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For today’s Destination of the Week, TPG contributor Sharon McDonnell takes us all the way to the “Manhattan of India” to visit a cultural capital that is steeped in history and has become one of the largest cities in the world. We are heading to Mumbai, India.
As India’s biggest city, Mumbai – formerly known as Bombay – is the country’s business, financial, film and fashion capital, with an added dash of movie glamor that electrifies India’s most active nightlife. It is also the home of Bollywood, the world’s biggest film industry, which makes over 1,000 movies a year – many of which are romantic musicals studded with flamboyant dance numbers.
While the majority of this multicultural port city’s population are Hindu, Mumbai also has many prominent religious minorities including Muslims, Parsis (whose ancestors hailed from Persia centuries ago), Jains, Sikhs, Portuguese-speaking Catholics and Jews. It is a city of contrasts – from the upscale residential districts such as Malabar Hill where homes sell for millions of dollars, to one of Asia’s biggest slums, Dharavi, which was the setting for Slumdog Millionaire. Unlike much of India, cows are banned from Mumbai’s streets to aid with the flow of traffic.
WHAT TO DO
The Gateway of India, a massive carved stone arch on the Arabian Sea in south Mumbai, was built to honor the visit of King George V and Queen Mary of Great Britain as they arrived to be crowned Emperor and Empress of India in 1911 as a symbol of the “power and majesty” of the British empire, but it was not actually completed until 1924. It was later, fittingly, where the British departed when their rule ended in 1947. The historical monument is also located across from Mumbai’s iconic hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower.
A 15-minute walk away in the Fort district, the Prince of Wales Museum (also known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya) is the main museum in Mumbai – if not the whole of India – and houses a wonderful collection of Indian art and artifacts, from over 2,000 “miniature” paintings (which refers to their exquisitely-detailed craftsmanship, not their size), 5,500-year-old sculptures from the Indus Valley civilization, textiles and jewelry, as well as Tibetan, Nepalese, Far Eastern and European art. Many other galleries, like the National Gallery of Modern Art, Jehangir Art and Gallery Chemould – all featuring contemporary Indian artists – are also nearby. The many Gothic-style and Edwardian Neo-Classical Victorian-era buildings in the area, such as the University of Mumbai, whose clock-tower is a smaller version of London’s Big Ben, might tempt you to think you’re in Britain – albeit with a more steamy climate and palm trees!
Modern-day Mumbai is a wonderful place to shop. Amid Colaba’s many upscale boutiques, restaurants and galleries, you’ll find Bungalow 8, a stylish three-story home decor, fashion and jewelry shop whose modern and vintage finds hail from both India and Paris, and Bombay Electric, a cutting-edge fashion boutique nicknamed the “Barney’s of Bombay” by The New York Times, where model Elizabeth Hurley debuted her swimsuit line in India. For jewelry – Indian, Victorian and contemporary, as well as uncut emeralds, rubies and diamonds – head to D. Popli & Sons, near to the Taj Mahal Palace. The Chor Bazaar offers an authentic bazaar experience, with antique teak and rosewood furniture, ivory carvings, paintings, brass objects and glassware. To get there, take a taxi or bus to Maulana Shaukat Ali Road and walk down Mutton Street. Nearby, Zaveri Bazaar is known for diamond, gold and silver jewelery.
A guided tour is a great way to see this vast city – from Bollywood’s film sets and shooting locations in Film City, to a trip around Mumbai’s boutiques and bazaars with a shopping guide, and a taste of nightlife at trendy spots like a midnight buffet or dancing at a nightclub. Other tours also allow you to savor Mumbai street food, visit the Dharavi slum, whose small cottage industries include leather goods and pottery, or soak in Mumbai’s Jewish heritage at nine synagogues, including the vivid blue Keneseth Eliyahoo.
