What’s so special about Mumbai?

Yesterday was India’s 75th Independence Day and inspired by the post on Singapore last week, I decided to do a similar one for India and specifically about my hometown of Mumbai.

I’ve done my home state of Maharashtra and Mumbai in my Travel Bucket List series and the links are there for anyone to explore more about the place I grew up in. So here are some things which are unique to my home. Some may be common knowledge, while others may come as a surprise.

  • Mumbai is today a peninsula, but this was not so. It was earlier an archipelago of seven different islands which were reclaimed to become the core city of Mumbai. The islands which were reclaimed were the Isle of Bombay, Colaba, Old Woman’s Island or Little Colaba, Mahim, Mazagaon, Parel and Worli. It took six decades to merge the islands into one landmass, starting in 1784 and finishing in 1845. Today, any place beyond Mahim on the western side, Sion on the central side and Koliwada on the eastern or harbour side are known as the suburbs.
  • The ubiquetious auto rickshaw is not allowed to ply their services within the original city, that they can only serve residents beyond Mahim on the western side, Sion on the central side and from Chunabhatti on the harbour side. Why this is so I am not too sure, but I assume that when this rule was made, it was probably due to a variety of factors, including the fact that the original city roads were narrower, autos were light vehicles and may cause more traffic jams or perhaps it made more sense at that time to have autos cater to the suburbs where the transport system was not yet so fine-tuned.
  • Mumbai is named after a local temple deity, Mumbadevi, whose temple still stands today in Bhuleshwar. She is the patron goddess of the kolis, the fishing community who were the original inhabitants of the city.
  • But before it was called Mumbai, it was Bombay and regular readers know I still use Bombay interchangeably with Mumbai. Long-term residents still use Bombay and this name is courtesy of the Portuguese. During their rule, it was called Bom Bahia which means a good bay as Mumbai has a natural harbor on its eastern side.
  • Mumbai was part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married the English, King Charles II. Charles II received the ports of Tangier and the Seven Islands of Bombay as part of the dowry which he then leased to the British East India Company for an annual rent of 10 Pounds. For over 300 years the city was known as Bombay, until 1995 when the ruling regional political party Shiv Sena changed the name to Mumbai.
  • Mumbai is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Elephanta Caves, The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus, and the city’s distinctive ensemble of Victorian and Art Deco buildings.
  • The library of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, housed in the iconic Town Hall building in Fort, houses what is considered to be one of the only two original manuscripts of the Divine Comedy written by Dante Alighieri in the 14th century.
  • The 61m high Gilbert Hill in Andheri was formed when molten lava was squeezed out of the earth’s clefts, and is about 66 million years old. The hill was declared a heritage structure in 2007. There are two two Hindu temples atop the hill which have fantastic panoramic views of the city’s western suburbs.
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  • Mumbai was where the first train in India commenced operations. On April 16 1853, India’s first passenger train ran between Bori Bunder which later became the Victoria Terminus and then the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Bombay to Thane, a distance of 34 km. The 14-carriage train was hauled by three steam locomotives, Sahib, Sindh and Sultan and carried 400 people. It was built and operated by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway.
  • The Bhor Ghat section of the line between Bombay and Pune, a mountain passage located between Palasdari and Khandala situated on the crest of the Western Ghats was completed by Alice Tredwell, an English railway contractor and photographer in 1863.
  • The first electric train in India ran on 3 February 1925, between Bombay’s Victoria Terminus and Kurla Harbour. Later, the electric line was extended to Igatpuri and then to Pune.
  • The Mumbai train network is the busiest in the world, carrying nearly eight million passengers daily, packed to almost three times their capacity over a network that spans 465 km. During the rush hours, each train carriage is rammed with around 500 people, yet they were only designed to carry 188 people. Thats roughly 14-16 people per square metre, double the recommended figure. The rail staff have coined a term for this phenomenon: Super-Dense Crush Load.
  • Mumbai also home to the most obsolete electric rail chain in India, which was installed in 1925. This means that instead of there being a third rail on the ground powering the trains, the cables are overhead. This is also one of causes of deaths among passengers that sit atop overcrowded carriages.
  • The first bullet train in India will be launched in 2022 and will run between Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
  • Mumbai’s Juhu Aerodrome was the first airport in India founded in 1928 as India’s first civil aviation airport. Juhu served as the city’s primary airport during and up to World War II. In 1948, commercial operations were moved to the much larger RAF Santacruz which is today the Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, built 2 km east of Juhu aerodrome during the war.
