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- Jan-Peter van Tijk
I was searching on the internet for valuable tips on Bombay. Then I found InterNations and was surprised by its quality site.
Life in Mumbai
At a Glance:
- Mumbai is rich with culture and festivals for everyone to enjoy. Once you move to Mumbai, you’ll find plenty to entertain yourself with in the Bollywood capital of India.
- The public transportation in Mumbai is one of the best and most widely used in India, with expats often using trains and the metro to get to work.
- An excellent selection of schools and fully equipped expat apartment communities await you in Mumbai.
Just over 22 million people live in Mumbai, making it the second-biggest city in India and one of the most populous cities in the world. The official language of the state of Maharashtra is Marathi. However, local varieties of Hindi, Gujarati, and English, or a mixture of all, are also among the many languages used by Indians from around the country who settled in Mumbai. The literacy rate in Mumbai is 86%, and in such a cosmopolitan, well-educated city it is easy to converse with locals in English.
The rich mix of cultures, religions, and languages can be traced back to the city’s long history as the country’s most popular destination for migrants from both India and overseas. The different religions practiced by the various demographic groups living in Mumbai are an important part of cultural life.
A Festival for Every Faith
Life in Mumbai features countless traditional festivals originating from the city’s various religious groups and spread out across the year. Vaisakhi, for example, is a harvest and Hindu New Year festival celebrated by the Sikh and Hindu population during the middle of April. It includes joyful processions, martial arts performances, and acts of charity.
Diwali or Deepavali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is very popular with nearly all residents of Mumbai and the whole of India. It takes place either in the last week of October or the first two weeks of November, and — since it’s associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth — it also marks the beginning of the new fiscal year for the Gujarati community in Mumbai. Arguably the most important religious and cultural festival in Mumbai, though, is Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of the elephant-headed deity, Ganesha, celebrated for ten days in August or September.
However, it is not only Indian festivals that are highlights of the year in Mumbai; some Zoroastrian festivals as well as Eid al-Fitr (the end of the fasting period for Muslims), Christmas, and Easter are also very much part of the festival calendar of Mumbai’s diverse population. Christmas and Easter are not only part of the Christian year in Mumbai, but are celebrated to some degree by many other Mumbaikars, too.
Keeping Entertained in the Bollywood Capital
Of course, there is a secular side to culture in Mumbai as well. Locals and expats alike enjoy the lively entertainment offered in the countless theaters, museums, art galleries, music festivals, restaurants, and nightlife venues. The city also has a rich literary history, with Salman Rushdie being Mumbai’s representative best known among Western expats.
As a resident of Mumbai, you will be able to browse the well-stacked, slightly dusty rows of second-hand bookstores or visit the local branches of the Oxford Bookstore chain. In fact, bookshops play a crucial role for expat families, often functioning as a library as well as a children’s play-center. Public readings and kids’ activities open to everyone are hosted there and enjoying a cup of tea or coffee while flicking through the books is a common pastime among Mumbai’s locals and expats.
Cinema lovers in Mumbai benefit from a variety of movie theaters that show everything from blockbusters to arthouse pictures. The Regal Cinema in Colaba, for example, is appreciated for its wonderful Art Deco style. Obviously, one must not forget that Bollywood, the world’s largest film industry, is also based in Mumbai. If there’s one thing expats absolutely must do when in Mumbai, it’s see a Bollywood movie!
When the Game’s On in Mumbai, You Hear Crickets
Sports, particularly cricket, are an important feature of life in Mumbai and enjoy great popularity among most inhabitants. Everyone is invited to take part, either actively on one of the city’s many cricket grounds or as a cheering spectator in the stadium. Business almost comes to a screeching halt on the day of a big cricket match. Seasoned expats in Mumbai will know better than to schedule important meetings on those days!
And who could forget yoga, a very important part of life in Mumbai and of Indian culture in general. If you’ve never done any yoga before, now is the time to try it. For useful updates on other events and leisure activities in Mumbai check out what’s hot in Mumbai or asklaila — an online local information service for India.
