I know it’s a cliché but if any city should be called ‘city of contrasts’, it has to be Mumbai. It’s a city where thousands of dreams are realized every day as millions die. It’s posh and yet poor, dirty, yet clean, traditional, yet modern but above all, a city with an immortal soul and unwavering character beneath all these layers of contrasts. If you visit Mumbai for the first time and open yourself to this city, it will not only accept you but it will attach itself to you and follow you wherever you go. As Salman Rushdie said it, you can take the boy out of Bombay but you can’t take Bombay out of the boy. However, as a visitor, there are some things and facts about Mumbai that you should know before visiting.
I spent some time living in Delhi and Kolkata but I was always inspired by Mumbai and since my first day in India, I knew it’s a city I have to visit. So, I booked the cheapest flight from Kolkata to Mumbai and the city impressed me as soon as I reached. Hopefully, this article will give you some insight into the City of Seven Islands and show you what can you expect from your visit.
Mumbai, the first city to…
Mumbai is and always has been the commercial capital of India. In 1853, it was the first Indian city to have a train line. The first 5-star hotel (the Taj) was built in Mumbai in 1903. In 1926, Mumbai became the first city to establish bus service in India and in 1928 (long before websites started offering the cheapest flight from Kolkata to Mumbai), the first Indian city to have an airport.
What about its name?
Before we continue with more interesting facts about Mumbai, let me devote a few lines to the city’s name. Once upon a time, Mumbai was under Portuguese control and they named the city ‘Bom Bhaia’ meaning ‘good bay’. The British used the name Bombay during the British Raj but after India became independent, Bombay was renamed after the local temple deity worshiped by the city’s indigenous fishing communities- Mumbadevi. Today, the city name is still a heated topic, as the local right-wing party (Shiv Sena) claims that the city’s name was always Mumbai and Bombay is a legacy of British rule that has very little to do with the local culture.
Liberals, on the other hand, criticize Shiv Sena for trying to impose a Marathi identity on the city while leading xenophobic rhetoric to everyone in Mumbai who’s not Marathi and they associate the name Mumbai with the city’s intolerance towards everything that’s not Marathi. According to them, Mumbai is a city while Bombay is a feeling (of the city’s urbanism and progressiveness).
Facts that make Mumbai… well, Mumbai
A new definition of space
You’ve probably seen viral pictures that show just how ridiculously densely populated Mumbai is. Finding empty space in Mumbai is like trying to find Amish people in Hooters (it probably won’t happen). To get an idea of just how crowded Mumbai is, hear this; on average, every person in Mumbai has an open space of only 1.28 square meters (and growing). Can you imagine not being able to walk more than two steps without seeing another person?
North and South Mumbai facts
There’s a big difference between North and South Mumbai. South Mumbai starts as you cross Bandra and head towards Mahim. The people that live in South Mumbai like to call them SoBo townies and they like to refer to people who live on the north side as ‘burbs’. Most typical Sobos think that autos are a way to commute for poor people and it’s no surprise that autos are forbidden in South Mumbai. And despite all the recent development in the northern part of the city, South Mumbai still remains the more popular destination for visitors, as most tourist attractions are located in this part of the city.
No selfie zones
Perhaps you didn’t know but India has a ridiculously high mortality rate caused by selfies. In fact, about 60% of “selfie deaths” in the world happened in India. Hence, it’s no surprise that the local authorities in Mumbai declared 16 non-selfie zones in the city. Make sure to learn where are these places and contain yourself from taking a selfie in these locations in order to avoid trouble.
Local trains and record-breaking Mumbai facts!
Trains in Mumbai transport more than 6 million people every day and 2.6 billion people every year. That’s roughly one-third of the world’s population! Needless to say, Mumbai’s trains carry more passengers per kilometer than any other railway on Earth. If you want to get somewhere by train, I suggest you to avoid moving between 8 and 10 AM and between 6 and 8 PM. This is Mumbai’s rush hour and a time when the craziest things in the train happen. People jumping on and off the train while it’s still moving, 200 people squeezing in a coach that was designed to carry 50 people, and shouting and cursing everywhere might seem like a real shock to you but for people that commute via trains in Mumbai, this is an ordinary morning/evening.
