Feeling well rested even though I could of had a further hours sleep but really didn’t want to waste any time as my visit to Mumbai is brief.
The first disappointment for the day is that we have had to completely re-arrange our tours due to the monsoon, which has flooded most areas of Mumbai. We have decided to start our tours a bit later than originally planned (this is due to jet lag not flooding). It is definitely advisable for anyone arriving on the BA flight into Mumbai at 11pm to try and arrange tours the following day for a late morning start. Spread the tours over two days and don’t try and cram too much.
After meeting Manan for breakfast at 09:30am we have a tour of our hotel scheduled along with the sister hotel Trident. We start our tour in the lobby, which I am now taking in properly after a good night’s rest. The hotel lobby is very bright and very spacious with floor to ceiling windows offering full sea views. The floor is made of white marble and adds to the brightness. If you look up it is like a maze of floors wrapping around the circumference of the building where you can see all 21 floors. I notice new clients arriving into the hotel and the staff are straight over to greet the new guests and direct them towards the check in desk. They start your check in process in the lobby but then move you straight to your room where you can continue the check in.
We are greeted by the sales assistant manager at our hotel who will be leading our show around. He starts by giving us an insight into the history of the property which I discover was one of the hotels attacked during the tragic Mumbai bombings and shootings on the 27th November 2010. The hotel has now revamped by changing things such as the flooring from black marble to white, giving the hotel a brighter feel. All Oberoi hotels have redesigned their décor to reflect height, light and space.
The first room we visit is an executive sea view suite which is a one-bedroom suite that have a separate large lounge with stunning views of the Arabian Sea. The executive suites are the fourth category of rooms and the category up from the room that I am staying in which is a premier sea view.
The premier sea view rooms are large and have either a twin or king bed with floor to ceiling windows which wrap around the entire length of the room. You can lay back and have this view from the comfort of your bed. I love the bathrooms in all the rooms which offer shower and bath.
Mumbai is a busy city so you would expect the rooms to be slightly noisy but that is not the case at all, there is complete silence offering you some peace from a bustling city.
The dining at the hotel is vast because you have the main restaurant Fenix just next to the lobby which I sampled breakfast at this morning. Fenix is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner offering informal dining and choices of European or Asian cuisine. The signature restaurant at the Oberoi is Ziya an Indian restaurant offering fine dining, pre booking is advisable.
To the left hand side of the Oberoi entrance is the corridor that leads to the Trident. The Trident is the 4-star sister property of the Oberoi hotels offering an affordable stay for those looking for the same luxury on a budget. As we enter the Trident I can already see that staying here doesn’t mean you compromise the top 5-star service that you have at the Oberoi.
As the hotel is linked to the Oberoi you have the benefit of trying the restaurants at both hotels. We have already been to the 24-hour coffee shop the night before that also has enticing patisseries to accompany your tea and coffee. The Frangipani restaurant, is the Tridents main restaurant, which offers à la carte or a set buffet option.
I see two rooms at the Trident, we start with the superior room, this has the same height light and space concept although, a fraction smaller than a base room in the Oberoi. When you move to a suite category there is not any difference in the size against an executive suite in the Oberoi. You can connect a room to the suite making it up as a two-bedroom suite for a family of 4 or more.
With our morning hotel show around over, we head to the Oberoi lobby to meet with our guide for the day. Our guide is already sat waiting for us and as we approach him, he stands up and introduces himself as Tombi. I didn’t hear his name clearly and asked him about three more times, he must have found me slightly annoying (I would). After repeating his name several times, I still got it wrong and called him Tumbi quite a few times which is in fact the name of a musical instrument used in Punjabi folk music or Bhangra. From here on he became known as Tumbi for me, and he never questioned the fact I spent the next two days’ miss pronouncing his name. It was only when I double-checked his name later with our office, that I realised I have called this poor man the wrong name.
