Fast becoming one of the world’s financial capitals, Mumbai is plugged into every time zone on earth. This is the new India and its energy is palpable. An international crowd of Bollywood stars, global financiers and India’s young and wealthy give the bustling restaurants, stores and boutiques the feel of Swinging London in the 60’s. Tea warehouses from the Victorian era are now boutiques and ateliers where the latest designers mix traditional influences with modern flair.
A tour of the city presents a dizzying mix of centuries. Brahma cows, Bentleys and three wheeled tuk-tuk moto-taxis share the streets with pedestrians in turbans, business suits, dhotis and brightly colored saris. The largest collection of art deco buildings outside Miami Beach lines the waterfront strand. Blocks from the imposing Victoria Terminus railway station, a billionaire has built a 27 story skyscraper to house his family of five. At a nearby district, laundry is washed, still done by hand. A small army delivers boxed lunches, prepared at home, to the city’s office workers with military precision. A place - and a job - for everyone.
The cool, the hip, locals and tourists alike gather at the ‘in’ hangout cafes such as Leopold Cafe and Cafe Mondegar to eat, drink, converse and cavort. At night the swinging clubs, lounges and discos rule. Mumbai loves to party.
Eat Like A Maharaja
Dine like a Maharaja in the city’s myriad restaurants with cuisine from all regions of the subcontinent. Konkan, or coastal food is the local specialty. You can rub shoulders with the city’s fabulous set at fine-dining or trendy venues, or choose from a huge selection of inexpensive eateries. Mehesh Lunch Home, Konkan Cafe, Indigo and Trishna are some of my favorite haunts. Check out Swati Snacks for great people watching and where you can enjoy typical Mumbai street food like vada pav and pani puri prepared in an impeccably sanitary kitchen. Also recommended are traditional Irani restaurants serving a variety of breads and Indian tea called chai. Eat with the locals at classic fast food establishments, called Udipis, which serve South Indian food.
Join Hindu devotees at Babulnath Temple, filled with incense and fragrant marigolds. At Bangara Tank, glimpse villages within the city where worshippers toll bells and chant mantras. Witness flower garlanded shrines with ritual bathers in a sacred holy spring of the Ganga, reputed to have healing powers.
See the Sights
Gate Way Of India and Taj: A towering remnant of the British Raj, when Mumbai was the Gateway of India, crowds throng this archway on the waterfront in front of the elegant Taj Mahal Hotel. Enjoy high tea at the hotel’s Sea Lounge as you to take in the Gateway, and experience the popular, posh hangout.
Prince Wales Museum: Mumbai’s top museum, considered India’s finest, provides a superb introduction to Indian history and culture.
Victoria Terminus: An architectural gem and engineering masterpiece, this baroque Cathedral-like train station with Gothic spires, gargoyles, sculptures, stone carvings, and stained-glass windows is quite grand.
Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach: Follow the crescent shaped curve to Chowpatty Beach with its seaside promenade and stalls to taste the famous bhelpuri. At sunset, see the street lights transform Marine Drive into the aptly named - Queen’s Necklace - a choker length of sparkling jewels adorning Back Bay.
Dharavi: With the fame of Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire, Asia’s largest shantytown has become quite a tourist attraction.
Elephanta Island: Hop the ferry to Elephanta to see the Shiva temple caves with the remarkable three headed 21 foot sculpture of Trimurti.
Ghandi Museum: Visit the Gujarati style house where Mahatma Gandhi lived and conducted his 4 day fast in November 1923 to restore peace to the nation.
Bollywood: Catch a Bollywood Movie and marvel at the Regal Cinema’s fantastic art deco interior.
Indulgent Retail Therapy: From couture to kitsch, Mumbai is a shopper’s paradise offering trendy clothing and footwear, striking jewelry, unusual antiques and fantastic textiles. The Colaba district, near the Gateway of India, is renowned for its international boutiques and local designer shops. It’s also the art center of the city, with the major galleries and museums close by, so you can pair culture with your shopping.
