15.05.2010 - 17.05.2010 38 °C
Formerly known as Bombay, the home of Bollywood is an exciting metropolis and a melting pot of all things Indian.
Like Manhatten, Mumbai is actually an island and the sea breeze, though not exactly fresh, is a breath of air, after the sweltering dustiness of Delhi and Northern India. The architecture is a mix of British colonial and modern Indian, with a splattering of Art Deco that would look incredible with a lick of paint or two.
With three times the national average salary, and home to some of India's richest tycoons, Mumbai is a great place to see how India's well heeled live: 5* hotels, such as the world famous Taj Mahal Palace & Tower (back to it's former glory after the 2008 terrorist attacks), swanky bars and luxury seafront apartments, all of which are easy on the eye. Though, as is so often the case in India, they stand in stark contrast to the extreme poverty which is never far away - for Mumbai is also home to Dharavi, one of Asia's biggest slums, housing 60% of Mumbai's population.
I personally chose not to go on a slum tour, It felt too voyeuristic somehow. Instead, as the last stop before flying home (volcanic dust cloud permitting), I decided to soak in the atmosphere and dedicate myself to the art of wandering... and maybe just a touch of shopping. And that's where you get to see the heart and soul of the city - persistent touts selling giant balloons, bustling ancient markets and bazaars, couples taking sunset strolls down Chowpatti Beach, street vendors selling deliciously sizzling delicacies and tossing roti bread faster than you've ever seen.. as always, back to the delicious Indian food!
Where we stayed:
Bentleys Hotel, Colaba - from 1530 rs/night - The Taj it's not, but it is a stone's through away from the infamous hotel, and if you're on a budget, it's a good compromise. The rooms are clean and airy, and it's a delightfully crumbling, if a little musty, art deco building, with high ceilings and painted floor tiles.
If you've got money to burn or just fancy treating yourself on your last night, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower has rooms from 18,500/night. The Intercontinental (similar price) with it's sea views and swanky rooftop pool and bar, is a great contemporary alternative.
Where to eat:
Enjoy a quick bite or a delicious capuccino at on of Moshe's cafes - the prices are on a par with home but it's a delicious treat
Enjoy the best Mangalorian seafood in town at Trishna's restaurant
Eat the best street food in town at Bade Miya - it's right behind the Taj and is extremely popular with locals and a smattering of tourists. Delicious chicken tikka and mutton kebabs sizzle away, whilst the roti bread gets rolled, tossed in the air and cooked in record time. Open from 7pm until late, get there early if you want to sit at one of the few plastic tables. Order liberally and wrap your meat or paneer in a roti - think fajitas, indian style...seriously tasty stuff!
Where to drink:
Leopold's - opened in 1806, and made recently famous by the book Shantaram, this place is an institution, and packed full of travellers
Mondigar - down the road from Leopold's and a similar vibe
Busaba - tucked away down a Colaba side street, this little bar could be straight out of London's Notting hill - the prices are too. Try the Aplle Martini - yum!
The Dome Bar at the Intercontinental - quite simply breathtaking, this rooftop bar gets the decor and ambience just right, with white sofas, chilled sounds, and massive candles. Perfect for a gin and tonic and watching the Mumbai jetset, or a wonderful way to say good bye to India before your night flight home.
What to do:
Walk around Colaba and Fort, look out for the main sights (Gateway of India, Flora Fountain, Prince of Wales Museum, Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai University and the High Court) ...get a bit lost, then jump in a black and yellow taxi
Become a Bollywood Extra - we were scouted on our second day but politely declined. It's fun but also hot, hard work. A great story to tell your friends back home though!
Anyone who's read Shantaram will have heard of Leopold's - a British institution, this bar/cafe/diner was built in 1806 and is now a popular traveller's hang out
Visit Elephanta island - housing beautiful stone carvings created by Buddhist monks c. 650 AD - boats leave from India Gate every 15 mins (journey 1hr)
We chose not to but you may be interested in taking a slum tour to Dharavi - a fascinating insight into one of Asia's biggest slums - just check that a good proportion of the tour's profits go into regenerating the slums.