36 Hours in Mumbai, India
Sarah Khan | The New York Times | October 6, 2016
Hanging out at sunset on the promenade along Marine Drive on the Arabian Sea.
Credit Poras Chaudhary for The New York Times
Call it India’s financial epicenter, glamour hub or culinary capital — but whatever you do, don’t call it "Mumbai.” The coastal metropolis may have changed its name from Bombay to Mumbai over two decades ago, but judging by their refusal to adopt its usage, locals are ignoring the memo. More than 20 million call the dynamic city home, and it feels as if there’s a piece of it for everyone — from the families gathering around the cotton candy vendors on Chowpatty Beach to the fashionistas browsing exclusive boutiques in renovated heritage buildings in Kala Ghoda. You’re likely to spend much of your weekend in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but with a bit of planning, you can sample the sights, glitter and art of Mumbai — er, Bombay — in one weekend.
1. Stroll Through History, 4 p.m.
Get a taste of what the city was like when it was still Bombay — bastion of the British Raj. Meander through the city’s southern reaches, starting at the Gateway of India, overlooking the Arabian Sea: Completed in 1924, this iconic monument was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. Then turn your attention to its neighbor, the 1903 Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a cakelike confection that serves as a fine example of the Mughal-meets-Gothic style of architecture known as Indo-Saracenic. Work your way north through Colaba and along Mahatma Gandhi Road into nearby Kala Ghoda, admiring the hodgepodge of stately buildings that line the pedestrian-friendly districts: the bulbous dome of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum), the Gothic Elphinstone College, the neo-Classical Army & Navy Building, and the powder-blue 1884 Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue.
2. Quirky Eats, 8 p.m.
The New York chef and Top Chef Masters winner Floyd Cardoz returned to his Mumbai roots when he opened Bombay Canteen last year, a lighthearted tribute to the city he left nearly three decades ago. Book ahead for the executive chef Thomas Zacharias’s playful offerings in this campy, colorful space: Indian "tacos” with chicken tikka on fenugreek flatbreads (275 rupees, about $4); Kerala-style roasted fish swaddled in a behemoth banana leaf (600 rupees); and coffee rasgulla with salted caramel ice cream (350 rupees). The witty Hindi catchphrases and Bollywood references emblazoned across the walls and on the servers’ T-shirts might go over your head, but the bold flavors won’t bypass your taste buds.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, left, is a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. The Gateway of India, right, is an iconic monument built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary.
Credit Poras Chaudhary for The New York Times Saturday
3. Cruise the Coast, 7 a.m.
Drive up the coast before the traffic picks up steam. There are plenty of places for a photo op: Start at Nariman Point, the heart of the financial district; work your way up Marine Drive, also known as the Queen’s Necklace, where you’ll see families strolling or seated along the promenade (along with the occasional cozy couple); pop out at Chowpatty Beach before the crowds descend; and drive into upscale Malabar Hills to the Hanging Gardens before crossing over to the scenic lookout at Kamala Nehru Park. Then cut through busy Peddar Road and emerge near the Haji Ali Dargah. Set on an isle just off the coast, the 15th-century mausoleum houses the remains of the Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari and is connected to the mainland by a half-mile-long causeway, access to which depends entirely on the tides.
4. Museum Break, 10 a.m.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya museum in Kala Ghoda is popular, but travelers pressed for time should head to Byculla. Like Bombay/Mumbai, the striking Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum has gone through some name changes in its long history. The museum opened to the public at its present site as the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1872; in 1975, it was given its current name, in honor of a prominent physician and philanthropist. The high Victorian interiors showcase Indian crafts and design — including lacquerware, silver, bronze, wood carving and more — while the upstairs galleries are dedicated to the history of Mumbai. Admission: 100 rupees for foreigners.
5. Shop for a Steal, 11 a.m.
Breeze past the lanes filled with old car parts and head straight for Mutton Street, the heart of Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar — Thieves’ Market. The stretch of dusty antiques shops is where Bollywood prop stylists scavenge for faded photographs, rotary telephones and other props to recreate a bygone era. Grandfather clocks and furniture aren’t the most practical souvenirs, so seek out shops brimming with posters and records for classic Indian films. Then stop by Taj Ice Creams, around for about 120 years, for a treat. The shop is usually manned by one of the owners, the Icecreamwalla brothers, and they’re happy to invite you to the back to see how the creamy desserts are made — a single batch takes more than an hour of hand-churning. Flavors include sapota, mango, fig and sitafal; cups cost 60 rupees.
Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount, known as Mount Mary Church, during the weeklong Bandra Fair.
Credit Poras Chaudhary for The New York Times
6. Leisurely Lunch, 1 p.m.
Set amid the quiet lanes of the Ballard Estate business district, Britannia is one of the few remaining cafes purveying Parsi dishes like berry pulao (from 350 rupees) and mutton dhansak (650 rupees). The third-generation owner Boman Kohinoor is a fixture beneath the whirring ceiling fans, and, though a bit hard of hearing, he’ll chat with patrons about his British royal fandom, as evidenced by photos of Queen Elizabeth II and Will and Kate lining the walls; the 94-year-old fulfilled a lifelong dream when, thanks to a social media campaign, he earned an audience with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a recent visit to India. For more contemporary cravings, the San Francisco chef Alex Sanchez’s much-lauded Table in Colaba serves hearty global comfort fare: hoisin-glazed pork belly buns (750 rupees) and shrimp tacos with chile-lime mayo (725 rupees).
