As my time in Bombay winds down (I leave for the states in three days – time really flies), I’ve had several moments to look back at how much I learned about this crazy place. I thought it might be helpful if I put together a little guide with my favorite stores, restaurants, activities, etc. to do and see if you ever find yourself in the Indian city.
PHOENIX MILLS - LOWER PAREL
Missing the malls back at home? Get your fix at Mumbai’s biggest and most high-end enclosed shopping center. Housing both international and domestic brands, this is a great place to spend the day. The high-end Palladium houses Zara, Diesel, Gucci, Etro, Chanel, and many others. My advice? Head to the second floor where you will find Gossip Shoes, which sells sandals so fabulously bedazzled they would make Giuseppe Zanotti cry. Take your time here, as they have hundreds of gorgeous pairs to see, and all are less than $60 USD. If you are hungry, Smoke House Deli in the courtyard serves delicious ladylike meals, juices, and cocktails. The adorable “scribbled wall” décor doesn’t hurt. Also in Lower Parel is the flagship store of Indian homeware shop Good Earth. The café here is divine for lunch or dinner, with a warehouse meets shabby chic appeal. Nearby is the Four Seasons Hotel, which houses Mumbai’s famous rooftop bar and lounge, Aer, with panoramic views of the city.
Colaba is fast-becoming the chicest district in all of Bombay. Take a train to UNESCO heritage sight Churchgate Station, and marvel at the Raj architecture in the vicinity. After sightseeing at the Gateway of India and getting a glimpse of the famed Taj Hotel (and all of the designer boutiques it houses), head up the street for lunch at Indigo, or, for a more romantic meal, The Table. After lunch, take a quick cab ride to the touristy Colaba Causeway, where you can get your fix of cheap jewelry, harem pants, and if you are lucky, Topshop castoffs that didn’t make it to the shipping department. Narisons Shop on the causeway not only carries the funniest tee-shirts you have ever seen (made by Indian brand Tantra), but has a stunning selection of silk kurti’s in every size imaginable as well. More shopping gems in Colaba include bohemian-chic boutique Bungalow 8, “the Barney’s of India” Bombay Electric, and designer emporium Kitsch.
Bandra has a reputation of being Mumbai’s coolest suburb, and after exploring, it is no wonder why. Linking Road has all of the cheap thrills one can imagine (handmade shoes for $5! Kurti’s for $3!) but can get quite overwhelming for someone not accustomed to the hustle and bustle. Seek refuge at Café Mangii, near the Nike Showroom, for a wonderful, and peaceful meal. A rickshaw to Carter Road will allow you to taste the heavenly frozen yogurt churned out by Yogurtbay, which you can bring across the road to enjoy seaside. Another great dining option is Pali Hill Café near Pali Market. A gorgeous home goods boutique is located adjacent (unfortunately, I forget the name) where you can pick up stunning scarves, authentic textiles, and my favorite Kama Aryurveda beauty products.
Find yourself in need of some hair styling? B:Blunt Salon in Juhu, on JVPD Scheme, is one of the top salons in the city. I have spoken about my wonderful experience there with Michelle, but all of the stylists are top-notch and professional. Juhu is also home to Bru World Café, a coffee shop which is one of the few in Mumbai that you can get a smokey African or Columbian brew at. If you like the nightlife, Trilogy in the Sea Princess Hotel is the place to see and be seen on weekends. With cover charges up to 3000 rupees per couple ($60), you are almost guaranteed to have a good time in the swanky environment. Near Juhu is the Santacruz area, which is home to super-unique boutique Attic (another brand opened in Colaba) which carries Indian-inspired yet totally Western designs that would be as at home in Bombay as in New York. All of the pieces they carry can be custom-made to your exact color and sizing preferences, which is something that you don’t see to often in the U.S.
Café Mysore, Matunga – Want to try an authentic South Indian dosa? Café Mysore in King’s Circle is my top choice. Order a King Coffee, and their signature Mysore Dosa, and you are in for a no-frills (eat with your hands, cafeteria style on metal plates), gastronomic treat.
Enrich Salon, Matunga - Enrich has locations all over the city, but the ladies here are top-notch at brow threading and body waxing. You can't beat the price either, you come out completely hairless for about 1000 rupees ($20).
Chor Bazaar, South Mumbai - Want an experience that you can only have in India? Take a taxi to Chor (meaning "thief" in Hindi) Bazaar, specifying the antique market. After trekking through small alleyways lined with stolen car parts and grazing goats, you will arrive at an antique market unlike anything else in the world. Incredible finds await, from Goan Christian relics, stolen off of churches, to giant gilded elephants, to chandeliers of the highest standards, to authentic coins from the British Raj era, and even the Mugul dynasty. Bring your camera, and your bargaining skills, and make sure you visit on a quiet weekday other than Friday, which the main antique stores clothes and there is a market of all things odd and old in the alleyways.
Reality Tour, Dharavi – Beyond the luxe boundaries of the places I mentioned here, Mumbai houses a huge amount of slums, and Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, is worth a tour. Tour company Reality Tours gives private and group 2 hour tours of the slum, starting in the commercial section, which produces up to $650 million dollars USD worth of products each year, as well as the housing areas, and thoroughly discusses the inner workings of this massive community. Not only is it completely eye-opening, destroying many of the perceptions foreigners, and even native Mumbaikars, have about the slums from films like Slumdog Millionaire, but it also shows you how people can be happy with so much less, as long as they have close family bonds. The tour costs 500 rupees ($10 USD) per person, and 80% of the profits go towards Reality Tours slum rehabilitation projects, including a kindergarden, technology training course, and cricket programs for youngsters.