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Insider’s Guide to Mumbai
A crash course in cheek-by-jowl bazaars and velvety cocktail haunts in this Indian city by the sea.
Taj Mahal Palace
CALLING MUMBAI A MASH-UP would be an understatement. India’s most populous city is marked by an unrelenting convergence of high and low: Prada-clad women wait for fresh sugar-cane juice at corner street stalls, and luxury high rises overlook psychedelic street murals. In Mumbai (or Bombay, as most locals still call it), you can rub elbows with bankers, diamond merchants and film producers at velvet-roped bars, then step outside to grab some of the world’s best street food and watch the sun set at Chowpatty beach, whose atmosphere turns carnival-like in the evening. Uncomfortably hot in the summer, Mumbai swings into peak travel season now, with foreigners and NRIs (an official-turned-cheeky term for nonresident Indians) showing up in droves for vacations and weddings.
Photos: A Trip to Mumbai, India
Though extreme poverty blights the city, a rich cultural renaissance is under way. Contemporary art galleries are fast multiplying in Colaba, Mumbai’s southern district. Boutiques from D7 in the western suburb of Bandra down to Bombay Electric and Le Mill in South Mumbai showcase local designers who marry traditional fabrics with edgy silhouettes. The city’s namesake film industry, Bollywood, employs more than 2.5 million people and churns out 700 to 800 movies a year, nearly as many as its American counterpart.
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Located on India’s western coast, Mumbai served as a major port for the Portuguese and then the British from the 16th to 20th centuries. The colonial-style churches and Victorian Gothic buildings that dot the neighborhoods serve as a reminder of the city’s past, while a growing number of modern glass-encased high-rises (including Indian industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s much talked-about $1 billion, 27-story home) look to the future.
Once you’ve had your fill of galleries and fine dining, take a 1-hour ferry ride to visit Elephanta Island, where Hindu and Buddhist rock carvings—some dating back to the sixth century—will leave you awe-struck. Or head over to the stunning Chhatrapati Shivaji (formerly Victoria) train station and watch locals dash at rush hour. Mumbai suffers no shortage of shiny new toys, but it’s the city’s spirit that will have you hooked.
Actress, food writer and cookbook author
Bric a Brac // Chor Bazaar. When I first came to America, I went back to Bombay to Chor Bazaar to buy everything. It is filled with an endless amount of things, and wonderful antiques. You’ll also find vintage Bollywood movie posters here. Mutton Street, Byculla
Rare Eats // Britannia & Co. Parsi food is hard to find outside of private homes. Order the fish patra; and berry pulao, a rice dish made with barberries. And you must have a fresh lime soda. S S Ram Gulam Marg, opposite New Customs House, Fort, 91-22-2261-5264.
Bazaar Fruits // Crawford Market. It’s basically a market of seasonal produce. If you’re there in April or May, you should buy the Alphonso mangoes. Near Abdul Rehman Street, South Mumbai
Coco Central // Konkan Café. Beautiful fish with coconut and red chilis. Everything is shipped from the Konkan coast—they have more than a 100 coconuts shipped in every day. Taj President, 90 Cuffe Parade, vivantabytaj.com
Street Sweets // Bhendi Bazaar. This area is home to the Dawoodi Bohras, a Muslim community whose roots trace to Egypt and Yemen. You will find the most amazing sweets, such as halwa and jalebi (a sweet and crispy pretzel-like disc), in the lanes here. Near Mohammed Ali Road, Bhuleshwar
Author of “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found”
Snack and Sleep // The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower. The grand hotel is back on its feet after being heavily damaged in the 2008 terrorist attacks. I like to go to the Sea Lounge and watch the Parsi families trying to arrange matches between their young over tea. Apollo Bunder Road, Colaba, tajhotels.com
