The city of dreams, the city that never sleeps; this is a city of numerous tag lines. But the most apt is probably Mumbai–the commercial capital of India. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Mumbai has a certain natural charm that attracts visitors from India and abroad. Yet another reason that makes Mumbai what it is, is the Bollywood (India's answer to Hollywood) factor. The largest film producing city in the world, Mumbai generates a lot of business and job opportunities for those who have the talent! But most importantly, Mumbai is India's "money-spinning zone". Founded as a trading post, it focuses on the business of making wealth. It plays an extremely significant role in the country's economy. But the city is not just commerce, ambition and trade; it's also a city for the pleasure-seekers. Brimming with gourmet restaurants, clubs and tourist attractions, Mumbai thrives with life throughout the day and during much of the night. From the signature burger, the Wada Pav, at a roadside diner to award-winning restaurants, Mumbai offers a variety of unique dining experiences. And that goes for entertainment too; pubs, bars, bowling alleys, amusement arcades, nightclubs, fashion shows, concerts, theater and film festival, Mumbai truly has it all.
Mumbai is divided into two districts- North and South Mumbai. If South Mumbai, also known as Town, is considered an elite address by every Mumbaiite, then Nariman Point is the Manhattan of the city, overflowing with high-powered corporate offices. It also has Dalal Street, the volatile stock market area. South Mumbai comprises areas such as
North Mumbai grew out of necessity. The rise in real estate prices in Town gave way to this area which was, until only a few decades ago, not considered a part of Mumbai. Today, Juhu, Bandra, Chembur, Powai, Vashi, Jogeshwari, Santa Cruz and Khar have come into their own and now boast sprawling residential colonies, high-tech corporate spaces (Bandra-Kurla Complex), hip nightclubs and restaurants, multiplexes, malls and world-class luxury hotels. It is quite natural for a South Mumbai resident to never feel the need to visit the other side for weeks and vice versa. Although both areas are a part of the same city, they are very much divided in people's perceptions. On the other hand, both are dependent on each other; in most cases, an employee lives in the north and travels south for work and vice versa.
Originally made of seven islands, Colaba, Fort, Byculla, Parel, Worli, Matunga and Mahim, today Mumbai extends up to Mulund and Dahisar. Land reclamations over the years have connected the seven islands into a single city. The several historical places of interest include The Gateway of India, Mani Bhavan, The Prince of Wales Museum, Hutatma Chowk (Flora Fountain), Victoria Gardens and Museum, The Jehangir Art Gallery, Nehru Planetarium and Nehru Science Centre. It is also a place that is rich in ancient history. Stone age implements have been found at several sites in these islands. Later, around the third century BC, the coastal regions, and presumably the islands, were part of the Magadh empire ruled by the emperor Ashok.
Around this time the empire ebbed, leaving behind some Buddhist monks and deep-sea fishermen called Kolis. Now these fisher folk worship Goddess Mumbadevi, and that is how this metropolis got its name.
Bombay has been ruled by many leaders. The islands belonged to the Silhara dynasty until the middle of the 13th century. The oldest structures in the caves at Elephanta, and a part of the Walkeshwar Temple complex probably date from this time. Modern sources identify a 13th century Raja Bhimdev, who had his capital in Mahikawati (present day Mahim and Prabhadevi). Presumably the first merchants and agriculturists started settling in Mumbai during this time. In 1343 the island of Salsette, and eventually the whole archipelago, passed to the Sultan of Gujarat. Even the mosque in Mahim dates from this period.
In 1508, Francis Almeida sailed into the deep natural harbor of the island, which his countrymen came to call Bom Bahia (the Good Bay). And Bahadur Shah of Gujarat was forced to cede the main islands to the Portuguese in 1534, before he was murdered by the proselytizing invaders. Now the Portuguese were not interested in the islands, although they built a fort in Bassein, some fortifications, and a few chapels for the converted fishermen. The St. Andrew's church in Bandra dates from this period. For years, the Dutch and the British tried to get information on the sea route to India, often by spying. But the reports of such spies never bother to mention Bombay.
