Our last stop in India was Mumbai. We really didn’t know what to expect. Having read books like “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts, and seen movies like “Slumdog Millionaire”, we had expected a more chaotic and grimy city with vast slums, but what we found was a vibrant, modern and quickly changing city. The city center has a bit of a European feel, probably not surprising given the British colonial influence during the 19th and 20th centuries.
While there is no question that poverty is widespread, the city also has beautiful parks, shops, restaurants and promenades.
We were in Mumbai for two days, which gave us enough time to get a feel for this fascinating city. Through our hotel, we hired a driver to give us a tour of some of the key sights.
Below are the main places we visited:
Victoria Terminus Station (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus). This visually stunning building is a major landmark of Mumbai. As one of Mumbai’s main train stations, it is a busy place. The exterior is a weird combination of Gothic and Moorish design.
Gateway of India. This is another landmark of Mumbai, and was built to commemorate the landing of the King and Queen of England in 1911. Construction started in 1913 and was finished 11 years later. It was the ceremonial entrance to India for Viceroys and Governors of Bombay (Mumbai). The last British troops to leave India in 1948 passed through the Gateway on their way out.
The Dharavi Slum. These are probably the most common images that come to mind when thinking of Mumbai. If you’ve seen the movie Slumdog Millionaire, the setting for much of the movie is the slum from which the protagonist comes (and which are close to the Mumbai airport). Also, the book Shantaram, which is about an Australian man running from the law, describes the author living in the slums of Mumbai while making friends both with locals and foreigners.
While these slums still exist, they are shrinking as the government bulldozes old neighborhoods and puts the population into new high rise accommodations. It’s likely that one day the slums will be just a memory.
Contrary to what might be a typical perception, these slums are a beehive of hard work and productivity. We saw industrious people everywhere working with all kinds of materials: metal, glass, leather, cloth, dyes, and pottery clay to name a few.
Many items are being prepared for recycling and very little, if anything, is wasted.
The people working here seemed to be very willing to let us wander around and check out their shops and working environment.
The Fishing Village. Another area of industry in Mumbai is the fishing village. Boats and nets are everywhere and the smell of the sea is strong here. Not an area where I’d want to relax on the beach, but an interesting stop!
The Laundry (Dhobi Ghat). This was one of the most fascinating parts of our tour. Huge volumes of clothing and other items from hotels are hand laundered here.
Clearly there is a system, but the volume of washing and variety of activity going on here boggles the mind. There are many laborers working in the various basins of water – washing, rinsing, and hanging clothes out to dry.
Leopold’s. This popular restaurant and bar figures prominently into the book “Shantaram” and therefore we had to stop by. It’s always fun visiting a place that you’re read about and seeing it in real life.
The Mani Bhavan. This was Mahatma Gandhi’s residence in Mumbai. The whole residence has been turned into an excellent museum, containing exhibits about his life, with many pictures, displays and documents with the writings of this remarkable man who used nonviolence to have so much impact on obtaining India’s freedom from Britain.
Although the rest of India offers so much to the tourist, a visit wouldn’t be complete without a stop in Mumbai.