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November 26th, 2008
08:24 PM ET

Introduction to Mumbai

Editor's note: With extensive coverage of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, we wanted to bring you a different angle on the city. Read this excerpt from Frommers Travel Guide for a different portrait of the terrorists' target.
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Frommers Travel Guide

Mumbai will bowl you over. Teetering on the edge of the Arabian Sea, its heaving population barely contained by palm-fringed beaches, India's commercial capital, formerly known as Bombay, is a vibrant, confident metropolis that's tangibly high in energy.

Originally home to Koli fisherfolk, the seven swampy islands that today comprise Mumbai originally commanded little significance. The largest of the islands was part of a dowry given by Portugal to England, which promptly took control of the six remaining islands and then leased the lot to the East India Company for a paltry £10. Massive land-reclamation projects followed, and by the 19th century all seven islands had been fused to form one narrow promontory and India's principal port.

Today the city continues to draw fortune-seekers from all over India. More than a hundred newcomers squeeze their way in every day, adding to the coffers of greedy slum lords and placing the city, which already has a population density four times greater than New York City's, on target for a population of 22 million by 2015. As India's economy booms, Mumbai's real estate prices are hitting an all-time high. In early 2007 1,400-square-foot apartments in what's considered a posh Mumbai neighborhood priced at over a million dollars! The effect of this of course is that prices in general have soared as businesses shell out more money for leased properties.

A city with a dual identity, Mumbai is as flamboyantly materialistic as it is downright choked by squalor and social drudgery. The citizens of Mumbai pay almost 40% of India's taxes, yet half of its 18 million people are homeless. While the moneyed groovers and label-conscious shakers retire in luxury behind the security gates of their million-dollar Malabar Hill apartments, emaciated survivors stumble home to cardboard shacks in congested shantytowns or onto tiny patches of open pavement. At every intersection you are accosted by these destitute hopefuls, framed against a backdrop of Bollywood vanity boards and massive advertisements promoting provocative underwear and sleek mobile-phone technology. Feeding into this social schizophrenia are the one-dollar whores, half-naked fakirs, underworld gunmen, bearded sadhus, globe-trotting DJs, and, of course, movie moguls and wannabe starlets.

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Filed under: India Attacked • Raw Politics • Terrorism
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