Transportation in Mumbai
Public Transportation — The Blood Vessels of Mumbai
Considering the heavy congestion and the poor maintenance of Mumbai’s roads, it is not surprising that public transportation is often considered the best way of getting around the megacity. Mumbai actually has a comparatively good public transportation system. However, with over 80% of the city’s commuters relying on it to get them to work and back every day, it certainly has its downsides as well.
Trains: The Suburban-, Mono-, and Metro Rails
There are three lines on the Mumbai Suburban Railway: the Western Line, the Central Main Line, and the Harbor Line. On all lines, trains — known as “Locals” — run regularly between around 04:00 and 01:00, alternating between slow (S) and fast (F) trains, depending on the number of stations they stop at.
Various websites provide railway maps for Mumbai’s local train services, such as that of the Indian Railways. Every train has separate compartments for women, senior citizens, and passengers with disabilities. There are even trains running along each railway line during peak hours that are exclusively for women — these trains are known as “Ladies Specials”.
Mumbai commuter trains carry several million passengers every day. They can get insanely crowded, with passengers standing in open doors, dangling out of windows, and even traveling on the roof, so sharp elbows and strong nerves are essential.
For expatriates who can afford it, traveling first class is the way to go, as compartments tend to be less cramped. Train tickets can be bought at station counters, but lines are very long. Train timetables and a fare calculator can be found at Mumbai Lifeline. Alternatively, a more convenient online ticketing system was launched by Indian Railways in 2014 — download the UTS mobile app to your phone and buy tickets on the go.
The Mumbai Monorail has completed its first phase, which includes a line connecting Wadala to Chembur in the northeast of the city. Though, with only one line, the monorail offers a limited service, and has recently been subject to safety concerns after a fire destroyed two empty carriages in November 2017. The Mumbai Metro currently has one operational line spanning across the city (Versova – Andheri – Ghatkopar).
Whether by Bus or by Taxi, Only the BEST in Mumbai
Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking, BEST for short, operates a fleet of thousands of buses running on compressed natural gas. These busses run on hundreds of routes, serving most parts of the city. You can choose between a single journey ticket, daily pass, or the monthly and quarterly bus-pass schemes. You can register for these on the BEST company website. Several dozen additional bus routes are supplied by Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport (NMMT) and Thane Municipal Transport (TMT).
Most expats, however, choose to travel by taxi. This is by far the most comfortable option, if not always the fastest, due to the sheer volume of traffic on the roads. There are the old black-and-yellow taxis (which are gradually being phased out) and private cabs, i.e. the newer, safer variety with air-conditioning. All modern taxis have meters, though keep in mind that fares for taxis with AC are slightly higher. The current, correct fare tables can be downloaded via a mobile app or from various websites such as TaxiAutoFare.
The notorious auto rickshaws are restricted to suburban areas of Mumbai. They can be pretty handy for quick journeys and are reliable, since they all have meters to calculate the fare.
International and Domestic Flights
Mumbai is well connected to both other parts of India and the world. The city’s main airport, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, is one of South Asia’s busiest air traffic hubs. In 2016–2017 it transferred over 45 million passengers.
The international terminals are sometimes still referred to by the airport’s old name, Sahar. Domestic flights use the Santa Cruz terminals about four kilometers to the west (for this distance there is a free inter-terminal shuttle bus). Terminal 2 at Sahar has recently been refurbished and international as well as domestic flights are already taking off from there. Like most airports in India, there is a user development fee for passengers departing from Mumbai (around 100 INR for domestic flights and 600 INR for international).
To get to and from the airport, you can take a regular, metered taxi or a prepaid taxi. The prepaid taxi has the benefit that you know what you will be paying, won’t have to pay more upon arrival, and you will be sure to get a receipt. Busses from the BEST transit company run between the airport and the city center. Trains do not reach the airport and a taxi or bus has to be taken from the nearby Andheri East station to the airport.
