One of the greatest advantages to living in Dubai is its proximity to, well, all kinds of places that are not Dubai or the UAE. With that in mind, I took an opportunity to hop over to Mumbai, India for a weekend quick trip. Fly out Thursday evening, fly back Saturday night. Easy-as. Except for the customs control portion of the Mumbai international airport. That was a nightmare. But it’s never been anything less than frustrating exiting India through one of its airports before, so I don’t know why I would be surprised that Mumbai airport was no different. Also except the traffic in Sharjah (Dubai’s neighboring emirate and pretty much the last place in the world you ever want to find yourself), where we flew out from. Another nightmare I should have counted on but naively did not.
But anyway, Mumbai. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I think I was expecting it to be like the clusterfuck of filth and electrical wires and rolling blackouts that is Kathmandu (that’s not to say that I do not like Kathmandu – I do. It even has one of my all time favorite hotel stays, Dwarika’s).
Then Mumbai went ahead and surprised me by being cleaner and more organised than I was prepared for. Mind you, it was still dirty. It was still chaotic. There were still large portions of areas that appeared to be horrible; you did not have to really go out of your way to stumble across a slum, or see people sleeping on the side of the road. I also did not get to thoroughly explore the city, as I was there for such a short period of time, so my views on it are obviously not complete or terribly well-informed.
Some of the areas were fairly interesting though, and nice to be around. A drive through Malabar Hill showed a mix of lovely colonial buildings used as flats along side modern skyscrapers that I can only imagine were probably pretty luxurious. I believe that auto rickshaws and incessant honking was also outlawed in this neighborhood, making it all feel much more calm and civilized. It was the type of area I could imagine myself living in, to be honest.
Colaba, where we stayed, was also rather nice. Gorgeous heritage buildings abound here: the Prince of Wales Museum, the Bombay High Court which is picturesquely sat next to some cricket fields, and a little outside of the area is Victoria Terminus railway station (which was really stunning, but we only drove by so I couldn’t get any photos). But really, any which way you looked there was another fantastic old colonial building that more than likely was also in sad disrepair. Raj Era Bombay must have very beautiful.
On Friday we had a driver/guide who took us around to these areas, as well as a couple others that had me scratching my head a bit. The “Hanging Gardens” were one. There was nothing hanging so where that name came from I’ve not the slightest. More confusingly, he insisted we see Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, which is an open air laundry, and really not what I wanted to see. Afterwards I could only question how and where the sheets in my hotel were being washed. It seemed like an odd thing to look at, let alone take photos of, so if you’re curious you’ll just have to do a google image search on your own time.
There was also the kind of random Gateway of India, which attracted droves of people. And seemingly also offered “guess your weight” games? I seriously don’t know. All I know is there were definitely people sitting around the area, each with one scale, and I can’t imagine what else they’d be doing with it. Best not to think too hard about it (pretty much my motto when in India).
From the start I was intent to stay in Colaba, and as I tend to enjoy doing for the most part when visiting Asian cities, I was trying to find a neat little guesthouse or boho hotel to shack up in. Usually I am good at digging up a fairly quaint place that also ends up being pretty inexpensive. Not happening in Mumbai. The backpacker-type options did not appear at all quaint, and instead looked entirely unappealing. Probably shouldn’t have been shocked.
So, never a fan of the boring grey area, I booked into the old-school lux Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. Unfortunately, into the appallingly hideous (from the exterior) Tower wing, but hey, what are you going to do? I was hoping that upon check in I’d get upgraded into the Palace / heritage wing, but no such luck. That’s not to say I was totally luckless though, as I did get upgraded from a standard room with a city view to a 1-bedroom suite with a city, sea and Gateway of India view. Not too shabby!
The suite, with a foyer, a living area, a dining area, a walk-in closet/dressing room and separate bedroom, was MASSIVE. Filled with books, heritage-looking furniture, and a bunch of other random stuff, it was a really pleasant surprise. My only complaint is that the bathroom was pretty small. For all of the space in the room, the bathroom could have definitely been more indulgent. We arrived pretty late and ended up ordering a 1am curry dinner to our room, which was really delicious – some of the best paneer I’ve ever had. And to top it off, it was served to us by a man wearing a jacket and white gloves – the fanciest curry delivery ever!
The pool area, in the Palace/ heritage wing was nothing short of gorgeous, and I happily took advantage of it on the Saturday afternoon before we left.
For the weekend, Mumbai was not bad, and as good a way as any to get one more use out of my 6-month tourist visa, I suppose (OK, I’d rather be in Varkala again, but anyway…). I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. I don’t think I’ll be returning, but it was worth the one trip, for sure. The one thing I wish we could have done was make a day trip to Elephanta Island, but there simply wasn’t the time.