The Elephanta Caves, whose spectacular Hindu cave temples were carved some time in the 6th to 8th centuries, are on an island that is a short ferry ride from the Gateway of India. The temples are one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mumbai, with central train station, the Victoria Terminus – a magnificent Victorian gem of Gothic steeples, arches, stained glass and carvings – being the other.
Don’t miss the home where Mahatma Gandhi stayed on his visits to Mumbai from 1917 to 1934, Mani Bhavan, located on Laburnum Road in the Gamdevi district downtown. Here, 28 tableaux depict highlights in the life of the leader of the world’s most effective non-violent struggle for freedom, who advocated the abolition of India’s “untouchable” caste and encouraged peace between religions. It spans from Gandhi’s epiphany when he was tossed from a first-class train compartment in South Africa because he was not white, via his Dandi March to the Sea in 1930, to his tragic assassination in 1948.
If you notice a bunch of people laughing hysterically near the Gateway of India, it is simply Laughter Yoga: a worldwide movement launched by a Mumbai doctor who believes laughter promotes psychological and physical well-being – even if it’s not preceded by humor! Every morning except Sunday, locals and tourists gather to “fake it until you make it,” engaging in mild chuckles and full-throated guffaws, exercising and chanting silly rhymes like “one, two, three, laughter is free.” But not here, as actually there’s a small fee.
Finding the world’s second-biggest cluster of Art Deco architecture after Miami is a surprise to many who visit India. But graceful Art Deco-style movie theaters, offices and residential buildings are found all over Mumbai, especially along Marine Drive, a seafront boulevard that is a popular place to walk.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM) is India’s biggest airport and second-busiest in passenger traffic. Its International Terminal is in the Sahar suburb, 18 miles north of Colaba, the district at Mumbai’s southern tip where most historic landmarks, hotels and restaurants geared to tourists are clustered. The Domestic Terminal is in the Santacruz suburb, 2.5 miles from the International Terminal but a free bus connects the two every 15 minutes.
United and Air India offer non-stop flights from Newark Airport, while Delta, Lufthansa, Swiss, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Austrian Airways, Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Etihad all offer flights with a connection in London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Zurich, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia or Abu Dhabi. Other Asia- and Africa-based airlines also serve Mumbai.
Indian airlines serving Mumbai are Jet Airways, Jet Lite (Jet’s subsidiary), Air India, Indigo, Spicejet, Kingfisher and Go Air, all in Terminal 1A or 1B. Be sure to print out any e-tickets, as the airport staff don’t look up your reservation in a computer as they do at other airports.
For travel to India, US Citizens will need a Visa. They offer three types; one for 5 or 10 years, or one for 6 months. The prices are $153 for a 5 or 10 year visa and $63 for the 6 month option.
Hilton Mumbai International Airport: The grand interior of this 171-room hotel, which is located 5 minutes from the airport’s International Terminal and 15 minutes from the Domestic Terminal, is inspired by 19th-century summer palaces. Guest rooms feature a 40-inch flatscreen TV and WiFi, while deluxe rooms have marble bathrooms with separate showers, and executive floor rooms offer complimentary breakfast, evening cocktail hour, and private check-in/check-out. Amenities include an outdoor pool amid tropical gardens and a fitness center. Six separate dining options serve Indian, Chinese, French and Mediterranean cuisine. Rooms rates in July start at 8,700 INR ($145) per night. This is a Category 5 property requiring 40,000 HHonors points for a free night.
Grand Hyatt Mumbai: This 547-room hotel, which includes 38 suites plus 147 one- to three-bedroom apartments, is in central Mumbai’s Santacruz East neighborhood, 5 minutes from the Bandra Kurla complex, a business district that’s home to major banks and the National Stock Exchange, and 20 minutes from the International Terminal. Tennis, basketball, volleyball, yoga, a fitness center/spa, jogging track and two outdoor pools are located on 12 landscaped acres, and 100 plus works of art by contemporary Indian artists are displayed inside the property. Guest rooms have 24-hour room service, WiFi and a 40-inch flatscreen TV. The Grand Club room and suite guests enjoy complimentary WiFi, airport transfers, breakfast and private check-in/check-out. Restaurants serve tandoori-grilled and other Indian specialties, along with Chinese, Italian, Thai, sushi, Lebanese and Western food. Room rates in July start at 9,500 INR ($159) per night. This is a Category 4 hotel requiring 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points for a free night.
