Holiday In India – Without a Tour Operator (Pt 2 – Travelling to and staying in Mumbai)
In this, the second part of my ‘holidaying in India’ post, I’ll be looking at the journey itself plus the stay in the city of Mumbai. Extra tips on booking can also be found in part one.
So with us all packed and ready to go, we set off from Manchester Terminal 1 at around 8pm, having firstly spent a short while in the Escape Lounge. On this occasion, I stupidly paid for fast track at the airport, only to find that at this time of night it really wasn’t needed as the security queues were non existent.
The Escape Lounge itself is not to bad, but I much prefer the 1903 Lounge, which has much better food and service. I forgot they had opened one of these in Terminal 1 at the time of booking however, so the Escape it was.
Boarding of the Emirates A380 was done in stages, with it being such a big plane this takes a short while, but finally we are onboard and cleared for takeoff.
The onboard entertainment options are huge, with literally thousands of films to choose from. I picked out Peterloo, a film based on the massacre in Manchester.
After a couple of hours, food is bought around – choice of Chicken or Beef, as always I seem to choose the wrong dish, however to be honest most of the time it all tastes exactly the same anyway. I have a drink of Gin and Tonic after my dinner. Many people have been asking for drinks throughout the flight, with one passenger, whom everyone seems to know (Maybe an Emirates Pilot on holiday), is continually being brought champagne and Bloody Mary’s.
I asked for a second drink when I see a member of Cabin Crew (I always feel bad using the call button to ask for a drink), but I’m told I cant have one as they are going to be serving tea and coffee. I thought to myself that they could have offered to bring me one after that service, but I gave up and settled for just the one single drink.
After the film and ‘Dinner’ I tried to get a few hours sleep. The trip to Dubai takes around 7 hours and its not long before we are descending into the airport.
It’s here that I really missed being on a Dreamliner, I have been suffering with a cold and even with my earplanes (Pressure equalising earbuds) I am starting to suffer, with the pain in my ears growing and growing, then finally only easing after yet another ruptured eardrum.
Feeling quite grotty, we disembarked and started our search for the lounge that I prebooked a few weeks earlier. The most visible lounge at the terminal is the Emirates business lounge, which due to reviews I decided not to risk for the 5 hours. Next to be spotted was the Marhaba lounge, which was also bookable through the likes of Holiday Extras and Emirates themselves. Then finally the tiny lounge that we had opted for – Lounge @ b. This lounge was booked via Swissport Executive Lounges website for £31.99 for 4 hours, per person. It had a small breakfast buffet of hot food as well as a fully stocked bar, however right now all we were interested in were the sofas within the quiet area.
These were perfect for relaxing and we both managed to lay down and get around 3 hours sleep – this was probably the lifesaver of this trip as it seemed to help eliminate jet lag later on.
After a sleep and a refresh, we made our way to the gate for the second leg of this trip. The Dubai to Mumbai leg was onboard the 777 and took around 2hr 45mins. A snack was served along with drinks, however with the cold and ear trouble, food and drink wasn’t really wanted.
On arrival at the airport, we collected our bags and made our way into the arrivals hall. Taxi’s are best ordered from the prepaid counters with a non ac local taxi costing around 600 INR (approx £6.50) to the city and takes around an hour.
One thing to consider here is that because the Indian rupee is a closed currency, you are unable to get any outside the country. There was an ATM however inside (these usually charge a fee) as well as exchange counters for changing sterling (These were offering around 83 INR per £) I however managed to allow the military stationed at the door to let me outside to use an ATM and let me back inside after (As a military airport, you are only allowed inside with a valid flight ticket). These ATM’s gave an exchange of approx 93 INR per £.
Taxi rides are always interesting, especially in a busy city like Mumbai, so they are not for the faint hearted. Moving through tight gaps between lorries and busses, the taxis weave their way through the traffic, inches from danger at any given moment, The sounds of horns surround you and fill every part of your senses.
Traffic was extra busy on the Saturday evening and the driver suggested we take a new toll bride over the bay. The bridge, which opened in 2009, takes around 15-20 mins off your journey and costs 70 INR for a car.
Finally we arrive at our hotel, the iconic Taj Mahal Mumbai Palace ands Towers.
Having originally been a mix up on booking with the dates I requested, I had booked the towers part of the hotel, which is a newer and less prestigious area. Although I was told that they would move me to a Palace Room on arrival if available, instead we had been upgraded to a Sea View in the tower.
