Back in 2006, Mrs Chrisparkle and I discovered India. Not in a “Dr Livingstone, I presume” sort of way, rather in our first visit we did a week’s trip visiting the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and staying at the Oberoi hotel in each location. It was somewhere I had always wanted to visit, and despite some Delhi belly, I can’t tell you quite how much both of us loved the experience. The Red Fort, Chandni Chowk, the Taj Mahal, the Palace of the Winds, Fatehpur Sikri…we came home, delighted to have identified a new playground in the world, where we could return again and again and again, and always find new things to do and areas to visit.
But it took over six years for us to go back. There had been plans in the meantime for revisits, but they always came a cropper for one reason or another. But in February we finally got on board that BA plane bound for BOM. We got an excellent deal at the Oberoi by staying a full week, which included complimentary return airport transfers (and they were extremely complimentary), free wifi (which was as reliable as Cyprus voting for Greece at Eurovision), and a delicious, substantial breakfast. We chose to have a city view suite, which ended up being part city and part ocean, and it was absolutely terrific.
I cannot recommend the Oberoi too highly. As you may already know, gentle reader, Mrs C is a coeliac so we normally try and establish in advance the ease or otherwise of her getting something to eat. I had sent the Oberoi one of those “contact us” emails to explain the situation, and I received a really friendly and helpful reply from Mr Mayan Dhawan, Assistant Manager of Food and Beverage, who explained precisely what and where we could eat and how they would take great care of Mrs C’s requirements. Not only did they do that, but this kind gentleman met us on several occasions during our stay, personally attended to us in the restaurants and liaised directly with the chefs, whom he brought out to speak to us, so that we could all be certain that there were no dietary misunderstandings. Absolutely superb service.
But first let me take you back to Mumbai airport. When you emerge from Customs you suddenly enter a throng of people all waving their taxi credentials in your face and you desperately hope that your transfer reservation hasn’t got fed up waiting. Not a bit of it. Travelling Oberoi style means your driver is fairly obvious – he was the only one in a crisp white uniform with gold brocade. He guided us to our limousine. It really was a proper limousine. Not an Essex hen night stretch kind of thing, but a really classy spacious vehicle where you could stretch out, read the paper, drink ice cold water, and feel incredibly relaxed as the hustle and bustle of Mumbai carried on outside the comfort of your four tyres. It’s so luxurious that it’s almost – but not quite – embarrassing. Mrs C wanted to discourage our driver from putting on his crisp white peaked cap – but she didn’t, and he did. I know it was a privileged way to arrive at the hotel. And I loved it.
We checked in with good time to unpack, take a nap and then explore the hotel. We had already arranged in advance with a tour company plucked from the internet some excursions scattered throughout the week, and the first of those was to be “Mumbai by night”, from approximately 6.30 pm to 8.30 pm, that evening, then back in time for dinner at the hotel, as we didn’t quite feel bold enough to risk the local dining experiences yet. Our afternoon exploration culminated in that delightful experience, the Champagne Afternoon Tea. Champagne, followed by sandwiches and scones and cream and jam and then tea. We could have had more champagne, but, as I am sure you realise, “moderation” is our middle name. It was also impressive that they were able to provide gluten-free sandwiches, although alas not scones. So I had to scoff Mrs C’s. We were comfortably seated beside a picture window overlooking the bay by Nariman Point, a perfect setting for such a refined activity.
We thought we would have plenty of time for our afternoon tea before our guide arrived, but it was served in a rather leisurely manner, so we were more or less just wiping the last crumbs from our mouths when he appeared. Our guide was Amish, and little did we know that within a week of our being in Mumbai we would become firm friends. All we had to do was to get our stuff together and join him and our driver for an exploration of Mumbai at night.
First stop, and actually it’s within very easy walking distance, was the Gateway of India. This iconic monument, designed to be seen best from the sea as you approach the city, stands at the edge of a smallish square crammed with people. At night it’s the general meeting place for downtown Mumbai – or Bombay, as Amish pointed out was strictly more accurate – full of youngsters, families, traders, tourists; anyone and everyone is there. It’s atmospherically lit up and its orange glow looks as warm as the Mumbai sun.
After fifteen minutes or so drinking in the atmosphere, we got back in the car and drove up to the old Bombay University building. From the outside it looks like an Anglican cathedral, and the Rajabai clock tower to the side looks like it should contain church bells. It’s lit beautifully at night, with constantly changing colours that make it stand out like a beacon, and the gargoyles clinging to the side of the building are very reminiscent of Oxford.
Another short drive took us to the night-time glories of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. No one in Bombay knows what that is, but if you say Victoria Terminus, they all go “ahh!” and nod with understanding. This magnificent railway station was completed in 1888 and two million people use it every day. Over the course of the week we would go back to revisit these places by day, but at night they have a special magic. It was enough at that point just to appreciate its grandeur from the outside.
We dropped down to Chowpatty Beach to get some delicious malai and kesar pista kulfi from a food outlet actually on the sand. It’s an area where loads of locals gather for some informal evening eating, and it was really lively and fun. The kulfi was to die for; even Mrs C partook of some.
Then we drove up to catch the view over Marine Drive and the bay – the Queen’s Necklace – from the Sir Pherozeshah Mehta Garden, but unfortunately it had closed early; we would see the daytime view the next day. But Amish was keen for us to get a good view of the bay by night so we found the bridge that crossed the main road to get to Charni Road Station, and halfway across looked out to get an amazing view of the lights sweeping round the bay.
We then followed the bridge into the station and just carried on walking until you could go no further – unless you were to descend on to the platform. On the other side of the road is the overwhelming sight of the façade of the Saifee Hospital. By day it’s an attractive but not outstanding building; by night it takes on massive proportions and actually left me speechless when I opened my eyes to look at it.
We made our way back to the Oberoi along Marine Drive, but took time to park up to check out a couple of the extraordinary temporary structures along the way, built to house wedding receptions. Indian weddings are humungous affairs, and these edifices range from the grandiose to the ultra-plush. Vivid colours, brash decorations, and full of bridal parties and wedding guests having a good time. Some are in use; some are under construction; whatever, drive past a couple of days later, and they’ve all been replaced by different ones.
We returned to the Oberoi and decided to have a simple meal at their Fenix restaurant. I had a pizza – very tasty indeed. We then decided to have a nightcap in the Eau Bar. This is a delightful place to which we would become comfortably accustomed. A jolly trio bash out some standard hits whilst extremely friendly yet courteous waiters offer you excellent wines at remarkably reasonable prices. Just writing about it now makes me want to go back!
But we couldn’t stay up long. It had been a very – very – long day; and the next day we would be meeting Amish again for a daytime tour of the sights of the city – the Dhobi Ghat, Pherozeshah Mehta Garden, Gandhi House, and the Gateway of India, all rounded off with the best Masala tea you could imagine. Tell you about it soon!
If you would like Amish to help you discover Mumbai visit mumbaimoments.com