Great Greens // Shree Thaker Bhojanalay. An eating club that originally catered to migrant workers, it is now comfortably air-conditioned and still serving the greatest vegetarian meals I have ever eaten in a restaurant. 31, Dadyseth Agiary Marg, Kalbadevi, 91-22-2201-1232
Strolling Grounds // Kamala Nehru Park. Everyone calls it the Hanging Gardens. When I’m jet-lagged and up at 5 a.m., I head to the top of the park, which has a fine view of the bay. Ridge Road at the top of Malabar Hill, Malabar Hill
Deep Fry // A. Ramanayak Udipi Shri Krishna Boarding. South Indian home cooking served on banana leaves. They will also let you watch as they fry terrifically crisp potato chips. LBS Market Building, 1st Floor, Matunga, 91-22-2414-2422
Words of Wonder // Strand Book Stall. You go to the Strand to look at books, talk about books, buy books. I sometimes shop for American and British novels there and have them shipped back to New York; it’s still cheaper. Sir P.M. Rd. Fort, strandbookstall.com
Sitar player, composer and daughter of Ravi Shankar
Sound Stage // Blue Frog. Surreally modern in its décor and design, it’s the only place in India that combines a music-centered auditorium with the casualness of a bar. There are international and Indian artists; usually it’s a live act followed by a DJ. Mathuradas Mill Compound, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, bluefrog.co.in
Super Sands // Juhu Beach. I try to spend a minimum of an hour here. It’s a place where you really get the vastness of the people that call the city home. Everyone lands up on the beach to have an ice cream with their family. You see quite a variety of people. West Mumbai
Star Grazing // Indigo. This restaurant is in a restored bungalow and feels really warm and swanky at the same time. You can do that usual actor spotting, but the food is actually really good. 4 Mandlik Road, Colaba, foodindigo.com
Street Style // Fashion Street. Miles and miles of market stall shopping. I tend to buy several of those simple kurtas (cotton tunics) to wear over jeans, and stop and have street food. MG Road, South Mumbai
Cheeky Chic // Bombay Electric. This shop has really unique clothes and cool accessories, kitschy Indian things. Definitely for people who like clothing with a twist. 1 Reay House, Best Marg, Colaba, bombayelectric.in
Managing Director and CEO of Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces
Culture Cool // National Centre for the Performing Arts. There is a great mix of established work and experimental, Indian and Western classical. You cannot go wrong. NCPA Marg, Nariman Point, ncpamumbai.com
Abundance of Dishes // Trishna. We bring guests here, and they are stunned by the hundreds of items on the menu. The garlic-butter king crabs are the reason people return again and again. Birla Mansion, Sai Baba Marg (next to Commerce House), Fort, 91-22-2270-3213
Old Worlds // Phillips Antiques. I love to gaze at their beautiful treasures and maps, and check out any new collectibles. From carved cupboards to Gauri heads to oil lamps, it’s an authentic slice of the past. Madam Cama Road (opposite Regal Cinema), Colaba, phillipsantiques.com
Snack Attack // Camy Wafers. My daughters and I just love the fresh potato chips from this Colaba snack shop. 5-6 Oxford House (off Colaba Causeway), Colaba, 91-22-2282-8430
Restau-Disco // Shiro. This restaurant is a wonderful oasis in midtown. Friday night with music from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s is great fun. And the food is delicious. Bombay Dyeing Mill Compound, Pandurang Budhkar Marg, Worli, shiro.co.in
Plus Don’t Miss…
Elco Pani Puri Center A legendary pani puri (crispy fried canapés) street stall that went brick and mortar. elcocateringservices.com // Forest Essentials The place to load up on handmade soaps and creams, many of them laced with sandalwood, rose and mogra (a type of jasmine). forestessentialsindia.com // Ahilaya A favorite for silk and cotton tunics in pastel hues. 91-22-2202-4053 // Natural Ice Cream A must for the seasonal fruit-loaded ice creams like sitaphal (custard apple) and chikoo (sapota). naturalicecreams.in // Goodearth Look for hammered copper pitchers and embroidered cushion covers at this beloved homewares store. goodearth.in