Like any glamazon worth her salt, Mumbai, India’s ‘Maximum City’, has emerged from the ashes of last year’s troubles, put her best frock back on and is here to show you a good time
Slums sitting like broken Wendy houses, battered bumblebee-hued cabs, and houses caked in skirts of mud might not seem like the best introduction to India’s most fashionable city when journeying from the airport, but Mumbai is so assured of its own glam status, it doesn’t give a hoot. Because, as with anything worth appreciating, you have to take a second look. Forget using it as a gateaway to India’s other delights – Mumbai is well worth a longer stay.
Post November bombings, with the re-building of the Taj hotel and the launch of new Kingfisher flights from London, Mumbai has done what any global power city would do – dusted itself off and got on with things. It is still one of the favourite party places for those heading to the subcontinent, whichever side of the city you choose to set up camp. North Mumbai is a teensy bit more dilapidated than the South, which hogs the financial district, but make it a point to visit both. On the Queen’s Necklace – that elegant, clean patch of seafront on Marine Drive, 10 minutes from downtown – you can baste in the heat alongside the locals on the boundary wall and watch the sun wink out behind the skyscrapers across the water.
I’d recommend staying in the South or the centre of the city, either in Colaba or Marine Drive, granting you the option to cab it to the good bars in the North (Bandra and Parel) if the mood strikes you. Be warned, traffic is hideous in Mumbai and although fares are cheap (£2 from one end to the other) if you travel during rush hour you could be stuck for up to three hours.
Despite the favourable exchange rate, hotels in Mumbai are surprisingly expensive, and at the top of the list is, of course, The Taj Palace and Tower. Boasting a Moorish, Oriental and Florentine façade, it's the definition of old glamour, and still one of the most stunning hotels despite its battering last year. Visitors are stoically still dropping in for business meetings and dinner. The customer service is superb, but at £250 a night it is the luxury option. Boutique chic is available at the Gordon House Hotel, with turquoise-tiled bathrooms and three styles to choose from – Mediterranean, Scandinavian and Country House. It also has a slightly weird nightclub called Polly Esther – expect 1990s music and tourists cutting shapes in the dark. For those with thinner pockets, the Hotel Godwin, just off Colaba Causeway, offers clean and comfortable rooms (admittedly housed inside an ugly hunk of concrete) from £37.
During the day, pop into some of the malls and iconic little boutiques dotted around the city. Oak Tree, off Colaba is a personal favourite, with one-off bejewelled tops, shoes, bags and dresses by emerging Indian designers. High Street Phoenix, in Lower Parel, a 30-minute drive from Colaba, is a converted mill-turned-mall, where you can pick up leading Indian designer Ritu Kumar’s tops from about £15 and mosey along to shoe shop Tres Mode, which sells good leather shoes and pretty ballet pumps. Inorbit Mall, all the way over in Andheri up north, is more polished than Phoenix, and houses Forest Essentials (a great range of posh Indian beauty products) as well as Singapore shoe-designers Charles and Keith, and Indian designer saris at Satya Paul.
If you’re in the north end of town and in need of sustenance, Italian restaurant Olive Bar and Kitchen, in Khar, is one of the chicest spots in Mumbai, favoured by Bollywood stars and models. Dress up or you’ll feel out of place, and dig into fresh pizzas and great mezze with homemade hummous, with mains from £8. Further south is another glam spot, the Salt Water Grill on Marine Drive, which has a view overlooking the sea and new-European cuisine. For more native offerings though, Trishna, near the art district Fort, is a local hotspot, offering butter garlic crabs and fresh fish, and Delhi Darbar offers a mean biriyani nearer to Colaba Causeway.
Mumbai is spoilt for glamorous bars, so start early. The best place for a rooftop view of the sunset accompanied by a superb Bloody Mary is the Dome Bar, all sugar-white sofas and billowing chiffon drapes; it's part of the InterContinental hotel. Blue Frog in Parel, a 20-minute cab ride away, is a gorgeously-lit bar shaped like a bubble filled with cosy pods, known for live music, while late-night clubbers will love Shiros, a Buddha-adorned bar with red orbs dipping in from the ceiling and a lily-studded pool. Even further north in Bandra is Zenzi, all polished glass tops and wooden bars, sophisticated and renowned for its (alcoholic) Japanese iced tea.
One way to work off your (inevitable) hangover is by mooching around the Art-Deco buildings in Goregaon and Kemps Corner, specifically Moshe’s Café in the Crosswords book shop, which has a coffee shop filled with thick gooey cakes and steaming cups of fresh tea. As you drag your weary bones back to the airport, you may be battered in body, but your spirit will definitely want to return to Mumbai to do it all over again. It isn’t called ‘Maximum City’ for nothing, you know.
Etihad Airways flies from Heathrow, from £335 via Abu Dhabi.
Virgin Atlantic flies direct to Mumbai from Heathrow, from £376.
Jet Airways flies from Heathrow, from £285.