Mumbai was a surprise! We were braced for crowds, traffic, poverty and filth. We certainly did find the traffic—not so much the crowds, poverty or filth. Although all do exist. The Mumbai population is around 23 million—that’s one huge city! The traffic is mind-boggling, but I wonder how many people own their own cars. So much of the traffic seems to be taxis!
We began our Indian adventure with a stop at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. It was built in 1903 by Jamsetji Tata after he was refused entry to the grand Watson Hotel. Watson was restricted to whites only; dark skinned Indians were not allowed. Our tour was arranged by the concierge at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, so I suppose it was natural the guide would show us the current state of the Watson Hotel. Time was not kind to that grand old hotel. She is now an apartment building.
In November 2008, the Taj Mahal Palace was attacked by the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group. There were a series of attacks in Mumbai. 167 people were killed. 31 of them at the Taj over a 3-day period. Mostly Indian citizens, but Westerners with foreign passports were also singled out. Indian Commandos ended the 3-day siege at the hotel when they killed the gunmen barricaded in the hotel.
One of the iconic sites in Mumbai is the Gateway of India on Wellington Pier with the Mumbai Harbour as its backdrop. Built in 1911 for the visit of King George V. It also witnessed the departure of the last British Regiment in 1947 when independence was declared.
Today, Mumbai is the business capital of India, as well as the entertainment hub. The city is home to India’ film industry, known as Bollywood.
The architecture in Mumbai is head-turning. The British Colonial buildings are impressive. And the Art Deco buildings surprising. I was amazed to learn Mumbai is second to Miami Beach in the sheer number of Art Deco buildings. Viewing Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach from Malabar Hill across the Back Bay is evocative of Miami’s South Beach.
We saw so much in Mumbai: Ghandi’s House, the old Railroad Station, the first Hospital, the Laundries. But to me, the most exciting site was the outdoor book market located in the Fort District, not too far from Mumbai University. We even saw the most expensive single family house in the world!