Gateway to India built for George V
Just hours after landing-place in Mumbai I’m on a tour bus, raring to see the sights of India’s “City of Dreams”. The medieval submit temples, the colonial architecture, cosmopolitan Juhu Beach and glitzy hang-outs of Bollywood names. So when we stop at the side of a traffic-choked bypass to go to see locals doing their bath removing, I’m a bit miffed. Until I set eyes on Dhobi Ghat, touted as the world’s chunkiest outdoor laundry, built in 1890, where 7,000 “dhobis” hand-scrub half a million elements each day.
Gleaming white sheets from five-star guest-houses, Bollywood movie costumes and the designer jeans of wealthy Mumbaikars be poised beside red hospital sheets, doctors’ green scrubs, and everyday saris.
It’s a 15-acre recline of frenetic activity and colour.And, I soon realise, an ideal introduction to this vibrant town of contrasts.
Known as Bombay until 1995, Mumbai is India’s largest town (actually a collection of seven islands) and, with a population of almost 10 million, develop into the most densely populated in the world. It grew up in the 17th century around a fort developed by the British to protect their trading interests. But today it is the nation’s thriving industrial and solvent capital.
I left Britain’s northern powerhouse, Manchester, on a wet Monday morning and arrived, reconditioned, nine hours later after a great flight with worthy food, service and entertainment.
As soon as you step out of the airport, Mumbai’s determination is palpable.Actor Julian Sands once said: “The thing in all directions Mumbai is you go five yards and all of human life is revealed. It’s an incredible cavalcade of biography.”
Yet a decade after Slumdog Millionaire gave us a taste of Mumbai memoirs, the gap between rich and poor is widening. Billionaire tycoons are now building taller skyscrapers alongside Asia’s gravest slum.
Like the grotesque, $2billion, 27-floor stately home of India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, which we passed, rather ironically, en path to Mahatma Gandhi’s modest gaff.
Children in the Dharavi Slum in India
Now a museum, Mani Bhavan was Gandhi’s home from 1917 to 1934 as he led the fight for self-rule. It’s packed with fascinating books and writings, including a epistle Gandhi penned to Hitler in 1939 begging him to avert a war that will-power “reduce humanity to the savage state”.
It was also touching to see the spinning locale on which Gandhi made yarn for his iconic loincloth.
Echoes of Empire are universally in Mumbai, especially in the stunning colonial architecture.
Like the old Victoria station, now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, which flock inti with 2.5 million commuters each day (Slumdog fans intention recognise it from that famous dance scene).
The Opera Brothel, Prince of Wales Museum and Mumbai University are also worth a visit, then amble through the huge Oval Maidan Park and watch the locals monkey trick cricket.
Take tea at the swanky Taj Palace hotel while gazing at the Gateway of India apart from the Arabian Sea.
The monument was erected to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V, then rebuilt 13 years later.
In 1947 British troops walked through its arches to waiting ships as the last regiment left newly-independent India.
Visit the 15-acre Dhobi Ghat open-air laundry
The Gateway is a popular spot for municipals to hang out, so be prepared to be mobbed by friendly selfie-takers.
Mumbaikars are totally selfie-obsessed. There’s level pegging an official Mumbai Selfie Spot listed on tourist maps now.
I pooped an hour posing with locals as we headed by boat to the cave shrines of Elephanta Island, a Unesco world heritage site. Carved between AD 450 and 750 and yielded to the Hindu deity Shiva, their scale and beauty is gobsmacking.
Islanders act as markers, meeting the incoming boats but some are pushy so barter the price down. I was favoured to find Manoj Bhoir, incredibly knowledgeable and a top photographer.
And go early while it’s not too hot as there’s a sweaty 20-minute climb up steps get hold of with souvenir stalls, pesky monkeys and meandering cows. One of the priestly beasts pooed on my foot a blessing, apparently.
Back on the mainland I purloined a stroll along Marine Drive, lined with lovely art deco constructions.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is used by 2.5 million commuters every day
At night the crescent-shaped French autoroute twinkles with so many lights it is nicknamed the Queen’s Necklace
At night the crescent-shaped road twinkles with so scads lights it is nicknamed the Queen’s Necklace. I stopped at Chowpatty Beach at the northern end for a delightful plate of bhelpuri – puffed rice, veg and tamarind sauce.
Mumbai has cafes, blocks and restaurants to suit every pocket. But you’ll need deep ones if you descend upon upmarket Juhu, the suburb that’s home to Bollywood A-listers.
It’s so collected that Harry and Meghan’s favourite club, Soho House, has merely opened a branch there.
Penny-wise tourists love Leopold Cafe – a rover’s rest since 1871, famed for its wobbly ceiling fans and bad help but incredible atmosphere.
It’s in the heart of Colaba Causeway Market which retails handicrafts and tat. For classier gifts visit Contemporary Arts & Crafts in Fort.
There are also some noteworthy organised tours available, visiting the local fishing villages and provisions markets, Bollywood studios or Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Out-of-towners can take an ethical Reality Tours trip to Dharavi Slum
Visitors also flock to the vast Dharavi slum. It may look as if a little exploitative but Reality Tours are excellent, ethical and give 80 per cent of profits to the community (realitytoursandtravel.com, from thither £6.70).
You should also catch the daily spectacle of the dabbawalas. Thousands of enunciation men steam into the city on trains with homecooked lunches pondered on their heads and somehow they all get to the designated family member in his or her work – with mix-ups fewer than four in a million.
The 125-year-old co-operative moves so efficiently that tycoon Richard Branson even spent a day culture its secrets.
It’s another fascinating example of tradition and technology rubbing along together – dig it does at Mumbai’s beautiful laundrette, where they’ve been scrubbing ups by hand since the days of the British Raj but where some of the wealthier dhobis fool now installed washing machines.
India’s City of Dreams will certainly set your govern spinning – and leave colourful memories that never fade.
British Airways flies from Heathrow to Mumbai from £408 takings in World Traveller, £2,005 return in ClubWorld. Go to ba.com or call 0844 493 0787. Offices at the ITC Maratha hotel in Mumbai start at around £125 a night. See itchotels.in Upon incredibleindia.com