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Mumbai (Bombay) History

Mumbai owes its colourful present to its equally interesting past.

Originally a group of seven islands inhabited by Koli fishermen, the area was surrendered to Portugal in 1534, who called it ‘Bom Bahia’ meaning ‘the good bay’.

The English arrived in the early 17th century and the Portuguese handed them the city in 1661 as part of a dowry to King Charles II when he wed his Portuguese consort Catherine of Braganza.

The king didn’t want the trouble of ruling this far-off city (then called Bombay), so it was leased to the East India Company for 10 pounds of gold a year, and soon expanded.

In 1687, the Company made Bombay their Indian headquarters and within a century it had become the Gateway to India.

Control of Bombay passed back to the Crown in 1858. The city stayed in British hands until independence in 1947, and it was during this 90-year period that modern Bombay really took shape.

This included ambitious building projects and the reclamation of the seven islands to turn Bombay into one large island. Meanwhile, the cotton trade boomed, while the opening of the Suez Canal cemented Bombay’s port as a commercial hub.

Since independence, the city’s history has been pockmarked with violence. Communal strife resulted in 1960 in the state of Bombay being split into Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Communal rioting led to the deaths of 800 people in 1992 following the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque, while in 1996, a railway bomb which killed more than 200 people was also the result of religious tensions.

In 2008, the city came under coordinated terrorist attack by Islamic-trained militants from Pakistan, who killed more than 160 people.

Today, Mumbai is an economic powerhouse and home to vast numbers of government employees along with a large pool of self-employed workers, who earn their living as hawkers, taxi drivers, mechanics and other blue-collar professions.

Did you know?
• India’s first train set off from Mumbai in 1853.
• Established in 1969, Sanjay Gandhi National Park is surrounded by Mumbai on three sides.
• Dharavi, Mumbai’s central slum, has about 20,000 micro factories.

Featured Hotels

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Gordon House Hotel

Each floor has its own theme at this boutique hotel located just behind Apollo Bunder. Decorated in Mediterranean, Scandinavian or country cottage styles, the rooms are charming without being twee, with plenty of modern gadgets and positively 5-star bathrooms. There's also a bar and the popular Poly Esther's nightclub onsite. Light sleepers should avoid rooms adjoining the club.

Residency Hotel

The atmosphere in Fort is a bit less frantic and a bit more business-like than in Colaba, and the Residency makes a perfect base from which to explore. Rooms are modern and comfortable and decorated in calming colours, with pictures of historic Mumbai on the walls. There's also a cute little café, where breakfast is served.

Hotel Bawa Continental

A comfortable resort-style hotel along lively Juhu beach, the Bawa Continental offers neat rooms, some with grandstand views over the beach and Arabian Sea. Although a hike from the historic centre, Juhu is much calmer than Fort or Colaba, with plenty of upscale restaurants and bars within walking distance. Rooms have TVs, air-con and Wi-Fi (for a charge), and there's a Starbucks on site.

Taj Mahal Palace & Tower

A Mumbai institution since 1903 the Taj has played host to Maharajas and monarchs movie stars and media moguls. Built in striking Indo-Saracenic style this grand hotel was extensively damaged during the 2008 terrorist attacks but an artful renovation has removed all traces of the disaster. For more than a century this has been the epitome of luxury in Mumbai with graceful vaulted ceilings tall archways fine carpets and crystal chandeliers. The Taj also houses some of Mumbai's best restaurants plus luxury shops a nightclub and outdoor pool gym and even its very own fortune teller.

Traveller's Inn

Set on a leafy road in Fort, Traveller's Inn has just 21 rooms, which are small but clean and excellent value. There are inexpensive dorms and better private rooms, and the staff are friendly and accommodating. There's also free wireless internet access in the lobby. Located close to many good value restaurants.

Hotel Oasis

Rooms are compact but tastefully decorated at this inexpensive 30-room hotel in a handy location in Fort, just a short hop from Victoria Terminus and Horniman Circle. For a reasonable price, you'll get a TV, air-conditioning and an en suite bathroom. There are numerous dining options on the neighbouring streets.