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Mumbai, once known as Bombay, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. In 1533, when the Portuguese set up Bom Bahia, which means "good bay", no one could have imagined how Mumbai would work out.
In India there is no official system in place to register people and addresses. This makes any calculation of the population of Mumbai a highly uncertain task. This sprawling city is modern India's centre for business and commerce, its financial capital and site of the the largest money market in the country. The Bombay Stock Exchange, founded in 1875 and based in Mumbai, is the oldest in Asia. Mumbai is also home to the largest film industry in the world. Even Hollywood cannot match the sheer number of films that are produced in Bollywood.
Mumbai is a city of contrasts where gleaming skyscrapers stand side by side with decrepit shacks, where air conditioned tourist buses cruise along next to ox carts. Business goes on day and night. European style shopping centres, recreation venues, bars, discos and pubs are everywhere. Whatever your taste, whatever you desire, you can probably find it in Mumbai. Multiplex cinemas are found on every street because Indians have a love affair with movies. As is the case with many large cities, Mumbai is also beset with a long list of social problems. At the top of the list is uncontrolled population growth.
Land is scarce, and the cost of living is extremely high compared to the rest of the country. Approximately 6 million people live in slums today, making up nearly half of the city's population. Many of the poor, unable to afford Mumbai's relatively costly housing costs, live far outside the city centre in impoverished commuter communities. Many spend several hours a day travelling to work via Mumbai's extensive rail and bus system.
Mumbai is not an easy, relaxing city to visit and it is not exactly brimming with typical tourist attractions. Nevertheless, if you are ready and willing to travel to every corner of the city, there are certainly some beautiful places to visit. The home where Mahatma Gandhi lived from 1917 until 1934, for example, is open to the public. Known locally as Mani Bhavan, it includes a museum and research centre devoted to the life and work of its famous former occupant.
The Gateway of India is also worth a visit. This monumental gateway directly on the harbour is a symbol of both Old Bombay and modern Mumbai. It was constructed in 1911 to welcome King George V and his queen, Maria von Teck on the occasion of their visit to the city. Boat tours of the harbour leave from this location, offering the best views of the Mumbai skyline, with the Gateway of India in the foreground and the Taj Mahal Hotel behind it. It is also possible to take a boat ride to Elephanta Island, where the Temple Cave of the Lord Shiva is located, one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city.
The second UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mumbai is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminal. Dedicated in 1888, it has long been one of the largest and busiest railway stations on Earth. Its imposing scale was deliberately designed as an assertion of British claims to power and the right to rule. Architect Frederick Stevens designed a functional building that is nothing short of monumental, combining the neoGothic style of the early Victorian era with elements derived from traditional Indian architecture. Richly ornamented, with every detail precisely rendered, this magnificent behemoth is under threat today from the damage done by smog and acid rain. From a purely practical point of view, the train station remains as important today as it once was to British colonial administrators. Over 1,000 trains pass through the station daily, carrying an average of 3 million passengers.
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