The Magic of Mumbai
Virgin Airway’s direct flights from London to Mumbai has put this colourful kaleidoscope of a city firmly on the agendas of travellers looking for a touch of Bollywood, and a very different experience from the normal tourist hotspots.
Colourfully dressed street vendors press charms and trinkets on you as you travel through the busy streets, where overhead skywalks have been erected for pedestrians in a bid to keep the cars, buses, motorbikes and ox-carts moving at a reasonable pace. The inevitable gridlocks give the persistent vendors plenty of chance to ply their trade, and the visitor a chance to test out their new-found (and necessary) haggling skills.
As the most populated city in India, keeping 22 million residents moving is no easy task and the constant flow of traffic is a part of everyday life. There is no rush hour, and the stream of slow-moving vehicles is a part of a visit to Mumbai.
Mumbai is named after Mumbai Deva, the Goddess of fisherman, and is a sensory experience. The tantalising scent of street food is ever-present, and the bright saris of the women contrast against the grey slums. These sprawling shacks and shanties, in turn, are set against modern highrise office buildings and apartments that are amongst the most expensive real estate in the sub-continent. Mumbai (formerly Bombay), is a land of contrasts and home to the financial hub of India, whose stock-exchange is the oldest in Asia. (Photo:dailyo.in)
The Taj Mahal Place Hotel, with its view of the Gateway of India, was built in 1903 and has played host to royalty, dignitaries and eminent personalities during its lifetime. The 285 rooms and suites combine colonial elegance with modern facilities and offer guests a word-class five-star experience. Housing nine of Mumbai’s top restaurants and bars in the hotel, you can enjoy traditional Indian, European, Middle-Eastern and Oriental cuisine without leaving the building. (Photo: culturetrip.com)
This is the ideal starting point for your visit, and the best place to meet fellow travellers, locals, and maybe a celebrity or two. The location is perfect for exploring the numerous bars and restaurants, and the many sights that this vibrant city has to offer.
Get the best from your visit with these highly recommended ‘must-see’ places to include in your itinerary.
The Gateway of India arch
Built to commemorate the royal visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, the Gateway of India Arch is situated on the edge of the Arabian Sea. This huge monument is crafted from yellow Kharodi Basalt and is a symbol of both the old Bombay and the new Mumbai. (Photo: solutionsreview.com)
The Elephanta Caves
The Elephanta Caves is a collection of cave temples constructed around the 6th-century, predominantly dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated on Elephanta Island about 7 km from Mumbai’s mainland shore, they can be reached by a 1-hour boat ride from Gateway of India arch, and draw pilgrims, locals and tourists from far afield. (Photo: onthegotours.com)
Prior to the 1600s, the area now known as Mumbai was an archipelago of seven islands and it took over 5 centuries to unite them into the vibrant shopping experience that we know today. The islands were important fishing centres, and some fishing communities still thrive to this day. The islands are now interconnected by a system of bridges.
Shopping in Mumbai isn’t complete without a trip to the Colaba area. Follow the seaside promenade from the Gateway of India arch, past high-end fashion boutiques, to the Colaba causeway where hip restaurants jostle for a place among the decades-old cafes that line the buildings. Market stalls sell everything from iconography of the many Hindu gods, to brightly-coloured fabrics and weavings. Saris spill from stalls in a kaleidoscope of colour, while the smell of delicacies fills the air with temptation.
Be prepared - haggling is expected, so don’t be embarrassed to try your bargaining skills. It is all a part of the fun of shopping in Mumbai. (Photo: curlytales.com)
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
One of the remnants of the British influence in India is the majestic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. This UNESCO world heritage site was commissioned in 1878 and took 10-years to build. Originally named the Victoria Terminal, today it is the hub of Mumbai’s rail network where 1000 trains service the three million people that pass through it daily, making it the busiest and largest train station on earth. It is estimated that 2.2 billion commuters use this service every year.
India’s train history started in 1853 with the first train service between Mumbai and the lake city of Thane, 20 kilometres away. Today, an electronic map fills the wall of the central control room and shows the movement of every train in real-time. During peak hours over 400 trains travel on just four tracks, with any delay affecting thousands of commuters.
Fortunately, the trains themselves are extremely safe and Mumbai has among the top safety records in India. This is mainly due to the anti-collision devices that help keep a safe distance between the trains. As it would be impossible to close any of the tracks for inspection, Ultrasonic flaw detection machines monitor invisible cracks in the rails, while a computerized tie-tamping machine keeps the rails aligned and level.
The terminus building is extravagantly ornate and combines neo-Gothic architecture with elements of Indo-Saracenic style. The overwhelming size and bustle can be daunting to visitors but is the perfect place to experience the daily life of this vibrant city.
Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat
A visit to this, the world’s biggest open-air laundromat, is a must. The image of thousands of men from the Hindu Dhobi caste washing a million items of clothing in concrete troughs, before beating them clean and hanging them to dry in a strict colour-coded system, before ironing them and returning them to their owners the very same day, is a sight that is hard to forget. This seemingly Herculean task is repeated daily. (Photo: travelogyindia.com)
For sheer efficiency, you cannot beat the dabbawallahs. Daily, at 9.30 am, this group of white-robed workers collect nearly 200,000 home-cooked meals from outlying suburbs. These meals are stored and heated at a central headquarters for delivery in coded aluminium tiffins (lunch boxes) to city workers, so enabling them to enjoy a hot midday meal. (Photo: injustoneday.com)
This ingenious system fascinated Prince Charles to the extent that he made a point of visiting the Dabbawallah headquarters to witness this remarkable daily feat that has been recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for its near clockwork efficiency.
Marine Drive is the most famous road in Mumbai and runs from Nariman Point to Chowpatty Beach, tracing the shore of the Arabian Sea through to the Malabar Hills. Resplendent with Art Deco buildings, the Chowpatty promenade is popular with young people and couples who can be seen enjoying each others company while soaking up the last rays of evening sunlight.
This picturesque area exudes charm and is the perfect place to enjoy the magic of this unforgettable city at the end of a busy day.
Virgin Airlines offers daily eight-and-a-half-hour direct flights from London to Mumbai as well as other destinations in India, Details are available from their website.
We highly recommend the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Book the Ravi Shankar suite which is where this world-famous musician taught George Harrison of the Beatles to play the Sitar.
The currency in Mumbai is the Indian Rupee (INR)
Article compiled and written for Red Flower-UK
© Andrew Knapp – The Design Train
NOTE: The author does not own the copyright of photos and images used within this article and credits have been given where possible