Best bets for a weekend in Mumbai

Photograph of tiffin-wallahs, Churchgate station, Mumbai, India

Tiffin-wallahs, Churchgate Station, Mumbai

Mumbai is mesmerizing

Imagine New York and Hollywood rolled into one, set in the tropics and squeezed onto a peninsula several sizes too small. Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) is one of the biggest and most densely packed cities on earth, India’s economic engine and the home of Bollywood, the glamour factory that makes more movies than anywhere else – more than twice as many as Hollywood. It buzzes, it never sleeps and don’t get in its way! Mumbai is on the move, and you better be too if you want to get on and off trains, cross the street, order food, shop or achieve any kind of success. For this city represents both the future, in the shape of the dreams of millions, and the past, in the streetscape of grand Victorian buildings.
What do you do with two days and two nights in Mumbai? Try these suggestions.

FRIDAY

Photograph of pool side, Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai

Pool side, Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai

5 pm  ~  SPLASH OUT WITH A LEGEND

According to legend, Jamsetji Tata was turned away by the leading British hotel in Bombay, so he built his own. And thus begins the larger-than-life story of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Occupying the prime location in town, across from the Gateway of India, this iconic hotel has also occupied a place of prime significance in the social landscape of Mumbai since opening in 1903. The architects of independent India, stars, lovers, maharajas, tourists – many have been drawn to this illustrious landmark, including, of course, the terrorists who attacked it in November 2008. The hotel valiantly re-opened only days later, and has since undergone a complete renovation and reconstruction. From the aqua serenity of the Sea Lounge to the glamour of poolside dining, the hotel offers a dazzling array of food and ambience choices. You may never want to set foot outside. Rooms range from $250 CDN for a Superior Double to $3,600 for a Grande Luxury (not to mention the Presidential and Rajput suites). Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Apollo Bunder, Mumbai. (91) 22 6665 3366

7 pm  ~  WATCH THE SUNSET SINK INTO THE ARABIAN SEA

Make use of prime sunset time to walk along Marine Drive from Nariman Point to Chowpatty Beach and watch the red-orange ball sink into the choppy waters of the Arabian Sea. At the end of the two-mile walk you will reach the circus atmosphere and food stalls of Chowpatty Beach: reward yourself by trying fragrant, spicy bhelpuri (less than $1), the ubiquitous street food of Mumbai; or stop by the iconic Cream Centre, a veg-only snack bar that’s been serving delicious puris, samosas (about $3) and sundaes (about $5) for more than 40 years. Fulchand Niwas 25/B Chowpatty Sea Face (22)  23679222 or 23679333.

Photograph of Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai

Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai, at sunset

9:00 pm  ~  SMALL PORTIONS, BIG FLAVOUR

India is home to one of the world’s great cuisines, and among the incredible richness and diversity of food available, Gujurati dishes are considered particularly delectable. At stalwart Samrat near Churchgate station, popular with foreigners and locals alike, you can get a Gujurati “thali” (thali means plate) overflowing with tiny portions of curried vegetables, dal, rice, puris, papad, chutneys, raita, dessert and other delicious concoctions, running the gamut of tastes from spicy to sweet (about $6 per person). And best of all, waiters continually top you up for no additional charge. Prem Court, J. Tata Road, Churchgate (22) 4213 5401

11:00 pm  ~  DON THE QUEEN’S NECKLACE AT DOME

Take in the view of the Queen’s Necklace at night – the graceful curve of glittering lights along Marine Drive, by the edge of the Arabian Sea – and rub shoulders with the glitterati at Dome, the InterContinetal Hotel’s romantic rooftop lounge. A shot of Johnnie Walker Black Label – the standard drink of Indian men – will cost about $12, and a Kingfisher beer is $7. 135 Marine Drive, Colaba. Dome (91) 22 3987 9999.

SATURDAY

Photograph of Leopold Cafe, Mumbai

Leopold Cafe, Mumbai

9 am  ~  BE IN A BOLLYWOOD FILM

If you dream of being an extra in a Bollywood film, have breakfast at Leopold’s and wait – like Lana Turner at Schwab’s – to be discovered. Leopold’s Café is a Mumbai institution, a well-worn path on the tourist trail, always packed with foreigners who seem to be willing to pay more than double what you would pay elsewhere. Casting agents stop by the café, and roam the nearby streets of Colaba, looking for foreigners to appear as extras in Bollywood films. Leopold’s has an extensive menu of Chinese, Thai, continental and Indian dishes. For breakfast have a masala omelette ($2), fruit salad with yoghurt ($3.50) and fresh mango juice (in season) for $3.50. Colaba Causeway, Bhagat Singh Road, Next To Regal Cinema, Colaba. (022) 22828185 or 22848054.

10:30 am  ~  SLUM IT

The best way to get to know city is to take a tour with a local. Mumbai Magic has about 20 tours to choose from – or they can arrange a private tour. You can learn about the city’s cuisine, beach life, traditional dance and music; or you can take their signature tour, The Spirit of Dharavi. Dharavi is the so-called slum that was the setting for the hit film Slumdog Millionaire. People who have taken this tour are astounded by the activity and industry of Dharavi, whose economy is estimated to be worth US $ 500 million. Tours start at about $30 per person, and range from one to six hours. 1403/04, 14th Floor, Tower A Dosti Elite, Sion East Mumbai. Mobile 98677 07414 E-mail [email protected].

