A city home to almost as many people as Australia’s entire population, India’s City of Dreams can discombobulate. Choosing Abode Bombay, Mumbai’s first boutique hotel that’s set in the tourism hub of Colaba, as your base can help ease you into the city. It’s within walking distance of major attractions, and offers great tours covering street food, markets, the Dharavi slum and more. Luxury rooms have clawfoot tubs, and all feature locally handcrafted tiles and playful block-print fabrics. See abodeboutiquehotels.com
A two-minute walk from Abode is the iconic Gateway of India, built on Mumbai Harbour to commemorate King George V and Queen Mary’s first visit to India in 1911. From here, walk down Strand Promenade past chai sellers, locals doing yoga and thousands of fluttering pigeons, towards the colourful fishing village at the other end of the harbour. Particularly enchanting at sunrise.
THE HEAD MASSAGE
Try a famous Indian head massage, practised in India for thousands of years, at Touch of Joy in Colaba. For about $25 your head, shoulders, arms and back will be kneaded and pummelled for an hour with coconut oil. Ladies can add a blow dry and emerge looking like Bollywood star.
THE BOAT TRIP
The rock-cut cave temples on Elephanta Island are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and just a one-hour ferry ride across Mumbai Harbour from the Gateway. The eighth- and ninth-century cave temples include courtyards, shrines, halls and statues, including an impressive six-metre, three-headed statue of the Hindu god Shiva. Avoid the pushy guides.
Dadar, Mumbai’s biggest flower market, has hundreds of stalls overflowing with marigolds, roses, lotus flowers, jasmine and more, which locals and businesses buy for ceremonies and decoration. Visit at first light, and bring your camera.
THE ROOFTOP BAR
Mumbaikers love a rooftop bar and Dome, at the InterContinental, is one of the city’s best. Order a cucumber gimlet, settle into one of the elegant white couches and watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea. Afterwards, walk along the Marine Drive boardwalk below to Chowpatty Beach, where at dusk vendors sell giant balloons, fairy floss and glow sticks to the buzzing crowds. See intercontinental.com
Home to the glittering Bollywood film industry, predicted to be worth $3.7 billion by 2020, you can’t visit Mumbai without catching a Bollywood flick. Mumbai also has one of the largest concentrations of art deco buildings in the world, so by heading to the 1933-built Regal Cinema on Colaba Causeway, you’ll kill two birds with one stone. See regalcinema.in
Mumbai’s street food is some of its most delicious, but you’d be right in being concerned about its cleanliness. Luckily, you can taste the best of it at Swati Snacks, a slick restaurant that has been serving chaat (Indian street-style snacks) since 1963. Their pani puri (deep-fried pastry stuffed with chutney, potato, herbs and spices), panki chatni (savoury rice pancakes steamed in banana leaf) and hand-churned ice-creams will haunt your dreams for years. See swatisnacks.com
Once a collection of small farming and fishing villages, Bandra has been transformed into Mumbai’s hippest neighbourhood over the past few decades. Jump in an autorickshaw and explore dive bars like Toto’s Garage Pub, swish restaurants and design stores like The Shop, filled with Bandra’s resident Bollywood stars, models and creative types. Proof of the suburb’s cool factor lies in the recent opening of a Soho House on Bandra’s Juhu Beach, which includes publicly accessible guest rooms and the excellent Cecconi’s restaurant. See sohohousemumbai.com
ONE MORE THING
India now has the world’s cheapest mobile broadband prices, so make your first order of business is buying a SIM card and ridiculously low-priced data package from a street stall. Bring your passport; you can’t purchase a SIM without it.
Nina Karnikowski was a guest of APT.
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