Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

ROSS­ING the street in Mum­bai re­quires a mix­ture of raw chutz­pah and telepa­thy. You will need a dose of courage just to step into the path of on­com­ing traf­fic – walk­ing sig­nals are op­er­a­tional, but rou­tinely ig­nored – and a cer­tain in­tu­ition will also come in handy in di­vin­ing whether the car will, in fact, stop short of your be­seech­ing, out­stretched hand.

“If you did this in Aus­tralia, the driver would get out of the car and punch you,” my friend says, as a hand­ful of cars slow for us to cross.

In­deed. But then Mum­bai is a city full of end­less sur­prises and con­tra­dic­tions. Un­be­liev­ably pa­tient with tourists cross­ing the road, Mum­baik­ers will nev­er­the­less all but throw you against the wall to get off a crowded train dur­ing rush hour.

Mum­bai is home to one of Asia’s best five-star ho­tels – The Taj Ma­hal Palace – but it is also one of the few cities where you will rou­tinely re­ceive re­ceipts writ­ten on car­bon copy pa­per.

Even its name isn’t set in stone. Many lo­cals write Mum­bai but say Bom­bay; air­line tick­ets will ref­er­ence the new name, while the ac­com­pa­ny­ing bag­gage tags still point to its colo­nial moniker.

The city’s Bol­ly­wood film in­dus­try is the height of so­phis­ti­ca­tion and glam­our, but a large swathe of residential ar­eas are slums.

Mum­bai is doubt­less a spe­cial place. And to savour all of the city’s di­ver­sity, to be jos­tled (lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively) by its im­mense energy and life, you will want to spend at least three days here.

Day one

The streets are clogged with honk­ing cars, street ven­dors and a pot­pourri of over­whelm­ing scents. Street dogs sniff at de­tri­tus on the side­walk in search of food, while hawk­ers at­tempt to sell you ob­jects that you will never have any use for (gi­ant bal­loons, any­one?)

There may be a temp­ta­tion to jump in one of the city’s many me­tered cabs (make sure you in­sist on the me­ter be­ing used), but it is worth walk­ing at least some of Mum­bai on foot if only to ap­pre­ci­ate the sen­sory over­load.

Mum­bai, on In­dia’s west coast, is a huge city of some 20 mil­lion peo­ple, but a large con­cen­tra­tion of the most in­ter­est­ing tourist at­trac­tions are in south Mum­bai, in par­tic­u­lar the Na­ri­man Point, Church­gate, Fort and Apollo Ban­dar ar­eas.

The south is also the best place to take in the turn-of-the-cen­tury colo­nial apart­ment blocks – some faded and de­crepit, oth­ers im­mac­u­late and clearly ex­pen­sive.

Much of south Mum­bai seems caught up in a war be­tween civil­i­sa­tion and its wild­ness. Gi­ant, breath­tak­ing old banyan trees wrap them­selves around gates and build­ings so that they ap­pear to be chok­ing the man­made in­ter­lop­ers, while hawks and kites hover above the rooflines of ho­tels and gov­ern­ment build­ings.

Fans of ar­chi­tec­ture should not miss The Bom­bay High Court and Vic­to­ria Sta­tion – since re­named Ch­ha­tra­p­ati Shivaji Ter­mi­nus – which of­fer ex­cel­lent ex­am­ples of Ed­war­dian and Vic­to­rian-era styles.

At the end of the day, pop your head into the ter­mi­nus and watch Mum­baik­ers rush­ing to catch their evening ser­vice. While peo­ple are no longer al­lowed to climb on to the tops of trains, it doesn’t stop them from rid­ing half out­side a cramped car­riage, hang­ing on to the door for dear life. Lo­cal tourist guides es­ti­mate that

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