Photograph of lovers on the Bandra bandstand, Mumbai, India

Lovers on Bandra’s bandstand, Mumbai

2 pm  ~  DO THE BANDSTAND

After leaving Dharavi, take the train to nearby Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai known for chic bars, hip boutiques and historic churches. Start with lunch at Out of the Blue, a happening and relaxed hot spot famous for create-your-own sizzlers ($7), a wide range of pasta dishes ($5-10), fondues ($9-16) and dessert. Shop at the boutiques along Linking Road, walk the old district, where fish is still sold in carts by the side of road, and end your afternoon by walking along Bandstand to watch the sunset. This famous seawall promenade will take you past the heavily guarded home of “King Khan,” Shahrukh Khan, one of the biggest stars in Bollywood. Out of the Blue, Le Sutra Hotel, 14 Union Park, Khar West. (22) 26003000 or 9324839393.

9 pm  ~  CRAB SHACK

Hole-in-the-wall Trishna, one of Mumbai’s trendiest eateries, has fed celebrities, Bollywood and Hollywood stars and world leaders – and they have the pictures to prove it. This tiny spot in high-end Kola Ghoda is famous for South Indian-style seafood: food reviewers call it “seafood heaven.” Their butter, pepper, garlic crab (price based on size) was recently named the best crab dish in the city – no mean feat, given the plethora of excellent seafood restaurants in Mumbai, a port city. Make a reservation in advance. Sai Baba Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort. (22) 2261 4991 or 2270 3213.

SUNDAY

9 am  ~   GET LOST IN A BAZAAR

Mumbai is famous for its many teeming markets and bazaars. Head out early before the heat of the day rises and the crowds converge to explore, shop, eat and experience the other side of Mumbai – away from the well-heeled, leafy streets of Colaba. Walk north past the gothic colossus known as CST (Chhatrapadi Shivaji Terminus, formerly Victoria Terminus) and in 10 minutes you will reach Crawford Market. Look for the landmark, a Norman-Gothic tower at the corner of Lokmany Tilak Road and Dr DN Marg; and friezes by Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard, that depict peasants toiling in the field. Breakfast at Badshah, opposite Crawford Market, a century old juice bar famous for faloodas (milk drinks made from nuts, cream, rose syrup, kulfi and vermicelli strands), for about $1-2. 152 Lokmanya Tilak Road. (022) 3692025.

Photograoph of Indian carving, Mumbai India11:00 am  ~   FERRY TO ELEPHANTA ISLAND

Ferries run from the Gateway of India to Elephanta Island every half hour. It’s a one-hour ferry ride that takes you a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. The rock-cut temples of Elephanta Island, dating from about 500 AD, are considered to be Mumbai’s premier tourist attraction. After a steep climb, you reach a series of caves containing impressive carvings that depict the legend of Shiva. A round-trip ferry ticket costs about 120 rupees (about $3) and entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage site is about 500 rupees (about $10).

3:30 pm  ~   TEA AT THE SEA LOUNGE

Wind up your stay at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, and your visit to Mumbai, with Asian Hi Tea in the Sea Lounge, an elegant room overlooking the ocean. It’s an institution among the elite families of Mumbai, who often use the room to introduce potential couples. Ask the maitre’d to point out the lucky loveseat: it is said that couples who meet there live happily ever after. Don’t miss the famous dessert trolley. Average cost for two is about $55.00.

NOTE: An edited version of this article was originally published in the Toronto Star newspaper as Mumbai Mesmerizes.
Photograph of a family on the Marine Drive seawall, Mumbai, India

Marine Drive seawall, Mumbai, India

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5 Responses to Best bets for a weekend in Mumbai

  1. Preena @ A Teaspoon Of Turmeric August 12, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    Great post! Samrat near Churchgate looks good – I’m keeping a mental note of it!

  2. Mariellen August 14, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    I can;t event think about how good the food was there! Wish I could get an authentic Gujurati thali with all the trimmings here in Toronto …. but maybe that’s why I need to go back to India 🙂

  3. Rachit Aggarwal November 18, 2013 at 2:33 am #

    I have lived in Mumbai for 2 years during my full time MBA.

    You have provided a very good info on what to do for 2 days and 2 nights. I think Aksa beach is also a very good place unlike other beaches. Besides, a walk on Marine drive and Narmian point is ,no doubt, the best thing 1 can do to capture the spirit of Mumbai.
    Rachit Aggarwal recently posted..MahaShivratri celebrations at Brahma Kumaris, Shanti SarovarMy Profile

  4. Michele Bajardi May 13, 2014 at 7:29 am #

    Loved reading about a weekend in Mumbai. You may remember we corresponded several months ago when my husband and i were planning our first trip to India. Your advice was so appreciated. When we return next winter we will be flying into Mumbai and will follow your advice on what to see.
    I love reading your posts, always makes me “homesick” for Mother India.
    Namaste,
    Michele
    Wilton, Connecticut

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