Another thing you might not know about Mumbai’s railway is that it’s also the deadliest one in the world. Every year, more than 3500 people die on the train tracks! These are mostly passengers that cross the treks in attempts to save a few minutes by not crossing the treks in the designated area.
One of my favorite Mumbai train facts is that they carry more than 200,000 custom-made lunches per day! These meals are delivered around Mumbai by more than 5,000 couriers, locally known as dabbawallas. This makes the trains of Mumbai the largest-scale delivery system that works with 0 documentation. The reason for this? Most dabbawallahs can’t read and use a system that consists of numbers and colors. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Having in mind that Mumbai has only 1.28 sqm per resident and is home to the busiest railway in the world, there’s no reason to think that the traffic is any better. Mumbai is a city that never sleeps and traffic is omnipresent, whether that’s a holiday or just a normal day. Trust me, you don’t want to get stuck in traffic during rush hour in Mumbai. Every day after 5 PM, the roads of Mumbai become packed and you’ll probably reach another city via flight than getting from South to North Mumbai and vice versa.
Street food in Mumbai is a way of life
It’s a fact that no trip to Mumbai is complete without trying the best of the city’s street food. However, many people have concerns when it comes to hygiene. A good way to find a great place to eat and eliminate all hygiene concerns is to just to follow the queue and go where locals go. In Mumbai, you’ll find a lot of food-lined streets, known as Khao gallis. This is where Mumbaites come to eat their feelings. Some of the most famous street food classics include pav bhaji (thick vegetable curry served with a soft bread roll), bhel puri (chutneys-flavored rice), kebab rolls, Pani puri, and of course, vada pav.
Vada pav has an iconic status in Mumbai and Maharastra and is probably one of the most famous street food dishes in India. This simple street food dish feeds everyone in Mumbai, from wealthy businessmen to poor people.
Facts about Mumbai you might not know
It’s home to the biggest national park within a city’s limits
Most often, national parks are located far away from inhabited places. However, Mumbai has its own national park within the city’s limits. Spreading across 104 square kilometers, Sanja Gandhi National Park is the largest national park located within a city’s limits. This means that humans aren’t the only species populating Mumbai’s urban area. Monkeys, leopards, crocodiles, pythons, porcupine, grey langur, and deer, just to name a few, also live within Mumbai’s urban area.
It was once an archipelago which consisted of 7 islands
Most tourists don’t know that Mumbai once consisted of seven islands. That’s why you hear some people refer to the city as the ‘Isle of Bombay’. The city’s islands were merged by the British authorities in what was one of the most ambitious landfill projects of the 19th century. Soon afterward, Bombay got a very active port and became one of the world’s biggest port cities.
Flamingos come to visit every year
When you think of places in the world where you can see flamingos, Mumbai doesn’t appear in a lot of conversations. However, a large population of flamingos migrates every year to the swamps of Bhandup and Sewri. The best time to see flamingos in Mumbai is between October and March.
A geological wonder in the heart of the city
Formed around 66 million years ago, Gilbert Hill is a 200 ft-tall hill made of black basalt rock located in Andheri West. It’s one of the biggest geological phenomenons in India and a lot of people compare it to Devil Tower in Wyoming, USA. However, despite being located in such a prominent location, most Mumbaites pass by it every day blissfully unaware of this wonder of nature, making Gilbert Hill one of Mumbai’s less frequented places.
A few more facts about Mumbai tourists should know
Rickshaw drivers won’t try to cheat you
Auto rickshaws are one of the most famous transportation alternatives in India but in most places, auto drivers will try to overcharge you, especially if you’re a foreigner. However, in Mumbai, this isn’t the case. Auto drivers here are required to run the meter by law and you won’t even have to ask them to do so. And unlike Delhi’s rude auto wallas, the auto drivers in Mumbai are actually helpful and can even help you with directions.
