Travelling in Mumbai, India
Famed for its Bollywood credentials and backdrop for the film Slumdog Millionaire, Mumbai is a city of more than 22 million people crammed into a space half the size of London.
India’s financial powerhouse has preserved the decadence and architectural splendour of the British Raj, blended with Art Deco buildings and Indo-Saracenic style.
We spend our first morning ticking off the city’s big hitters, which are neatly lined up along the main boulevard in one of downtown Mumbai’s most enticing districts, Kala Ghoda.
Brimming full of contemporary galleries and designer cafes, exploring this compact neighbourhood is easily achievable before most of the city has woken up.
Making our way along Mahatma Gandhi Road, a tree-lined boulevard filled with the incessant clamour of car horns and screeching brakes, we pass the regal Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.
Apart from being an architectural marvel in itself, the Grade I heritage building is home to a vast collection of historical artefacts, European oil paintings and ancient Indian sculptures.
Continuing, we stop to admire the neighbourhood’s intricate exteriors along the way – the German gables and Roman arches fused with traditional Indian features – as parrots swoop overhead.
The sun slowly creeps above the skyscrapers, beating down on our brows and the palm trees that fringe Oval Maidan, where we find ourselves among hundreds of young Mumbaikars – as these city dwellers are known – who gather in the park to play cricket.
Crawford Market, Mumbai
From there it is a short hop north by foot to Crawford Market, as it was known under British rule, one of South Mumbai’s best-known trading spots.
Now renamed Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market, the historic main building was the first in India to be lit up by electricity and its faded charm can still be enjoyed as you wander through the maze of stalls.
This huge bazaar is an overload on the senses, with hawkers selling every kind of tropical fruit and vegetable imaginable.
The aromatic, overflowing spice stalls entice tourists, giddy to watch the shopkeepers navigate their towering piles of produce.
Suffering a little in the midday heat, which rarely drops below 30°C, we divert for a quick refreshment.
Sitting overlooking the chaos of Mumbai street life, we order a perfume-scented Falooda drink, which is flavoured with a combination of rose syrup, basil seeds and vermicelli noodles.
With our thirst quenched, we fill the afternoon exploring Mumbai’s expansive shoreline, opting for central Girgaum Chowpatty public beach.
Swimming is definitely not recommended in the polluted waters but the sand is clean and the atmosphere relaxed, especially at dusk when couples and families arrive en masse to watch the ebbing sun disappear below the horizon.
Colaba Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Colaba, Mumbai
For a nightcap in the clouds you could head to AER, a rooftop bar and lounge on the 34th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel.
Panoramic views of the city’s skyline are accompanied by exotic cocktails such as the Mumbai Kiss, an intoxicating mixture of white rum, maraschino, cardamom and pineapple.
But, after a little colonial-style luxury, we instead opt for Harbour Bar at The Taj Mahal Palace.
While lacking some old Bombay charm, its unrivalled views of the port and status as Mumbai’s first licensed bar make this cosy drinking hole an attraction in its own right.
We sip on their signature Prohibition-era cocktail, From The Harbour Since 1933, which blends Tanqueray gin with peach liquor, pineapple and cranberry juice before flambeing green Chartreuse and finally topping with slices of green apple and pomegranate seeds.
We are lucky to be staying at the sprawling Taj Mahal Palace, leaving us with a short walk back to our room.
Built in the heyday of the British Raj, this landmark hotel has 285 rooms and suites, whose resplendent interiors are a fine balance between old-world charm and modern touches.
Rooms feature colonial furnishings, while ornate Rajput bay windows offer stunning views over the Arabian Sea and Gateway of India.
This long-standing symbol of Indian modernity acts as both a hotel for foreign tourists and meeting place for Mumbai’s well-to-do.
Handsome archways, onyx columns and hand-woven silk carpets dress the hotel.
However the dramatic cantilever stairwell is the piece de resistance, ascending 80 yards to meet the Renaissance style domed ceiling.
Our first day in the city had left me yearning for some greenery so the next day we decide to escape the city to the sprawling Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Within 43sq yards, the protected park is home to more than 274 species of birds as well as a resident tiger population.
We pay a visit to the Kanheri Caves, nestled deep within the park.
These 109 caves comprise ancient monasteries, halls and dwellings for Buddhist monks, etched straight from the rock over 2,000 years ago.
Unlike India’s smog-filled and choking capital of Delhi, Mumbai’s chaos feels relatively orderly.
Walking around the city for one last time, it’s plain to see why Mumbai is called the City of Dreams.
The Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai (dialling from the UK: 00 91 22 6665 3856/taj.tajhotels.com) offers doubles from £270, B&B.
British Airways (0844 493 0747/ba.com) offers return flights from London Heathrow to Mumbai from £401.
India tourism: incredibleindia.org.