Thursday, January 4, 2007
I Say Bombay, You Say Mumbai
Bombay (now properly called Mumbai) is a city of great contrast. One minute you can be surrounded by poverty and the next minute you can be in a cozy restaurant enjoying great food and wine. About 60% of the population lives in the slums. Most other people live comfortably in large apartments, and they typically have drivers and servants (such as a cook). Meals are usually really cheap or fairly expensive. And most visitors of the city are said to either love or hate it.
I would say that I qualify as someone who was able to love the city. While there I was able to relax and enjoy what it has to offer, both inexpensive and pricey. I was also blessed to have both the tourist perspective (Lonely Planet guidebook) and a local from Bombay (close friend of a co-worker) to help show me the way.
Rather than bore you with the many details of my trip, below I am going to list the things I liked most about Bombay during the two full days that I had to enjoy it.
The Bombay Burger
This street food only cost me about $0.15 US. It's made with breaded and fried potato slices on a sweet roll with spicy sauce.
And it's so good that Pramit was asked to bring one back on the plane for a friend, who gladly ate it cold (and I'm guessing soggy).
Shopping in Fort/Colaba Neighborhoods
You'll find very inexpensive scarves, necklaces, t-shirts, leather sandals and anything touristy. I did some bargaining, but at a certain point it doesn't feel worth it to make a fuss over what's only worth $1 to you, even if they are technically trying to rip you off by their standards.
Traditional Masala Chai Tea
I've had a lot of chai tea and none of it compares to what you get in Mumbai. The Tea Centre has a shop inside where you can stock up on various Indian teas (Kashmiri, Darjeeling, Cardamom and more) for 1/5 of the cost that you would pay in the US.
Masala Dosa (usually in South Indian restaurants)
The dosa is basically a crepe made with ground rice and lentils. The masala is a tasty potato, onion and curry mixture that goes inside the dosa. Masala + dosa = yum!
More Expensive (similar to prices in the US for quality items):
Salt Water Grill
A sandy, outdoor, waterfront restaurant and bar with great views of the Queen's Necklace (the curved lights along the coast). I was there for drinks and conversation, but I hear the food is excellent as well.
Sabyasachi is a really great clothing designer and not just by Indian standards. You won't find any sequins here! Do your research on stores and find a backup, the store I tried (Kimaya) was completely out of stock. The designer fashion prices are more palatable while you're in India, so it's worth the effort. Right now only one store in the US (Malgosia in LA) sells his stuff and it runs about $1000 for a dress.
If you don't mind spending over $250+/night on your hotel room then it's worth it to upgrade, even if it's not the Taj, there is a really big difference in the quality of a $125 room vs. a $250 room in Mumbai. The Taj is by all the tourist attractions (and is one itself) and also has a lot of its own great amenities such as a spa, pool, upscale shopping, restaurants, salon, gym and more. Book very early, I missed out on the nicer hotels because high season is also wedding season.
A laid back restaurant with tasty Italian and Spanish influenced food and beverage. The main draw seems to be the atmosphere, Bollywood stars and fashion designers (Nisheel spotted one while we were there) frequent the popular white-walled location.
So, as you can see, I found a lot of things to love about Bombay in a very short period of time. I'm sure there are 1,000 other great places to shop, eat and just generally enjoy. Now if only I could find the time.
Destination Reading: Shantaram (by the anything but boring Gregory David Roberts)
Photography by me (except the Sabyasachi runway show, which I did not attend).