If you are traveling within India, some people prefer trains to flying for long-distance journeys. This is often the less expensive option, and Indian Railways provides a range of trains and carriage classes, meaning ticket prices can vary a lot. Within the state of Maharashtra, the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation operates a relatively comfortable and inexpensive inter-city bus service.
Housing, Schools and Daily Life in Mumbai
Finding Accommodation Where Space Is Limited
Space is a major issue in a city like Mumbai. High-quality, spacious rental accommodation is scarce and rather expensive. Even luxurious modern apartment blocks built specifically with expats in mind can seem a bit cramped. They often provide excellent facilities such as gyms, gardens, playgrounds, and club houses, though. Living there can be a fantastic communal experience, especially for expats with children.
People who are looking for individual space and privacy, however, might want to get a house in the suburbs. The decision is a tough one, especially considering the importance of your location in a city like Mumbai, where getting around always takes more time than expected. Although, in comparison to other big Indian cities, Mumbai’s public transportation system is considered very good. Popular expat neighborhoods in Mumbai include Andheri East and West, Powai, Bandra, and Juhu in the north of Mumbai, Worli, Lower Parel, and Prabhadevi in mid-town, and the very affluent residential areas in southern Mumbai.
When looking for accommodation, you can consult a real estate agent, a relocation agency, the local listings in newspapers, or search online. Most real estate agents in Mumbai have a website with available apartments, such as Expat Properties Mumbai. It’s also a good idea to ask your employer or other connections you have for personal recommendations.
Schools in Mumbai: A Place to Learn Close to Home
Indian state schools suffer from underfunding, facing the problems of a lack of modern facilities and staff. However, as is very common in large Indian cities, Mumbai has several private international schools catering to its ever-growing expat population and affluent urban classes:
- Dhirubhi Ambani International School
- American School Bombay
- Bombay International School
- Deutsche Schule Bombay
- École Française Internationale de Bombay
- Podar International School
- École Mondiale World School
- Oberoi International School
You can find more international schools in the city on educationworld.
It is worth bearing the location of these schools in mind when choosing your family accommodation in Mumbai. Due to the time-consuming and sometimes stressful nature of local travel, many expats are reluctant to send their child on a long journey every morning.
More often than not, however, expat families end up living a long way from the next international school so their children, particularly the younger ones, attend local private schools. In most neighborhoods, there are plenty of nurseries and primary schools which, in addition to the convenient location, help children adjust to their new community.
Unless you employ a maid, you will have to do the food shopping yourself. If you decide to employ household staff for your new home, you’ll find that good-quality maids and nannies are very cheap and readily available. In Mumbai, you have a choice between hypermarkets in one of the immensely popular shopping malls, supermarkets, local food stalls, and farmers’ markets.
Whether you choose the mall or the market, the shopping experience will involve fighting your way through throngs of other shoppers. A trip to the local food market is also a great cultural experience. Street markets are ideal for finding vegetables at cheap prices, and you’ll also experience some more of Mumbai’s vibrant urban scenes. When purchasing their groceries, foreigners are often surprised to find that many people in India buy their meat for dinner while it is still alive and kicking.
One less pleasant aspect of daily life in Mumbai is the national phenomenon of “Eve teasing”, a form of sexual bullying or harassment including staring, groping, indecent exposure, and even the slapping of women in public. Although Mumbai is still safer for women than, for example, Delhi, safety concerns that come with living in a big city cannot be overlooked. While awareness is growing, “Eve teasing” continues to be a serious problem in Indian society.
In Mumbai if you are in a situation where you feel uncomfortable or harassed, there are emergency numbers you can call: 100 or 112 (police department), 103 (women’s helpline in Mumbai), and 181 (women’s helpline across whole of India). Expat women should use the “women only” compartments on public transportation or the “Ladies special” trains (only available during peak times). There are also a few cab companies that offer taxi services for women with female drivers.
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- Jan-Peter van Tijk
I was searching on the internet for valuable tips on Bombay. Then I found InterNations and was surprised by its quality site.
- Nellie Collins
Bombay is definitely different from from the States. InterNations became my international home and my local 'family' of expats in no time.