A swampy, mosquito infested, marshy island off the west coast of India with little or no potential, or so thought the Portuguese when they gave it to Charles II of England as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza. How very stupid of them! The British East India Company leased it from the Crown, and developed the small fishing villages and natural harbours into the subcontinent’s busiest port and the region’s centre for trade, finance and industry.
Maharashtra’s capital, Mumbai, wears several hats or should we say crowns? India’s largest city, commercial capital, industrial powerhouse, busiest port, fashion capital, ‘Bollywood’ (India’s Hollywood), world’s biggest textiles market – the list goes on and on. The city thrives on contrasts; it is home to the richest and the poorest, sleek limousines jostle cycles, red double-decker buses and three-wheeler auto-rickshaws; impressive high rises soar above crowded ugly slums and shanty towns; glitzy shop fronts amid pavement stalls; glamorous film stars and homeless beggars attract attention at traffic lights and amidst all this are people, people, people everywhere, for Mumbai is home to some 13 million Indians.
Like a giant magnet it draws people from all walks of life - traders and artisans, musicians and movie stars, peasants and industrialists, entrepreneurs and executives, students and dropouts. In fact, any Indian with a dream heads for Mumbai and this pulsating, cosmopolitan, multicultural city of opportunity folds them all to its bosom. Mumbai is like little bits of India all rolled into one. So, don’t just pass through as you head for Rajasthan or Goa, but stay a while to explore its sights and soul – a heady experience awaits you.
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