The first part of our Travel Log – this is a snapshot of our time in this enchanting and incomparable country. Hopefully our experiences will help you plan a trip of your own or at least give you some tips and inspiration. Moira has always dreamt of visiting India. Here’s her take on the experience.
Since reading about Hinduism as a child, I have been mesmerised by India and charmed by the colour and energy of the romantic vision I withheld. I don’t quite know why it took me so long to eventually get there, but I am glad I waited. I fell in love with India, and although it wasn’t exactly what I had expected, it pulled me in and I let it carry me away.
The locals said that when you’re in Mumbai, you call it ‘Bombay’ and when you’re not, it’s ‘Mumbai’. During our stay, everybody affectionately called it ‘Bombay’ and so that’s how it stuck with me. Without going into too much detail, it’s a massive city; the largest in India and the fifth largest city in the world. It can be a love/hate city for some, but if you’re pretty laid back, accepting, outgoing, brave and bold – you will LOVE it.
When we first arrived it was late at night and thankfully a lovely lady driver was waiting to take us to our hotel. I will never forget those first few minutes in the taxi, snaking through Bombay in the middle of the night. The city was truly alive, almost as if it were two o’clock in the afternoon. I was amazed by the people who were sleeping soundly in the streets amongst the bustle of car horns, animals, music and crowds of people. To be honest, it was all rather daunting and I was slightly nervous. It was like a movie set and I was peering in – anxious to be amongst it but not wanting to draw attention to myself.
Battery St, Apollo Bandar, Colaba
After an hour or so in the taxi, we arrived at ABODE BOMBAY, Bombay’s first boutique hotel located in the heart of Colaba in the south of the city.
ABODE is one of the most remarkable and interesting hotels I have ever encountered. Designed by Architect and Interior Designer, Sian Pascal for Young Citizens, this hotel combines Bombay heritage with contemporary styling to create a hedonistic environment that’s both calming and luxurious. It’s really fresh and airy. Exposed brick, handmade floor tiles, rustic, antique furniture and unique ornaments dotted about this place makes it feel like a second home. The lobby is crowned with a stunning 1920’s blown glass chandelier that’s a stark contrast to the pattern and textures surrounding it, but looks completely fabulous.
We stayed in a Superior Luxury Room (we felt like treating ourselves on this much anticipated trip) and it was all that and more. The comfiest bed in any hotel I have ever stayed in with embroidered, crisp white cotton sheets. There was a roll top bath at the end of the bedroom, separate from the chic concrete and wooden bathroom. The lovely staff at Abode made us feel very welcome, Lizzie and Gian helped us with every detail; organising cars and reservations to even helping us post our shopping back to the UK.
When you’ve spent a whole day stomping around any city, all you want is a hot bath and clean sheets – this hotel is all that and so much more.
OUT AND ABOUT
Venturing out into Bombay on the first day was quite an overwhelming experience. It’s a chaotic scene of cars, people, noises and smells. With an itinerary scribbled on the back of a free map, we dived right in and went to seek out what Bombay had to offer in terms of shopping, eating, drinking and design.
Jeroo Building, 137 M.G Road, Kala Ghoda – Colaba
Fab India was our first stumbling ground. I had read about it beforehand and loved the credentials of the store. Fabindia is an Indian chain store retailing garments, furnishings, fabrics and authentic products handmade by craftspeople across rural India. Although it wasn’t the cheapest place in town, the quality was beautiful and it felt like you were a local shopping there. I picked up some beautiful fabric (10 metres in total!) for a very reasonable price; I cannot wait to get cracking on my sewing machine.
1 Reay House, BEST Marg – Colaba
Bombay’s coolest boutique by far; funky jewellery, house wares and clothing for men and women, all housed in a loft style building right across from The Taj. Bombay Electric is a distinctly Indian platform for fashion and design and a pulse point in India’s new and powerful design scene. Definitely worth a visit to see India’s up and coming designers, buy yourself a modern twist on the traditional Sari or just to feel inspired.
This bustling, crazy busy market is a great place to buy Indian trinkets and gifts for friends and family. Considerably cheaper than places such as Fab India, it sells all sorts of weird and wonderful things mainly appealing to tourists and young, fashionable Indian men and women looking for a bargain. It stretches down the entire street, right past ‘Leopolds Bar’ – a welcome place to stop for a cold beer after battling your way through the market.
Part of my quest when visiting Bombay was to seek out some of the best jewellery and gemstones I could. In a country so rich in minerals and gold, this was an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss!
