Dinesh Singh is the smiling and ever-helpful assistant concierge at the famous Taj Mahal Palace, which overlooks Mumbai harbour and the historic Gate of India. For more than a century, royalty, superstars and world leaders have ensconced themselves in the luxurious surrounds of the iconic hotel, being pampered by a staff whose ethic of service excellence makes a stay something to treasure.
Women in colourful silk saris greet guests with garlands of white jasmine and marigolds and a talik on the forehead. Singh, 32, and the rest of the team are ready to guide guests into the bustling, noisy chaos of Mumbai. They are frequently asked about new restaurant, art gallery and concert offerings and this being India, tickets for the cricket.
Where’s the party? Exo at St Regis prides itself on providing that exclusive shelter for the who’s who in the heart of a bustling metropolis. The ambience and drinks harmoniously complement the expansive views from the 38th floor . Also, Wink at the Taj President offers distinctive elixirs, the latest music and mouth-watering eats in a vibrant setting . Aer at the Four Seasons Hotel, an open-air bar and lounge located on the 33rd floor.
Best eatery loved by locals? For meat lovers and those wanting that antiquated feel, a stopover at Britannia is a must – owned by Parsi Iranis who have passed down home-cooked delicacies like berry pulao . On the first floor of the Palace Wing, Sea Lounge offers old colonial charm with Art Deco furniture and live piano music enhanced by its spectacular view of the Arabian Sea. It is considered to be a city institution for traditional afternoon tea, featuring an elaborate buffet of classic English delicacies and local Indian favourites complemented with a selection of the world’s finest teas and coffees.
Best high-end restaurant? Zodiac Grill is known for its gourmet set lunches and an a la carte menu complete with caviar, oysters and the Camembert Dariole and Kahlua Mousse. The Bombay Canteen, nestled in the former factory hub, is a perfect blend of old and new. Don’t miss the Seafood bhel and the Nargisi Scotch egg. The drinks here include classic cocktails such as sours and fizzes that have been given a new lease of life with a touch of Indian flavours, and a selection of revivalist Colonial Punches.
An outdoor activity that is worth the effort? Bicycle tours by Odati for Taj specialises in a host of adventure-styled activities, as do Mumbai by Dawn Tours and No Footprints Mumbai .
An unmissable piece of architecture? The Rajabai Clock stands tall amid the best of British Bombay.
A celebration you must not miss? Ganesh Chaturthi. No festival in India has the backing and the pomp as much as the festival celebrating India’s favourite God – Ganesh. Originally a personal affair, it gained public favour during the final stages of the British Raj, where religious functions were used to exploit the weakness of the government and strengthen the national spirit. The week-long affair ends with the deity being immersed in the sea as the spirit returns to the heavens.
Local organic food market? Built in 1869, the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market (formerly known as Crawford Market) is still a preferred location to purchase many festive decoration stuff, dry fruits, vegetables, etc.
Best local spa? Jiva Spa at Taj Wellington Mews – for rejuvenation treatments, Indian aromatherapy massages, time-honoured Indian treatments, body scrubs and wraps and the Kerala Ayurvedic Health Spa.
What’s on at the theatre? Shiva Urja, an amalgamation of Bharatnatyam and Kathak performed by Anjana Dongre and her troupe, the Nrityanagan Academy of Fine Arts. Don’t miss… Mumbai being the financial and cultural hub of India, it would be a shame to leave without experiencing the three feats that together pump the life blood of the city: the lunch-box carriers, the public laundry and the local trains. American Tourister once said if you can survive the Mumbai locals, you can survive the world. tajhotels.com