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Mumbai: Orientation

City Layout

Mumbai city lies on the western coast of India, on a thin peninsula that extends southward almost parallel to the mainland. At the southern end of this peninsula are Colaba and the adjoining Fort area, on the east of which lies Mumbai's deep, natural harbor and India's busiest port. West of Fort, hugging the Arabian Sea, is the popular promenade Marine Drive, which begins at the business district of Nariman Point and terminates at Chowpatty Beach and Malabar Hill. These are the focal nodes for tourists who, unlike the locals, often refer to the area as downtown. In fact, locals say they are going "into town," by which they mean they are going toward South Mumbai, the area stretching south from Mahim Creek to Colaba. South Mumbai is where most tourists choose to base themselves. It is the historic heart of the city, with attractions like the Gateway of India and the Prince of Wales Museum, and the widest selection of restaurants and accommodations. The South Mumbai neighborhoods are described in detail below, but to see where most Mumbaikars (or Bombayites) live, including the jet-set stars, it may be worthwhile to take a trip into one of the suburbs. Of these, the most interesting (and a good alternative to South Mumbai if you're staying just one night -- it's a great deal closer to the airport) is Juhu. Extending northward of Churchgate is the Western Railway local train line, and moving north of Victoria Terminus (or CST; see below) is the Central Railway network. Together, these two suburban train systems transport over 6 million commuters each day.

Neighborhoods In Brief

Colaba -- Because of its proximity to most of Mumbai's landmarks and colonial buildings, this, the southern tip of Mumbai, is the real tourist hub. In many ways its location has contributed to Colaba's slightly seedy side, though certain areas have recently been rejuvenated. Many of the city's budget accommodations are situated along Colaba Causeway, punctuated by (at the northernmost end) the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai's most famous, which is located opposite the Gateway of India, Mumbai's most famous marker, across from which you can see the oil rigs of Bombay High. Apollo Bunder refers to the area around the Gateway of India, though the easiest way to get there is to ask for directions to the Taj. Southwest of this is Cuffe Parade, an upmarket residential neighborhood, and farther south, the restricted navy Cantonment area.

If you travel west from Colaba to the other end of the narrow peninsula until you hit the sea, you'll arrive at Nariman Point, starting point of Marine Drive. Nariman Point was once Mumbai's most bustling business district but is now facing decline (though most airline offices and several foreign embassies are still situated here).

Fort -- North from Colaba is the business neighborhood called Fort. By day the area comprising Fort, Fountain, Ballard Estate, and VT (or CST) Station is an extremely busy commercial district, but at night the neighborhood is rather forlorn, with many of the large parks (maidans) empty. A little beyond VT Station is Crawford Market, which leads to the heart of Mumbai's congested markets.

Just west of the Fort area is Churchgate Station. Veer Nariman Road, the street leading from Churchgate Station to Marine Drive, is lined with restaurants.

Marine Drive/Chowpatty Beach -- Marine Drive stretches from Nariman Point in the south to Malabar Hill in the north. Edged by a broad promenade that follows the curve of the seafront, this is a very popular place to take a morning or evening walk. At night the streetlights along this drive accentuate the dramatic arch of the bay, giving it the name Queen's Necklace, though obviously this term is less frequently used these days. Marine Drive is a long arterial road that runs along the curve of Back Bay. This road ends at Chowpatty Beach and then climbs uphill toward the very expensive and prestigious neighborhood of Malabar Hill.

Malabar Hill/Breach Hill/Breach Candy/Peddar Road -- Malabar Hill connects to Napean Sea Road and beyond to Breach Candy, Kemps Corner, and Peddar Road -- all upmarket residential areas. Several hotels in this area and particularly along Kemps Corner are good options for tourists who want to avoid the heavily touristed parts of Colaba and Churchgate.

Central Mumbai -- Central Mumbai extends beyond Crawford Market through Mohammedali Road and Kalbadevi to Mumbai Central Station and the fast-growing commercial areas of Lower Parel. The greatest developments are occurring around Phoenix Mills, where some of the erstwhile mill buildings have been converted into shopping complexes, restaurants, and gaming and entertainment spots. West from Mumbai Central Station are Tardeo and Haji Ali, where you drive along yet another of Mumbai's bays.

Suburbs (Bandra & Juhu -- North of Mahim Creek extend Mumbai's vast suburbs, from where millions commute daily. First up, just across the creek, is Bandra which, along with Juhu and Andheri (West), just north of it, is where Bollywood stars live and hang out. Although it's not really on the tourist circuit, Bandra, being home to a sizeable portion of the city's elite, is packed with lively restaurants, steamy clubs, and trendy bars. At night young people gather along Carter Road and Turner Road to drink, smoke (cigarettes or dope), and chill out before making their way to favored clubs. The area around Juhu Beach is where many of the city's middle classes escape; crowded with a host of vendors flogging popular eats, ice cream, coconuts, and fresh fruit juice, it's worth a visit to soak up Mumbai's carnivalesque atmosphere rather than contemplate sunbathing on the beach, which is filthy, or venturing into the even dirtier seawater. It does, however, have some fine hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs -- Enigma at Juhu's JW Marriott Hotel is one of Mumbai's most happening spots.

Just east of Juhu lie the city's two airports and a host of upmarket hotels. The area of Andheri (East) around the international airport has become a crowded (and rather polluted) commercial and residential neighborhood. Yet many business visitors prefer to stay in this part of town if their business lies here, to avoid the stressful commute. Farther north in the suburbs is Goregaon, home to Film City, where many Bollywood films are shot; past that is Borivali, where Mumbai's most popular theme park, EsselWorld, is situated. Beyond, the city goes on (and on), with little to tempt the visitor.

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