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adventure — By Vawn on March 10, 2010 at 1:32 pm
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Exploring India’s maximum city: Mumbai

In Maximum City, Suketu Mehta’s portrait of Bombay, we discover the “biggest, fastest, richest city in India.” Mehta, a journalist who now lives in New York, returns to the city of his youth after a 21-year absence to investigate the bloody riots of 1992-1993. What he finds is a city lost and found.

According to Mehta, the city - now referred to as Mumbai - has always had multiple aliases, “as do gangsters and whores.” If you’re traveling to Mumbai, this is essential reading into what makes the city tick: the criminal underworld, rivalry between Hindu and Muslim gangs, the sex industry and Bollywood.

It’s a city of stark contrasts, from extreme poverty to Bollywood glam. This is a city of 20 million people - of that, 30 per cent live in the slums. Some 200 families move to Mumbai every day from other parts of the country, from Pakistan and Bangladesh, all in search of a better life.

As part of a traveling book club through Nicholas Hoare Books in Toronto, organized by Going Places Together, I’m reading my way through India, and Mumbai is first up. One way to experience at least a glimpse of Mehta’s Maximum City is through an architectural walking tour to discover Bombay lost and found, from its Gothic architecture to the fading glory of its art deco buildings.

Bombay Heritage Walks (BHW) has been organizing walking tours around the city since 1999 to raise awareness of its architecture and heritage monuments, which trace the social and cultural history of the city. Note that some buildings are no longer accessible to the public since the bombings of November 2008, which targeted luxury hotels, cinemas, busy train stations and police headquarters.

Here are a few highlights:

Gateway of India - This triple archway was completed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary, designed in the Indo-Saracenic style (a style only found on the subcontinent, which combines Hindu and Islamic architectural features).

Taj Mahal Hotel – This was India’s first luxury hotel designed by Parsi industrialist Sir Jamsetji Tata. The architecture is an amalgamation of indigenous and European styles, such as Gothic domes with jharokha-style balconies. And yes, this is the one that got bombed in 2008, but you’d never know it now.

Regal Cinema – Opened in 1933, this art deco cinema designed by Charles Stevens is one of the oldest cinemas in the world.

Photo Credit: suketumehta.com
Photo Copyright @ 2010 VH Media

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