Everything is turned up a notch in India. I mean way up. Before I left, I found this quote of Mark Twain's:
"India, the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous poverty, of splendor and rages, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps...the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined."
And how true it is after just two days. I just wrapped a very quick visit to Mumbai before moving on to Udaipur today. I stayed at The Oberoi Mumbai, a super sleek hotel that caters to a business crowd but was really comforting for me. As I toured the hotel, I kept thinking that this is the new face of modern luxury in India.
I especially loved the bright red piano in the lobby and the pops of red woven throughout the entire hotel's decor. The piano was put to great use in the evenings during cocktail hour and dinner.
The sea-facing views at The Oberoi are fantastic with a look at the Queen's Necklace, or Marine Drive. Marine Drive is home to many Art Deco buildings and reminded me a little bit of South Beach. Many of them are rent-controlled today and not well kept, unlike the newer, extremely pricey apartment buildings that are built next door.
Locals in Mumbai try to book reservations at the hotel restaurants and often can't because tables are full. The Hotel Hassler in Rome is one of my favorites and I found out they have a relationship with the Oberoi Mumbai's Vetra Italian restaurant, providing recommendations for food and chefs. I had the greatest Indian meal, especially the almond tikki, at Ziya, run by British superstar Chef Vineet Bhatia.
The spa at The Oberoi Mumbai is open TWENTY FOUR HOURS! I absolutely loved getting a treatment at 10:30 p.m. after a super packed day. Granted, I fell asleep towards the end of the massage but it was still wonderful.
Every minute, 51 babies are born in India. Cities like Mumbai, with a population north of 18 million, are a stunning study of contrast. Americans know Mumbai from Slumdog Millionaire and I was excited to see the Victoria Terminus Station where they sang Jai Ho at the end, hands-down the most gorgeous train station I've ever seen. It's also absurdly busy, with 1,500 local trains running a day and 3,000 buses. The architecture in downtown Mumbai, much of which remains from the British rule of 1858-1947, echoes of Victorian and English styles. I had romantic visions of the colonial rule due to these buildings, though I know that is far from the truth.
But even in my brief visit, Mumbai is so much more than the slums, the larger ones existing on the outskirts of the city. A quickly changing landscape with a frenetic pace but at the same time there are countless people on the streets sitting and doing nothing. I could easily be friends with the men and women I met, all ambitious, smart, worldly and fun to talk with about our shrinking world. Education is extremely important for India, as parents want their children to do better, to study at the universities here or leave and return to help make the country better.
"26-11," as they call it over here, was the day in 2008 (started November 26, ended November 29) when terrorists took over famous landmarks and hotels in Mumbai, including The Oberoi Trident, which is connected to The Oberoi Mumbai by an underground passage. Over 160 people were killed from these attacks. And I just came from Amman, where hotels were attacked in 2005. I haven't been scared for a minute. How can you be? Every safety precaution is taken at these hotels, and overly so now. These hotels are in cities that need to be visited to be fully understood. I felt very safe in Mumbai, especially snuggled up in my bed at The Oberoi. Little touches made this hotel for me, like the universal plug adapter at the computer desk, fluffy bathrobes and slippers, tech-savvy blackout screens for the windows, and most especially the pure, genuine service from the staff.