Our Network <--> Mumbai

Mumbai, named after the local goddess Mumba (ai means mother in Marathi), is built on a long, thin island just off the west coast of Maharashtra and linked to the mainland by causeways. It's India's big-money business centre, and where the beautiful people hang out. Built on elegant colonial foundations are flashy skyscrapers and designer boutiques, which give it cool, glitz and glamour. As one of the key ports on the Indian Ocean trade routes, foreigners have been visiting here since Ptolemy arrived in 150 AD. The Portuguese took the area over from the Sultan of Gujarat in 1534, and then gave it away as a wedding present to Charles II of England in 1661 when he married Catherine of Braganza. In 1668, it was handed over to the fledgling East India Company under which it flourished. Today, Mumbai has one of the world's largest stock exchanges; oil and gas production just off the coast; a thriving textiles industry; India's busiest airport; frenetic docks and, of course, Bollywood, the world's most prolific film industry.

However, there is a flip side to all the ostentation. With a population of around 12 million people, and thousands more streaming in daily, Mumbai is desperately overcrowded. About half of them live on the streets or in the miles of squalid slums. It is a sight that few tourists see, but of which the streams of beggars keep them constantly aware.

The far south of the island, most popular with tourists, is full of hotels, shops, cafés and restaurants. The Gateway of India was built in 1911 to welcome King George V and Queen Mary; in 1948, the last British troops left from here. Behind it is the grand old Taj Mahal Hotel, and nearby is the Apollo Bunder, a lovely open seafront area teeming with street sellers and buskers.

To the north of Colaba, is the area of Fort, one of the city's main commercial centres. Oval Maidan and Azad Maidan, two huge green spaces frequently used for cricket matches, flanked by a parade of grand neo-Gothic buildings, mark the western edge of the district. North of here is the fabulously overblown railway station Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (commonly referred to as the CST). Completed in 1888, it is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with stained-glass windows, towering spires and domed arches, the largest British building on the subcontinent and still a major transport hub. Clustered round Crawford Market are the main bazaar quarter (see Shopping), the Mumbadevi Temple, dedicated to the city's patron goddess, the Bhuleshwar religious district with its gaudy flower stalls, and the city's largest mosque, the Jama Masjid (Abdul Rehman Street), built in 1770.

To the west, the southern shore curves round in a huge gentle bay, lined by Chowpatty Beach, a popular spot for romantic strolls and spectacular sunsets. With the dusk come the buskers and snack sellers; grab a bhelpuri (a popular local snack) and join the party. The atmosphere is even better during the annual Ganesh Chaturthi Festival (August/September) when giant statues of the elephant god are plunged into the sea. Behind the beach, Netaji Subhash Marg (Marine Drive) follows the coast round to the far tip of the bay where Malabar Hill is a stony residential area with several fine parks including the formal Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens (Hanging Gardens) with their superb panoramic views of the city. Beside them, in the Towers of Silence, the Parsi lay out their dead for the elements and vultures.

Five kilometres long Juhu Beach, about 20km north of the city centre, is the city's favourite playground, with many of its best hotels, restaurants and clubs and plenty of street entertainment.
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