Mumbai is “the New York” of India; it is the financial, entertainment and cultural capital, and it is the country’s largest metropolitan area, with a population approaching 20 million packed onto what was once an archipelago of islands along the Arabian Sea. It is home to the Reserve Bank of India and the Bombay and National Stock Exchanges. Bollywood, India’s huge film and television industry, as well as its largest corporations, like the Tata Group and Reliance Industries are all here, as are the India offices of most large international corporations. In short, nearly every business trip to India involves a stop in Mumbai.
Because the city is so
massive -- and traffic clogged -- orientation is key. Like Manhattan, much of
the commercial core of Mumbai is jammed onto a long narrow strip of land with
water on either side.
At the southern end,
you will find the graceful, old-world financial district, stock exchanges,
banking offices, railway stations, the main wharf, British-influenced colonial architecture
and upscale districts such as Malabar Hill and Nariman Point.
On the northern side,
where there is more room to grow, you will find Bandra, the burgeoning new
technology centre, sleek high-rise office buildings, apartments and hotels, much
of Bollywood and the giant Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
In 2009 the
eight-lane, 5.6km Bandra-Worli Sea Link bridge was completed along the west
coast of the peninsula, cutting about an hour off the commute between north and
south and leading to even more growth for Bandra.
Hotel: Elegant or edgy?
At nearly 100 years
old, the Taj Mahal Palace is the grandest dame in town -- a hotel that is
deeply woven into the history and social fabric of the city. It is located in
southern Mumbai overlooking the harbour and the famous Gateway of India
monument. The recently
restored Palace Wing includes several luxurious suites, from the glittering
(and rambling) 5,000-sq-ft Tata Suite, where US President Barack Obama recently
holed up, to the classy Ravi Shankar Suite, adorned with one of the musician’s
famous sitars and photos depicting his collaboration with the Beatles. Less
expensive rooms (with better views and balconies) are in the newer Tower Wing. Rates
start at around INR 12,400 per night.
To the north, a new 202-room Four Seasons
hotel opened in 2008, offering the familiar luxury surroundings that the chain
is known for, plus the spectacular Aer bar on
the roof of the 34-storey tower with
commanding views of the entire region. The recently re-designed, contemporary Oberoi Mumbai has long been
considered one of the plushest perches in town at the water’s edge on Nariman
Point. A brand new 412-room Shangri-La hotel strategically located in nearby Lower Parel, the
midway point between northern and southern Mumbai, will open in mid-2012.
Further north, discerning travellers flock to the new 435-room Trident hotel in the Bandra-Kurla complex, featured in
Conde Nast’s 2010 “Hot List” of new hotels.
Although it was built in the 1970s, the recently
renovated Vivanta President hotel in South Mumbai, attracts a younger,
hipper business traveller with mod designer touches. There is a very busy lobby
scene, with the thumping, DJ-hosted Wink
Bar and three restaurants that cater to an upscale local crowd as well as
hotel guests. At check in, ask for a small but chic “deluxe delight” room
between the ninth and 16th floors, offering parquet wood floors, raw
silk covered walls, wooden accents and great views. Rates start at around INR
9,930 per night. If the city’s crowded conditions are too much for you, and you
have business in Bandra, check into the resort-like, beach-side 326-room JW Marriott, with
one of the best pool decks in India. It has all the business amenities you
would expect from Marriott, plus great people-watching since the hotel is a popular
hangout for Bollywood stars.
While there are plenty
of hotels where business travellers might “do” their deals, the Taj Mahal Palace,
with its lively lobby full of fine restaurants and bars, is where a local will
bring you to celebrate once the deal is done. You have plenty to choose from too: if the weather is nice, sit in wicker
chairs in the covered patio by the sumptuous pool area, nibble on light snacks
and sip gin and tonics -- like something out of colonial times. Some of the
best Indian food in the city is served at Masala
Kraft where chefs have lightened traditional fare using extra virgin olive
oil instead of butter. To celebrate the closing of a really big deal, duck into
the posh, European-inspired Zodiac
Grill, considered one of India’s finest. Or, take the elevator up to Souk,
located on the hotel’s roof, to see the sunset over Mumbai harbour, or watch
chefs prepare pungent Middle Eastern dishes in the open kitchen.
Do not do this!
Do not worry about the
confusion over the name of the city. Officially, the anglicized name “Bombay” (considered
by many to be originally derived from Portuguese words bom baia, or “good bay”) was replaced with local-language version
“Mumbai” in 1995. However, when speaking
English, most locals still refer to the city as Bombay -- and you can, too. It
is not considered offensive, but when in doubt, go with Mumbai.
Off the clock
Mumbai is a mélange of
extremes. Great wealth and great poverty. Striking new design and ancient
ruins. Mansions and slums. Superhighways and dark alleyways. Gorgeous
perfume-like scents and putrid squalor. Hot curry and ice cream. Also like New
York, there is something for everyone here, and trying to take it all in on a
short business trip is a big mistake. The best advice for a business traveller
with limited time is to hire a local guide (via your hotel concierge or travel agent) and
focus on one or two things that appeal to you.
Chris McGinnis is the business
travel columnist for BBC Travel