Mumbai, India - Stein Travel
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Mumbai

Situated on a peninsula halfway up the west coast of India, Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is India's economic powerhouse, and home to more millionaires than any other city on the Indian subcontinent. As well as being the country's financial capital, Mumbai is also an important port, handling a third of all international trade; and a base for many of India's largest companies. However, among all this wealth and the Bollywood lifestyle are cases of extreme poverty - with almost half of the 21 million-strong population living in slums.

The Portuguese established this old Hindu city as a colony in 1509. In 1661, it passed to England as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II, and became a vital trading base for the East India Company and later the Crown. The centre of Imperial Bombay, the city contains a breathtaking array of High Victorian buildings and is reminiscent of a prosperous 19th-century English industrial city. The fascinating range of architectural styles reflects the British passion for the Gothic and demonstrates the wealth, panache and confidence of British Bombay. Prosperity has always been considered more important than religious homogeneity in Mumbai, and this is reflected in the range of places of worship throughout the city - churches and cathedrals sit alongside countless mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples.

Like many Indian cities, the streets of Mumbai are congested with cattle, carts and motor vehicles, and the air is thick with smog and the sound of horns. But despite this, the city has much to offer, and those en route to Goa should take time to discover Mumbai's colourful and fascinating history, as well as its vibrant, energetic and friendly people. At the very worst, your experience of Mumbai will make Goa's beaches seem that much more peaceful.

Information & Facts

Climate

The winter months (November to February) are the best time to visit Mumbai, when temperatures range between 74°F (23°C) and 86°F (30°C). The spring and summer months are uncomfortably hot, with high humidity and temperatures often reaching 104°F (40°C). The monsoons arrive in July and August, and you should try to avoid travelling in Mumbai during these months, if possible.

Eating Out

Mumbai is a melting pot of cuisines, both regional and international, and this city is simply bustling with wonderful restaurants. With so many migrants in Mumbai, this city caters to everyone, and travellers can enjoy anything from a modest street-side café meal, to fine-dining and trendy eateries where you can rub shoulders with Mumbai's silverscreen stars. From traditional Tandoori food, kebabs and the delicious and inventive Gujarati cuisine, to Mughlai and the highly popular Punjabi cuisine, Mumbai represents every single kind of Indian fare. Dishes such as butter chicken and chicken tikka masala have been exported to the rest of the world, but are staples on most Indian menus. Indians make wonderful use of vegetables and vegetarians will have no problem finding something to suit them. Seafood from the Konkan coast is also quite famous, and considered to be a local specialty in Mumbai. Try the local street-snack pani puri, also known as gup chup, a round, hollow bowl made from crisp-fried unleavened bread and filled with a mixture of tamarind, chilli, chaat masala, onion and potatoes. Authentic masala chai is a must while visiting Mumbai - this sweet tea, boiled in a mixture of water, milk and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger, might well become one of your abiding memories of India.

Getting Around

The streets of Mumbai are chaotic and difficult to negotiate, but most attractions are fairly central and can be reached on foot. However, visitors generally opt for hiring a car with a driver by the day, which can be arranged at hotel desks. Rates are dependent on the type of vehicle hired. The city's public bus service is government-run, and consists of a fleet of red single and double-decker buses, usually hot and crowded. Suburban electric trains connect to the outlying areas, but are crowded, particularly during rush hour. Auto rickshaws are not allowed to operate in the centre of the city, but are cheaper than taxis and good for short distances. Metered taxis are plentiful all over the town and its surrounds. A very fast (and air-conditioned) hydrofoil service connects central Mumbai to many surrounding suburbs.

