Mumbai

Mumbai view by CC user u07ch on Flickr

Introduction

Situated across seven separate islands that merged to form a megalopolis, Mumbai is the largest city in India and its most important business centre. Formerly known as Bombay in the days of the British Raj, Mumbai occupies an importance in India that New York has in America, and it is also where all the Bollywood magic happens, as it has and continues to serve as the major production centre for the Indian film industry.

Being a city of great affluence and many cultures due to that fact, it stands as one of the most cosmopolitan places in the entire country, a stark contrast to a nation that tends toward the conservative side of the scale.

Between the lengthy history that this area has stretching back many centuries, its bout with British colonialism, and more, spending time exploring in Mumbai outside of the oppressive summer season of March to May before scampering off to play in the waves in Goa will yield you impressive dividends.

Haji Ali Dargah by CC user mhatrey on Flickr

Cultural Experiences

Despite the preponderance of Hinduism in Southern India, the pre-partition past (before Pakistan was created) had a solid community of Muslims living here, and the present economic prosperity has drawn many of them back to the region.  As such, the legendary Haji Ali Dargah is as relevant as ever, and given this mosque’s inspired design, it is held up as an icon of Mumbai.

Located on a small island just off the coast of the city, over 80,000 people walk within its hallowed walls every week to visit this shrine to a wealthy Muslim merchant who sold all his material possessions prior to his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1431. This act of selflessness is held in high regard by the local community, owing to its high rate of visitation per year.

Most of the populace in the area is Hindu however, and the house of worship that is most important to them in Mumbai is Siddhivinayak Temple. A temple with many opulent features, it used to be a humble shrine that has grown dramatically in profile and grandeur after many prominent Bollywood stars and politicians started hitting up the temples for blessings from Lord Ganesha.

If you’re seeking a primer on the history and background of Southern India and the city of Mumbai, then the Prince of Wales Museum should occupy a prime spot on your itinerary. Community leaders spearheaded the construction of this landmark to commemorate the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1922.

Surrounded by an exquisite garden of flowers and palm trees, this Indo-Saracenic inspired structure contains 50,000 pieces related to the art, archeology, and natural history of the area. Be sure to check out the Maritime Heritage exhibit, which shows off navigation implements used by Indian mariners throughout the years.

Gateway of India by CC user christianhaugen on Flickr

Other Attractions

Once all the religious and museums on your list have been covered, make your way to South Mumbai to see another of the highly regarded sights in city.  The Gateway of India is a monument that stands over 26 metres high, which was built during the days of British rule here.

This landmark was intended to commemorate King George V’s visit here in 1911, with the final touches being made in 1924. This site is home to many public gatherings, with many food vendors, festivals and opportunities for touring the waterfront of Mumbai by boat.

Despite being located outside of the city proper on an island east of downtown, the nearby Elephanta Caves should still be an attraction on your radar. These subterranean caverns contain carvings created by Hindu worshippers, who carved idols of various gods into the rock located here, along with a number of impressive basalt columns. Now protected and recognized by UNESCO, this place is reputed to have been used in its religious function as far back as 1,400 years ago.

Though it is not recommended to swim in the ocean anywhere close to the city of Mumbai, the fact that water is polluted at Girgaum Chowpatty doesn’t stop Mumbaians from gathering here in their free time. Try to time your visit here during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, where devotees of the Lord Ganapati gather here to dunk idols of him in the waves of the Arabian Sea.

Those looking for a look inside the small but famous Hare Krishna religious sect will also find a couple of temples dedicated to their cause nearby, enabling you to mix some culture with a fun day out at Mumbai’s urban beach.

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