  • In October 1932, the industrialist JRD Tata landed at the Juhu aerodrome, inaugurating India’s first scheduled commercial mail service. This service, between Karachi and Bombay was the inaugural flight of Tata Air Services which started as an airmail carrier within India after winning a contract with Imperial Airways.
  • The first person to own a car in India was Sir Jamshetji Tata, the founder of the Tata empire in 1898, the grandfather of the man who would go on to build the first Indian indigenous car. While the first car to come to India in 1897 was owned by an English man Mr Foster of Crompton Greaves. The following year, Jamshedji Tata became the first Indian to own a car.
  • The first motor bus route in India can also be attributed to Bombay. The route was started on July 15, 1926, and ran between Afghan Church and Crawford Market. The bus fare for the journey was four annas, 25 paise or quarter of a rupee.
  • Mumbai has a coastline of about 150 kilometres and not many know about this. From Colaba to Marine Drive to the Worli Sea Face to beaches of Dadar, and beyond, Mumbai’s coastline is vastly underrated and its potential needs to be tapped.
  • One of Mumbai’s best kept secrets are the flocks of flamingos who make the city their temporary home during the winter season, usually from October/November to March/April. They can be found in the stretch from the Thane Creek to the Sewri jetty area till the Elephanta caves area, a 15-20 km stretch. One of the easiest areas to access is the Sewri marshland area, where photographers and nature lovers can see and photograph them. The best time to watch these birds is during the early morning time and a few hours before and after a high tide.
  • Covering an area of 104 sq km, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali is the largest park in the world located within city limits. This dense forested park is home to a resident tiger population, over 2000 year-old Buddhist caves, two large lakes and so much more. Its lush green cover counters much of the air pollution in Mumbai, leading to it being referred to as the lungs of the city. With a history dating back to the 4th century BC, the park is home to 274 species of birds, 35 species of mammals, 170 species of butterflies and more than 1300 species of trees.
  • One of the newer symbols of the city, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, officially known as the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link is a 5.6 km long, 8-lane wide bridge that links Bandra in the western suburbs with Worli in south Mumbai. It is a cable-stayed bridge with pre-stressed concrete-steel viaducts on either side. The bridge is made up of cement and steel wire that equal to the girth of the earth and was made with 90,000 tonnes of cement and steel wire.
  • Mumbai is the most populous city in India with a population of exceeding 23 million and the sixth most populous metropolis in the world. The city is so densely populated that there is only 1.1 sq m of open space available for Mumbaikars. It is the most cramped city on the planet with less space per person than in New York, Mexico City, Shanghai, Hong Kong and even Tokyo.
  • Also known as the entertainment capital of the country, Mumbai is home to the Hindi film industry known as Bollywood. It is also where India’s first feature film, the silent film, Raja Harishchandra was released in 1913. The film, produced and directed by Dadasaheb Phalke premiered at the Olympia Theatre in Bombay on 21 April 1913, and had its theatrical release on 3 May 1913 at the Coronation Cinematograph and Variety Hall, Girgaon. It was a commercial success and laid the foundation for the film industry in the country.
  • The Bombay Stock Exchange or BSE is the first ever stock exchange in Asia. It was established in 1875 and is the first in the country to be granted permanent recognition under the Securities Contract Regulation Act, 1956.
  • Mumbai is the financial and commercial capital of India because it houses many important financial institutions like the Reserve Bank of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the National Stock Exchange as well is the headquarters of many national corporations and the India office of international corporations.
  • Mumbaikars are also the top tax payers in India with the city consistently being the city which is the highest contributer to the national exchequer. The city contributes almost a third of all tax collected in India.
  • Mumbai is also considered the wealthiest city in the country and is well-known for it’s stark contrast between the rich and poor, both often living cheek by jowl. While there are several large slums and chawls, The city also houses the highest number of millionaires and billionaires in the country, making it the richest city by average estimates.
  • The Taj Mahal Palace in Colaba is India’s first ever 5 star hotel. Founded in 1903, the hotel was the first in India to have electricity, Turkish baths, and German elevators, among other features. It also had India’s first all-day restaurant, as well as the country’s first discotheque. The hotel is built in the Saracenic Revival style and is located next to the Gateway of India. The hotel is believed to have been built back to front, was founded by Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata and the story goes that Tata was denied admission to the Pyrke’s Apollo Hotel then situated close to the Taj and decided to build a hotel in which Indians can enter. Today, the Taj is one of India’s best five star hotel chains.
  • Mumbai is one of the most helpful cities of India. Even though the city is known to have a callous attitude and there are many instances of not knowing neighbours, when the push comes to a shove, Mumbaikars are a helpful lot. Even floods, bombings, terrorist attacks don’t faze us and the helpful city goes out of their way to shelter and feed those who are stranded. I have many stories of this attitude, both personal and anecdotal which proves this adage right.
