Archive for 25/04/2009

Mumbai – first impressions

Posted in #worldview, Culture, Travel on 25/04/2009 by nicka77

Mumbai is a heaving, thriving, chaotic mass of dynamism and vibrancy, colour and commerce, ostentatious wealth and abject poverty. The streets teem with soon-to-be millionaires selling everything under the sun.

I’ve only been here for 2 days but the city oozes business and prosperity, and everyone wants a part of it. From the fruit juice sellers on the corners, to the silk shops in Colaba Causeway, to the high-powered businessmen striding purposefully through the teeming crowds, the sense of possibility and opportunity is almost as overpowering as the oppressive heat.










Mumbai wears its capitalism on its sleeve and, as the financial heartbeat of one of the world’s fastest growing economies, it stands tall and proud as a global centre.

The flip side is that there is incredible poverty here. There were literally hundreds of men, women and children sleeping on the streets on my short walk back from Colaba to my hotel in Fort last night. And I was dumbfounded by the immeasurably vast, sprawling slum cities that I flew over yesterday when coming into land at Mumbai airport.

This city is one of extreme contrasts, from the slick high-end bars, hotels and restaurants to the children begging for food outside their gold-plated doors.

There is virtually no Western presence, as far as I have seen, other than at the infamous Leopolds bar, which is a magnet for travellers and visiting businessmen alike. I have to say, the place serves good food (especially the sweet and spicy prawns) and the doorman was proud to show off the bullet-holes from the recent terrorist attacks. Absolutely brilliant.










Some of the most impressive buildings in the city are from the colonialist era, and it was throughout that period that the roots of Bombay’s commercial focus was borne. The East India Company leased the area from the British Government in 1668 for the princely sum of £10 per year, and the place became a thriving port, importing and mainly exporting goods to and from the West.

Two hundred years later, during the American Civil War, the population sprouted exponentially, when Bombay became the principal supplier of cotton to the British. Mumbai has never looked back.

Interestingly, as opposed to other burgeoning global economic hubs, Mumbai has been built from purely indigenous roots. Indian endeavour, intelligence and creativity have made the world sit up and take notice.

There have been dark times for sure. The bitter rivalries between Hindus, Muslims, and Maharashtrans has led to rioting and bombings throughout the recent past, and of course the most recent terrorist strike that is purported to have emanated from Pakistan.










Today, the city is still gripped by those shocking terrorist attacks that happened barely 2 months ago, and there is a very noticeable security presence on the streets, in the banks, in the bars and restaurants, in the shops, and in the markets. People are obviously very wary of the threat, especially now with the hugely important national elections literally a few short days away.

This is a city on high alert, and my attempts to get a pre-paid sim for my time in India have been thwarted by the increased security measures. Because I can’t prove residency, or persuade my hotel to write a letter for me stating that they have no objections to me having a phone, I am still without phone and will have to make do with email and twitter for the time being.

I didn’t even try to take any pictures in the train station, where the security is particularly fierce, which is a pity because it is a sight to behold… a wonderful cacophony of chattering, singing, commerce and brashness, all to the backdrop of antiquated trains spilling thousands upon thousands of commuters into the city for another days toil.










I have a couple more days in Mumbai before I head to Goa, and I’ve set up a few meetings as part of the #worldview project. Fingers crossed that those meetings go well, and I’ll be up and running on Campaign’s blog in the very near future.

Check out the pictures on my flickrstream. The colour and dynamism of Mumbai literally jumps out of every shot (despite my ropey photographic skills).