In 1661, the Portuguese Empire threw in an inconsequential chain of tribal islands as part of a dowry to entice Charles II of England to marry Catherine of Braganza.
Charles was under the vague impression that the islands were somewhere near Brazil, while the Portuguese thought of them as nothing more than “small change”.
Nobody envisioned that these slivers of rock amid the waves of the Bom Baia (which means safe harbour), would become the Maximum City. Enter the East India Company, which seized the opportunity (and the land from Charles II), and the city came into its own.
Bom Baia became Bombay and more recently, Mumbai, a name that pays tribute to its patron saint, Mumba Devi, a goddess revered by the Koli fisherfolk, the first inhabitants of these islands. The Indo-Saracenic Gateway of India, which faces the iconic façade of The Taj Mahal Palace hotel in south Mumbai is our favourite place to start exploring the city. A short stroll around the corner leads you to the Kala Ghoda district, where you will find iconic restaurants contemporary art, museums, old world café culture, chic boutiques, Art Deco cinemas like Regal, and the open-air bazaar along Colaba Causeway.
For architectural aficionados, Mumbai’s walls tell an amazing story through the ages. Gothic, Art Deco, Indo-Saracenic, and 21st century high-rise blend together.
Vestiges of Mumbai’s past, like its textile heritage, plug into its future, as old cotton mills are redeveloped and reinvented. Don’t be surprised to find a cool concept store like Good Earth, or a restaurant like The Bombay Canteen, housed within the brick and mortar of an early 19th century textile mill.
Mumbai’s spiritual diversity is noteworthy. You are likely to find a synagogue, a mosque, a Hindu temple, a Jain shrine, a Catholic Church, and a Zoroastrian fire temple, all within the same neighbourhood. Tuck into Parsi dhansakh at Britannia, an iconic Irani café, or dig in to Bohri khichda at the Persian Darbar. The ethnic foods associated with each of these communities, lend insights into their customs and religious beliefs.
Street food is a big part of Mumbai’s cultural landscape as well. Concoctions, like Bhel Puri and Vada Pao are unique to Mumbai.
We also recommend trying Mumbai’s fantastic local seafood at popular restaurants like Trishna.
Did you know that Mumbai’s Jazz musicians in the 20s and 30s played a vital role during India’s freedom struggle? A great night out on the town, takes you to Central and North Mumbai, to discover a variety of music gigs at venues like AntiSocial or Veranda, fun bars like Aer or Celeste, as well as seasonal festivals and events. Ganesh Chaturthi to Mumbai LitFest, Cricket to the Mumbai Marathon, the city has an active social calendar.
From financiers to film-stars, khadi-clad bohemians to the Burberry-clad golf set, old guard to avant-garde — it’s the people that give the city its character. Warm, friendly and cosmopolitan, peel back the layers of the Maximum City to reveal Mumbai’s seething underbelly.