  • Mumbai is the birthplace of many internationally renowned authors. Rudyard Kipling, author of many children’s books including The Jungle Book and Kim was born in Bombay. Kipling’s birth home on the campus of the J.J. School of Art was for many years used as the dean’s residence. Although a cottage bears a plaque noting it as his birth site, the original one may have been torn down and replaced decades ago. Salman Rushdie, famous for the Satanic Verses and one of my favorite books, Midnight’s Children was born in Bombay as was Rohinton Mistry, the author of Tales from Firoza Baugh and Such a Long Journey.
  • The dabbawalas of Mumbai are internationally known with a system that is even being studied at institutions like Harvard. The famous century-old network of dabbawalas is a lunchbox delivery system, unique only to Mumbai who deliver hot lunches from homes and restaurants to people at work. The lunchboxes are picked up in the late morning, delivered predominantly using bicycles and railway trains, and returned empty in the afternoon. They are also used by meal suppliers in Mumbai, who pay them to ferry lunchboxes with ready-cooked meals from central kitchens to customers and back. More than 5000 dabbawallas split into 200 teams of 25 people each and manage everything, from pick-up to delivery. The enormous complex network is so well maintained with a near-perfect success rate, that the Forbes magazine has awarded the network with its highest rating, Sigma Six, a rating shared with corporate giants like General Electric and Motorola, which signifies less than one error per one million transactions. A colour-coding system identifies the destination and recipient and each dabbawala is required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the form of two bicycles, a wooden crate for the tiffins, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and the white Gandhi topi or cap. Each month there is a division of the earnings of each unit and fines are imposed for alcohol, tobacco, being out of uniform, and absenteeism. A collecting dabbawala, usually on bicycle, collects dabbas either from a worker’s home or from the dabba makers. As many of the carriers are of limited literacy with the average literacy of Dabbawallahs that of 8th grade, the dabbas or lunch boxes have some sort of distinguishing mark on them, such as a colour or group of symbols.
  • Something even I was not aware, but now that I know, doesn’t seem far fetched is that Mumbai ranks among the top five in the largest number of stray dogs in the world. And because of this, the city has one of the highest numbers of cases of people being bittem by these dogs and due to which all hospitals are equipped with rabies related treatments.
  • Mumbai is also home to the world’s second most expensive property, Antilla. The house, which is the home of industrialist Mukesh Ambani and his family. At 27 stories, 173 metres tall, over 37,000 sq m, and with amenities such as three helipads, air traffic control, a 168-car garage, a ballroom, 9 high speed elevators, a 50-seat theatre, terrace gardens, swimming pool, spa, health centre, a temple, and a snow room that spits out snowflakes from the walls, the skyscraper-mansion is one of world’s largest and most elaborate private homes. The architectural design of Antilia has been fashioned along the lines of the lotus and the sun. The top six floors of the building have been set aside as the private full-floor residential area. It is also designed to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake. It is valued at more than $1.2 billion, deemed to be the world’s second most valuable residential property, after British crown property Buckingham Palace, and the world’s most valuable private residence.
  • Imagica, a 130-acre theme park in Khopoli on the Mumbai-Pune highway is India’s largest theme park. The park has an estimated daily capacity of 15,000 visitors and to date, has hosted over 5.2 million visitors. The park has theme, water, and snow parks.
  • 32 billionaires live in Mumbai, with a collective net worth of US$115.1B. This places the city in sixth position on the world’s list of cities with the highest number of billionaires.
  • While Mumbai may be the wealthiest city in the country, it also houses the Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi which houses about a million people. And Dharavi isn’t just Asia’s largest slum, but it also happens to be one of the most pricey with houses here likely to cost at least Rs 300,000 or about USD 4,000. Combined with Kurla-Ghatkopar, Mankhurd-Govandi, and Bahndup-Mulund slums, they account for more than half of the city’s population and it is estimated about 62% of the population lives in slums.

I hope you enjoyed reading more about my beloved city as much as I enjoyed writing about it. And some of these facts were unique enough that once the travel starts, you will make a trip to visit Mumbai. Actually, this blog post is making me very nostalgic about the city and I want to make a trip there as soon as possible.

3 thoughts on “What’s so special about Mumbai?

  1. Wow, this is so cool and informative. And it’s also cool that your hometown is Maharashtra, as I’ve been to Pune once to cover the lives of the pehalwans. Amazing post. Thanks for sharing!

    • Really! Pune is the cultural capital of the state and has a rich history. Mumbai, my hometown is the financial capital of not just the state of Maharashtra, but if the country too. Was the story you covered that of the wrestlers?

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