Hyatt Regency Mumbai: A half-mile from the International Terminal, this 401-room contemporary-style hotel has a 10,000-square fitness center/spa, tennis and squash courts, an outdoor pool, plus a 24-hour business center and concierge. Guest rooms feature marble bathrooms, 24-hour room service and laundry, and WiFi. The Regency Club rooms offer complimentary breakfast and private check-in/check-out. Room rates in July start at 7,713 INR ($129) per night. This is a Category 3 hotel requiring 12,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points for a free night.
J.W. Marriott Mumbai: Situated right on Juhu Beach, one of Mumbai’s most popular destinations on the Arabian Sea, and next to a posh residential area where many celebrities live, this is India’s only J.W. Marriott property. The modern international look of the 355-room hotel, which includes 29 suites (many with sea views) incorporates sculptures and sandstone from Rajasthan. Enigma, one of Mumbai’s hippest nightclubs that is often frequented by Bollywood producers and aspiring starlets, is housed in the hotel. The spa offers Ayurvedic and Western treatments, plus three outdoor pools, a 10,500-square-foot relaxation area and a fitness center. Michelin two-star Spanish chef Sergi Arola created the menu at Arola Restaurant and Bar, which also boasts of collection of dozens of gins. Other restaurants serve Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Italian food, and a 24-hour cafe has an Asian and Western buffet. Guest rooms feature duvets and WiFi. Room rates in July start at 12,500 INR ($209) per night. This is a Category 6 property requiring 30,000 Marriott Rewards points for a free night.
Other Marriott hotels are the Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre, which boasts India’s largest convention center (230,000 square feet) and biggest Executive Lounge, Lakeside Chalet apartments on the shore of Powai Lake, Mumbai – Marriott Executive Apartments, also on Powai Lake, and Courtyard Mumbai International Airport.
IHG Rewards/Priority Club
InterContinental Marine Drive: Located on Mumbai’s coastal boulevard of Marine Drive and overlooking the Arabian Sea at Nariman Point, this boutique hotel has just 58 rooms and 11 suites, each with a 42 inch flatscreen TV. The 24-hour amenities include room service, a business center and a basic gym. In-room spa treatments are available, but there is no separate spa. Restaurants include Koh, a Thai restaurant whose ingredients are sourced from Thailand organic farms, Kebab Korner for northern Indian food, and an Italian-Mediterranean eatery. The rooftop pool overlooks the Arabian Sea. Room rates in July start at 9,541 INR ($162) per night or 30,000 points IHG Rewards Club points for a free night.
Another Priority Club hotel is the Holiday Inn Mumbai Airport, which has a rooftop pool, gym, and guest rooms with a 32 inch flatscreen TV. Room rates in July start at 5,950 INR ($101) per night or 15,000 points for a free night.
Westin Mumbai Garden City: This 32-story tower’s 269 spacious contemporary-style rooms, including 24 suites, feature marble floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, and Westin’s comfortable Heavenly Beds with a pillowtop mattress and down duvet, plus the signature white tea-aloe scent in the Heavenly Bath amenities. Club rooms offer complimentary breakfast and cocktail hour. Located in the International Business Park in Oberoi Garden City, a few blocks from Oberoi Mall and 2.5 miles from the Bombay Exhibition Centre, the hotel has a spa, fitness center, outdoor pool, and business center. Restaurants feature Indian, Italian and international dining. Room rates in July start at 9,000 INR ($150) per night, daily breakfast and late check-out included. This is a Starwood Preferred Guest Category 4 property requiring 10,000 Starpoints for a free night.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a loyalty program for Amex Platinum cardholders who receive special benefits at participating hotels such as early check-in and late check-out, complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, and other perks.
