Traveling to the most populous city in India can be an adventure for any tourist.
But if you make the trip without a working knowledge of Mumbai culture, you'll miss much of the charm. In fact, so much is rooted in common language and traditions that you will see their influences all over. There are plenty of things to do in Mumbai, but most of them have culture in common.
What should I know about Mumbai culture before booking my trip?
As with any major city, there are many common themes running through the people and places. And make no mistake about it, Mumbai is a major city. It is densely populated and covers a wide area. Roughly 18 million people live within the metropolitan borders. And that covers the widest economic and social ranges imaginable. Still, we'll define some things that the city still holds as unifying themes.
From Bollywood to cuisine to religion, Mumbai culture is on full display across the city. Though quite diverse, there is a surprising level of consistency throughout the population. Here are a few of the consistencies we think are worth noting ahead of any trip to Mumbai.
What is it like?
Sometimes it might be best to approach a topic from the broadest perspective first. So we'll give you an overview of Mumbai culture. The city's first impression comes with the imposing Gateway of India. This is a nearly century old structure designed and positioned to be the first thing you see. And you would be arriving by sea, leading to another notable feature. The long coastline gives Mumbai not only beautiful beaches but the access that water provides. This has helped shape the culture through trade and in general by attracting tourists and residents. It is also the home of Bollywood, which makes it India's most important entertainment capital.
After spending just a short time in Mumbai, you will notice its diversity. Sure, there are the themes and customs you might expect to find in India. But since it is so crowded and offers so much, it attracts all types. And that extends to religion, too. For the most part, the locals fall into one of several faiths. You will predominantly encounter Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Jain practitioners. Many beautiful and historic houses of worship are scattered throughout the city. The religious diversity also leads to a wide range of festivals and celebrations throughout the year. All cities are impacted by the faiths of its inhabitants. And Mumbai culture is no exception.
When you think of Mumbai, you might immediately think of Bollywood music. And it is true, its influences are obvious across the city. But Mumbai culture covers much more. Marathi and Hindustani classical music is still revered and performed today. Newer regional types of music including Indipop, has also gained widespread prominence. As dance clubs and concert venues become more common, so do musical tastes. Western music is increasingly in demand among Mumbai residents. From rap to rock, English language music is regularly in rotation across the city.
Since there are so many background and faiths in the same city, Mumbai has many different traditions. Much of the culture here revolves around annual festivals and celebrations. You can find religious events around big holidays like Christmas and Eid. Mumbai culture also includes festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali and Durga Puja. The traditions also include colorful celebrations like Maha Shivratri, Navaratri and Moharram. Plus, there are plenty of parades and celebrations you'd probably first associated with Western nations. For example, the city hosts a gay pride parade every September.
Since Mumbai is a largely secular city, the clothing the fashions on display vary widely. Its metropolitan flair and international influence lead to a variety of clothing options. Of course, since it is located in a humid and often very hot climate, though, lightweight clothes are popular. And of course you will find plenty of sarees and other traditional Indian dress on display. The Mumbai culture is generally accepting. You could attract some unintended glances if you dress in an especially provocative manner. But if you pack a typical bag, your clothes should translate pretty well. Of course, you'll probably want to do some shopping and add something new to your own closet back home.
One of our favorite things to do in Mumbai or any other metropolitan location is enjoy the local cuisine. It is especially enjoyable in a city with such an eclectic cultural makeup. First of all, you are sure to find the best Indian food anywhere. Local chains restaurants and small independent bistros line community streets. In addition to the dining you might expect, a wide variety of options are also readily available. Find an increasing number of celebrity chefs opening their own restaurants in the city. And as Mumbai culture expands to include new tastes, you'll find much more. Asian fusion is gaining popularity and you can get fresh seafood served in endless preparations.
How has Mumbai culture evolved?
Like most cities that have embraced diversity, Mumbai has an inclusive culture. More than some other areas of India, it is easy to express your individuality in this metropolitan hot spot. Find a mix of languages, backgrounds and religions proudly on display. But at the same time, it is clear Mumbai has not lost its ancient roots. Indian heritage is everywhere. But so is the impact of those from across the world who continue to visit it majestic shores. Whether you want to engage in the local customs or stay inside your comfort zone, Mumbai culture has you covered.
Mumbai culture has a flavor all its own.
Influenced from both its deep national roots and influences from world travelers, Mumbai is diverse. Its embrace of other cultures while retaining its own heritage makes it a perennially popular tourist destination. And if you're planning a trip to the city, we hope our guide has helped clear things up a bit.
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