Eventually, in 1661, Catherine of Braganza gave away these islands to Charles II of England as part of her marriage dowry. The British East India Company received it from the crown in 1668, founded the modern city, and shortly thereafter moved their main holdings from Surat to Bombay. George Oxenden was the first Governor of Bombay. The intricate web of commerce, which had supported the civilization of the Indian Ocean literally died with the arrival of the Europeans. The Mughal empire in Delhi was not drawn much to the navies, despising the Portuguese and the British as 'merchant princes.' But the second governor of Bombay, Gerald Aungier, saw the opportunity to develop the islands into a center of commerce. Augier offered various incentives to skilled workers and traders to move to the British holding. The opportunities for business attracted many Gujarati communities - the Parsis, the Bohras, Jews and Banias from Surat and Diu. At around this time the population of Bombay was estimated to have risen from 10,000 in 1661 to 60,000 in 1675.
Throughout the 18th century British power and influence grew slowly and at the expense of local kingdoms. The migration of skilled workers and traders to the safe haven of Bombay continued to flourish. The shipbuilding industry moved to Bombay from Surat with the coming of the Wadias. Artisans from Gujarat, such as goldsmiths, ironsmiths and weavers moved to the islands and coexisted with the slave trade from Madagascar. During this period the first land-use laws were set up in Bombay, segregating the British part of the islands from the black town. With increasing prosperity and growing political power following the 1817 victory over the Marathas, the British embarked upon reclamations and large scale engineering works in Bombay.
The sixty years between the completion of the vellard at Breach Candy (1784) and the construction of the Mahim Causeway (1845) are considered an important period during which the seven islands were merged into one landmass. These immense works, in turn, attracted construction workers, like the Kamathis from Andhra, who began to come to Bombay from 1757 on. A regular civil administration was put in place during this period. In 1853 a 35-kilometer long railway line between Thane and Bombay was inaugurated- the first in India. Four years later, in 1854, the first cotton mill was founded in Bombay. With the cotton mills came large scale migrations of Marathi workers, and the chawls which accommodated them. The city had found its shape. Following the first war of Independence in 1857, the Company was accused of mismanagement and Bombay reverted to the British crown. With the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, exports, especially cotton, from Bombay became a major part of the colonial economy. The Great Indian Peninsular Railway facilitated travel within India. This network of commerce and communication led to an accumulation of wealth. This was channeled into building an Imperial Bombay by a succession of Governors. Many of Bombay's famous landmarks, the Flora Fountain and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly known as Victoria Terminus) date from this time. The water works, including the Hanging Gardens and the lakes were also built around this time. The Bombay Municipal Corporation was founded in 1872. However, this facade of a progressive and well-governed city was belied by the plague epidemics of the 1890s. This dichotomy between the city's symbols of power and prosperity, and the living conditions of the people who make it so, continues even today.
The construction of Imperial Bombay continued well into the 20th century. Landmarks from this period include the The Gateway of India, the General Post Office (GPO), the Town Hall (now the Asiatic Library) and the Prince of Wales Museum. Bombay expanded northwards into the first suburbs, before spreading its nightmarish tentacles into the northern suburbs. The nearly 2000 acres reclaimed by the Port Trust depressed the property market for a while, but the Backbay reclamation scandal of the '20s was a testament to the greed for land.
The freedom movement reached a high pitch of activity against this background of developing Indian wealth. Gandhi returned from South Africa, and reached Bombay on January 12, 1915. In the succeeding years, several anti-British uprisings and campaigns foretold the end of the British imperial rule in India. And it was clearly presaged by the Quit India Movement spearheaded by the Indian National Congress on August 8, 1942, in Gowalia Tank Maidan, near Kemp's Corner. Finally India was set free of its colonial clutches on August 15, 1947. In the meantime, Greater Bombay had come into existence through an act of the British parliament in 1945. Already India's main port and commercial center, the City of Gold lured the poverty stricken rural population and the expanding middle class equally. Furthermore the population boom of the '50s and '60s was fueled by the absence of opportunities in the rest of the country—the language riots, the reorganization of Indian states and the see-saw politics of the country did not seem to affect the city. Besides, the glamor industry's flattering portrayal of Bombay seemed to be the reality.
Mumbai presents visitors with a practically endless variety of cuisines, dining atmospheres and flavors. Not only is there a plethora of traditional Indian foods, including some of the world's best kebabs and curries, visitors should also expect to find restaurants serving top notch dishes from around the world, from Tibetan to Italian fare. While it is possible to stumble upon a great restaurant anywhere in the city, some districts are more highly concentrated with delicious eateries than others.
