So, we’d spent several months investigating the Philippines as our 2015 holiday destination, researching places to go, where to stay and the things to do.
Then we saw that the weather was bit rainy so we decided to go to India instead.
As you do.
We’d done bits of northern India last year, ticking off the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Jaipur and Agra) and then a sleeper train to Varanasi, before heading off to Nepal. If you want to read about that take a look at that post.
This year we decided to do southern bits of India, in this case Mumbai (Bombay) then onto Goa for some beach action and then further south to Kochi, with a trip up to the tea plantations in Munnar, for some Tea, obvs.
We booked all this 2 weeks before we were flying out on saturday sat on the sofa – it’s amazing what you can book and arrange these days with a credit card an iPad and tripadvisor, thankfully my boss approved my holiday at rather short notice.
Our flights to Mumbai were with Jet Airways, who though we hadn’t heard of them aren’t bad, and were flying out at around 9pm from Heathrow Terminal 4 so we just took it easy and trundled over there on the tube in not much of a rush – though we did grab a quick cab to the tube station as we had big bags…
So we hung out in there for a few hours before getting our flight.
So we landed in Mumbai about 11am the next day in what is the new and shiny Terminal 2 – as far as I know this has only been open a year or two and now deals with international flights exclusively 24 hours a day (Heathrow take note) with what I guess was the old airport now dealing with domestic flights. We didn’t get to see much of the airport but it’s rather nice, more on that later.
When you arrive, beware of the fact that the currency exchange people will shaft you thoroughly if you give them the chance – they wanted to charge me 45 quid fees and commission on £300 worth of rupees. The best deal is to either get some in advance before you leave or simply use the ATMs that are scattered around – we only found 2 in the airport arrivals floor itself just after the exit from the baggage reclaim. Realistically as long as you have a bit of cash, or a way to get into town and find other ATMs then you should be fine – just a bit annoying.
As you exit arrivals there are lift/escalator areas to either end of the concourse, take the left option and head down to the 4th floor where you can get a fixed price/prepaid taxi – removing any of the hassle of haggling. It may not be the best price ever, but I don’t know about you but after 9 hours on a plane the last thing I want to do is haggle.
We paid 8400 INR to get a taxi down to Nariman Point where our hotel was – this was about an hour and a half of driving through some exciting traffic so I thought it wasn’t too bad a price – and with the exchange rate at time of writing at 99 INR to 1 GBP, this made calculating prices really easy – just lose 2 decimal places.
We stayed in the Trident Nariman hotel which is one of the highest rated 5 star hotels in the city and right down on Marine Drive, one of the main sights in Mumbai, a log sweeping road curving around a bay facing west towards the Arabian Sea. We picked it because although it’s not the ‘Real India’ I’m getting too old to be roughing it all the time, I think that a bit of comfort after long haul flights is justified. Also it was ideally placed for seeing the main sights around southern Mumbai.
It’s a very pretty and fancy hotel where you have to get your bags scanned and you yourself get frisked on the way in each time (a hold over from the terrorist attacks in 2008 I believe as this was the area) but then you get blessed air conditioning, big rooms and quite a nice view.
We got ourselves showered and sorted then headed out east over the peninsula towards the Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel, both very British remnants of the old Raj days. It was about a 25 minute walk along a couple of big roads to get there from the hotel through the usual variety of Indian environments in a city where you can have a mother and 4 children begging on the street 20 yards away from an Audi dealership – if you’re not used to it it can be a bit jarring dealing with the dichotomy.
The Gateway of India was built to commemorate a visit by King George V in 1911, however they never actually got to see it as it wasn’t built in time, but it’s really quite pretty – but definitely a tourist hot spot. If you are blonde you will get harassed a lot more than you would imagine. Once again you have to go through security and bag checks before getting near it, something which is a massive theme you will see in India. We even found a Starbucks that had a metal detector and armed guards just behind the Taj hotel, this can be a bit surprising at first but I guess that if you were going to cause trouble and get media coverage you’d hit places where westerners were, and the Taj was hit in 2008 as well – for reference you can read about the attacks here.
The Taj hotel is right behind the Gateway and is pretty cool to look at, also if you want to go to Elephanta Island this is where the ferries leave from – starting at 10am and going until 5:30pm I believe – however it is very important to note that the island is not open on Mondays, something we didn’t know until we rocked up all ready to go to be told it was shut.