We were scheduled to see the Dhobi Ghat (India’s laundry service), Tiffin boys (lunch box delivery service) and Dharavi Slum (the largest slum in Mumbai). As we sat in the car the heavens opened, there has been so much flooding in all the areas we wish to visit that we have to cancel the majority of what we have planned today. It is disappointing but this is the risk you run during this time of year.
Tumbi introduced himself to us again and we decided to sit in the car and talk for a few minutes to see if the rain will ease off. This gave us the opportunity to find out a bit more about our guide. On Tumbi’s appearance you would think that he is oriental and perhaps from Burma or Malaysia. He is a born and bred Indian, he very proudly announces to me with a smile and tells me that he is from an area of India which borders Burma. He now resides permanently in Mumbai working as a tourist guide.
We start to drive off and Tumbi turns to tell us that we will not be able to see the slum areas as this has been the worst affected. The slums are made up of tiny lanes, almost like a maze. The tour has to be done mainly on foot but a lot of the area is under water preventing us from doing this. I am really disappointed and Tumbi wants to make our experience in Mumbai memorable, so he suggests another Dhobi Ghat that he can take us to which is not as big but will still give us a similar experience.
The Dhobi Ghat is incredibly fascinating, the whole process of washing and drying the clothes is something to witness and not your typical day at the laundry mat. It’s really funny to watch them beating the hell out of your clothes to get all the excess water out. Each part of the Dhobi Ghat has something going on, washing clothes, drying clothes, there is even dying clothes. The workers here are so dedicated as it pouring with rain but the washing process continues. There are men passing us with huge laundry bags on their backs delivering the clean linens to their clients. Tumbi tells us that the major hotels still send all their linens to the Dhobi Ghat. I am glad we got to witness this and would definitely love to see the main one (I will return to Mumbai in a better season).
Time and rain was not on our side because we are sadly too late to see the Tiffin boys. You have to time it well and be in the centre of Mumbai by the train station to see young boys carrying thousands of silver tiffin’s (metal lunch boxes) to local businesses with freshly prepared hot food.
The rain isn’t going to let up today and as we are driving around we have witnessed some flooded areas. Tumbi suggests that we drive to most of the top sights and he will tell us about it as we pass it. This way we wont waste this whole day and stay as dry as possible.
I have already warmed to Tumbi and I know he is a good guide because he asks us what kind of things we would like to see on our tour. I am glad he has asked as some guides have a tendency to talk and talk about things you are not interested in and then you will switch off from what they are saying. He also quickly discovers that Dipali and I are huge Bollywood film fans and he excitedly tells us he loves films too! The tour switches to Tumbi taking us to famous film locations and a few celebrity homes. We pass the home of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, they are legendary Bollywood playback singers which have sang all the top film songs. I have become like an excited child trying to stare through her window hoping for a glimpse. We give up after a few minutes but manage to get a few photos of their home.
We pass an oddly shaped high rise building which is the home of Mukesh Ambani, who is one of the richest men in India. Can you imagine owning your own high rise building with a gym, a cinema to name a few along with living areas for your whole family to live in. It is all about showing off your wealth in India, this is why he has a strange shaped high rise building in the centre of Mumbai for all to see.
India is such a multi cultural country and Mumbai alone has a huge population of different races and religions. You will see everything from a Mosque (Muslim place of worship), a Mandir (Hindu place of worship), a Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship), a Synagogue (Jewish place of worship) and a church all dotted around the city. There is also people from all over India, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh that have re located to metropolitan cities like Mumbai or Delhi seeking better careers. Our guide is the proof of this.
