Okay so it is quite evident that I am a novice when it comes to discovering Mumbai’s charms but my addiction to the “Mayanagri” (loosely translated as Black Magic City/City of Illusions) cannot be denied. As previously mentioned in my last post and aptly worded by one of my oldest friends, Mumbai is my toxic lover and it is one of those relationships which we don’t understand, can’t manage and which completely bamboozles us into being utterly blank. However their intoxicating hold over us is like death grip and we can’t breathe with/without them. Women I have been told tend to over think and over romanticize situations and I am sinfully guilty of both these habits.
However to put in plain simple words, I must say that I adore Mumbai, with all my soul, for what it stands for, but cannot live there. This stems from my upbringing in the lazy city of Calcutta and has got nothing to do with Mumbai itself. Having said that, I am a victim of Mumbai’s charms and decided that it would be fair if rather than trying to be an expert on the city, I pen down my favourite things to do there. These are some of the activities I do every time I visit Mumbai and the reasons why I love the lively city so much. So here goes my list of Mumbai’s magic.
1. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – Even at the cost of sounding atrociously snooty, I can’t deny that this is my favourite place in Mumbai. I love this iconic hotel’s quirky history, mishmash of architectural styles, its in house art treasures, its lovely anecdotes and its fighting spirit. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is a true ambassador of Mumbai’s fighting spirit and being a devastated victim of the horrendous 26/11 terrorist attack, the way this hotel has fought back to normalcy in just 2 years is outstanding. Again, people make/break cities and hotels and The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel’s astounding staff deserve standing ovation for overcoming this tragedy and fully supporting their management in making a glorious comeback in such a short time.
On 26 November 2008 morning (26/11), it had been a busy day as usual at the lovely lobby of one of world’s most prestigious hotels, The Taj Mahal Palace, when armed Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists stormed its premises, held the entire property hostage for 3 days and burned down the iconic building. The nightmare ended with 167 casualties including many hotel staff, guests as well as the entire family of the hotel’s GM, Mr Karambir Kang. The devastated hotel had been a part of the chain of terrorist attacks which had stormed Mumbai for several days at different places throughout the city claiming killing more than 100 people and wounding countless.
The seige had continued for 4 days when the city had bled rivers, but thanks to the fighting spirit of its people, Mumbai had refused to cower to such violent acts of cowardice. The city and the 103 years old grand dame of Taj Group, made a laudable comeback from the tragedy which rendered the whole world speechless and in the famous words of Taj Mahal Palace Hotel guest, President Barack Obama, ” Mumbai is a symbol of the incredible energy and optimism that defines India in the 21st century. And ever since those horrific days two years ago, the Taj has been the symbol of the strength and the resilience of the Indian people.” the 2 got entwined forever.
The history of Mumbai and The Taj Mahal Palace have been dramatically intertwined from its very conception. The hotel is Mumbai’s first harbour landmark (built 21 years before the Gateway of India) and the site of the first licensed bar in the city. Situated on the touristy Colaba and overlooking the Arabian Sea (it’s biggest attraction and unfortunately a reason behind the attack), The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is the flagship property of the excellent Indian hospitality group, The Taj. Originally commissioned and built by the rebellious spunky businessman called Jamshedji Tata, the hotel opened its doors to guests in 1903.
It is said that he wanted to break the “whites only” tradition of Mumbai’s premier hotels after being denied entry to Watson’s Hotel, one of the city’s grand properties of that time and this controversial story gave birth to The Taj Mahal Palace. Designed by Indian architects Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya and D. N. Mirza, the hotel was as grand as its namesake in Agra. A playground for royals and the moneyed, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel’s staggering collection of artifacts is worth many kings’ ransom.
From the famous central floating staircase, the chic designing of in house store by the renowned artist M.F. Hussain (it even has his footprint and signature Hussain horses), over the years, The Taj Mahal Palace has amassed a diverse collection of artifacts. The hotel provides a free art and heritage walk tour for its guests every afternoon and a proud staff member shows off the hotel’s collection. From massive Belgian chandeliers the finest in Bastar tribal art, Anglo-Indian inlaid chairs and tables, Goan Christian artifacts, Mughal-inspired Jali designs and contemporary sculpture, the hotel manages to incorporate a myriad of artistic styles and tastes.
