Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. Its population of 19 million makes it the second most populous city in the world behind Shanghai.
Its port handles more than half of India's maritime cargo and it is the commercial and entertainment centre of India. Its business opportunities and high standard of living attract migrants from all over India, making Mumbai a potpourri of many communities and cultures. Despite that, 55 percent of the population lives in slums, with the Dharavi slum being the largest in Asia.
First-time visitors to the sprawling city are usually taken aback by the noise, and getting around can be quite daunting. The city's main railway station, built by the British in 1897, is the centre of the city and the rickety carriages move around six million people every day. About 3500 people die every year illegally crossing the train lines!
The city is a colourful one. Everything you see around you has the colour of the Bollywood films now popular the world over. There are malls full of designer labels, cricket games on the Oval Maidan, families enjoying themselves at the crowded Chowpatty Beach, red double-decker buses, crazy traffic jams and the sights of the red-light district.
Mumbaikars, as they locals are known, love to promenade and Chowpatty Beach is a favourite. Its lights follow the shape of the bay, earning it the name "The Queen's Necklace". There are stands along the way selling bhelpuri crisp, fried savoury dough but don't think about going for a swim. The water is toxic!
The Victorian townscape is reminiscent of the prosperous 19th-century English industrial city was and there are a wealth of bazaars.
Colaba is the travellers' centre with many hotels. It is also the major shopping district for tourists and locals, the art centre and a host of cafes, bars and restaurants. The art deco Regent Theatre and Gateway of India are located there. The Gateway was built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of Queen Mary and King George V.
The Dhobi Ghat is where Mumbai's laundry is done. Clothes are washed by hundreds of dhobis (laundry men and women) by hand, on concrete sinks and dried in the sun, as it has been done for generations.
All of that adds up to more people, noise and colour all at once than most of us have ever experienced, but if you are in Mumbai for the annual Holi Festival, be prepared!
The Holi Festival happens country-wide in February or March, depending upon when the moon is full. It's all about celebrating the arrival of spring. It's colourful, noisy and messy. Everyone throws gulal powder paint and water at everyone else. Even complete strangers.
The air is bright with clouds of the coloured powder, and the day before it seems the entire population of 19 million residents are at the markets stocking up on it. On the night before, festival bonfires are lit at crossroads and special delicacies are prepared.
It's all done with a lot of good humour but if you are there at Holi time, here are a couple of tips. Don't wear your best clothes, and be sure to buy natural powders. Some may cause eye and skin irritations. Keep your fingers crossed that everyone follows the same rule!
Le Royal Méridien Mumbai is a 171-room five-star hotel, minutes from business and shopping areas. It was designed along the lines of a 19th century summer palace and has a charming colonial era ambience with the amenities of today.
Choose from a huge range of pillow types and herbal soaps, and enjoy the company of a teddy bear on your bed and a family of ducks in the bathroom. A pool in the lush gardens enjoys sunlight all day.
Mumbai, on the west coast of India.
Ausindia Holidays has seven-day Mumbai with Aurangabad and Bollywood tour for $1189 per person twin share, land only. Accommodation, breakfast and transfers are included.
Thai Airways International has return flights to Mumbai.
- Perth $1798
- Melbourne $2016
- Brisbane $2028
- Sydney $2034
Prices correct at July 10, 2008.
For further information
Le Royal Méridien Mumbai
Sahar Airport Road
Mumbai, Maharashtra 400 099
Ph: +91 22 2838 0000
Fax: +91 22 2838 0101
Level 5, Glasshouse
135 King Street
Ph: (02) 9221 9555
Fax: (02) 9221 9777
Level 2, 32 York Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: 1300 146 342
Fax: 1300 724 490
Ph: 1300 651 960
It is recommended travellers to India see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information visit www.welltogo.com.au.
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