I wanted the early part of our trip to start with the minimum of fuss allowing us to acclimatise to the rush of India in our own time. For this reason I booked a hotel car to pick us up from the airport at what I thought was a wonderfully inflated price, but honestly who wants to haggle with taxi drivers in the middle of the night, especially in a city like Mumbai that could quite easily swallow us whole without anyone noticing. Our trip to the Oberoi started with our second ride in a luxury Audi A8 inside of 24 hours. Living the high life is certainly incredibly spacious and extremely comfortable! Our female driver in her immaculately turned out white outfit seemed a little under the weather and was struggling to stay awake as we calmly trundled along the deserted highway at 50 kp/h in the middle of the Mumbai night. Around an hour or so later we pulled into the Oberoi. The amount of people out in the streets at 02:30 really took me by surprise.
Hotel: Oberoi Mumbai
Room: Executive Suite With Ocean View – Room 2061
Status: N/A Booked with AMEX FHR
By the time we finally arrived at the Oberoi it was almost 03:00 and despite the horrible hour we were warmly greeted on arrival. Our bags were promptly taken from us and we were politely security scanned. With our production of security theatre over it was time for the second bill in our double feature! We walked into the lobby to be greeted by a full welcome committee before a nice lady sat us down explaining our rate and Amex FHR benefits. To be honest at that time of night she could have told me anything and I’d still have nodded, or should I say shook my head with approval. We completed the final check in formalities in our room which had been upgraded to an Executive Suite with Ocean View on the 20th floor. Arriving so late at night the view was misleadingly underwhelming.
With check in finally out the way we were able to settle in to our accommodation for some well deserved sleep.
We struggled out of bed around 08:30 to an unexpected battery of noise. Or to put it more politely, a mysterious melody of cymbals, snare drums and muted trumpets which we dubbed the Oberoi’s infamous “executive wake up call” which to this day has remained a running joke in our household. It eventually transpired that a military marching band had been practising their parade outside on Marine Drive that morning. At least they ensured we didn’t miss breakfast!
We ambled down to the lobby area for breakfast where we were guided to Vetro the hotel’s Italian restaurant rather than the usual all day eatery Fenix which was full that morning. Staff lined the way with military precision to ensure we felt welcome and comfortable as we were shown to our table. Breakfast commenced with an offering of fresh juice and pressed coffee. We also had access to the buffet in addition to items from the a la carte menu included in our rate. I started off with a plate of fresh fruit and pastries from the buffet and we both picked masala dosas from the breakfast menu. Breakfast was so delicious that in my excitement I forgot to take any pictures. I had been dreaming of those dosas for far too long.
The plan for our opening day in Mumbai was to take a couple of city tours. The first we organised with the hotel after finding it difficult to book anything we wanted through some of the better rated tour companies I’d researched online. After finishing our food we briefly returned to our suite to freshen up before heading back downstairs to begin our Chor Bazaar tour. We were met in the lobby by our friendly guide Mrs Ullal and she escorted us down to our waiting car. As was the way at Oberoi Mumbai, it took only the briefest of interaction with any member of hotel staff for them to know who we were and what plans we’d made.
Our guide asked what we wanted to see and we quickly replied, “Markets”. So she made suggestions and we went with the flow. What was valuable was not just her historical knowledge, but her expertise in planning our time and route whilst being completely unafraid to change things depending on our level of interest. She did a great job of taking the stress out of the crowds, roads and traffic whilst making us feel comfortable and at home the whole time. If you have ever spent time in India, let alone the crush of Mumbai you’d understand that’s no mean feat. Our tour began with the craft village that we found a touch too touristy for our taste and Fashion Street where we almost immediately grew bored. It did however provide a good opportunity to discuss some recent Mumbai history including the devastating terrorist attacks just a few years earlier.
We were also treated to a rare event that morning, it rained in Mumbai! With the average rainfall in January showing at 0 mm on some websites this even took the locals by surprise.
We then viewed the paper goods and electrical items found in the surrounding streets.
After Crawford Market we were driven to Chor Bazaar, also known as the Thieves Market thanks to the urban myth that anything stolen in Mumbai can always be repurchased in Chor Bazaar.
