Mumbai wakes like a drowsy giant: slowly, noisily and with momentous potential.
India’s most cosmopolitan city and powerhouse of finance and film likes to stay up late so mornings start calmly with the cries of green parrots and crows, azans drifting through the air and the dull roar of cars, buses and trains transporting millions of people – all set to a steady metronome of the Arabian Sea crashing into concrete breakwaters.
Plug into the entrepreneurial energy at Colaba Social, a shared workspace for artists and innovators that’s a café by day and a bar by night. Doors open at 9am for a breakfast of Iroon Junglee Poro (a supercharged masala omelette of tomato, onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric and chilli) or a “hangover” tray with bacon and eggs, a Virgin Mary, toast and bananas.
Take an Uber to the Haji Ali Dargah, a 15th- century mosque and tomb that shimmers like a mirage on the ocean’s surface. It can only be reached at low tide when the concrete jetty linking it to the shore emerges from the murky sea. Open to all faiths, the dargah is intensely spiritual (qawwali singers often perform, their voices echoing off the marble) and ridiculously romantic; a pilgrimage site that can be visited only when the forces of nature oblige.
Fort is Mumbai’s mercantile heart and a hive of activity by day, not least with the small army of tiffin wallahs delivering lunches to office workers. Linger with the locals over a glass of hot, milky-sweet street chai, pop into Chimanlals
for Indian-themed stationery then take a seat at Mahesh Lunch Home, 40 years strong and still the city’s finest Mangalorean fish restaurant. For lasting memories, order the tandoori pomfret.
From about 4.30pm, the axis of the city’s energy shifts to Marine Drive, the three-kilometre seafront boulevard between Chowpatty Beach and the skyscrapers of Nariman Point. In the hour or two before sunset, it’s a magnet for loiterers and lovers, shoeshine men and chaat (snack food) wallahs and anyone looking to unwind after a long, hot day. Marine Drive’s sundown parties, set against a smudgy pink sky, are Mumbai at its most carefree and blithe.
The city’s first licensed drinking establishment was Harbour Bar at the landmark Taj Mahal Palace hotel. Take a window seat, with a tall gin and tonic in hand, and watch the world promenade by. Then head upstairs to Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s modern Japanese dining room, Wasabi, which is ranked as one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. The omakase (chef’s choice) and sushi menus are founded on seafood flown in daily from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. Try the black cod miso or scallop gyoza. Reserve a table overlooking the Gateway of India for maximum romance – and maximum Mumbai.
Image: Taj Mahal Palace hotel