Local Color: If You Go
The best time to visit Mumbai is from November to April. For more information on Mumbai (and the rest of India), visit the Web at www.incredibleindia.org.
The India Tourism office in New York is at (212) 586 4901; e-mail [email protected].
Mumbai, the bustling metropolis of 15
million people on the west coast of India, is a city of contrasts
and extremes. Within its sprawling boundaries, the very wealthy and
the indigent stake out their positions, often cheek by jowl.
Vestiges of Victorian times are still to be found in many old
buildings dating from the days of the British Raj. Traditional
fishing boats still bring in the catch each morning to a harbor and
port that handle more than half of Indias foreign trade.
It is the
countrys financial and economic nerve center.
Out at FilmCity
on the outskirts, Bollywood churns out a copious production of
films -- it is the worlds largest film industry -- and the stars
are national celebrities.
vibrant city is a delight for all the senses.
The Fort area of
Mumbai, the commercial hub of the city, is built on the site of an
old British garrison. Street vendors clutter the pavement along
with imposing banks and other commercial enterprises.
There are many
fine Victorian buildings, especially along Mahatma Gandhi Road and
the edge of Oval Maidan, an extensive open space.
Gateway of India
At the edge of the harbor is the imposing
Gateway of India, built in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King
George V in 1911. Crowds mill around it all day.
Close to the
Gateway is the harbor, where ferries transport visitors to
Elephanta Caves on an island six miles away.
Heritage-listed caves feature carvings dating from around the 5th
to 8th centuries of the life of Shiva. They are well worth a visit.
The Prince of Wales Museum and the National
Gallery of Modern Art are also nearby.
Gateway is the majestic Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbais most famous and
luxurious accommodation. The Taj Mahal Hotel invokes the glory of a bygone era
and is a pleasant place to while away a relaxing few hours to
indulge in afternoon tea.
There are some
lovely, old residential buildings close to the Taj Mahal Hotel, but
many could do with some repairs and a coat of paint.
Mahatma Gandhi is
still a universally revered figure in India, and his name adorns
many roads and other places.
Mani Bharan, the
home where Gandhi stayed when he visited Mumbai, has been converted
into a museum and a research center with a library.
of his life depicted throughout the house are
The focal point
for commuters in Mumbai is the main rail terminus, Chhatrapati
Shivali Terminus, commonly referred to as Victoria
From the outside,
this splendid Gothic structure looks nothing like a railway
station, but inside, a mass of people dash hither and thither as
they are disgorged from the trains.
Half a million
people use the station daily. The facade of the building, completed
in 1888, displays wonderful ornamentation and
Inside, there are
exquisite panels and friezes on the walls, windows and arches. A
majestic dome complements the exterior. A life-size statue of Queen
Victoria stands in front of the central facade.
North of the
station, Crawford Market sells all kinds of fresh produce, although
the main action is early in the day.
John Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard Kiplings father, adorn the
Other markets are
nearby in a maze of narrow streets and choking traffic. Entire
streets are often devoted to a single product.
The headlands of
Malabar Hill and Colaba form the boundary of Back Bay. Marine
Parade sweeps along its edge with Chowpatty Beach at one
deserted during the day, in the evening Chowpatty Beach takes on a
carnival atmosphere, with rides for children, families strolling,
astrologers and numerous food stalls.
Marine Parade is
a great spot to watch the sunsets over the Arabian Sea.
At the Malabar
Hill end of Marine Parade, the Pherozshah Gehta Gardens, popularly
known as the Hanging Gardens, provide a welcome green respite from
the bustle of the city below. Numerous hedges have been trimmed
into animal shapes.
It is a Friday,
and crowds are gathering at the lovely Haji Ali Mosque situated at
the end of a long causeway reaching into the Arabian Sea.
shimmers like a mirage in the boiling sun and appears to float on
the water; it can only be approached at low tide. Crowds of
faithful buy offerings and flowers. Beggars seek alms.
Some things never
change in Mumbai. Under the burning rays of the sun, the dhobi
wallahs (laundrymen) operate their open-air laundry near the
railway station in Mamalakshmi.
Standing in hot
water, these industrious workers beat and clean thousands of
sheets, shirts and other items before hanging them out to
In other parts of
the city, the incredible tiffin wallahs (lunch couriers)
bring the thousands of tiffin boxes (lunch boxes) prepared in
outlying homes via the train network to be delivered to offices
across the city.
They sort the
tins at stations like West End and Church Gate and then carry them
head-high through the milling populace.
Out near the
international airport, about 20 miles north of the city center, a
new business area complete with international-standard hotels has
Among the many
hotels are the Leela Kempinski, Le Royal Meridien, Sheraton and
A highlight of
any visit to Mumbai (and indeed the whole of India) is the food.
Throughout the city are many excellent restaurants.
I stayed at the
Leela Kempinski, which has six restaurants. Its Citrus restaurant
serves an amazing variety of Indian and European dishes with
wonderful curries, salads, fruit and desserts.
luxury, squatters and other itinerants from rural areas live in the
most primitive conditions.
Yet when I
wandered around the area on a busy Saturday morning, I was greeted
with friendly smiles and greetings.
of the crowd
The drive into
the city from the airport is an adventure in itself. Road
construction close to the airport makes progress very slow.
Thousands of taxis, three-wheel tuk tuks, motorcycles, lorries and
delivery vehicles crowd the available road space.
close to the edge of the road. Even animals seem to know to walk in
a straight line just off the tarmac. Hundreds of tiny shops,
garages and market stalls fight for position.
It is clear that
nothing is wasted; tires are patched and bits of steel and other
materials are recast into new products. Buses are packed to
It is just
another hectic day in Mumbai.
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].