Mumbai, a cosmopolitan metropolis, earlier known as Bombay, is the largest city in India and the capital of Maharashtra state. Mumbai was originally a conglomeration of seven islands on the Konkan coastline which over time were joined to form the island city of Bombay. The island was in turn joined with the neighbouring island of Salsette to form Greater Bombay. The city has an estimated metropolitan population of 21 million (2005), making it one of the world's most populous cities.
Mumbai is undoubtedly the commercial capital of India and is one of the predominant port cities in the country. Mumbai's nature as the most eclectic and cosmopolitan Indian city is symbolized in the presence of Bollywood within the city, the centre of the globally-influential Hindi film and TV industries. It is also home to India's largest slum population.
Though the seven islands that now make up the city have a long recorded history like any other place in India, their journey to form the city of Mumbai really started in 1498, when the Portuguese took them over from the Sultan of Gujarat. They built a settlement, forts, and churches, (including the strange looking Portuguese Church that stands to this day.) They, however, could not make much of their possession and the seven islands were handed over to England in 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine de Braganza when she married Charles II of England. He wasn't very interested in the islands either, and he leased them to the British East India Company for £10 a year in 1668. The East India Company built the docks, the trading posts, and the fort that would form the nerve centre of the city. They also started off the long process of reclaiming land and joining the islands, an activity which went on until the 1960s.
The port attracted industries and the entrepreneurial communities like the Parsis, Gujaratis, and Marwaris (from Rajasthan) migrated and set up trading companies and factories in the late 19th century. Industries attracted migrant labour from different parts of the country. The successive waves of migration shaped the character of the city and its neighbourhoods.
The city that owes its existence to the efforts of the British was also the birthplace of the Indian National Congress, which played an overwhelmingly important role in the independence movement. The city whose mills were built by industrialists from across the country is the capital of Maharashtra state, which was carved on linguistic lines for Marathi speakers.
Culture and attitudes
Mumbai is the most cosmopolitan city in India. In comparison with the rest of the country, the city is quite liberal. With a regular influx of immigrants from rest of India, the citizens, popularly known as 'Mumbaikars', have shown remarkable tolerance towards other cultures, making it a true cultural melting pot. However in recent times, this tolerance has sometimes bowed under external pressures. Between the 60s and 80s, there was resentment about the non-Marathi speakers taking away jobs. The 1991 and 1993 riots between Hindus and Muslims did attempt to affect this spirit; however the city largely managed to recover from these, although serious divisions remain as memories remain scarred.
Mumbai has three main seasons - Summer, Monsoon, and Winter (milder summer). The best time to visit is during the winter between November and February. Humidity is also less during the winter, when the climate is pleasant; the minimum temperature is 17 degrees centigrade and the maximum is 30-31 degrees. Summer is from March to May with highs in the low to mid 30s (roughly 80-90°F). It is hot and humid during this time. June to September is the monsoon season when the city is lashed by heavy rains. The city gets flooded two or three times and normal life gets disrupted during this season. Climate is humid pretty much throughout the year because the city rests on the coast.
Things to do
There is a lot to do in Mumbai, but lack of space means that for outdoorsy activities, you need to head north, often outside city limit. Mumbai has a vibrant theatre scene with plays in many languages including English, Hindi, Gujarati, and Marathi. While South Mumbai has frequent performances, the best organized theatre effort is at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu in the Western Suburbs.
Experience Bollywood. Plan a trip to Film City located in Goregaon and enjoy the first hand experience of Bollywood shooting.
Watch a Movie. Expect whistles and clapping by crowd in admiration of their celebrities on the screen. Most of the cinema halls run both 'popular and new' Bollywood as well as Hollywood movies and some even screen ones in regional.
Visit museums and art galleries.
Pub Hopping. The number and variety of pubs in the city allow for an enthralling pub hopping opportunity.
Watch Cricket for free. Cricket has a national game stature in India, and Mumbaikars revere that every day of the year. Azad Maidan (Azad ground) near C.S.T. Railway station, ground opposite to Ruia College in Matunga and Shivaji Park in Dadar west are some of the best places to witness the cricket fever for free. Look out and you may be even lucky to witness ongoing game of cricket on some of the empty streets of Mumbai.
Temples. There are so many religious places around in the city (both old and new) that one can plan a day long itinerary on that. Start with Mahalkshmi Temple, Banganga Temple, Siddhi Vinayak, Afghan Church, Mahim Church, Haji Ali... the list will get really long.
Take a Slum Tour. Tours can be set up to walk through Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums and the heart of small-scale industry in Mumbai.
Join for Heritage walks. These walks take you around various historic and architecturally significant areas of the city.
Walk along Marine Drive, also known as Queen's Necklace. This beachside promenade is worth a ride. A walk can be planned from Girgaon Chowpati (Girgaon beach) all the way upto Nariman Point. Be carefull and avoid this area during heavy rains.
Enjoy theatre & performances. Mumbai offers unlimited opportunities to theatre lovers and there are regular shows across theatres in the city. Check newspapers on latest shows as well as performances at prominent halls such as Prithvi Theatre, NCPA, Tata Theatre.
Savour the local street food.