(By Pushan Sengupta)
People residing in Mumbai still call the city by its erstwhile name, Bombay. When asked why, they all say the same thing: ‘Mumbai is an official name and Bombay is a sentiment’. This is only one of the many contradictions that define this sprawling city lying on the west coast of India.
Though it is one of the world’s largest cities, Mumbai is, in its own way, like no other city on the face of earth. From the uber-rich Ambanis to desperately poor slum-dwellers, Mumbai is home to 25 million souls. It is called the city of dreams, whose streets, paved with metaphoric gold, draw people from all corners of the country.
A look into Mumbai’s past will tell us that throughout the course of its history, Mumbai has been under a diverse plethora of rulers. The earliest-known ruler of present-day Mumbai was Ashoka, since the city was part of the greater Mauryan empire. By the end of 14th century, it had come under the Gujarat Sultanate. Soon the Portuguese wrested control of the city and established it as an important trading post. Soon afterwards, the Marathas captured it and developed India’s first indigenous Navy here. And blah blah blah (the point behind this history lesson was to explain that Mumbai has been under a diverse set of rulers belonging to different religious and racial backgrounds, each of whom has left their own unique cultural legacies behind).
Let’s now look at a couple of the iconic places within Mumbai.
This is a narrow stretch of land connecting the old woman’s island also known as Little Colaba Island with the Greater Mumbai Islands. Constructed in 1838, it connected Colaba to the rest of Mumbai. It is today known as the ‘cultural square of Mumbai’. The streets are littered with shops belonging to different migrant communities, ranging from Egyptian restaurants to far-eastern antique shops. It houses the Leopold café originally started by Iranian migrants in 1870. Also Piccadilly, a Lebanese restaurant on the streets of Causeway, has the best falafel a man can have in Mumbai, while arguably the best bacon sandwiches can be found at Theobrama’s (an old Parsi restaurant). Seriously, a must for my fellow foodies!
Bandra Band Stand
Located on the western front of the Mumbai archipelago is one of the best sites for eyes weary of the hustle and bustle of the city. Staring at the vast emptiness of the Arabian Sea from Bandra Band Stand makes you feel utterly powerless. Meanwhile, the view of the Bandra-Worli sea link makes you feel awe and wonder towards human ingenuity. For all you history buffs, Bandra has forts ranging from the Portuguese era to the British era. It has one of the first militarised forts of India. Though rendered useless, the fort still seems like a mighty being overlooking the sea. And finally for the ‘film fanatics’, many stars such as SRK and Salman also live in Bandra. Other nearby places of interest include the Mount Mary church and a Japanese Buddhist monastery in Lower Parel.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Those who want to leave the city behind can do so by hiking inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, located in the northern extents of suburban Mumbai district. Covering over 100 square kilometres, the Park is home to several endangered wildlife species such as leopards and spotted deer.
But for those of you who are more into culture rather than nature, there is always the wonder of walking into the Kanheri caves. Built during the reign of Ashoka (3rd century B.C), the Caves demonstrate the Buddhist influence on the art and culture of ancient India. The statues are delicately cut out of the basalt rock face. Good for lazy weekend outings.
All and all, Mumbai provides a good combination of natural and cultural (throw in a bit of history as well) sights.