Zaveri Bazaar is the jewellery hub of Bombay, a muddle of lanes with hundreds of little shops selling an array of beautiful, intricate, typically rich yellow gold jewellery. I saw many a young bride trying on the most decorative pieces for her big day – with all her family there surrounding her – each with an opinion it seemed. Sadly, we got there a little too early and a lot of the shops hadn’t opened yet, but I did manage to get myself some 23ct gold hoop earrings and was seriously tempted with some cabochon star rubies… I was good though and resisted!
If you want to go and buy some jewellery here, I would thoroughly recommend going with someone local or ‘in the know’, so you can bargain for a good price. Thankfully I know my industry and roughly how much things should cost, but you could be ripped off if not. Don’t let it put you off though – this is still an amazing place to go for jewellery and gemstones. It’s quite surreal to see cattle strolling around and munching hay outside jewellery shops!
Probably my favourite day in Bombay was the day we visited ‘The Market of Thieves’ or more commonly known as Chor Bazaar. If you are a fan of ‘The Barras’ in Glasgow, you would be in 7th Heaven here! A discombobulated mix of everything from antiques to avant garde fall outs, Chor Bazaar is a mish mash of stalls offering all sorts of fabulous things. I could have gone home with colonial chandeliers, desks, chairs and goodness knows what else – this place is incredible! In fact, this is where ABODE BOMBAY got much of their furniture for the hotel. I picked up some old fabric press stamps (a beautiful peacock one) and a beautiful silver box with Hindu scribing.
I have promised myself that when I own a house big enough, I shall return to deck out each room!
PLACES TO EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY
Khala Goda Café
10 Ropewalk Lane, Kala Ghoda
Part café, park bakery and part gallery, this is a really lovely place to escape the busy streets for a proper cup of coffee and a delicious slice of cake. All organic, this place caters to modern bombayites (especially cyclists who get a free cup of coffee if they cycle over on a Sunday!) and is a fresh and energetic hangout for local artists and designers in the Colaba area. This place has been featured in numerous magazines, such as *Wallpaper, NY Times Style Guide and Conde Naste Traveller. It’s also not far the Modern Art Gallery.
4 Mandlik Road, Colaba
Indigo, a renowned restaurant in Bombay for the great and good of Bombay’s high society was a real treat for us to experience. We booked this in advance for dinner on New Year’s Eve and it didn’t disappoint. Tucked away behind a canvas of fairy lights and trees on a main street in Coloba, we had a garden table amongst the candles. It was a magical place to be for NY, the food was delicious and the cocktails were astounding! There was an eclectic menu of dishes from around the world and everything was still competitively priced by UK standards. I loved watching the super glamorous men and women dotting about – I think there was even a Bollywood star hosting a table in the room next to us!
Indigo also has a more of a brassiere and deli just around the corner from the main restaurant, which is great for lunch or a cold beer. www.indigodeli.com
66 Shaheed Bhagat Singh Road, Colaba
Anyone who has read ‘Shantaram’ will be extremely curious to visit Leopolds to imagine all the wonderful scenes that must have happened in that bar through the eyes of Gregory David Roberts. However, if you haven’t read the book, it may seem like a relatively expensive, over-crowded tourist trap. We braved the queues anyway, got a seat at the bar upstairs, ordered some beers and took it all in. Apparently the famed author still frequents Leopold’s and signs copies of Shantaram, but not the day I was there sadly! I found out recently that Jonny Depp bought all the rights to making a film of Shantaram so watch this space!
Bandra West is a northern suburb of Bombay and one of the wealthier areas of the city. You can catch a train from most parts of the city to Bandra, and take a rickshaw to the seafront. Here you can stroll along the footpath and soak up the atmosphere amongst couples holding hands, children playing and women washing clothes on the rocks. It’s a peaceful sanctuary in an otherwise bustling area.
Art Loft & Kombava Café
37, Waroda Rd, Ranwar, Bandra West
Another amazing find was The Art Loft. Designed by the same women who designed Abode Bombay, this is a great place to stop, eat, recharge and relax. Formed as part of an open gallery, workshop and eatery this beautiful gem is hidden off the main street in Bandra, but worth the trip.
The Yoga House
Nargis Villa, Sherly Rajan Road, Bandra West
A little slice of peace in an otherwise bonkers city – The Yoga House is the prettiest little bungalow I saw in Bombay. A combined yoga studio, shop and health food café, The Yoga House is the perfect place to have a breather. I didn’t have time to do any yoga here but when I go back I will be sure to sign up as it seemed like the perfect spot to unwind.
So there is a little snippet of Bombay. Five days in this manic, vibrant city and I doubt we have even scratched the surface. If you are lucky enough to go, please get in touch and let us know what hidden gems you found on your trip. If you have any questions please email me here and I would be happy to help. x