The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower: This gorgeous Old World-style 560-room hotel, including 44 suites, conveys the lavishness and majesty of royal India. To properly enjoy its fusion of Moorish, Oriental and Florentine architecture, the Indian furnishings and the 400 plus artworks lining corridors and other public areas, take the hotel’s Art and Heritage Walk. In the Palace Wing, which was built in 1903, all 285 guest rooms feature marble baths, WiFi, butlers and complimentary breakfast (for the Palace guests, not the Tower), access to the Palace Lounge and its brocaded teal velvet armchairs for high tea and cocktail hour, and a greeting with a wreath of fragrant flowers on arrival. Taj Club room and suite guests also get one-way airport transfer. Some suites have Indian antiques and art, while the Rajput Suite – where John Lennon and Yoko Ono once stayed for five days without ever leaving – has a carved wood swing, gold-plated doors, marquetry furnishings and a peacock wall mural. Two carved marble elephants stand outside the Presidential Suite, which also boasts inlaid marble tables, and gold leaf and crystal chandeliers.
The 1973 Tower Wing rooms are modern and more European-style, but all hotel rooms have Arabian Sea, Mumbai skyline or outdoor pool views. The Jiva Spa offers Ayurvedic treatments, and both the business center and fitness center are 24-hour. Six restaurants include Wasabi by “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto, Masala Kraft, which serves gourmet Indian food, Souk, serving food from North Africa and the Middle East (the Moroccan rose petal ice cream is killer), Zodiac Grill for French food by candlelight, Shamiana, which serves Indian and international food, and Sea Lounge, for Asian specialties plus high tea. Room rates in July start at 10,000 INR ($167) per night, which includes breakfast buffet and 3,000 INR ($50) credit good for meals, beverages and WiFi.
Four Seasons Mumbai: In Worli, a busy commercial seafront district in central Mumbai, this 33-story, 202-room hotel, which includes just four suites, offers Arabian Sea, skyline and Mahalaxmi Racecourse views. Guest rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, complimentary WiFi, marble bathrooms, mahogany and maple furnishings, and a soft green or beige palette accented by Indian-style silk and mohair. The spa offers Ayurvedic treatments and yoga, as well as Mumbai’s only 24K gold facial. Both the business center and room service are 24-hour, and airport transfers are by BMW. San-Qi restaurant serves Pan-Asian specialties from marinated lamb kebabs to Japanese pufferfish, while Cafe PRATO serves Italian and Mediterranean food. Rooms in July start at 10,925 INR ($182) a night, which includes breakfast, laundry and 5% off. An Amex FHR perk is a complimentary massage.
Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
The Oberoi: Located on Marine Drive overlooking the Arabian Sea at Nariman Point, this hotel’s 287 rooms, including 73 suites, are contemporary with dark wood floors and dark walnut furnishings, but splashed with Indian accents, from inlaid marble tables and mother-of-pearl cabinets to saffron, indigo and crimson silk pillows. Guest rooms have a 40-inch flatscreen TV, marble bathroom with a second smaller TV, floor-to-ceiling windows (most with sea views) and WiFi. Suites include free airport transfer and breakfast. Room and butler service, laundry, business center, concierge, spa and a fitness center are all 24-hour. The hotel’s Indian restaurant, Ziya, is helmed by Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia – chef/owner of Rasoi in London and Geneva – and there is also Italian restaurant Enoteca, an international restaurant and a champagne lounge. Room rates in July start at 10,000 INR ($167) per night. Oberoi Hotels also has its own loyalty program, and in addition, Jet Airways loyalty program members earn 500 miles per stay at any of its hotels.
The Taj Lands End, a sleek modern tower in the buzzing Bandra district near to both airports, whose 493 rooms including 33 suites, all face the Arabian Sea, is a member hotel. The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower is also in Visa Signature Hotels.