By any standards, my favourite city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), is one of the best in the world!
It has so many “mini Mumbais” hidden within its frenetic, dynamic, energy-filled environs! Unknown to millions, there are ancient cities, national parks and historic precincts set like gems – all within this small clutch of seven islands. They were gifted as dowry in 1661 to Charles II of England when he married Catherine de Braganza of Portugal. Charles II then leased the islands to the East India Company in 1688. This company filled up the sea creeks and built docks, trading zones and a fort to take advantage of the city’s strategic position and to build its huge business potential. With its rich history, Mumbai is today a unique international city, with three UNESCO World Heritage Sites within its area– and millions of ambitious people!
If you want to experience living in several eras of history at the same time, you have to visit Mumbai at least once in your lifetime and spend a long time getting to know its variety and beauty…
I proudly call Mumbai my city because I was born and educated here. To me, it is a reflection of my life as an Indian woman growing up in the years that India changed dramatically from a British colony to an independent country – and now a world power – which is now ready to take its place in the powerful community of the leading nations of the world. Mumbai’s story is truly my own story as a citizen of this metropolis.
My city is overflowing with buzz and activity to such an extent that only true-blue merrymakers can accept its pace. It is easy to drown in its cacophony but it is worth spending time in the city to taste a slice of the huge subcontinent of India in a matter of a few days!
During my school days, this island city was green and rain-washed in the monsoon months. But its strategic position on the Arabian Sea meant that roads, transport, offices and government headquarters were built here by the British. Thus, from the beginning, it was a seat of power and great financial potential. Not surprisingly, India’s biggest business houses built their offices here. India’s largest and busiest stock market started its scintillating career here. As a schoolgirl, I also remember seeing huge crowds participate in the fight for India’s freedom from British rule in Mumbai’s sprawling green maidans or huge green spaces where lakhs of people gathered to protest against foreign rule! Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Jawaharlal Nehru – and many other leaders came to my city to address humongous gatherings and to awaken the people to protest against Britain’s imperial rule!
1 Marine Drive Along the Arabian Sea
After Independence, when Mumbai became the financial capital of India, it attracted other industries like films, art, infrastructure and food. Some of India’s finest hotel chains began their business here. Good looking men and women, producers and directors of films and technicians came in droves to Mumbai to lay the foundations of today’s glittering Bollywood! With its emblazoned history, the seven islands of Mumbai – joined together as one city – Mumbai became the dazzling home of Bollywood, India’s “international” film industry with glamorous stars living in verdant bungalows, a buzzy city of business and entrepreneurship, fast social change and the destination of proud business leaders and scholars. Some of its institutions like the museum, research and educational colleges, art galleries and historic buildings made Mumbai the fastest developing city in India.
2 Rajabai Tower in the Mumbai University Complex
Today, decades later, my Mumbai is what dreams are made of. Millions dream of living successful, rich lives in this city. From the Fort area, first built into a business precinct by the British (with 26 buildings built in the Renaissance Gothic architectural style), to the jungles of Thane (which is the most heavily forested district in India) my Mumbai houses millions of people who run around in buses, cars and trains to reach their workplaces or homes.
3 Gateway of India
Just like the Gateway of India, my Mumbai is the entry point of millions of tourists, businesspersons and world leaders. Surely, my Mumbai does not fail them. Whatever people want, my Mumbai gives them. So the best jobs, the best food, the best shopping – name anything and my Mumbai gives it to the seeker with some of the best eating and shopping experiences in India. Khau gallis where whole streets are lined with food stalls through the night, hi-end speciality restaurants, hotels and bars, international cuisine, shopping arcades and malls sit cheek by jowl in this buzzy city.
However, what is more interesting about my Mumbai is that in the past, it has led the nation’s iconic movements for achieving every kind of social change. It was here that Dr. Rakhmabai fought her battle against the custom of child marriage and won her case. Refusing to be known as her father’s daughter or her husband’s wife, she lived and practised medicine only with her first name. Her portrait hangs prominently in the Mumbai University’s honour gallery. It was in Mumbai that women’s education was given a spurt with the establishment of the Shrimati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey University for women by the great educationist Dhondo Keshav Karve. It was in this city that the ‘Quit India Movement’ started. It was here that all discussions that led to the freedom of India were held. With this past, and especially because of the cosmopolitan nature of the population, my Mumbai is a unique city. Perhaps because I was born in this city, I had the life of an educated, independent woman who could design her own life and fulfil her own ambitions, earning financial self-reliance throughout her life.
Unknown to millions, there are ancient cities, national parks and historic precincts set like gems – all within this small clutch of seven islands.
