Mumbai is famous for its diverse and tasty street food

Located on the west coast of India, Mumbai is the capital city of the state of Maharashtra, and the most populous city in India. With its bustling street life, tasty food, manifold cultural festivals, and even the widely popular Bollywood film industry, Mumbai is one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

The city was once made up of seven separate islands that for centuries formed part of a variety of communities, dynasties and empires before they came under British rule in 1662. Following the British ambition to transform Mumbai (then ‘Bombay’) into a modern city, a series of reclamation projects were started, and by 1845 the seven islands were linked into a single landmass. 

Photograph showing the celebration of the Ganesh Chaturthifestival, centered around the figure of the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesh, Mumbai's favorite deity. (Link to Omeka item)

This process of artificial land unification would set the ground for the rapid industrialization of the city and its rise in the local and global economic arena, to the point of being named an alpha city in 2009. Today, Mumbai is the city with the highest GDP in all of South, West, and Central Asia, and has established itself as the financial and commercial capital of India. Mumbai houses the headquarters of major domestic and international banks and insurance companies, the Reserve Bank of India, the national stock exchange, and corporate headquarters of Indian conglomerates such as the Tata Group.

Despite the city’s great economic success in the national and international arenas, its gains have not been evenly distributed among its population. The extreme social inequality present in Mumbai is perhaps most easily noticeable in its urban landscape. The modern affluence represented by the Central Business District at Nariman Point, the office complexes of Bandra-Kurla, and the upmarket housing developments of Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai), contrast sharply with the several slums and squatter settlements, the overloaded public latrines, and uncollected garbage that abound in the city, undeniable symbols of decay and disadvantage. 

Map showing the original seven islands of Bombay

Photograph showing some of the most luxurious buildings in Mumbai, in stark contrast with the slums that abound in the city's periphery (link to Omeka item)

Aerial view of Dharavi, Mumbai locality and one of the largest slums in the world (link to Omeka item)

In terms of urban heritage, although Mumbai’s Victorian architecture has been widely preserved, constituting some of the greatest attractions of the city (e.g. the Gateway of India, the Victoria railway terminal, the General Post Office, the Prince of Wales museum). However, Mumbai authorities still have work to do with regards to the protection of their most historical landmarks and communities, and their full integration into the city’s landscape. 36 koliwadas and 128 gaothans --communities of Mumbai’s original inhabitants-- still remain, though mostly hidden in the middle of the bustle of the city. Last year, the Mumbai Development Plan had designated the city’s remaining koliwadas and gaothans as slums, coming as an additional threat to these communities that already face much pressure from property builders and developers. 

The Victorian ‘Gateway of India’ and Taj Mahal Hotel, some of Mumbai’s main sights Bombing of the Taj Mahal Hotel in 2008

Additionally, violence has become a prominent issue in the past two decades. The city’s diverse population has given rise to powerful conflict, such as the Hindu-Muslim riots in 1992 and 1993 that left over 1,000 people dead. Further, several bombings (most of them performed by religious extremists and Mumbai’s underworld) have shaken Mumbai in 1993, 2006, 2008, and most recently in 2011, leaving behind close to 700 fatal victims overall.

The city of Mumbai faces a series of complicated and undeniable social and political issues. However, Mumbai has demonstrated an enormous capacity to overcome its historical challenges and become a key city in the global stage. With such a rich cultural heritage and vibrant urban life, Mumbai is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and unique cities in the world.

Mumbai residents catching the public train at peak hour (link to Omeka item).

Ye hai Mumbai meri jaan!