I spent 11 entire days in Mumbai during my 2 month backpacking trip around India. I was a bizarre experience, unlike any other that I’ve had in the world.
I loved it as much as I hated it.
Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) is the biggest and most diverse city in India. As a person who enjoys the chaos of big cities, I had always dreamed about going to Mumbai and I was thrilled to finally spend time exploring around.
From my first few hours in the city, I already was amazed by the randomness and turmoil seen everywhere. Almost every passing person seemed to come from a different background and was speaking a different language with their friends. It was cool.
Mumbai is overwhelmingly busy at ALL times, and it took me some time to get used to the fast-paced lifestyle. Heavy amounts of poverty is seen on every corner, with 60% of the entire city’s population living in the slums. But on the flip side, there are 28 billionaires living in the city. Sounds confusing, right?
It still boggles my mind. Even a month after I left the city, I still can’t wrap my head around what I saw. I was mesmerized by every aspect of life in Bombay. This place is, without question, the craziest city that I’ve seen in all my travels.
Now, I will present you with 25 reasons why I think Bombay is the most hectic city in the world. After the 25 reaons, I will give you a more detailed explanation of what I experienced in the city.
3. The smells are volatile and sometimes unbearable
4. The local trains carry 7+ million passengers per day, which equals more passengers per kilometer than any railway on earth
5. In the slums- which accompany 60% of the population or 13 million people – the average wage is $1-3USD per day
6. The traffic is ranked the #1 worst in the world (cite)
8. Vehicles literally never stop honking their horns! I once counted 175 horns in one minute during rush hour traffic.
9. There is no underground public transportation, which makes the streets feel MUCH more crowded when comparing to other big cities with underground metros (Delhi, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, etc)
10. The city gets VERY hot from March-June (up to 46 degrees Celsius or 115 Fahrenheit). And combined with the humidity and pollution, it can feel much hotter. (Even most taxis don’t have A/C).
11. In the wealthy areas of Malabar Hill, Marine Drive and Bandra, the real estate is amongst the most expensive in the world.
12. An average of 10 people die every day during the commute on trains (by falling outside, being trampled on, or crossing the train tacks).
13. Traffic is so bad that walking is often times faster than driving
14. Bollywood – the biggest film industry in the world- is located in Mumbai.
15. The underground economy is massive, and accounts for an estimated 50-75% of the entire GDP. (cite)
16. You can bribe the police for almost anything if they stop you, and you will likely be let off (it happened to me)
17. Couples aren’t allowed to kiss in public, or they will be fined
18. The ethnic division is 67% Hindu, 19% Muslim, 5% Buddhist, 4% Christian and the last 5% is mostly Jains, Parsis, Sikhs and Jews.
19. It’s likely for a foreigner to get sick/food poisoning from drinking the water or the bacteria in the food (known as Delhi Belly). It happened to me twice, and I currently have Delhi belly as I’m writing this in Delhi…
20. The consumption of beef is banned in the city of Mumbai and the entire state of Maharastra. I went to McDonald’s and ordered a McVeggie burger because that was the only burger available.
21. Antilla, the 27 floored single home in Mumbai owned by Mukesh Ambani, is the second most expensive home in the world.
22. There are 53 Shopping Malls throughout the city- the most in India
23. Ganesh Chathurti is an annual 10 day Hindu festival where several million people gather in the streets at the same time
24. The gap between the rich & poor is huge, and it’s common to see slums directly next to multi-million dollar homes and hotels.
25. Despite this hectic atmosphere, life just works in Mumbai and the people never seem to be phased by anything.
The best way to explain walking around the streets of Mumbai, is that everything was thrown at me in the face at the same time. Both good and bad, right and wrong, rich and poor.
Regardless of where you are or what you’re doing, there is always something happening to catch your attention. Whether it be a little boy pulling your leg for money, or a women transporting 30 kilos of bananas on the top of her head, or a giant cow roaming aimlessly in the middle of the street. It’s impossible not to notice happening on the streets around you.
Speaking of streets, they are so crammed with people and honking vehicles that it gave me a headache after a while. People dodgning cars while wheeling a big stack of vegetables in massive bullock wagons through heavy traffic, or carrying 40 pounds of stuff on their heads. Motorbikes squeezing just centimeters apart from cars. My anxiety levels were higher than they had ever been when I was in a taxi or trying to cross the street in Bombay.
Diseased and homeless beggars are on every corner and in front of doorways, tapping you on the shoulder or pulling your leg asking for money. Money, money, money. Money is everything in Bombay. It is the center for black market trading – which seemed to be the largest economy in the city. You can get literally anything you want, or bribe someone for something, if you have the money to pay for it. Bribing is commonly seen everywhere, even with policemen. If you are stopped by a cop, then you can pay him off for just about any crime that you committed and get let off. I couldn’t believe how corrupt the city was. I had never seen anything like it before in my life.
But in all honesty, I really do love Mumbai. And I’ve began to love it more and more since I left the city.
I know that much of this post sounded negative, but I don’t want you to think badly about Mumbai. I just tried to be as honest with you as possible from what I experienced. Mumbai is very eye opening and I think it’s necessary to witness how 21 million human beings live their daily lives.
And of course, it is possible to find peaceful spots around the city, just like you see here on Marine Drive for sunset.
During my time spent in Bombay, I did made some life-long Indian friends who showed me around and took me out to clubs (the nightlife is really fun in Mumbai). They gave me a great local perspective of the city and I felt like I was a local.
I wrote this post to share with you my immediate reactions, and explain how eye-opening this city was to me. Keep in mind that Bombay was just the 2nd city that I visited in India, and this post was derived from my first impression of the city. I was still getting used to Indian culture in general at the time.
Despite life being hectic and fast-paced, there is still a lovely charm in the city that is convincing me to go back again.
Have you ever been to Bombay? What was your first impression?