Mumbai—or Bombay, as it was known until 1997—remains India's city of dreams. It is so dynamic that immigrants still flock there in hopes of becoming successful entrepreneurs. Despite its rich heritage and friendly citizens, Mumbai can overwhelm foreigners with its sheer headcount, smells and sounds. Pollution and poverty are also part of the cosmopolitan picture.

Built largely by the British around one of the best-protected natural harbors in the world, Mumbai is India's business center and one of the most important commercial hubs between Singapore and Europe. It generates more than a third of India's gross national product, and half of the country's foreign trade moves through this busy seaport on the Arabian Sea. Mumbai also is home to the country's prolific Bollywood film industry, which cranks out more feature films than any other place in the world.

Mumbai's expansion has been rapid—from fewer than 1 million residents in the mid-1950s to nearly 15 million today—and the city suffers from growing pains. Civic services are stretched, water is in short supply, and Mumbai's footprint reaches endlessly northward to provide housing for new arrivals.

With Mumbai's energies directed toward its burgeoning population and thriving business community, India's largest city has spent less time and money developing tourist attractions. High-rise hotels, designer boutiques and fine restaurants abound, but there hasn't been much focus on museums or historical sites. However, that's starting to change as the city's power and social elites begin channeling their earnings and clout into expanding cultural offerings.

Mumbai's main draw, however, like so much of India, is in its contradictions. Within a few miles/kilometers you can be awestruck by the palatial houses on Malabar Hill, and then depressed by the makeshift shacks and the bedraggled children in the city's poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

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