Mumbai, or “Bombay” as it was called when I was growing up there in the late 70s and 80s, is one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in India. I spent most of my childhood there, and now, going back home as a tourist some 25 years later, is an exhilarating feeling because of how much the city has transformed.
Known as the financial hub of the country, Mumbai is also famous because it serves as the backdrop to the world’s largest film industry, Bollywood, which releases some 1000 Hindi films each year. While most Mumbaikars practice Hinduism, Islam or Christianity, the city’s true religion is cricket, the national sport of India, which unites the almost 12 million people who reside in this 233 square mile metropolis.
But even in the most populated city in India (the 9th most populous in the world), there are hidden gems that are waiting to be unearthed and explored. The last few times we have visited Mumbai, we’ve chosen to stay at the regal and resplendent Taj Mahal Hotel in South Mumbai, across from the Gateway of India, a large monument (reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris) renovated in 1924 to welcome people of prominence from the British Raj into the city via the Arabian Sea. The ambience and hospitality at the Taj is exemplary; so much so that the 24-hour, on-call butlers, assigned to each room in the Palace Wing, are ready and willing to fulfill your every need and desire. We last stayed there during Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, and every morning we’d wake up to the most decadent flower arrangements and hand-carved Rangoli designs (made with colored chalk) adorning the various lobbies of the five-star hotel.
We also love staying at the Taj because of its panoramic, sunset views of the Arabian Sea and its proximity to Colaba Causeway, an affordable mecca for tourists looking to buy Indian shawls, shoes, art, curios and every other souvenir you can imagine. The hotel is also a stone’s throw away from some of the best art museums and restaurants in the area (we highly recommend Trishna for great seafood, Woodside Inn for bar food, Leopold’s (upstairs, which is air-conditioned) for Indo-Chinese and Ellipsis for old school American dining…Indian style).
Our favorite O’Harani experience in the city is, by far, the “Mumbai by Dawn” tour, which begins at 6 a.m. and ends at 8 a.m. The walking tour takes you through the various small businesses that only operate during the early hours, such as fishing villages, newspaper stands and flower and vegetable markets. And once the city wakes up and begins its morning commute, all signs of these trading posts have vanished. Other O’Harani experiences we offer include a private, walking tour through the Victoria Terminus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and historic railway station, which combines Victorian architecture with traditional Mughal designs, and a private Bollywood dance lesson with a renowned choreographer, followed by a tour of Film City, a massive studio where Bollywood sets are erected and movie scenes are shot (who knows, you may even get a glimpse and an autograph of a Bollywood movie star).
All in all, you can’t go to India without visiting Mumbai (the country’s New York City, if you will), and our curated, luxury experiences in this city would be a great way to start or end your Indian journey. Let’s create your itinerary now!