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Mumbai - the business capital of India
Hot, crowded, different, exotic, rich, poor, and unforgettable...
Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra and the financial capital & business center of India. Mumbai is situated on the western coast of India and has a deep natural harbour. It has an estimated population of 16 million, making it the most populous city in India and one of the most populous cities in the whole world. After including the population of the neighbouring suburbs of Navi Mumbai and Thane, the entire Mumbai metropolitan area houses 20 million people, thus making it the world's 5th most populous metropolitan area.
Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment center of India, generating 5% of India's GDP and accounting for 25% of industrial output, 40% of maritime trade, and 70% of capital transactions to India's economy. It is home to important financial institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the National Stock Exchange of India. With most of large Indian business houses and multinational corporations having their corporate headquarters and registered offices located in the city, it is an important base for trade and overseas businesses. Mumbai is one of the world's top ten centers of commerce in terms global financial flow.
The city is the stronghold of Indian free enterprise and a major manufacturing center for everything from cars and bicycles to pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals. Mumbai is also the center for India's textile industry.
Mumbai is also well ahead in the entertainment industry. It houses India's Hindi film and television industry, known as Bollywood. Mumbai's business opportunities, as well as its high standard of living, attract migrants from all over India, thereby making it a truly cosmopolitan city with diverse communities and cultures.
The fastest moving, most affluent and most industrialized city in India, Mumbai has the country's busiest international airport and seaport. Mumbai is well connected by air to all major cities of the world and is also well connected by air, road and rail to all major Indian cities and business centers. Mumbai's port handles over half of India's maritime cargo.
Unlike other cities in India, which grew around sacred sites or trading routes, Mumbai is a city built by the British to serve British mercantile interests. The city of Bombay was officially renamed Mumbai in January 1996. The mumbaites believe that this name came from the goddess Mumba, worshipped by the original Koli inhabitants.
Ancient yet modern, fabulously rich yet achingly poor, Mumbai is India in microcosm. As India's busiest port and largest financial centre, Mumbai is the commercial gateway between India and the rest of the world. Parsis and Gujaratis dominate the city's economy.
Forty percent of India's taxes come from this city alone, and half of India's international trade passes through its splendid natural harbor. In fact Mumbai is the very soul of human enterprise.
Mumbai is home to the country's largest stock exchange. The Reserve Bank of India is also located here. At Mumbai Stock Exchange, millionaires and paupers are made overnight.
Mumbai is one of the most populous and crowded cities on the planet, and is the perfect place for the Indian experience, that blast of energy, heat, and life, which delights some and overwhelms others. But for even the mildly adventurous, the encounter with Mumbai will invigorate, illuminate, and fascinate.
Everyday, half of Mumbai's population commutes from far-flung suburbs to downtown offices, banks, factories and mills for a living. Nearly five million people live here - wealthy industrialists, flashy film stars, internationally acclaimed artists, workers, teachers and clerks - all co-existing in soaring skyscrapers and sprawling slums. They come from diverse ethnic backgrounds and speak over a dozen tongues adding color, flavor and texture to the Great Mumbai metropolitan society.
Mumbai is one of the main engines of Indian wealth, with trade, manufacturing, and above all, the film industry (in fact, the world's largest) creating riches. But this attracts even more people looking to make a living, with results that you'll notice immediately: a phenomenally dynamic and very westernized city (a legacy of its colonial past) teeming with the poor.
There are numerous sights to see, exotic and unique. In town there's the Prince of Wales Museum, distinctively British and show-casing antiquities from all India. The Flora Fountain in the heart of the business district is a lovely stone edifice. And the Gateway of India is a must see. Built between 1911 and 1920, as a commemoration of King George's visit to Bombay, its Indian-style dome arches eighty feet over the roadway, and provided the exit for British troops when India achieved independence.
Out in the harbor, at the end of a causeway that can only be traversed at low tide, is the Haji Ali tomb. It is built in the Indian Islamic style of architecture, mosque-like and impressive. There are legends of doomed lovers associated with it. It's most beautiful at sunset.
Since you're already out on the water, you must visit the island of Elephanta, where the cave temples of Shiva contain some of the most glorious sculptures in India. They include the famous three-headed shrine of Shiva. A particularly charming aspect is the monolithic lingam (phallus) in one of the side caves.
If you have a couple of hours to spare, peep into the Eros Cinema, a true filmic palace in the Art Deco style, with marble and chrome all through the lobby, and lovely, muted murals. Catch one of Bollywood's (the name for Mumbai's film industry) masala movies, a genre that conforms tightly to a tried and true formula of action, singing and dancing, slapstick, and violence. It's truly something new to the western viewer.
In a place like Mumbai, you can get the most out of it by walking and looking. Wander by the Churchgate Railway Station, and see the Mumbai Tiffin box suppliers association's dabba wallahs (those famous deliverers of box lunches to the entire Mumbai city) at their work stacking and loading their tiffin tins before they set off on bicycles with them piled high on the back. And definitely observe the women of the city at the Municipal Dhobi Gats, where they pound the clothes of the middle-class against the rocks to clean them.
The jewel in the crown of Mumbai's street life is Chowpaty Beach, yet another unforgettable experience. Not a bathing beach, but rather a promenad that the entire city takes part in. It really comes to life in the evenings, so get there as late as you can, and marvel at the city's panorama. You'll see masseurs plying their trade right next to the ear cleaners, and can watch as card tricksters relieve the unwary of their extra rupees. And if it's dark, you can look along the harbor shore, as it's lit up, and observe the line of lights called The Queen's Necklace.
The shopping opportunities are abundant. The major shopping streets are at the Flora Fountain, the Mangladas Market, the World Trade Center, and Fashion Street. Being a nexus of trade for the entire country, there isn't anything Indian you can't buy there, from saris to sculpture to jewelry and handicrafts. High-end wares from all over the world are to be had here, as well.
Off course you will eat in lordly fashion. Indian food is as varied as India, every region and state having its characteristic dishes, and you can get them all in Mumbai. Western restaurants abound, if you wish a taste of home, but being in India demands dining on Indian food. As it is on the seashore, the cuisine of Mumbai depends heavily on fish and coconuts. Other cooking here shows a Central Asian influence, and if you're a vegetarian, Indian vegetarian dishes are world-renowned.