhist ideas and iconography. Due to the time pressure, we pass on the visit this time but enjoy the beautiful bay views fora while before yet again being ‘attacked’ by excited locals trying to slyly fit us into their selfies.
From the Gateway of India, we also adore the incredible piece of architecture of what is the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, situated right next to the square. It has been a famous spot whereby presidents, diplomats and other celebrities have stayed since it was built back in 1903. Even though we don’t have time on this occasion, it is a great tourist attraction to pop to its café for a drink or two whilst enjoying the best views in the city.
Carrying on south from the Gateway of India, we explore the Colaba district in more detail. With its English charm mixed with a modern feel, it is a popular tourist and local area with many cafes, restaurants and bars. One of the most famous spots is the Leopold Café, where we stop for the best ice cream floater coffees. Established by the Iranian immigrants back in the 19th century, the café was a popular hanging out spot for many foreigners and expats during the 20th century. It was also affected by the terrorist attacks in 2008 and since became a sign of solidarity amongst the Indians.
We carry on down the Colaba Causeway, the main street lined up with boutiques, touristy shops and amazing market stalls. We visit the Colaba Market offering local produce at very affordable prices – a perfect spot to top up our dried fruit and nut supplies 🙂
Overall, the area is super busy with people but has a great atmosphere and charm – we observe local people getting on with their business amongst the many visitors admiring the hustle and bustle of Colaba.
With prior recommendations, our preferred cuisine for dinner is Parsi – the unique mix of Indian and Persian / Iranian foods made famous by the many Iranian immigrants into India in the 19th and 20th century, as mentioned before. Apparently there were over 500 Parsi cafes back in the 1950s whereas now there’s only about 15 in the whole of Mumbai – one of the most famous one being Britannia & Co, which is where we head to in the Fort area above Colaba.
Noticing obvious Portuguese and then British influence in the area with some of the fort walls still intact and the Navy headquarters located in one of the main streets, we cannot help but feel how colonial the area is –it is hard to describe but just like I’ve read about in the books!
Having done only half of our homework, we reach Britannia & Co to realise that it is only open for lunch and has just shut. Instead,we are recommended to visit Café Universal which whilst missed out on our research, turns out to be one of the top spots for Parsi cuisine as well. The atmosphere here is in line with the area outside and I feel like a British officer’s wife quite a few decades ago whilst enjoying my gin and tonic.
Having walked for probably almost 20 kilometers by now (according to my very own internal Fitbit), we save time and get a taxi to the other side of the peninsula, right to the bottom of the famous Marina Walk of the Black Bay. The sun is slowly setting and we could not have asked for a better view to finish the busy day.
As anywhere in Mumbai, the marina is full of people sitting around, eating and chatting whilst enjoying the beautiful views. We follow it all the way up to the Chowpatty beach, also known as the Lovers beach amongst the locals. Indian couples come on dates here and you can see many of them cuddling together and – of course – taking a million of selfies!
Having decided to skip the train journey back, we are in a very comfortable taxi taking us back to Andheri district. One should prepare himself though – the Mumbai traffic is notorious and it takes us 1.5 hours to cover what is around a 25 kilometer distance. Arguably however, it is the favourite part of our day – watching the lit city pass by quietly behind the window after the long noisy day.
Our sightseeing continues as we cross through the very centre of the city full of expensive hotels and skyscrapers, drive through the Bandra-Worli Sea Link (the 5.6 kilometer long bridge finished only back in 2010 providing a new shortcut for a lot of the Mumbai’s traffic) and observe the stylish Bandra district, home to many Bollywood celebrities (think Beverly Hills of India!).
Back at the hotel, we are surprised yet again – the hotel’s electricity has gone all wrong and they have to move us to a different one. Walking back to our room to pack up, we literally see walls being knocked through in the corridors in their attempts to fix it.
Even more frustrating than having to pack after the long day, the hotel change their mind and ask if we now want to stay! We politely refuse although my little patience of the day is running very low. They take it even further by offering we go on the back of a motorbike with our (total of) 45 kilograms of luggage which we have to challenge again. We are finally taken to a new place by a tuk tuk which comes with its own problems – whilst the room is more spacious with a sofa and a desk, the ‘room’ is a small flat in a local resident area in what seems quite a shady district. Needless to say, our short sleep is neither sweet nor calm…
Alarm goes off as we wake up in the bustling Mumbai for the first and last time for now. We catch a tuk tuk outside on the main road and we are back at the airport in less than 10 minutes.
Taking off to look down at one of the largest cities in the world, set to become the most populous in the next few years! It is hard to digest it but also very obvious at the same time – the last 24 hours have been wonderful and frightening but I could not recommend to visit Mumbai more. One day might just do the trick however!