More than 20 million people live in the sprawling city formerly known as Bombay. A metropolis as big as Mumbai can’t be digested in just one visit but you can hit the highlights.
Vivanta by Taj – President is well-situated near the top sites of the port city on GD Somani Road in Cuffe Parade on the southernmost peninsula of Mumbai. The five-star property (part of the Taj collection) is within easy walking distance of the city’s emblem, the iconic Gateway of India.
This massive monumental basalt stone archway overlooks the Apollo Bandar, the old harbor. Finished in 1924, it commemorates the 1911 visit to India of Great Britain’s King George V and Queen Mary. It’s the favorite selfie site for visitors from around the world (if you somehow didn’t bring a camera, itinerant photographers are on hand to do the honors).
Next to the gateway complex is the departure point for boats heading to Elefanta Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its sculptures of Shiva carved into the walls of caves.
Just a bit further north is Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. The impressive Indo-Saracenic structure, displaying everything from Mughal paintings to bronze sculptures of Hindo deities to intricately woven sari silks, is better known by its original name, Prince of Wales Museum.
The Vivanta by Taj – President (one of five Taj hotels in Mumbai) is not an architectural masterpiece, but inside it has everything a Western visitor would want — from comfortable, well-appointed guest rooms to a collection of five distinctly different eateries. You step into the cool and calm lobby from the frenetic, humid and hot streets of the city.
When I made my reservation, I also reserved airport pickup by the hotel. There’s nothing more comforting than seeing a placard with one’s name when arriving travel-frazzled at a third world airport.
In the guestrooms, pastel colors, earth tones and parquet floors are a welcome respite after a day in traffic. The WiFi is free and fast, the television screens enormous. The best city and Arabian Sea views are from the higher floors. There’s a fitness center, spa, swimming pool and “astrologer upon request”.
Because I’d already been in India for more than a week by the time I arrived in Mumbai, I headed to the Trattoria for my first dinner. It was like stepping into Italy. Although the menu focused on southern Italian choices, I opted for the chicken and mushroom risotto (perfect!).
The next evening I was invited to the Konkan Cafe, which features the eclectic cuisine of coastal Konkan, Karnataka and Kerala. I let my host order a plethora of mini-dishes, so I had the chance to taste fish curries, lentil dumplings, lamb cutlets and betel leaf ice cream.
You might want to head to one of the hotel’s sister properties in Mumbai an hour before sunset. Over at the Taj Mahal Palace they serve high tea in the Sea Lounge of the Palace Wing. Ask for one of the window seats — if you sit on the right, you look directly at the Gateway of India. The elaborate buffet with both classic English delicacies and local Indian favorites can well serve as a dinner substitute.
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(Exterior courtesy of Vivanta by Taj, all other photos and review by Susan McKee)