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Mumbai is located on India's central-western coast along the Arabian Sea. The city developed for 150 years in isolation from its hinterland and still seems to belong in a different world to the huge, predominantly Hindu state of Maharashtra, which encompasses a 500km (310mi) coastal strip, a portion of the Western Ghats and a significant part of the Deccan plateau. The Western Ghats (literally, steps) start to rise just north of Mumbai and run parallel to the coast. They have an average elevation of 915m (3001ft) and are covered with tropical and temperate evergreen forests and mixed deciduous forest and harbour a rich array of plant and animal life, including 27% of India's flowering plants.


Chowpatty Beach
Mumbai's famous beach is no place for a sunbathe or a dip. In fact, there's not much going on at Chowpatty at all during the day, but in the evening it develops a magical atmosphere as locals come to stroll among the balloon sellers, nut vendors and beach entertainers. Eating bhelpuri at the collection of garishly lit stalls on the edge of the beach at night is an essential part of the Mumbai experience, as is getting a vigorous massage from a malish-wallah. Chowpatty is a great place to witness the annual Ganesh Chaturthi Festival in August/September when large images of the elephant-headed god are immersed in the murky sea.

Crawford Market, Mumbai
The colourful indoor Crawford Market (or Phule Market) is the last outpost of British Bombay before the tumult of the central bazaars begins. It used to be the city's wholesale produce market before this was strategically moved to New Bombay. Today it's where central Mumbai goes shopping for its fruit, vegetables and meat.
Bas reliefs by Rudyard Kipling's father, Lockwood Kipling, adorn the Norman-Gothic exterior, and an ornate fountain he designed stands buried beneath old fruit boxes at the market's centre.

Fort, Mumbai
The extravagant Victorian gothic buildings in the Fort area reinforce the European roots of the city, and send shivers of recognition down the spines of visitors from the industrial cities of northern England. This lively area occupies the site of the old British built fort and is the established commercial centre of Mumbai. It's jampacked with commuters, street stalls and the grand facades of 19th century British institutions and trading houses.
Victoria Terminus
T the city's most exuberant Gothic building, looks more like a lavishly decorated cathedral or palace than anything as mundane as a transportation depot. Carvings of peacocks, gargoyles, monkeys, elephants and British lions are mixed up among the buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained-glass windows. Topping it all is a 4m (13ft) high image of 'Progress' - though the rest of the building looks more like a celebration of Pandemonium. Don't wait until you have to catch a train to see it.

Haji Ali Mosque
This whitewashed fairytale mosque contains the tomb of the Muslim saint Haji Ali. The saint is believed to have been a wealthy local businessman who renounced the material world and meditated on a nearby headland following a pilgrimage to Mecca. The mosque and tomb were built by devotees in the early 19th century.
Alternative versions say Haji Ali died while on a pilgrimage to Mecca and his casket amazingly floated back to Bombay and landed at this spot.

No visit to Mumbai is complete without a foray into the bazaars of Kalbadevi, north of Crawford Market. The narrow lanes of this predominantly Muslim area are hemmed in by laundry-draped chawls, and a seething mass of people bring Mumbai's traffic to a standstill. It's in complete contrast to the relative space, orderliness and modernity of South Mumbai.
Entire streets are often devoted to a single product since caste traditions remain stronger than capitalist marketing theories; this can make browsing a strange experience as you suddenly encounter shop after shop selling bathroom fittings or copper pipes. Some people consider the bazaars a spectacle rather than a place to shop, but it's a lot more fun doing both.
Malabar Hill
On the northern promontory of Back Bay is the expensive residential area of Malabar Hill, favoured for its cool breezes and fine views over Back Bay. The colonial bungalows that peppered the hillside in the 18th century have now been replaced by the jerry-built apartment blocks of Mumbai's nouveau riche. The formal Hanging Gardens (or Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens) on top of the hill are an interesting spot to study the courting rituals of coy Indian couples nestled among the bestial topiary, and there are superb views of the city from neighbouring Kamala Nehru Park. Beside the Hanging Gardens, but carefully shielded from view, are the Parsi Towers of Silence.

Marine Drive
Built on land reclaimed from Back Bay in 1920, Marine Drive runs along the shoreline of the Arabian Sea from Nariman Point past Chowpatty Beach to the foot of Malabar Hill. It's one of Mumbai's most popular promenades and a favourite sunset-watching spot. You certainly won't be loitering on the sea wall long before you're engaged in conversation, even if it's with someone offering to show you how well their monkey can breakdance. The promenade is lined with decaying Art Deco apartments just begging for a paint manufacturer to prove what their product can do to brighten up an area. Tourist brochures are fond of dubbing it the Queen's Necklace, because of the dramatic curve of its streetlights at night. It's less spectacular during the day, though there are plans afoot to beautify the area.


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