Language

Although English is generally used for official and business purposes, Hindi is the official language and is spoken by about 40 percent of the population. Urdu is the language common with the Muslim demographic. India has a total of 22 official languages

Money

The currency is the Indian Rupee (INR), which is divided into 100 paise (singular paisa). Major currencies can be changed at banks, and authorised bureaux de changes. It is impossible to obtain rupees outside India, but no matter what time you arrive in India there will be an exchange office open at the airport. It is illegal to exchange money through the black market and it is advisable to refuse torn notes, as no one will accept them apart from the National Bank. It is best to change money into small denominations. Travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted, particularly in tourist orientated establishments. ATMs are not generally available.

Night Life

Many might not anticipate Mumbai to boast a fabulous nightlife, but this city will not disappoint with its dazzling display of clubs, discos, bars and restaurants all bustling into the early hours. With so many 'Bollywood' stars, millionaires and high-profile social butterflies around, Mumbai has become the pride and joy of India's nightlife, with plenty of chic and trendy spots for travellers to enjoy. Sip on your favourite poison in one of Mumbai's rooftop bars overlooking the Arabian Sea, before heading out to a bouncing nightclub to dance the night away. The lively Colaba Causeway is a great place to start, with plenty of down-to-earth pubs with zero pretence. Head to Churchgate or Juhu if you're looking for somewhere to shake a tail feather; while Bandra is a very chic area, where style is the order of the day and everyone seems to work really hard at looking good. Join locals on the dancefloor and jam to some bhangra and R&B, or for something completely unique, go wild to some Hindi house hits. Being the home of 'Bollywood', visitors to Mumbai should definitely head to a local cinema to take in a movie. Fort and Churchgate areas are the best places to do this - make a night out of it, and you won't be disappointed.

Shopping

The cosmopolitan city of Mumbai is a shopper's paradise. From everything from haute couture to local markets and dinky shops tucked away in side streets, Mumbai is a fabulous place to spend some time and money.

M Gandhi Road is a great place for all those fashionistas to go searching for designer brands. Known as 'Fashion Street', travellers can buy brand-label clothing and other wares for a fraction of the price that they would in countries like the United States. Department stores such as Shopper's Stop and Globus are also common, while Frazer and Haws in Bandra is worth a visit.

Those with a knack for haggling are in luck! All the markets in Mumbai follow this practice, and markets such as Chor Bazaar, Crawford Market, the silversmith's bazaar and Dharavi are all great places to hone your bargaining skills. The rule of thumb is to start haggling from half the price you'd like to pay, and then go up as far as you're willing to from there. Brass, copper and silver items are great to buy in Mumbai, and other popular souvenirs include carved sandalwood boxes, and wooden Buddha or Hindu deity statuettes.

Shops are generally open Monday to Saturday from 10am till 8pm, but markets and street vendors often open earlier. Taxes can be added on to the cost of goods, depending on the item. Service tax is 5%, while tax-free shopping is usually confined to special stores, usually located in ports and airports. There is no tax refund system in place in Mumbai.

Sightseeing

Most of Mumbai's typical tourist sites are situated around the built-up areas of Mumbai's southern peninsula (and most notably, Colaba) - but this cosmopolitan city boasts attractions reflecting Mumbai's rich history, as well.

The colonial buildings that are scattered throughout Mumbai remind travellers of the history not only of the city, but of the country as well. The best examples of this architecture can be seen in the Gateway of India, the CST Terminus, and the Police Headquarters; while the Prince of Wales Museum, founded in the early 20th century to commemorate a visit from George V, is a great resource for learning about India's history.

While you're in the area, check out the Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the oldest five-star hotels in India and also a site for the 2008 Mumbai terrrorist attacks. The Elephanta Caves - a very popular tourist excursion - are also located nearby, and the former home of Mahatma Gandhi, the Mani Bhavan Ghandi Museum, is a Gujarati-style house featuring three floors for visitors to explore all things Gandhi.

For great views of Mumbai, visit the terraced Hanging Gardens (now known as the Ferozeshah Mehta Gardens); head to the Marine Drive Chowpatty (beach) for people-watching; and for a really authentic Mumbai shopping experience, look no further than the always-crowded, bright and colourful Crawford Market.

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