Mumbai facts: Everyone’s always late
With so many people, such as dense traffic, and such an overloaded train network, no surprise here… Mumbaites take ‘being fashionably late’ to a whole new level but the good thing is they won’t get upset if you turn up after they do.
You can easily score a part in a Bollywood film
If you’re a tourist in Mumbai (especially white), you have a good chance of appearing in a Bollywood movie as a back-up dancer or a background actor. Just roam around the popular tourist spots long enough and someone will probably approach you with an offer to make a few extra bucks for appearing in a new Bollywood movie.
Enjoying this post? Check out my post about India’s most unusual religious festivals.
Public display of affection
Similarly like many other places in India, public display of affection is not approved by the public. At one point, this was even considered as a punishable offense and even though that’s not the case anymore, public display of affection is still a taboo. This forces the couples looking for some time alone to head to the so-called “Lovers Points”. These places can be anything, ranging from parks, seafronts, and even highways, where couples take comfort in numbers. This is mostly because of Mumbai’s ridiculously high real estate prices, which brings us to the next point:
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Mumbai is a city that lives in extremes. Mumbai is home to more than 10,000 millionaires (the most in India) and 49 billionaires (7th in the world) but also millions of people live in Mumbai’s slums. There are people that organize parties and hire white women are being used as human tables while thousands struggle to bring enough food for their families every day.
Hence, it’s no surprise that Mumbai is home to some spectacular sights such as…
World’s most expensive house
The 400,000 square-feet-house belongs to Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India. It has 27 floors with floating gardens and helipads and according to estimates, it costs around $1 billion USD.
A bridge made up of cement and steel wire equal to the girth of the earth
Stretching over 5,6 kilometers, the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link is one of the most spectacular sights in Mumbai. In order to make it, the local authorities had to use 90,000 tonnes of cement and steel wire, roughly enough material to cover the entire girth of our planet.
However, Mumbai is also home to…
Some of the largest slums in the world
Mumbai is home to not only some of the largest slums in the world but also the most expensive ones. But not everything is black and white in the slums. Roughly one half (42%) of Mumbai’s residents live in the slums. You might think you can find cheap accommodation in Mumbai if you’re only looking for the basic amenities but you couldn’t be further away from the truth. Mumbai’s ridiculously high real estate prices also apply on the slums. According to The Guardian, Dharavi gets between $700 million and $1 billion of income through the 5,000 shops in the slum and the 15,000 single-room factories.
Additionally, tourists pay up to $300 for a guided tour to Dharavi in order to experience poverty and click some pictures for their Instagram profiles. Dharavi is also a hub for illegal activities and a lot of the people that live there aren’t poor at all. Have this in mind before you sign up for one of those tours.
Finally, if you want to truly experience Mumbai, don’t just go to the Gateway of India, Elephanta Caves, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or the Marine Drive. Don’t get me wrong, these places are spectacular but the best way to experience Mumbai is through its people. Meet the locals, talk to the street vendors and drivers, learn about local traditions and everyday life. Their dreams, failures, and their place in this urban jungle full of contrasts. This is where the real beauty of Mumbai lies…
Useful tips for visiting Mumbai
If you’re looking for a cheap flight to Mumbai, Air France’s Oh-la-la deals always help me save up to 20% on all flights to India.
Want to take a tour in India and learn a lot about the local culture while visiting some of the most interesting tourist sights in the country? I personally recommend Trafalgar’s Colorful India tour.
If you want to save on accommodation in India, this special Booking.com offer helps you save up to 15% on all Booking.com properties in Mumbai. And if you want to stay in one of the best hotels in town, this special offer gets you 10% off on your stay at all Radisson Hotels in Mumbai.
Finally, don’t forget about travel insurance; for the best deals on the market, go to World Nomads. If something happens, you can make a claim online and get paid ASAP.
How many of these Mumbai facts did you know? Did you like this article? Then, help us share and celebrate Mumbai’s (or Bombay’s, as you please) spirit.
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