Our guide noticed that I am very interested in learning about the different people and religions and asks if I know what Parsi people are. I knew there were a race of people living in India known as Parsis who originated from Persia. I sound clever don’t I? Well it is only because a Bollywood actor who I absolutely adore (John Abraham) is a Parsi. The next question Tumbi asks, is do we know what religion the Parsi people are? I venture a guess and offer what I believe to be the most likely answer and that is Muslim, this is because they originate from Persia which is predominantly Muslim. I am incorrect! They are in fact Zoroastrian believers. I have not heard of this religion and thought I had an idea of most religions. Zoroastrians believe in the four elements, earth, wind, fire and water. Our guide took us to a Parsi cemetery because he explained what Parsi people have to do with the bodies once they pass. They can not cremate because they pray to fire, burial isn’t an option because this is the earth. The most logical ways you would think of will effect one of their elements. He asked us how we thought the body is disposed of and I was not expecting the answer he gave me. I shrugged my shoulders as I ran out of answers, you could see the excitement in Tumbi’s eyes to impart his wisdom. The Zoroastrian’s lay the bodies on the very top of a hill, then in the olden days vulchers would fly towards the body and eat the corpse! Yes, you heard me correctly, eat the corpse. However, this is not the way it is done in the present day, the body is still laid at a high point or hill and it is dried out and eventually will decompose. We could see the set up of the hill, we don’t enter the cemetery as this is closed off. Not to mention I wouldn’t enter as this is slightly strange and morbid. Learning about Parsis and the Zoroastrian belief is so interesting and proves how many religions and beliefs there are in India.
We have a hotel viewing scheduled this afternoon at the Taj Palace so we have requested to finish the tour. En-route to the hotel I have asked for us to drive via an area of Mumbai that has a famous Mosque known as the Haji Ali. It’s a Mosque I have always wanted to see as I have only ever seen it in pictures or in films. It is well known because of where it is located, the Mosque is built in the middle of the sea and has a long footpath from the shore to the Mosque. People can only visit at certain times of the day when the tide is out otherwise the footpath is submerged under water, giving the effect of it floating. Unfortunately, the rains are too heavy and the footpath today is under water but we wanted to stop and at least see it and get some pictures, at least we can say we have seen it in real life! The rain has actually added to my picture in a positive way because it looks as though there is a hazy mist above the Mosque which offers a great colour. We leave and head onwards to meet Manan at the Taj Palace for our hotel tour.
In reaching the Taj we are met by the guards and enter the hotel which looks like a huge colonial building, very elegant. The car is stopped at the entrance before entering and thoroughly searched for bombs or any form of threat to the hotel. This procedure happens at all the major hotels in India including the Oberois. The Taj Palace is perhaps the best hotel in Mumbai and is a very opulent hotel located by the Gateway of India. We meet with Manan in the lobby who directs us to a restaurant within the hotel called The Golden Dragon where we have a Dim Sum lunch. The food here is fantastic and you can watch it all being prepared in front of you as the kitchen area is surrounded by a glass screen. The restaurant is located in a corridor that leads off from the lobby, the corridor has another restaurant called Wasabi that offers Sushi and there are a few designer shops located here as well.
After lunch we head back into the main lobby and meet with the Sales Manager to begin our show around. We all introduce ourselves and then the manager proceeds to tell us a bit about the hotel which is another property affected in the attacks back in 2010. The hotel has restored all the damage and is still one of the top selling luxury hotels in the city. Taj Hotels are by far amazing and they manage a lot of historical and heritage buildings, this does make their hotels stand out. The only negative I have, is that the Taj brand know they are unique and no matter what, people will continually choose their brand. With this comes arrogance, from the staff to the service, it is almost like they don’t feel they need to make as much effort as the name will carry them through. I have already started to notice this, in the short time I have been here, new guests have walked into the lobby and nobody has greeted them, this should be standard in any hotel. I have been alerted to it more, having stayed in the Oberoi where every single staff member has greeted us at some point.