This wonderful set of rundown streets were choc full of car parts and curios.
Cars were stripped down in the street and parts sold or scrapped.
Our second tour that day was the Raconteur Walks Churchgate and Heritage Mile Walk which started at 16:00. The meeting point was a 45 minute stroll from the Oberoi and in the humid afternoon heat that felt like a long trek with the cooling unseasonable morning rain now a distant memory.
We met our guide by what remained of Mumbai’s oldest cinema, which even today still shows movies, just the blue variety!
Our young raconteur was a post-graduate geologist who just happened to be conducting his first solo tour that afternoon.
As we toiled in the hazy afternoon heat we stopped off at a few key points where we heard histories of the numerous buildings from British colonial times and how their usage has morphed in modern day Mumbai.
During our tour we also got a baseball cap, a much needed drink and a much less needed cereal bar.
I thought this walk was a good though slightly scripted contrast to our off the cuff morning tour, it was clear this afternoon’s guide although professional in attitude was not a professional tour guide. We enjoyed the short walk down Marine Drive that took us back to our hotel for a brief rest knowing we had a delicious dinner to look forward to that evening!
Before dinner we made use of our free drinks vouchers for two cocktails at the bar. We sat in the Champagne Lounge listening to the band and enjoyed some complementary spicy crisps. Our drinks took a while but were well worth the wait. It was particularly interesting to watch the bar tender smell all the ingredients that went into each glass, blending each drink expertly with the power of scent.
Due to the extreme length of time it took for our cocktails to be fashioned we asked one of the serving staff to let the restaurant know we’d be late for dinner, which we later saw had been duly noted on our reservation.
After finishing our cocktails we moved up a floor to Ziya, the Oberoi’s fine dining Indian restaurant. The menu was designed by the famous chef Vineet Bhatia who has run a number of Michelin starred restaurants around the world. We were expertly greeted with what had now become a typical warm Oberoi welcome and were shown to our table. As part of the AMEX FHR rate we had booked all food was complementary, with only the cost of drinks being added to our tab.
For my starter I had the plate of three chaats and Anne-So had paneer and spinach.
For my main course I had tandoori lamb chops served with saffron mash potato and onion rings. Anne-So chose a fish curry. Our mains were paired with a glass each of a pleasant, fruity Indian Merlot.
For dessert I chose the Choco Palette and Anne-So had the Indian flavoured ice cream. When there is a chocolate option on the menu there is usually only one winner in my book and that dessert didn’t let me down.
Ziya provided the best combination of delicious food and excellent service leaving us to waddle back to our suite full to bursting. It was the perfect way to round off our day and we knew from a hotel perspective the Oberoi Mumbai would be a tough act to follow.
The following morning despite the lack of an executive wake up call we made it down a little earlier for breakfast at Fenix.
As delicious as the dosas were the day before we thought we’d switch things up that morning.
I loved how the high standards were maintained from the start of our stay until we bid our driver farewell at the airport. It was tough to say goodbye after such an amazing time. Check out was easy with everything on our bill correct. Further more as an added bonus we were not charged for our airport pick up as unbeknown to me it was included in our rate due to having a suite. All in all this was one of my favourite hotel stays ever with only some ludicrously expensive Japanese luxury knocking it off the podium, if only life could be so effortless everyday.
We left Mumbai with added vigour and couldn’t wait to return to this mega city at the end of our trip. Traversing the city was at times like taking a nostalgia trip through our favourite parts of London but how they must have looked long before we were born. On the other side, Mumbai was also a modern city, filled with extreme wealth and luxury. For me slipping between those two worlds is by far the best way to experience not just Mumbai, but India as a whole, a varied country where the full glory and horror of the world are constant show. I’m not sure if the beauty of the city made all the pain and poverty on show that little bit more deplorable or if papered over its ever-growing cracks with a rose-tinted roll of wallpaper. After the madness and contradiction of the city we needed to make a break for calm blue of the Nilgiri Mountains and one of its famous hill retreats, Ooty. What we didn’t know was that there was an unforgettable surprise waiting for us when we got there!