London-based contributing editor Malika Dalamal drops in on Mumbai often enough to call it her second hometown. These are her downtown favorites.
MUMBAI – I visit the bustling Indian city of Mumbai at least twice a year, my parents were both born and now live there. Parallels are often drawn with New York, another gritty and glamorous city that doesn't sleep, where people come from all over the country to live out their dreams, and the skyline, especially at night, can stop you in your tracks.
Crammed with 17 million inhabitants, I have watched the city evolve and modernize at biannual intervals for more than 30 years — although the chaos and energy has remained the same.
But would I call myself a local or a tourist? Neither. Officially I'm an NRI (non-resident Indian). I'm enough of a local to call the city by its original name, Bombay, but far too much of a tourist to consider myself a Bombayite. From the Gandhi Museum to the Gateway of India, I may have seen the sites time and again, but I'm not yet jaded or bored with the colors and smells of India to seek refuge in an air-conditioned Italian restaurant like many longtime residents.
So what do I do when I return to my native city? Here is my South Bombay (SoBo) to-do list:
WHERE TO EAT
Kala Ghoda Café
10 Ropewalk Ln., Kala Ghoda; +91-22-2263-3866
Tucked away in a small lane in what is often called the art district of Mumbai, this tiny, unpretentious cafe is a calming spot to take a break from the madness. Set in a light-filled converted barn, it doubles as a gallery, showcasing the work of up-and-coming Indian photographers. The coffee is made with their own blend of organic beans, and the homemade ginger and date cake is not to be missed.
Natural lce Creams
137 Jyoti Sadan, Marine Drive; +91-22-2202-7426 (more locations)
Originally started by a fruit dealer, this artisan ice cream store has grown into a chain with branches throughout the country. Their all-natural ice creams are made without preservatives, stabilizers, artificial colors, and chemicals. The store is nothing fancy, but stop in for a cone or cup to eat while walking on Marine Drive. The fruit flavors are seasonal and run the gamut from fig and mango to almond and custard apple.
7 Sai Baba Marg, Kala Ghoda; +91-22-2270-3213
Admittedly, this Indian seafood restaurant is a bit of a tourist trap. You'll find it in every guide to Mumbai, and the London outpost has just been awarded a Michelin star. However, the original restaurant in Kala Ghoda is still a personal favorite, and the South Indian cuisine lives up the hype. The butter pepper garlic crab, masala clams, black dal, and Hyderabadi-style fish are signature dishes that will make all Indian restaurants back home seem bland.
WHERE TO SHOP
Shop F19, Inorbit Mall, Malad; +91-22-6521-5209 (more locations)
The ayuvedic hair and skin care products at the beauty shop are the real deal. Made in a small Himalayan village, the all-natural products are made using light, cold-pressed oils and Indian scents like tuberose, jasmine, rose, and sandalwood. The clear sugar soaps, made from unprocessed cane sugar and natural spring water, are worth stocking up on.
17 Arthur Bunder Rd., Colaba; +91-22-2281-9880
The fashion and lifestyle concept store set over three floors of a beautiful heritage building in Colaba is the only shop I make it a point to visit every time I'm in Mumbai. Globetrotting owner Maithili Ahluwalia has impeccable taste and handpicks an eclectic collection of vintage and contemporary Indian-inspired home furnishings, fashion, and accessories for her carefully curated space. It's the perfect one-stop shop for gifts.
AND DON'T MISS
BMP Bldg., N.A. Sawant Marg, Colaba;+91-22-2281-0066
It's an exciting time for the fast-moving contemporary Indian art scene, and a trip to Sree Goswami's Colaba gallery is a good way to keep on top of the latest and greatest. There is always an interesting mix of established and emerging Indian artists on show, including photographers, sculptures, and graphic novelists, as well as more experimental works not so often seen in Mumbai.
Indian head massage at the Trident Nariman Point Spa
Trident, Nariman Point; +91-22-6632-4343
An auyervedic head massage at the spa inside Trident Nariman Point Hotel is a great way to unwind from a long-haul flight and literally relaxes me into a laid back Bombay mindset. Choose from almond or olive oil and ask for Clifford, a charming man who was born unable to hear or speak and has worked at the spa for more than 20 years. His soulful massage dissolves any tension in head, neck, shoulders, and upper back. Opt for the post-massage wash and blow-dry to leave with silky smooth hair.
Sunset Walk Along Marine Drive
Marine Drive is also known as the Queen's Necklace because the twinkling semi-circle of lights look like a row of jewels at night. The street road runs along the shore of the Arabian Sea, where you'll see one of the most beautiful and dramatic sunsets in the world. In recent years, the promenade has been cleaned up and while you will still come across a few dancing monkeys and street food vendors (don't go there), it is a pretty peaceful walk free from hawkers. Look behind you at the decrepit Art Deco buildings, and it almost feels like South Beach. Almost.
See all the locations in this story. (Google Maps)
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Inset photo: Mango ice cream / Courtesy of Natural Ice Creams