One of the most popular meals in Mumbai is the sizzler, a delicious mixture of fried vegetables and meats, which are available at Kobe Sizzlers. For a broad selection of traditional Mughlai fare at reasonable prices (be sure to try the pavbhaji) venture over to the Shreeji Restaurant. Once visitors have had there fill of Indian food, Sernyaa serves the city's only authentic Tibetan cuisine. Aside from delicious and fresh Chinese fare, Legacy Of China is hugely popular for the Bollywood celebrities who enjoy dining there. For a night of entertainment, with DJ events, a youthful crowd and loud party music, visit Fingers Cross.
Before your trip to Mumbai ends, be sure to try Just Kebabs, with a huge selection of kebabs and a side of tasty Khichdi (porridge). For a more elegant, gourmet meal, make reservations at Khyber and take in the paintings of Anjolie Ela Menon and MF Husain, two of India's most famous painters, that hang on the walls. For a critically renowned portion of Far Eastern food, try the work of chef Farrokh Khambata at Joss. After filling up on food, stop by for a beer or exotic cocktail at Indus Cocktail Bar & Tandoor, where DJs can be found spinning popular records.
For visitors seeking a restaurant with a healthy choice of international foods in one location, Spices specializes in Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese and Japanese cuisines. Visitors interested in trying extremely flavorful, local seafood should venture to Gajalee. Mangi Ferra serves gourmet pizza and other authentic Italian dishes in an elegant setting; also with a full bar. Along with serving Indian dishes such as the Khichdi Dal and Palak Raita (porridge and green veggies), On Toes is also a popular night club.
More traditional Indian food awaits visitors at Kailash Parbat, where the popularity of the spicy and flavorful dishes creates a buzzing and energetic atmosphere. If you are looking for cheap drinks at a happening night spot, Flavours comes through with an absurdly long happy hour from 4:30p-10:30p. Not Just Jazz By The Bay adds entertainment to the drinks and food, with popular live musical performances on a regular basis.
Being a major financial hub of the country, Mumbai offers plenty of accommodation options. Colaba, down at the Southern end of the city, has dozens of possibilities in every price range. In the five-star category, there is The Oberoi, Taj President and the historic Taj Mahal Hotel at Apollo Bunder. A short way across the city centre is Marine Drive that has Marine Plaza, The Oberoi and InterContinental. The Ambassador is located in the prime area of Churchgate and is the only hotel in the city to have a revolving restaurant. Colaba not only houses luxurious hotels but is also a thriving area servicing the budget travelers. Hundreds of budget and low-range hotels and lodges have opened shop behind the Taj Hotel.
Juhu, way to the North near the airports, boasts a string of flashy four and five star hotels. The beaches are the largest in Mumbai, and visited most frequently. This area is also home to the film industry's most famous actors. Thus, spotting celebrities as you are fine dining is not a rare phenomenon. In the expensive range is JW Marriott and The Leela, whereas the more affordable beachfront hotels like Tulip Star and Holiday Inn also provide world-class facilities. The suburbs have also proved to be an attractive destination for visitors. The Orchid is the city's first eco-friendly hotel and is fast climbing the ladder in the hospitality business. A step down from these five-stars are Sea Princess, Ramada Palm Grove and Sun-N-Sand, which are packed during the entire year. There are also a handful of cheaper options behind the beach area.
Mumbai Central & the Airport Suburbs
If one plans on traveling much, looking for a place near the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or Mumbai Central is a good option. Then there are getaway hotels on the outskirts of the city, like The Resort, The Retreat, and The Renaissance. Mumbai also offers service apartments for long-term stays. Marriott Service Apartments in Powai and Chateau Windsor near the Gateway of India are very popular options. If you wish to stay closer to the airports and the suburbs, AB Executive Apartments and The Emerald fit the bill. Making advance reservations is a must. But if you do end up here without one, YMCA is the best bet for getting budget accommodation.
Barring the odd 24-hour hotels, check-out time is usually noon. Most establishments, on request and depending on room vacancy, do allow a delay of a few hours or so. While deciding on where to stay, you must remember that for a city blessed with balmy, sultry weather, air-conditioned rooms make much more sense. October-February are the only months when you can go without an air-conditioner. But the dividing line between a mid-range and a better budget hotel can be space constraints, an air-conditioner, and a fridge. Also it is a good idea to take advantage of the discounts offered by some hotels in their summer packages (April-July).