Having a little taste of India, in true style – over 5 days, was the purpose of this trip. I know it sounds mad, but it was all the time we had available and we thought we could have a very interesting experience by visiting Mumbai and Jaipur. And if we liked it, we would go back. And are we? Well… read on!
Bombay, or Mumbai, is the capital of Maharashtra and the economic powerhouse of India. It’s the fastest moving, most affluent and the most industrialized city in the country. Yet, once upon a time, Bombay was nothing more than a group of low-lying, swampy and malarial mud flats presented to the British by its Portuguese occupiers as a wedding gift in 1661. (See? My ancestors can be nice, sometimes).
We left London on a Saturday morning, and flew the 10h30 to Mumbai with Jet Airways, which offered a very good business class experience. With the time difference (5h30), we landed in Mumbai past midnight the following day, which I have to say, was very weird.
We were met by our driver, organised by Tamarind Tours, who took care of all our ground arrangements whilst in India and made our way to the stunning Oberoi Mumbai, which has recently been refurnished and redesigned and, let’s put it this way, it was AMAZING. Our ride from the airport was uneventful, and as it was dark, we actually did not see much. Which was perfectly fine by me.
The time difference made it weird for us to go to sleep immediately, but we had a 7am wake up call the next day, so we did our best to sleep. Our lovely suite was incredibly comfortable, and when we woke up, we were blessed with this view.
We honestly had no idea what to expect – but it was a beautiful day and the skies were quite clear, which apparently is something that doesn’t happen every day. We had breakfast at the hotel, and jumped in a cab, which took is to the Colaba area, not too far from the hotel so we could meet our Flytographer.
In hindsight, it was the maddest thing I ever did – to have a photoshoot after so little sleep! But the plan was to be up before the city started coming to life, even if it was a Sunday.
Walking around such a different city was quite interesting. My mother had given me the ‘don’t eat street food or walk barefoot’ pep talk (as if I would do it anywhere else!), and friends who had visited before keep telling me to me careful with this and that. I have to say I was terrified of the stray dogs and the general litter on the streets, but so far, so good. Having our Flytographer with us, provided some insight into city life and habits and not only woke us up, but kept us entertained.
One of the places we ‘had’ to see, was obviously the Gateway of India, Mumbai’s most iconic landmark, was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to India in 1911 – and let me tell you something, getting up early was the best idea ever. (we drove past it a few times during our stay in the city and it was always incredibly busy).
We took another taxi back to the hotel (hum… which cost half then on the way out… all £0.25 of it, but still!), and took some photos on the promenade outside where our hotel, the Oberoi was located. This proved to be a great idea, as we even saw some scenes of a Bollywood film being shot (my new obsession, trust me, they are excellent).
By the time we got back to the hotel, it was just past 9am, and guess what we did? We went for a little nap until 11am, the time we were due to meet my twitter friend Neha, who was picking us up from the hotel and taking me shopping. I needed all my energy.
That hour actually made a difference, and I was ready to spend some rupees. Word of advice – take cash and think carefully about the shoes you are going to wear. I was told to take an old pair of shoes (which looked nice), but worn, and that was the best thing I ever did. Gone were the pretty ballerina pumps I almost totally ruined earlier that morning, and came out an older version, which let’s put it this way – the shoes never left India. The roads are uneven, with many potholes and not particularly clean (this could define many other cities in the world, fear not), but delicate shoes won’t do.
With Neha, we were on a mission – to buy sandals and beach dresses. I was particularly successful on my second goal. I had visions of buying 20 beautiful pairs of sandals (like many I have which are made in India and did not exactly cost £10), but I couldn’t find anything I really liked. The beach dresses, half of them bought on the street, others in little boutiques, were awesome.
After a couple of hours shopping and eating, we hugged Neha goodbye and made it back to the hotel, where Jasmine, our private guide awaited us, to take us on a half day private tour of Mumbai. We would never normally pack it all in like that, but we had limited time and we had to make the most of it.
Our tour obviously started at the Gateway of India, which was completely packed and from there we drove past the Victoria Terminus, Mumbai University and Rajabai Clock Tower. We also drove past Marine Drive, Chowpaty Beach, the Parsi Towers of Silence and Malabar Hill. Basically we drove, we stopped whenever we wanted a photo and we thoroughly enjoyed Jasmine’s commentary. She was witty, funny yet incredibly softly spoken – and I loved her clothes.
One of our favourite stops, was Mani Bhavan, the old Mumbai residence of Mahatma Gandhi. As it was Sunday, and there was little traffic, we actually finished the tour 90 minutes before we were supposed to. So we headed back to the hotel, and just relaxed a little bit – I really wanted to go to the spa.
The spa is open 24 hours, which I never heard of before, and I was disappointed not to get an appointment – it was so busy! But we settled for something quite unique: a massage at midnight. When in Mumbai, why not?