Don’t miss stylish Bungalow 8 filled with stunningly chic duds, collectable items and antiques. If owner Maitthili Ahluwalia is there, you’ll be regaled with stories about her worldly adventures. She’s a star and a character and the store is a veritable design museum. Fashion aficionados flock to Azeem Khan Couture, one of Mumbai’s best known designers who has dressed such luminaries as Hillary Clinton and Demi Moore. If your taste runs more to East-meets-West glam, Tarun Tahiliani’s boutique is your cup of tea. Stop by the au courant shops inside the Taj Mahal Palace for fine Pashmina shawls, items of clothing, gems and artifacts.
Bombay Electric offers lovely accessories that make great gifts, and a collection of Indian and international designers. The Good Earth’s eclectic items range from glorious textiles and fabrics to arty candles and smart dinnerware. Fab India features fabulous hand loomed goods. Vibrant Colaba Causeway, also known as the Culture Square of Mumbai, with its trendy bars, restaurants and happening clubs, features high-end boutiques and small stalls with an array of just about everything where the rule of thumb is to bargain.
City Of Jewels
Mumbai boasts gorgeous jewelry with every variety and style available. Whatever your taste, if you like classical or serious bling, this town has something for you. A favorite of the smart set, Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri features stellar gold and diamond jewels. Family owned Popli & Sons is reputed to be top of the line with their contemporary designer pieces. Gazdar specializes in Indian, Western, antique and modern gems. Walk into any of the various jewelry stores along Hughes Road and be treated to snazzy unique creations.
Mumbai has a wealth of hotels, including many exceptional 5 star properties. Marine Drive offers the best view of the Arabian Sea. There are great options to suit every budget. With numerous choices, here are some stand outs.
The Taj Mahal Palace: Overlooking the Gateway of India, this luxurious iconic hotel, frequented by royalty, heads of state and celebrities, embodies old school opulence and grandeur. Silk couches and museum quality paintings line the elegant, lavish lobby. Exquisitely decorated historic Palace wing rooms and sumptuous suites are posh, with antiques, vintage art, Italian marble bathrooms and butler service. The hotel features top restaurants, Harbour Bar - oldest bar in the city, plush Jiva spa, pool, health club and a colonnade of shops. www.tajhotels.com
The Oberoi: After a recent year long renovation, this luxury property is sleek, modern and chic, with spectacular views of the Arabian Sea, soaring gorgeous atrium/lobby with white marble floors and snazzy red baby grand piano. Spacious, stylish rooms and suites with silk covered furnishings and gold pillows offer butler service. In addition to fine restaurants including Ziya with celebrity chef Vineet Bhatia, pool and health club, the 24 hour spa is a fantastic perk. www.oberoihotels.com
Four Seasons Hotel: Centrally located, this luxurious hotel offers Arabian Sea views and a sizzling roof top bar. With an elegant marble and wood lobby, rooms and suites feature upscale decor in earth tones and warm colors, with plush beds and linens and floor to ceiling windows. The hotel boasts a health club and spa with Indian and Western treatments, yoga, roof top pool and fine restaurants including stand out San Qi. www.fourseasons.com
Shangri La: Set to open this January, this luxurious hotel located in the heart of Mumbai features spacious, elegantly appointed rooms and suites that synthesize contemporary and classic Indian decor. With spectacular views, amenities include two restaurants, three bars and lounges, health club, pool and Chi - the Spa. www.shangri-la.com/mumbai
Grand Hyatt: This luxury hotel in the heart of the city, is done like an art gallery with striking works by Indian artists throughout. Sleek, stylish rooms and suites are beautifully appointed. Amenities include award winning restaurants, pool, fitness center, yoga and spa. www.mumbai.grand.hyatt.com
The Trident Hotel, Bandra Kura: This luxury hotel in the heart of the new financial district of North Mumbai offers spacious, stylish rooms and suites. With a wide selection of restaurants, pool, spa and fitness area, it’s ideal for discerning business and leisure travelers. www.tridenthotel.com
For more information, visit www.incredibleindia.org