We wandered around a bit, got some more cash out at some reliable looking and guarded ATMs on the roundabout SP Mukherjee Chowk which is near to the Taj – Look for the Regal Cinema and there’s a couple tucked away on the ground floor. Something to note of this area is that the road headed south from SP Mukherjee Chowk called Shaid Bhagat Sing Marg or sometimes known as Colaba Causeway is a major place for tourists, if you want some trinkets or bits of tat then this is a good place to go, it’s also home to the famous Leopolds Cafe which is apparently a thing in Shantaram and can be guaranteed full of westerners – the food isn’t that great but might be worth ticking off your holiday list if you are in the area.
Finally a bit tired, we headed back to the hotel, did a bit of research and headed off to a restaurant about 40 mins walk away called Khyber that had good reviews, the food was pretty good but the service was a bit rude, nothing to complain about but not fantastic – worth a go if you like more meaty and northern Indian style curries.
The following day was our only real full day in Mumbai so we were up early to make the most of it, after partaking in the excellent included breakfast at the Trident, we headed off towards the Gateway of India to get the ferry to Elephanta, only to be told (as mentioned above) that it wasn’t open that day.
We had planned to spend the morning doing the Island and then the rest of the afternoon seeing the city itself, it turned out that realistically you can’t do Mumbai in an afternoon so the unavailability of Elephanta Island was probably a blessing in disguise – not like we are prone to trying to do to much or anything.
We adjourned to a nearby Cafe Coffee Day (think pseudo Starbucks but cheaper, but with A/C at least) and reassessed our plans while having a frappe. Did I mention that it’s kinda hot in India? I think it was averaging about 28-32 degrees most days we were out and about which is a bit hot for a pale Englishman. Anyway, we walked up towards Horniman Circle Garden, something that architecturally could be in Mayfair or somewhere similar if it weren’t for the ridiculous temperature and foliage, we then headed west to the Flora Fountain where you are basically surrounded by european style architecture, which is once again a bit bizarre.
Heading up Dr Dadabhai Naoroji road will take you to what is basically St Pancras station, in India.
Mumbai Chatrapati Shivaji station is the main station in Mumbai and was built in 1878 and is pretty famous as a world heritage site – which in India doesn’t spare it from being completely and insanely busy of course.
From there we went up to have a look around Crawford Market (or Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai) which is one of the older colonial markets in Mumbai, it’s pretty cool with all it’s narrow paths and densely packed stalls – we bought some sunblock as we had forgotten to bring more than a small tube from England. Mad skills.
We stopped for a cold drink in Badshah just over the road to escape the heat briefly – just a note here that the A/C part is upstairs and tucked away a bit, downstairs is more locals and just has ceiling fans. From there we swung up through the Zaveri Bazaar which is an area renowned for it’s gems and precious metals, think jewellery of various types – kinda cool but nothing spectacular.
From here we wandered around lots of other streets until I made the terrible suggestion of heading to Marine Drive – this is all very picturesque but due to little shade felt like the equivalent of getting into an oven, we braved it out though and headed inland from Girgaum Chowpatty (don’t bother, dirty beach full of rubbish and you do not want to go in the water) and headed up to have a stroll around Gandhi’s house which was nice and kinda informative – I however had trouble thinking about anything but the Ben Kingsley film version…
We finished up there and headed back towards Nariman Point and our hotel, taking a little detour into an area with lots of winding lanes and markets – we got back to the hotel pretty tired and mucky from our day wandering around but happy that we’d managed to tick off the main bits in the south. We showered, chilled out for a bit then headed out in search of a restaurant called Koyla that was supposed to be good. You can find it south of the Taj Hotel on HNAA Marg just opposite B K Boman Mehram Marg – it’s kind of hidden as an entrance and not very well signposted so keep an eye out – once you find it, it’s a tiny lift or 5 flights of stairs up to a very large roof with nice views over the city and harbour – the food was great though it’s a Muslim establishment so no alcohol is available.
After a good feed we headed back and packed up all our bits and pieces, saying goodbye to Mumbai for the moment – we had flights at 1pm the next day to Goa – enough time in the city, now for some beaches!