Although Delhi is India’s political capital, Mumbai is its cultural and financial center, as well as the home of the world’s largest film industry, Bollywood.
Mumbai’s polyglot of culture, history and pop modernity give it a very modern charm. Bollywood produces about twice as many feature films per year as Hollywood. But it’s not all modernity; it’s also the home of Zoroastrians, whose religion goes back as far as 3,000 years.
In a day you can walk past the Zoroastrian Complex, with its funerary rituals in which the dead are exposed to vultures on its roof and take in the frenzy of a Bollywood movie, and don’t be surprised if the audience sings along with the actors. Located attractively along the Arabian Sea, the western district of the city is where such monuments as the Gateway to India and the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel Mumbai can be found. Just a few miles across the harbor is Elephanta Island whose labyrinth of 5th-century sculptures celebrate the majesty of the Hindu goddess Shiva.
At the Mumba Devi Temple visitors explore a temple whose devotees recall the days when Mumbai was a gathering of islands off the coast. The same British who connected the islands to create the city we find today, destroyed the original temple to Mumba, but they did build the Gateway of India, a powerful imperial monument, part triumphal arch/part gateway. Across the street, the Taj Hotel was built in 1902 by Jamsheti Tata as the first monument in modern Indian independence; an independence which would only become a political reality in 1947 with the departure of the British. Tata decided to build his hotel when he was denied entry into a British hotel that refused entrance to “Indians or dogs.” For Indians today, the name Tata is synonymous with their modernity and their economic independence. The Tata Group today is a conglomerate of some 80 companies.
At the Gandhi Museum, you can visit his home between 1917 and 1934. Beyond its own attractions, Mumbai is also a gateway to Maharashtra. At about 75 percent the size of California, Maharashtra is home to tropical forests, tiger reserves, mountain ranges, about 450 miles of beaches and such UNESCO World Heritage Sites as the mind-boggling Ajanta and Ellora Cave complexes. The Deccan Odyssey explores Maharashtra and Goa on a seven-night rail journey beginning and ending in Mumbai.
Spice is what characterizes the food in Mumbai, where the Portuguese-influenced masala spicing of nearby Goa makes for wonderful grilled fish. The street foods in Mumbai are among the best in Asia. You can get virtually any regional Indian cuisine in Mumbai as well as a full compliment of well prepared international foods. The city is also home to many five-star restaurants. Mean temperatures in Mumbai range from the mid 60s to the low 90s pretty consistently throughout the year. The rainy season runs from June to September. Air India, British Airways, Delta, Northwest, Jet Airways and Lufthansa (which flies more Americans to India than any other airline) all have service to Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.