Mumbai, (Bombay till 1996, the name change was very unpopular initially) on the east coast of India is in the state of Maharashtra, and in many ways the gateway to India, some of the reasons being:

  • The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 made it easy to reach India from Europe
  • Today it is a hub for many international flights and the shortest route / direct flight from South Africa to India, just 08:20 flying time
  • The 2nd most populated city in India and the 5th most populated city in the world
  • It has a deep natural harbour
  • Mumbai is also the richest city in India, and has the highest GDP of any city in South, West or Central Asia
  • As of 2009, Mumbai was named an Alpha world city (A global city (also called world city or sometimes alpha city or world centre) is a specialized city deemed to be an important node point in the global economic system. The concept comes from geography and urban studies and rests on the idea that globalization can be understood as largely created, facilitated and enacted in strategic geographic locales according to a hierarchy of importance to the operation of the global system of finance and trade.(Source: Wikipedia)
  • Mumbai also incorporates one of the biggest slums in Asia, namely Dharavi

To clarify the information above, the following table paints a very interesting picture. The statistics in this table is according to the ‘list of cities proper by population’ and I have added the information on Dharavi just to complete this picture.

List of cities proper by population
Ranking & City Population Area km² Density people / km²
04 Delhi (2010 stats) 12 565 901 431km² 29 149
05 Mumbai (2011 stats) 12 478 447 603km² 20 694
46 Johannesburg (2008 stats) 3 888 180 1 645km² 2 364
?? Dharavi (2010 guestimate) 600 000 1 000 000 1.7km² 588 235

Looking at the information above, I can only say that India is an incredible country. In spite of the challenges of population density, poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, corruption and inadequate public health, the Indian people that I have seen and spoken to has energy and a sense of entrepreneurship that I have never encountered anywhere else in the world. I am humbled by the way they live, and in spite of their circumstances they see an opportunity around every corner, and although they can drive you nearly insane with their ongoing attempts to sell you anything and everything, most of the time they are ready with a big smile when you ask for information or want to take a photograph.

My three exceptional and life changing experiences in Mumbai are:

Dharavi slum, with an estimated 5 000 businesses and 15 000 single room factories, it provides a cheap alternative where rent were as low as US$4 per month in 2006. Dharavi exports goods around the world. And the total (and largely illegal) turnover is estimated to be between US$500 – US$650 million per year!

Dabbawallahs (spelling differs from different sources), the approximately 4 500-5 000 packed lunch carriers who deliver freshly cooked meals (in dabbas or tiffin boxes) from between 180–200 000 suburban kitchens to offices in downtown Mumbai. Each Dabbawallah earns between IND 4 000–6 000 per month. In 2002, Forbes Magazine found its reliability to be that of a six sigma standard (a business management strategy where 99.99966% of products manufactured are statistically expected to be free of defects thus 3.4 defects per million) In a recent survey it was discovered that the Dabbawallahs make less than 1 mistake in every 6 million deliveries, despite the fact that most are illiterate. One can witness the action every business day from either Victoria or Church gate stations at approximately 11:30

Dhobi Ghat, in downtown Mumbai, where local men (Dhobis) wash clothes and other articles from all over Mumbai. It consists of a large area of rows of open air concrete vats (wash pens) where washing is soaked, thumped and hung to dry. The area was developed and the water is supplied by the municipality. We have spoken to some locals in Mumbai making use of this service and one can hardly believe that white laundry returns from there spotless!

Furthermore, some other sites include:

  • Gateway of India, the city’s defining landmark, built in 1924, it has an interesting history, but today is mainly crowded by locals and tourists, feeding the pigeons and people watching
  • Prince of Wales Museum, now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum, with it’s beautiful white dome
  • Victoria Terminus (station) now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, built in 1887, a very British building, although very few of the millions of passengers using the thousand plus trains every day notice the architecture
  • The Mumbai University with the beautiful Rajabhai Clock Tower, another very British building, built also late 18000’s
  • Oval Maidan, opposite the university, for informal cricket matches, family outings and more people watching
  • Crawford food market and the central bazaar, where you can anything and everything and the more you haggle the more interesting the shopping experience becomes
  • Marine drive and Chowpatty beach, with beautiful views of Back Bay
  • Mani Bhavan, now a museum, but was the residence in Bombay between 1917-1934.
  • The Bandra-Worli Sea Link, an astonishing cable-stayed bridge which links Bandra and the western suburbs of Mumbai with Worli and central Mumbai, and is the first phase of the proposed West Island Freeway system. All 8 lanes were opened to traffic on 24 March 2010 (Source: Wikipedia)
2010 ranking India South Africa
Population 1,210,193,422 (2011 est.) 49 991 300
Biggest population in the world ranking 2nd 25th
Size of country 3 287 263 km² 1 221 037 km²
Biggest country in the world ranking 7th 25th
Density 363.6 people per km² 41 people per km²
Density ranking 31st 170th
Source: Wikipedia