7. Fashion Fix, 2:30 p.m.
The bylanes of Colaba and Kala Ghoda are brimming with boutiques. While the concept shop Le Mill specializes in global brands like Chloé and Balenciaga, the new Colaba location, hidden behind a nondescript facade, also carries Indian labels like Janavi and NorBlack NorWhite. Across the street, in the Art Deco Dhanraj Mahal complex, a new outpost of Jaipur’s venerable Gem Palace features bold colors by the designer Marie-Anne Oudejans and plenty of bling. In Kala Ghoda, browse housewares at Nicobar, and cutting-edge dresses and blazers at Obataimu, an atelier-boutique that spends much of the year on the road gaining inspiration from destinations like Paris, London and Tokyo. If cheap trinkets are more your style, then pop in and out of the shops lining the Colaba Causeway, where you’ll find sandals, dresses and fake jewelry aplenty. Bargaining is de rigueur.
A busy road adjacent the famous Minara Masjid in Mumbai.
Credit Poras Chaudhary for The New York Times
8. Creative Cocktails, 6:30 p.m.
After introducing Mumbai to molecular Indian gastronomy with Masala Library a few years ago, the restaurateur Zorawar Kalra unveiled the city’s buzziest new cocktail bar in March, serving up more molecular magic with MasalaBar. Cocktails meet chemistry in the form of theatrical drinks like the Bollywood Bhang (vodka with basil smoke served in a skull-shaped glass). There is even a nod to MasalaBar’s seafront setting on Carter Road in the form of the ideal late-afternoon tipple: Sunset @ Carter (whisky with rosemary, orange, and almond foam). Meanwhile, snack on tasty tapas like ghee-roasted scallops and truffled shiitake steak burgers.
9. Retro Repast, 8 p.m.
The owners of Pali Bhavan scoured Chor Bazaar for their décor inspiration: You’ll have a hard time finding an inch of wall space that isn’t adorned with a framed image depicting vignettes from India’s past — family pictures, college portraits, scenes from aristocratic life. The Old World dining room sets the stage for a traditional feast from across the country: classic butter chicken, harissa-spiced chicken tikka, pumpkin kofta curry and galouti kebabs, washed down with a pomegranate lassi. Expect to spend about 2,000 rupees for two. Afterward, stroll to Punjab Sweet House for classic Indian mithai (sweets): pistachio ice halwa, kalakand milk cake and mango barfi.
A statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh being taken for immersion in the Arabian Sea at the beach at Girgaon during the annual Ganesha Chaturthi festival.
Credit Poras Chaudhary for The New York Times Sunday
10. Bandra-Bound, 9 a.m.
Before the British, the Portuguese came ashore — and the suburb of Bandra, popular for its trendy restaurants and Bollywood star haunts, is where you can see vestiges of the Portuguese stint in Mumbai. Book a walking tour with Raconteur, and a knowledgeable local will lead you through landmarks — the 1575 St. Andrew’s Church and the striking neo-Gothic Mount Mary — as well as through former fishing and farming villages, pointing out street art along the way. You’ll end at the 1640-built Bandra Fort (keep an eye out for Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan’s house — you’ll recognize it from the hordes at the gates), where an easy climb yields panoramic views over the Sealink bridge and the Mumbai skyline beyond.
11. Teatime, 11 a.m.
Recuperate from your walk at the Taj Mahal Tea House. Last August, the Brooke Bond tea company transformed a Bandra bungalow into an elegant tearoom — complete with colonial-style rocking chairs, colorful tiles, cheery floral motifs on the walls — but the main draw is the extensive chai list. Choose from variants like Parsi mint (160 rupees) and a Karipatta Delight with curry leaves and citrus (140 rupees). Pair your poison with a triple-decker egg sandwich with fried herbs and chutney (400 rupees).
12. Art Break, 1 p.m.
The 128-year-old nonprofit contemporary art venue, Bombay Art Society, has a flashy new address. At the nebulous Sanjay Puri–designed structure in Bandra you can scope out the local art scene, with works by Laxman Shreshtha, Yusuf Arakkal, Anjolie Ela Menon and more.
Abode Bombay (First Floor, Lansdowne House Building, M.B. Marg (near Regal Cinema), Apollo Bunder, Colaba; abodeboutiquehotels.com) is a quirky hotel up the road from the Gateway of India, with 20 chic rooms with lots of Old World charm (but modern conveniences too: guests are loaned local cellphones to use during their stay). The delicious breakfast buffet features local favorites — spinach pakoras, pav bhaji, corn poha — along with made-to-order masala omelettes and egg bhurji.
A few blocks from seaside Carter Road in Bandra, Le Sutra (14 Union Park, Khar (W); lesutra.in) bills itself as an Indian art hotel. Each of the 16 rooms has a different theme — Taal, or "beat,” comes with instruments, bells and a chair fashioned from a drum — and one of the two restaurants, the Mediterranean-inspired Olive Bar & Kitchen is a longstanding go-to hangout for hip Bandra-ites.
PLANNING YOUR TRAVEL TO INDIA
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