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Mumbai Guide: From Slumdogs To Millionaires

March 23rd, 2009 by

Gateway to IndiaDanny Boyle’s Academy-Award winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, has been garnering both praise and controversy for his outsider’s view of Mumbai, a city that has been portrayed in urban squalor, yet full of the hopes and dreams of millions of Indians. This sudden worldwide attention to the mega-city, the 4th largest in the world in terms of  population, has even sparked a boom in what is being called poorism: a subset of urban adventuring where backpackers are taken by local guides to what one Slumdog Millionaire character called “the real India”: a place where extreme poverty and inner-city survival mesh to create moving scenes of humanity. One of these poorism tours focuses on Dhavari, a district in the central suburb of Mahim that is Asia’s biggest slum, with around 1 million residents. Visitors can pass through homes where families to make a living making clay pots or recycling the city’s wastes, and a children’s shelter, one of many in the area.

And yet even the movie points out that these slum areas are fast making way to development, in a city that acts as the financial center in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Malls, office blocks, and condominiums are sprouting all over the once poverty-stricken areas, where quickly rising land values are challenging the residence of the squatters. This is one of the many other faces of Mumbai, a city that is trying to break free of centuries of poverty and embracing modern lifestyles with hard work and native ingenuity.

Slumdog Millionaire owes its success to Mumbai not just for its colorful locations. The city is home to Bollywood, the movie sector of India which outsells Hollywood by a billion more tickets. Slumdog’s underworld subplots, themes of everlasting love, and out-of-nowhere end credit dance sequence were all inspired by classic Bollywood movies.  Recently, some private tour operators are beginning to understand the glamorous appeal of movie-making, and is now charging interested parties for a guided studio tour for a film location or television soap opera shoot.

Haji Ali Mosque

And don’t forget that Mumbai is built out of centuries of colorful history, and there are many heritage sites to prove it. Once such place is the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, a 105-year old luxury hotel that served as lodgings to a long list of notable guests from The Beatles to Bill Clinton. Facing the Taj Mahal Hotel is the Gateway to India, a 26-meter high basalt arch that acted as a welcoming monument in earlier times to visitors arriving by boat. This Indo-Saracenic-style  arch was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay back in 1911. For a more spiritual side of the city, the Haji Ali Mosque is one of the more recognizable landmarks of Mumbai. Built on an islet off the coast of Worli, the mosque was constructed in the 13th century by a rich Muslim merchant who renounced his worldly possessions after a pilgrimage to Mecca. As many as 40,000 devotees visit the shrine on Thursdays and Fridays, which occupy an area of 4,500 square meters, and marked with a 26-meter high tower.

You can end the day by watching the sun set over Juhu Beach, some 18 kilometers north of the city center. Many film shootings occur here due to its posh locale and convenient setting. Seemingly deserted during weekdays, Juhu Beach becomes very crowded during weekends and holidays. And if all this exploring makes you hungry, you are never far from resolving your stomach pangs in Mumbai. Street foods ranging from behlpuri (puffed rice mixed with onions, chillies and sauces) and vada pav (deep-fired cutlet made of potatoes in a round bread) to desserts like chikki and puran poli are served by vendors all over the city, and they are very affordable and clean.

The ideal time to visit Mumbai is between the months of October and February, away from the humid climate of summer and the severe torrential rains of the monsoon season. January is one great month to plan your visit in particular due to the Mumbai Festival, a series of activities from Cricket to dance programs which highlight the best of the city’s culture. Countries all over the world participate to cement the festival’s reputation as an international event, and dozens of Bollywood celebrities grace the many activities located in Marine Drive and Gateway of India. To explore Mumbai during the rest of your stay, you can take one of the thousands of taxis roaming the streets, their jet-black paint jobs, antiquated designs, and unceasing horns as distinctive as the rest of city itself.

One Response to “Mumbai Guide: From Slumdogs To Millionaires”

  1. Ride Like Royalty Aboard The Palace On wheels Says:

    […] what the movie Slumdog Millionaire shows, not all of India is swamped in squalor. After all, what other country boasts of a train ride […]

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