1 - Chor Bazaar
Nowhere is the lively spirit of Mumbai more in evidence than in these traditional places of commerce and co-mingling. For Chor Bazaar (‘Thieves Market’), start on Mutton Street and make your way through a maze of narrow lanes packed with large mosques, rickety temples and intricately carved Gujarati-style houses. There are shops overflowing with items you definitely don’t need, but can’t resist: antique clocks, phonographs, vintage books, statues, brass lamps and furniture from old Parsi and Kutchi homes. Don’t visit on a Friday, however, when most establishments are closed. Fifteen minutes away by car is Zaveri Bazaar, a century-old mecca for devotees of bling. The gold and diamonds are dazzling – and so is the parade of (mostly female) humanity that mills around the maze of lanes and jewellery workshops: Maharastrian women wearing glittering nose-pins, beaky-nosed Parsi princesses, gaudily made-up hijras (described as ‘eunuchs’ but many are men who live as women), burqa-clad Muslim women and portly Gujarati jewellers. It’s a fascinating place, although watch out for pickpockets.
2 - Fort area
Now head south towards the Fort area where an old British fort once stood. This is a great place to revel in Mumbai’s colonial past and the architecture that made it one of the finest Gothic cities in the world. Within a radius of three kilometres are scores of magnificent buildings representing Victorian, Venetian, Indo-Saracenic, Art Deco and even Assyrian styles. Do not miss viewing the Mint, dating from 1829, and the town hall that houses the Asiatic Society Library, a hushed world of priceless books and marble visages of Mumbai’s founding fathers. Nearby are the Cathedral of St Thomas and the Flora Fountain – the quintessential icon of Mumbai. Opposite the fountain is the neogothic Elphinstone Building and the neoclassical British Bank. Across the road is the Readymoney Mansion, a confection of carved woodwork. At the end of the road is Mumbai’s crowning masterpiece, the Victoria Terminus, an exuberant extravaganza of stately domes, spires and arches.
3 - Jehangir Art Gallery
Located at Kala Ghoda, also in the Fort area, is one of India’s premier showcases for contemporary expression. With presentations three times weekly, you’ll almost always be able to catch some event or activity. In fact, the entire neighbourhood has assumed a distinctly bohemian air, thanks to the spontaneous exhibitions that often spill out onto the pavement. Pick up an unusual visual piece at the Samovar Cafe, a popular hangout for both artists and art aficionados.
4 - Taj Mahal Palace
Built in 1903 by pioneering industrialist JN Tata after he was supposedly turned away from a European hotel for being ‘a native’, this magnificent structure may not be the epicentre of social swirl that it once was, but it’s still worth a peek. Spread throughout the original wing and the newer extension (built in 1970) are 565 rooms and suites, all updated for the 21st century with plasma-screen TVs, internet access and other high-tech amenities. Fortunately, much of the original interiors remain intact and have been lovingly preserved, such as the grand central staircase and a series of ornate galleries. And for those who relish rubbing shoulders with the local elite, this is certainly the place to do it. Apollo Bunder, Colaba, tel +91 22 6665 3355, tajhotels.com.
5 - Indigo
Indigo (4 Mandalik Road, Colaba, tel +91 22 5636 8999; open 12.30pm-3pm and 6.30pm-1.30am) is a small, elegant candle-lit restaurant ensconced in an old mansion. It features Mediterranean cuisine – try the rawas, pan-grilled Indian salmon, and goats’-cheese ravioli. A meal for two should cost roughly Rs6,000-Rs9,000 (£68-£102). Reservations are essential. For post-dinner drinks, go next door to Leopold’s (tel +91 22 2287 3362), which is the city’s oldest Iranian restaurant. The clientele is international and eclectic – it is another great spot to people-watch.
6 - Marine Drive
To carry the period ambience to the end of the evening, take a spin in a horse and buggy along the Marine Drive promenade. Here you can take in the Mumbai city lights, the smell of the Arabian Sea, and the boats that dock at the wharfs below the majestic Gateway of India. This is Mumbai’s signature landmark, commemorating the visit of George V in 1911. On most evenings, the area is full of strolling couples and families enjoying the sea breeze.
The best way to get around Mumbai is by hire car, to avoid the hassle of hunting down a cab and haggling over fares. Cars can be hired from hotels or from the India Tourism Development Corporation, tel +91 11 2288 0992. An air-conditioned car with driver costs Rs1,000 (£11.35) for a half-day (four hours).