NAMASTE AND WELCOME TO THE BEAUTIFUL ENERGETIC SEASIDE CITY OF MUMBAI, INDIA! Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai ranks as one of the great cities of the world, and this distinction alone is enough to make it a compulsory destination for the serious world traveller. That said, don't come here looking for a monument on the scale of the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids of Giza, because Mumbai doesn't have any one attraction that spectacular. Like Tokyo or Reykjavik, Mumbai is a place to take it easy, soak up the atmosphere, people-watch, rather than madly rush from one tourist site to another. This is a vast city, and it has often been said, that the longer you stay in Mumbai, the more you enjoy it. It is one of those places that grow on you. For example, you could easily spend a lifetime getting to know the Mumbai restaurant scene, and trying a different dish in a different restaurant every day. I have never eaten a bad meal in Mumbai -- the food has always been nothing short of perfect. If culture's your thing, the city is packed with a dazzling array of Hindu temples, Moslem mosques, Jain and Parsi worship places, and all of the weight of the British Empire and the Indian effort to evade that heavy load. A lot of travellers seem to the opinion that Mumbai/Bombay is a place to be avoided as much as humanly possible, and they are quite happy to take the first bus or train out of here to a more relaxing location -- for example Goa. I think they are mistaken, and they are missing out on something. If I had the time, I would like to spend a lot of time in Mumbai. There are so many things to do, so many things to experience. Fancy becoming an actor or actress in an Indian Bollywood movie? It is so easy to do I almost guarantee you will get a role if you hang around in the city any more than a week. You don't even have to make any calls or approach any agents -- a talent scout will invariably pick you off the street, and sign you up for a film (and they will pay for it, of course!) Alternatively, you could spend your time shopping, and there are plenty of bargains to be found. At the end of the day, Mumbai is a place to lean back and enjoy ambience. But being a part of India and all, this ambience will be of the in-your-face kind, and you expect to be hassled and pressured by touts from Day One. Don't let them put you off -- Mumbai is a fun place and a heady dose of exoticism and a thrill to your senses. You ought to see the city at least once. Even if you are not normally a fan of big cities.
f i r s t + i m p r e s s i o n s
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF A NEW PLACE ALWAYS SAY A LOT -- in a way they encapsulate an irreducible essence, and are thus worth their weight in gold. So, what were my first impressions of Mumbai -- let me tell you! But first, I want to introduce the first impressions of other Mumbai visitors who have posted their experiences on the Web, so that you might develop a composite picture of what to expect, when you first hit this dizzying dazzlign city. Fritz Galt reported, in the Fall of 1998:
People who had visited India before us tried to prepare us to be overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of this fascinating country... It is perhaps some of the sights of India that have struck us the most. Mumbai is a beautifully situated city, right on the Arabian Sea. The streets are lined with once spectacular buildings with ornate NeoGothic balconies and columns that have unfortunately been the victims of an unforgiving climate and a perpetual lack of funds, brought about in large part by a fifty-year-old rent control law which removes any incentive for landlords to maintain buildings. The dilapidated exteriors, however, often belie very elegant interiors.
There is everywhere evidence of a lot of wealth in Mumbai. We have Bennetton's, Reebok and Baskin-Robbin's (where Mumbai's most expensive ice cream is a third the price it was in Taipei - approximately 75 cents a scoop), and the 5-star hotels are full of young people chatting away on their cellular phones.
Then, of course, there are the sights at the opposite end of the spectrum - far from the world of cellular phones. It is the 7-year-old girl dressed in rags tapping on the car window begging for food or money. It is the countless families living in shanties or simply under a flap of discarded plastic on the sidewalk. It is the babies toddling barefoot around trash-strewn street corners dressed only in a torn shirt. It is the young women with thin babies on their hips who follow you along a shopping street imploring at your elbow for a handout. It is the kids the age of our preschool daughter rummaging through a trash dumpster for the makings of a meal.
Yes, those were my first impressions too -- amazing natural beauty, blue skies and ornate crumbling buildings and those long sandy Arabian beaches -- and above all the complete mish-mash of Absolute Wealth and Absolute Poverty. According to the LONELY PLANET MUMBAI CITY GUIDE, you can't stay in Mumbai for five minutes without having an adventure. It is a bit of an exaggeration, but true in spirit -- every day in Mumbai was an adventure for me, and the only quiet place was locked behind a hotel door...
Oh, how I wish I was back there!
n o t + t h e + r e a l + i n d i a ?
A LOT OF PEOPLE ON THE INDIAN BACKPACKER CIRCUIT SWEAR THEY WOULD NEVER VISIT MUMBAI/BOMBAY UNLESS THEY REALLY HAD TO DO -- and the reason is, they say that Mumbai/Bombay is not the real India. Mumbai is not the only big city to suffer this anti-big city prejudice among the international traveller elite -- Bangkok and Singapore and even Reykjavik (Iceland) also get dissed by crowds of people who think the real fun is to be found in the Sticks. They are mistaken, sorely mistaken -- in most countries I think the real life and experience is to be found in the city. While it is true that Mumbai is a world apart from the ordinary Indian way of life -- there are McDonalds on seemingly every block, and Citibank outlets even in the slums -- while all this is true, it seems to strange to suggest that somehow Mumbai is not the "real India". If you want to see India in a nutshell, and especially if you want to taste India in a nutshell, then a week in Mumbai would do you good. But not everybody is so sold on Mumbai's charms as me.
elizadolittle claimed: "I have been to Mumbai a couple of times and I swear this city stinks. Every time I come here I find the following:
"++-+ The population of the city is increasing day in and day out. The civic authorities over the years have done nothing to improve the situation. One look at the local trains and you feel as if the entire nation is traveling in them.
"++-+ This city is so damn expensive. Everything and anything under the sky and above the earth costs a fortune. Food, lifestyle, housing. Gasp, gasp. So fucking expensive.
"++-+ The city lacks compassion. People are so busy (or self-centred) that they do not have anytime for others. My husband once told me of an incident: he was about to catch a train at Goregaon station when he spotted a man's body, left unattended in a corner. It seems that he had suffered a heart attack. All people had done was shove him into a corner so that his lifeless body wouldn't come in the way of their schedule.
"++-+ This city is damn dirty. Garbage is piled on roads as if doing it is the most natural thing to do.
"++-+ Mumbai represent the rising disparity between the haves and have-nots in urban India. Just below savvy sky-scrapers one notices non-descript slums, the havenots of the poverty ridden. This city is also home to the biggest criminals, lowliest beggars.
"++-+ Mumbai is getting increasingly polarized. Hindus and Muslims are no longer staying together amicably. Probably got to do with the rise of a certain Shiv Sena, guided by the "benevolent" Bal Thakrey.
Yet, it does have its plus points:
"--+- It is the most vibrant city of India.
"--+- I just adore the free spirit of the people living here.
"--+- Mumbaiites (sic) know how to freak out.
"--+- Mumbai is the land of true-blue professionals.
"--+- The temperate climate of the city is one of the reasons why it has thousands of people coming here every day to seek employment opportunities.
"--+- Mumbai has a true night-life. Being a party animal, I love this trait of the city."