So we went to the bar, and had a lovely… cup of tea. (Surprised you, huh?) I love Massala Chai and had a whole pot, whilst Mr. O enjoyed his beloved Earl Grey.
For dinner, we were in for a treat. I was also finally to meet my twitter friend Ajay, who I have been chatting to for years and happened to be in town that weekend (which was really a happy coincidence). We had a great meal at K&K at the ITC hotel (Dinner for 3 £9o inc wine) and also my first Uber experience in Mumbai, which didn’t go so well. Want to laugh? Driver confirmed the pick up, but then decided to pick up someone else instead. We then called a new one, and same driver picked up the job. I thought it was hilarious, namely when we were charged a no-show fee – but have to be fair to Uber, who via twitter sorted everything out. We then called another uber to take us back to the hotel, and all worked very well. I love uber – and use them a lot – and just thought the episode was funny.
We went back to the hotel, had a drink at the bar… and then headed to the spa. We allowed enough time to digest the food, worry not, and I will tell you something, I slept like a baby both during the massage and afterwards in bed. (Massage was £70)
I started the day at the hotel’s salon, for a quick wash and blow dry, which was priced at an incredible £12 (less than a gin, which had normal ‘western prices’). I have to say, it was very good too, which made the deal even sweeter. After breakfast, we were met again by Jasmine and our driver, which were to take us somewhere quite exciting. Obviously I had seen the itinerary that Tamarind Tours had prepared for us, but I honestly did not understand half of it – or what it meant.
We started our morning at Crawford Market, which was incredible. I loved visiting markets everywhere I go, and was quite curious to see what one in India would be. I was dazzled by the variety of fruits and vegetables, and the size of the market.
From here, we made our way to Churchgate train station, where we witnessed something quite unique. At a specific time, the Dabbawalas, who are men who deliver home made food to the workforce of Mumbai, arrive at the station. The word “Dabbawala” can be interpreted as “box-carrier” or “lunch pail-man”. The concept of the Dabbawala came into being when a person named Mahadeo Havaji Bachche started the lunch delivery service with about a hundred men.The Dabbawala operation is one of the most organized unwritten systems in the world. Every day, hundreds of thousands of lunches are collected from individual homes and then delivered to offices and worksites. How incredible is this?
We then headed to the station, and boarded a train to Mahalaxmi. I was told we were travelling on a first class cabin… but I must confess, I wasn’t quite expecting what you will see below – it was fun, not a problem at all, and an experience in itself. Our train journey took around 15 minutes and took us to this Mumbai suburb, where we visited Dhobi Ghat, an open air laundry.
This is (apparently) the world’s largest open air laundry, and hundreds of people live and work here. Many come from outside Mumbai and are able to send their families part of the money they earn. It was very eye-opening. The service they provide include pick up, washing and pressing and delivery, true showcase of India’s service industry and entrepreneurship. There is someone to do exactly what you need, at a cost. Apparently, there are people who clean other people’s ears. I kid you not.
Our tour ended just before lunchtime, and there was a place we had to try. The Oberoi’s Ziya fine dining restaurant, which many readers urged me to try. Many of them have been visiting for business regularly and I actually had a lot of great recommendations – but not enough time! As we had to leave for the airport at around 4pm, to catch our Jet Airways flight to Jaipur, this meal was meant to be.
Impeccable service, the food was outstanding and I have to tell you, the wine was a surprise. (Lunch for two with wine £120)
We were met at the hotel by our driver, organised by Tamarind Tours, and made our way to the airport, where we tried to digest lunch, and the previous 40 hours. The contrasts – you can see a street of luxury apartments next to shacks, the number of people, the chaotic traffic (and we never saw an accident), the smells (good and bad)… we finally saw the slums on our way to the airport, which obviously were no different to other large cities around the world.
To give you a little visual taste of what we experienced, and what happened in Jaipur, I put together a little video.
We had a taste of Mumbai, just a little one and it left us begging for more. The service we had everywhere was outstanding, everything worked despite the chaos around us and the people we met were out of this world. I honestly cannot wait to go back and explore some more.
Sleep: at the Oberoi Mumbai, where a deluxe room costs from £310/night and suites from £798. Exceptional service and decor. Mrs. O approved indeed.
Get Around: with Tamarind Tours, who provided exceptional service both in Mumbai and Jaipur. Our 4-day trip, complete with driver and guides, and airport transfers cost £250.
Create Memories: with Flytographer, who provides 30 minutes ($250) and 1 hour ($350) photo shoots in over 125 cities around the world. I love them so much.
Take photos: with the Leica V-Lux. With its long wide-angle to super-telephoto and macro zoom range, the Leica V-Lux succeeds in doing justice to the beauty of the world in all its facets. For photographic memories in excellent picture quality. Its extremely fast autofocus ensures that spontaneous shots are only a breath away. A camera for people who see life as a great adventure with countless things to discover as they travel through it. Cost: £925.