Taj Palace is made up of two wings, the Tower Wing and the Palace Wing. We started in the Tower wing where we looked at one of the lead in categories, the superior city view room. The next room up from this is a superior sea view room which is the same size but with the sea view. If you are on the correct side of the hotel you can see the Gateway of India as well. I saw a room on the 4th floor which I noticed does have a little bit of the city noise, but you have to appreciate this is a busy city and the hotel is located in the heart of it all. If you request rooms on higher floors this will be ideal as this will block some of the noise. The superior rooms are a great size and will have either twin or double bed. The décor in the Tower Wing rooms are really modern and bright, it is ideal if you are not into the colonial or antique feel. The Tower Wing is closer to the main facilities and restaurants within the property.
The Palace Wing is a step up from the Tower and is a historical area of the hotel, that if you choose to stay here will transport you back in time to the British Raj era. Being in the Palace Wing offers the feel of being in an exclusive country club, it has a separate lobby and check in. The building is low rise and there are only 6 floors up so there is a homely feel rather than a large hotel feel. I view the luxury grand sea view room, which is beautiful. The room is very bright and has the view of the Gateway of India. The rooms in the Palace are bigger than the Tower rooms but the main difference is the furnishings, which are very colonial with a lot of history.
There is a lot more character in the Palace Wing which I notice as we walk around. We head back to the Palace lobby and from here there is an entrance to an outdoor bar next to the pool. As we step out, I turn back to look at the hotel building and there is no denying how stunning it is. On a hot day this would be lovely to sit out and have a drink by the pool, it will feel like you are in the 1940s.
Taj Palace is in a great position and I can see the attraction of staying here. If you are not booked to stay here I would recommend booking to eat in one of the restaurants for lunch or dinner, the food is incredible and great for a night of fine dining.
After our show around we head back to the Oberoi and arrive about 5pm, we are having dinner at the signature restaurant this evening, Ziya. There is some time to try out the gym which we didn’t see earlier. The gym is located near the spa and offers all the major equipment for weights and cardio which is perfect for me to burn off my lunch and make room for dinner. You can hire a personal trainer for a charge if you would like some work out guidance.
Later that evening we meet Manan who has made arrangements for our dinner this evening. Ziya offers a twist on Indian food by offering a fusion of East meets West. They offer food from all different regions of India which, allows you to sample the different styles and techniques in Indian cookery. The best option if you are unsure what to have is to opt for the taster menu, this is what we have chosen to do. The taster menu is approximately £50 per head (USD $69) and well worth the price, you have seven courses to work through, so make sure you’re hungry. They offer good wines to accompany the meal and I am sampling an Indian white wine on Manan’s recommendation called Sula.
Manan and I have been working together for a few years now but I have only ever known him in a business capacity. Whilst we have always had polite and friendly exchanges via phone or email, or the few times we have met in the office, it has always been relatively formal. At dinner it was like meeting a new person, we were laughing and joking, telling strange stories, it was great and very refreshing to know Manan the person not the businessman. What I noticed is that when Manan tells you a story, any story, he tells it so passionately and convincingly that you could listen to him for hours. As the night wanders on we notice that we all have really similar interests and our conversations turn to ghost stories! Because Manan can tell you anything so convincingly I am not even sure if some of it is true or if he was having a wind up at our expense. I have quickly learnt that he has an incredible sense of humour so this is why I am not sure what to believe. We all spoke into the night over dinner and we knew that a new friendship has begun.
After enjoying seven courses of food I am completely stuffed. I am close to asking the waiter if he would mind rolling me to my room because I am food drunk! The food was great but I don’t think I could handle four courses let alone seven. Every time we thought it was over, a waiter with a tray of food was waiting to fill our plates again. I even caught a smirk from one waiter who was probably laughing at us and thinking “lets stuff them till they explode”.
To make sure we enjoyed the holiday, Manan organised a gift for us so that we get a full experience from the hotel, so tomorrow we have a 60-minute spa treatment organised. We are very touched by the gesture but we are slightly worried, I’m not sure if we are spa people!
The food has started to put us in a comatose state so we thank Manan for everything and bid him good night.