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Wednesday
Oct122011

Insider guide to Mumbai

Mumbai is India’s ultimate 21st century show-piece city. Finance, industry, commerce, Bollywood – Mumbai has it all.  Add to that a great location on the shores of the Indian Ocean, and it’s no surprise that Mumbai is one of Asia’s great cities.

Unlike the Indian capital city, New Delhi, where who you are and who you know is ultra-important, Mumbai is cosmopolitan and seriously easy-going.  Long used to absorbing people from all over the country, who still flock there in droves, lured by the eternal hope of fame and fortune, Mumbai has an open-hearted, welcoming feel to it. The island-city has a dramatic location surrounded by water, and since land is limited, Mumbai grows ever upwards.  Skyscrapers mushroom, constantly changing the city’s skyline, and at night the city is a blaze of lights.

Make your way down through the concrete jungle to the seashore, and you can still find traces of Mumbai’s early origins as a tiny fishing village.  Wooden fishing boats bob on their moorings, while nets are set out to dry in the warm humid sunshine, all against a backdrop of dazzling new architecture.

Any visit to Mumbai should start with the Gateway of India, the city’s principal landmark.  The archway was constructed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1911, and it is the place Mumbaikers flock to at weekends, to wander, to gaze, to snack, to see and to be seen.

The south of the city is the oldest and most historic part, and visitors should make time to see the Afghan Church, Horniman Circle and the Prince of Wales Museum.  A cruise along Marine Drive offers views of the city’s iconic skyline.  Lined by solid mansion blocks with views to die for, Marine Drive is home to traffic and joggers, to lovers and hawkers.  The whole of India on one dramatic drive.

Mani Bhavan, where Mahatma Gandhi stayed during his time in the city, and the picturesque Haji Ali Mosque on an island 500 meters out at sea provide different facets to this multi-cultural city.  Haji Ali at sunset, as the tide slowly laps over the walkway connecting the mosque to the mainland, is a magical sight.

At Dhobi Ghat, washermen literally wash the city’s dirty laundry in public, and in bustling Crawford Market you can shop for the freshest produce Mumbai has to offer.

Mumbai has malls galore – which Indian city doesn’t, these days – but much more iconic shopping can be done along Colaba Causeway, where you can haggle hard for Kolapuri chappals (flip-flops) and t-shirts.  Chor Bazar – or Thieves Market – is always fun, wandering through alleyways of antiques and 'antiques.'

It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to escape from Mumbai, but should you feel the need, hop on a ferry across to Elephanta.  From the iconic Gateway of India you take a boat out across the harbor, through the shipping lanes, and out to the 1200 year old Elephanta Caves.  These rock cut caves are some of the most important in the country.  The famous Trimurti, a massive sculpture of Shiva, showing his three faces – the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer – is the high-point of this visit.

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