India is one of those really special places, the type of place that has the ability to change your outlook and thoughts on life and what it means to live. I feel like I can say this because pretty much anyone I know whose been to India agrees. Living in a small town in South India for a couple of months two years ago initiated my deep love and slight obsession with the country and its culture.
Last November, we travelled to Mumbai and Goa to experience a different part of the huge country. Mumbai is a every bit as crazy and busy as you would expect! In 2016, the city counted to have a population of 20.7mil people making it the 6th most populous city in the world (pibmubai.gov.in). No surprise then for the sheer amount of cars, scooters and motorbikes around and that’s not even thinking of all the people who are walking around!
We decided to treat ourselves and stay in the Four Seasons in Worli, which had an ideal location in the middle of Mumbai, between Bandra and Colaba, and was pretty good value for a 5* hotel. Nearby were many other much grander hotels which is quite telling of the wealth that it attracts - we’re pretty sure a famous Indian star hired out all the sun beds at our rooftop swimming pool for an afternoon!
Because of my previous trip to India, this wealth in the area of Worli and Colaba came as quite a surprise. Being pretty naive and forgetting that India is one of the fastest developing economies, when I walked into some recommended Indian homeware stores (who doesn’t love the fabrics and designs?!) I was truly stunned when I saw that the price of some cushions started at around £45. To give context, the last cushion covers I bought from India were around £2-3 each.
Mumbai like any other city has a vast contrast of the very wealthy and the truly poor, however the contrast is more stark as they live side by side. From our bedroom - and I’m pretty sure from all rooms in the hotel - you could see the corrugated roofs of the slum across the road. From the high up view, I could really appreciate how big slums are and how they create their own little villages with fully functioning cafes and shops inside.
I couldn’t recommend more to go on the Dharavi slum tour with Reality Tours. The story of the organisation is inspiring and walking through the slum with a local guide speaking perfect English, explaining the commercial and residential areas is the best education and experience you could get. Understanding how the factories feed into the wider economy for the country from recycling plastic for large corporates to women making poppadoms en mass to sell on is incredibly eye opening. Another most wonderful part was getting the quick glimpses into the small rooms, and seeing the smiles of the wide-eyed children and their proud parents all of which are keen to practice their English. You soon learn on the tour that living in the slum isn’t the lowest in the poverty chain and actually, to get that housing is a great honour in the packed city. An additional bonus is that you get to walk through the exact same narrow alleys as Dev Patel in Slum Dog Millionaire - no idea how he ran through them!
The food scene in Mumbai was a metropolitan surprise. Off the back of some recommendations, we went to few pretty upmarket restaurants and cocktail bars (Neel - Tote on the Turf and KoKo), as well as a restaurant highly anticipated to bring the city its first Michelin star. Masala Library was super impressive in its six course set menu, staying very true to its Indian roots but managing to put that inventive gastronomic edge and flair in most of the dishes. This menu is usually available with a wine pairing option but as we went on a Friday, no alcoholic drinks were available. On the other end of the spectrum was the street food haven on Chowpatty Beach that is a must visit! Walking along the beach in the evening, you reach a hub of clinical lights and a buzz of people eating puri, dosa, and vada and sipping on chai tea - perfection! As with any street food abroad, be sensible in picking the places to eat - if you see a whole gaggle of people there, it’s safe.
Going further South into Colaba, I quickly noticed a generally calmer vibe and definitely a more tourist friendly area. Wider paths and old buildings and monuments meant you could simply wander around in the day. Whilst going into the Taj Mahal Hotel and seeing the wall of fame and memorabilia was nice, I felt a little unimpressed seeing high-end fashion labels in there and didn’t feel especially special during an afternoon tea at the Sea Lounge upstairs. I think there are some better ways to spend your time in such a wildly different city to London.
Of the entire stay, one of the most fascinating elements to get my head around s that there aren’t clear areas of interests or signs for that matter! So when going to a specific shop or restaurant, you feel like you’re driving into a winding office building estate or will walk into the storage section of one. This is totally normal!!
Last travel tip; I would say to get a taxi anywhere, either through Uber or the local city taxis. It’s often not worth the walk as even Google Maps’ walking routes don’t always work out due to the constant change in the city. If you decide on a city cab, make sure you make it clear from the start that you want to use the meter and if the driver insists it doesn’t work, simply get out - you’ll get another taxi in no time. For an Uber, be warned that the pin/dot system hasn’t quite got the same accuracy as in the UK and due to the unpredictable traffic, allow for plenty of time.
Mumbai, or for me, the fair Bombay, has left my heart wanting to see more and more of India. Until next time!