5 Mumbai’s Seven Islands
But behind this social and financial buzz, my Mumbai has an interesting past. It began as seven separate islands occupied mostly by fishing communities just over 150 years ago. The British joined the islands in one of the world’s biggest ocean-filling operations and made it into one island – but the protector goddess of each island was honoured and the seven temples stand intact even today. These are Mumba Devi, Gam Devi, Sheetala Devi, Kalba Devi, Tad-devi, Prabha Devi and Mahalakshmi. Then, a hundred years ago, the British built their world-renowned clutch of Renaissance Gothic buildings to bring the Industrial Revolution to India. The Victoria Terminus or the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is a symbol of the starting of train transport in India. I have travelled to many destinations from here. My university, the museum I love to see, my bank and several other buildings are in this group. The Rajabai clock tower is a symbol of the industrial progress of Mumbai in the past centuries. Today, the busy CST or Victoria Terminus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the whole fort precinct with the 26 Gothic buildings may also soon be inscribed as one.
6 Karla Caves – The Biggest Rock Cut Hall
Though my Mumbai today is home to more than twenty million people working and living in high-rise skyscrapers, not so long ago, there was yet another Mumbai behind its dazzling facade. The city is surrounded by the Sahyadri Mountains which contain more than 2000 rock cut caves belonging to various periods of history. Some are Buddhist, some Jain and yet others are Hindu, with incredible sculptures and the world’s largest rock cut halls. Many other caves are just ancient trading posts. The Karla Caves on the Mumbai-Pune Highway, boast the largest rock cut pillared hall in the world!
7 Elephanta Caves – The Famous Trimurti Comprising the Creator, the Sustainer and the Destroyer
It is amazing that my Mumbai has a modern atomic reactor on its coast on one side and on the other, it has the fabulous Elephanta Caves, the second UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mumbai, with incredible rock cut sculptures and temples carved between the 5th to 8th centuries CE. All through the centuries, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Chinese, and the British – all came here to Mumbai to buy and sell goods, leaving their cultural imprint on the city’s personality. Many are the symbols of this great maritime era which made Mumbai a trader’s paradise.
8 The Latest Wonder of Mumbai – The Sea Link
The latest engineering marvel, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, was completed in ten years and has cut valuable transit time from the heart of the city to the suburbs. Every day, more than 25,000 cars and heavy vehicles ply over this unique 43-floor high sea link that takes people to the suburbs in seven minutes. The 4.7 km bridge weighs as much as 50,000 African elephants and the steel wire used can nearly wrap around the circumference of the earth. The Times of India described the new bridge as, ‘A heavy-duty beauty!’
For a city buzzing with people and activity, my Mumbai has yet another surprise. It is the only city in the world which houses a large national park within its environs. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park – with leopards, lion safaris, varieties of deer, a huge variety of butterflies, birds and 3,500 kinds of trees – is a UNESCO World Heritage site – the third in my Mumbai. Here, a huge number of species of animals and birds have been preserved with care.
The mudflats of Sewri in Mumbai also host thousands of flamingos during the early months of the year. This year, on 9th March, a flamingo festival was held in this area by the Bombay Natural History Society. See the video of the beautiful birds here.
10 The Ganesh Festival
It would seem from the fast-forward lifestyle of Mumbai that one never has time to stand and stare. This is not true. My Mumbai has beaches and resorts that beckon to all who love the sun and its brilliance. These beaches are scenes of great revelry on festive days like Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali.
However busy and harried Mumbai is – as the financial capital of India – it offers the unique gift of many hill resorts and forests around the city to those who love nature and its wonders. Small hill towns like Matheran, Lonavala, Khandala, Karla and Chichwad where the River Pavana flows calmly along the Samadhi (grave) of Saint Morya Gosavi – are havens of peace. They are easily reached by the sleek, modern Mumbai-Pune Highway and the journey through the long tunnels is fascinating and exhilarating. Matheran is cute because of the ride on a mini train up the hill. Further up into the Sahyadri Hills, stand the hill towns of Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar, thickly forested with excellent eateries and resorts. Mahabaleshwar is a beautiful town with five of Maharashtra’s rivers – Krishna, Venna, Savitri, Gayatri and Koyna – originating in a cave with ancient sculptures and a Shiva Temple where the Lord of the Mountains is called Mahabaleshwar. The town is known for its beautiful sightseeing points and imposing mountain peaks. On the way to Mahabaleshwar, one can see the River Krishna in full flow in Wai, a historic town of old-world homes and temples from the Maratha period of history.
So what advice would I give to visitors or tourists to Mumbai?
I would ask them to go shop till they drop – from roadside fashion street markets that sell inexpensive stylish clothes, bags and footwear to the salons of some of India’s most famous designers, Mumbai has it all. From good old Maharashtrian Vada Pao to the finest delicacies of Italy, France and China, Mumbai offers every variety of food. From box office Bollywood hits to fine international films and plays, the theatres offer everything. Clubs, bars, lounges, restaurants, eat-and-run all night joints – they are all here to please every palate.
The only thing I would tell visitors is: Don’t come to Mumbai if you want quiet and peace! My city is overflowing with buzz and activity to such an extent that only true-blue merrymakers can accept its pace. It is easy to drown in its cacophony but it is worth spending time in the city to taste a slice of the huge subcontinent of India in a matter of a few days! So my Mumbai is a mini India – a painting which presents all the hues of a multi-coloured country called India that is Bharat!