Mumbai — coined ‘Maximum City’ by Indian author Suketu Mehta — is a metropolis where everything, or rather everybody, is always on the move. This is a city that never sleeps, stops, or slows down, and it’s infectious buzz is like nothing I’ve experienced in all my travels. From the nameless rickshaw driver to the Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai, this place accepts us all. A food haven for some, a city where dreams come true for others, and simply home for me, Mumbai sparks an emotion that dwells in every ‘Mumbaikar’ and inspires every visitor. We got to spend 19 hours exploring the city.
First Stop: Gateway of India
This is a definite must-see in Bombay. Built in 1924, this gate is located at the tip of Apollo Bunder, overlooking the Mumbai harbor. At one point in time, this monument represented the grandeur of the British Raj in India, and ironically, it was also the exact same spot to see the last set of British troops and divisions leave India, post-independence in 1948.
If you are visiting this area at peak times, be mindful of the numerous photographers and vendors who congregate here and try to sell you their goods. If you rise early enough (6am), walk from here to the Sassoon Docks to see fishermen catching fish and beginning to sell them. It is truly a sight to see the Bombay Docks area at its busiest!
Second Stop: Colaba & Colaba Causeway
Colaba Causeway is an area that you will soon find out is one of the most bustling areas in SoBo (South Bombay). A major tourist attraction, its streets are lined with vendors selling Indian artifacts, clothes, jewelry, and, well, absolutely anything and everything you can think of! And at super cheap prices too… well, at least they are if you know how to bargain!
This is an area where you can feel the beating pulse of this lively city. It’s hard to point out any specific must-sees in the area however, as words simply cannot capture its unique dynamics — you simply have to go and experience its charm for yourself in person.
From pre-independence building structures to old-time restaurants, this area is something of a transition between the timeless Bombay and the restless, modern city of Mumbai. You will pass by beautiful structures and see glimpses of Mumbai’s colonial past, and then be brought quickly back to the present day by the typically Indian street vendors that pepper the streets. Hop in a taxi, enjoy the adventure, and embrace the completely atypical culture that is Colaba for a while!
Third stop: Leopold Cafe
Café Leopold is one of the oldest and most famous establishments in the area, and has withstood time, as well as (unfortunately) terrorist attacks. This café was a target of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai (2008), and you can still find the bullet marks from that horrific night in the restaurant interiors. Support its resilience by grabbing a beer (Kingfisher Ultra) in this extremely lively environment, complete with crazily cheap food that is awesome value for money!
Tips: Menu must-try’s: Beef Chilli, Vegetable Pot Rice, Kung Pao Potato. 2 – Ask any one of the waiters to point out where the bullet marks are — they will be happy to show them to you.
Fourth Stop: High Tea At Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai
For more than a century this place has inspired an impassioned, almost religious devotion. So there were those who fretted the hotel would never be the same again following the terrorist attacks of 2008. But she re-emerged more splendid than ever.
The impeccably done-up suites in the Heritage Wing include one named after sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. It’s a soaring duplex, aquiver with light that bounces off the Arabian Sea and filters through stained-glass windows. There, gleaming in a hermetically sealed vitrine, is Shankar’s lacquered concerto sitar. On the wall alongside it is a portrait of him and his Scouser mate George Harrison.
Outside is Mumbai, in all its mad magnificence and muddle. The Taj is at the city’s southern tip, in Colaba, the old British quarter. The neighbourhood, still redolent of the Raj, is undergoing a renaissance. Whip-smart boutiques such as Bungalow Eight and Bombay Electric vie for trade with toothless hawkers and stalls flogging incense and dodgy antiques. The Table is the place to go for a salted-caramel-ice-cream sundae so good it commands a species of devotion comparable only to that of its near neighbour, the Taj Mahal Palace. Catching up on High Tea from the Sea Lounge in Taj Mahal Palace hotel is truly one of it’s kind experience.
This is one of those places which has views from picture perfect picture postcards. Nice luxurious and lazy seating, muted colours, brilliant sunshine. If one were an author, one could spend the entire day in the place. This restaurant has everything, but recent experience left me thinking that even with so many extraordinary features the overall impression was just above the ordinary.
Taj is truly a property that has everything — location, history, class, extra-ordinary restaurants, great service. The Sea Lounge encapsulates (fairly uniquely for even this property) many features. It sits one level above the lobby level, with a grand staircase taking you up to the restaurant.
It is one of the few restaurants that overlook the Gateway of India over the Arabian Sea. On a rainy day during the monsoons, it is one of the great vantage points to observe the sea and enjoy and cuppa nice hot tea or two, eat hot samosas and pakoras and just savor life and enjoy their hospitality which is always impeccable. During a recent visit, with my old university friend we arrived in late afternoon when high-tea service was in progress. They had a full buffet, as well as sandwiches (the cucumber sandwich is a classic here).
The restaurant still preserves its service level, its location is amazing, the atmosphere in the lounge and its clientele are top-notch.
Fifth Stop: Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus ( Also know as Victoria Terminus)
With its pencil-point turrets, archways and Victorian Gothic architecture, the sprawling structure resembled a cathedral rather than a railway hub. Originally named Victoria Terminus after Queen Victoria, its colonial ties were snipped in 1996 and it was renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, after a Maratha warrior, though it was still fondly referred to as VT. It was now also listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Beneath the stained-glass windows, swooping arcs and shitting pigeons we scoured the signs for the train to Parel. It is a reminder of Mumbai’s colonial past, and nowadays, is still one of the largest train stations in the city.
If you are feeling adventurous, hop aboard one of the Mumbai local trains. I promise you, it’s quite a ride! Fun fact: The suburban railways in Mumbai ferry around 2.2 billion passengers every year (whereas the population of the world is around 6 billion). This building shines in all its glory at night. Great for photos!
Sixth Stop: Pantry Cafe
After having stumbled upon this place accidentally, We have been thoroughly impressed that we make it a point to have at least one dish here while we are around in one of the other restaurants at the same junction.
We have made several plans to make it here for breakfast, but never prevailed.
They did manage to serve us the best Savoury waffles we had- Double Cheese with roasted tomatoes, pine nuts and served with cauliflower butter. We followed that with the Sylvios Mix sandwich- Grilled bell peppers, zucchini and ricotta cheese. Utterly delicious. The drinks are refreshing though we are yet to try the coffees which it is very well known for. (Next time I promise)
The ambience is the cutest no frills cafelike, that reminds us of old school, vintage cafes from Europe. Good music accompanies. It’s difficult not to fall in love.
All in all, its a fantastic place- breakfast, lunch, tea or dinner, it does not fail.
Seventh Stop: Chumbak Store
Just off the road near Kala Ghoda- Visit this lovely small store which has authentic Handicrafts, very distinct indian flavor. The staff are really warm and friendly. There is a good variety of souvenirs available to pick for friends and family and for oneself including India themed books, laptop pads, mugs and handmade gift envelopes are a must buy. A tad pricey but you will walk out of the store feeling good and proud of your Indian ness.
So that’s how we spent our 19 hours in Mumbai falling a little bit in love with this city.