Too tired and too poorly to argue, we took the room and were shown up. Despite being somewhat disappointed that I wasn’t getting to see the original rooms, I was very happy with the personal service from the guest relations who showed us to our room and offered us a drink to be sent to the room.
We admired the view from the room of the glorious India Gate, which was actually built after the hotel itself, then shortly after a knock on the door. A member of the F&B management team had personally come up to welcome us and allow us to try some Masala Milk. A milk based drink with saffron, cardamon, nuts and other spices, it was really needed at that moment and a really special touch. He offered to book us a table in one of the hotel restaurants, however as it was getting onto 9pm and with the journey, we just wanted to sleep.
The following day we awoke fresh and rested and headed down for breakfast. We sat outside and were bought fresh tea and coffee and asked to help ourselves to the buffet or to order fresh eggs, Eggs Benedict or other specials to be delivered to your table.
I tried a mixture of some Indian breakfast and English Breakfast Items, while enjoying a coffee or two.
Although being in a busy Mumbai street, the peace and tranquillity within the walls was a blissful serenity and we enjoyed the relaxation for around 30 minutes while sipping coffee.
Upon completion we headed out to the bustle of the streets outside and being located right by the Gateway of India, plus with it being a weekend, it was hard to even move through the streets right outside the hotel.
We decided to have a wander to Victoria Terminus, known also as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, which is a world UNESCO Heritage sight. Completed in 1887, its design is similar to London’s St Pancreas Station.
A marble statue of Queen Victoria once graced the building, however this was removed after partition when the then government ordered the removal of British Statues. It’s rumoured to have been left laying in the grass of then Victoria Gardens until at least the 1980’s, however there are no recorded of where the great statue ended up.
This is yet another location that was hit by the terrorists during the Mumbai attacks of 2008, but the terminus is also known for happier reasons as it was used for the filming of the song Jai Ho in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.
After the terminus, we doubled back and decided to head to the costal area of Marine Drive, the route took us through a subway, which resembled more of an underground disco with music and flashing lights, while stall holders tried to sell their variety of goods.
Finally we arrived at the sea wall, where we could just sit and watch the world go by.
The walk had been carried out purely with a map from the Dishoom Cookbook, taking us pass Hornimans Circle, Flora Fountian, we even searched for K Ruston and Co Ice Cream Parlour, unfortunately it no longer appeared to be open.
By now we were starting to feel a little peckish and so opted to head back towards the hotel and to the infamous Leopolds Cafe, one of the other casualties of the Mumbai terror attacks that hit the Taj Palace. Here in the restaurant, you can still see the bullet holes in glass and in the walls from that horrific day.
Back at the hotel, we joined a tour of the hotel grounds, into some of the banqueting halls and restaurant areas, as well the hotels very own art gallery. We listened to the stories of how Mr Tata built the hotel and also saw the memorial wall dedicated to those killed during the attacks.
Having had a tiring few days, I decided to book us into the Spa for some rest and relaxation. A couples massage, a soak in the pool and some champagne helped to take away the stresses of the travelling before we headed to the Sea Lounge restaurant for a snack before retiring for the night.
The Sea Lounge Restaurant exudes colonial charm, serving afternoon tea during the day and snacks in the evening, both accompanied by a grand piano being played. The restaurant was only the 2nd licensed bar in Mumbai (The first was the Harbour Bar, also located in the hotel).
We enjoyed a Keema Toastie and glass of wine, a real upmarket twist on a keema pau from the street stalls. I have to say that the taste was out of this world delicious.
We returned to the room to find some exquisite chocolates, which we enjoyed before retiring for the night, all ready for our journey to Goa the following day.
Breakfast at the hotel simply repeated the following day, but was still as special as before, perfect before checking out and getting a taxi to the airport. Taxis are quite cheap in and around Mumbai, just make sure you ask them to put on the meter and that its reset to zero before you set off. The 1 hour trip to the airport cost around 500 INR (Approx £5.25)
Checking in at the Air India counter, we were asked if we would like to upgrade to business class for around £47 per person. It’s only a 1 hour flight, but due to me still struggling with my ruptured ear drum, the thought of not having to queue for an hour to check in, going straight through a dedicated security area and having use of the lounge seemed worth it.
It was nice to be whisked straight through and to have big comfy seats on the plane as well as food and drink – but as the flight only took 45 mins, its not something I would usually bother with for such a short amount of time.
So we sat back and set off for the next sector of our trip – look out for part 3 where we look at staying in Goa as well as the journey back home.
Catch up on part 3 here