The highlight of the hotel is however its growing collection of charming anecdotes developed and passed around by its loyal patrons. For e.g, there’s a particular couch in one of its recreation rooms which is pre booked for months as it is deemed auspicious by prospective wedding parties. Every wedding planner worth his/her salt in Mumbai vies for the lovely sea green couch of The Taj Mahal Palace as it reputedly ensures marital bliss to those whose marriages are planned while sitting on it. For a hotel which is symbolic to a city, such charming quirks are in order and staying at the Taj Mahal Palace is like living the life of the legendary.
The hotel has hosted many Kings, Presidents, legends, performers, religious figures and entertainers such as George Bernard Shaw, Irving Stone, Barbara Cartland, Douglas Fairbanks, Sir Richard Attenborough, Baz Luhrmann, Yehudi Menuhin, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Mick Jagger, Margaret Thatcher, Prince Charles, Jacqueline Onassis, William Jefferson Clinton, David Rockefeller, Robert McNamara and Lord Wedgwood, just to name a few and it had come as a lovely surprise when I had discovered that before me, my bed had been slept in by a princess. With excellent dining options, personal butler, traveling wardrobe, yacht, private aircraft, luxe chauffeured cars like Jag, Bentley etc pick up and drop facility, award winning bath, spa and sleep experiences, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is closest you can get to living the royal life.
2. The Food Story – Gluttony is a sin I indulge in happily and Mumbai is a food loving city. Although no expert, there are a few unique Mumbai dining options and dishes which I never fail to try when I am there. The Wasabi by Morimoto at the Taj Mahal Palace is my favourite for Japanese cuisine and I love their soft shell crab sushi rolls. Although Mahesh Lunch Home is my breakup motivator, it is actually Gajalee which is my hands down favourite for the super delicious and tongue tingling Malvani seafood cuisine. Jughead’s greasy sizzlers and chips are perfect soul food and easy on the pocket and I love the spicy chicken kebabs and prawn fritters tossed out by hole in the wall shacks at Linking Road Fashion Street.
Haji Ali juices are a city staple and I can eat their sinfully rich (and thankfully seasonal) Sitaphal (Custard Apple) Cream till I burst. Among Mumbai’s street food, Pao Bhaji rules my palate but Akuri on toast, Misal Pao, Kanda Poha, Vada Pao, Frankies and Sabudana Vada are not far behind. Mumbai’s best meat based dishes I have been told are sold by Bohri Muslim hand pushed cart vendors and on many dark nights I have trudged through narrow lanes behind my friend to discover drool worthy kebabs. Although the charcoal grilled gurdey and kapurey (kidney and liver) kebabs top my list, the keema pao, bheja/goat brain fry etc (sounds weird but is heavenly) are also personal favourites.
Parsi cuisine is uniquely Mumbai and although, apart from Patrani Machchi and Dhansakh, I could never quite figure out its finer points, dining out at a Parsi restaurant is a must if visiting the celluloid city. Jimmy Boy is the reputedly the best Parsi restaurant in town, though I prefer the nondescript ones at the Fort area. The coolest part about these restaurants are the ancient looking interiors and there are a few of really vintage ones at the atmospheric Mumbai Fort. Seafood is prepared in indigenous ways in Mumbai and Bombil/Bombay Duck fry (its a local fish) with a proper Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic on rainy nights at the Saltwater Grill, Bandra are simply heavenly.
3. The Hip Culture – For a city associated with glamour, being happening comes with the package. Mumbai has a buzzing cafe and club culture, which is probably the best in the country. From live music, stand up comedy nights, open mic sessions, reading clubs, night clubs, swish bars and relaxed cafe atmosphere, the Mumbai residents surely know how to let their hair down. Leopold Cafe, Blue Frog, Prithvi Cafe, Olive, WTF and Ghetto are on my personal hotlist, but it is the cute Cafe Mondegar with its amazing Mario Miranda artwork which is my all time favourite.
I am not a big fan of crowded places filled with gyrating wannabes, psychedelic lights, strained fake conversations and absolutely hate dressing up for them. So apart from trying to relax with my gang at the strange China House at Grand Hyatt (where our airline crew stayed) and attending formal engagements at the AER Lounge at Four Season’s, Dome at Intercontinental and Asilo at the Palladium Hotel, I have happily given Mumbai’s famous nightlife amiss. China House, complete with fake blue eyed Bollywood starlets in skimpy clothes and tottering heels had definitely been the oddest and the rest, although romantic with their amazing open air settings, have not been much memorable either.
To be continued..
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE
All photos have been taken from the internet.