Best of the West – A foodie itinerary to West India

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Best of the West – Highlights of West India Foodie Itinerary Ideas

Mumbai

Why Go?

Workers from across India, seeking to make it ‘big’ in the bright lights, bring authentic regional food  to Mumbai including India’s best range of creative street food (like Vada Pav, Behl Puri and Pao Bhaji).

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Try Parsi cuisine, originally from Persia…most fun at Britannia and Co.

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Don’t miss the dabbawallah unwritten delivery system that takes thousands of home cooked lunches to workers every day.

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Visit local food markets and Sassoon Dock fish market.

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All set against stunning colonial architecture…and surprisingly innovative and creative high density living in Mumbai’s many ‘slums’.

Check out:

Reality Tours and Travel – Excellent, great value tours around Mumbai that include the famous Mumbai street food, the dabbawallah delivery system and a socially responsible, sensitive Dharavi slum tour.

Where to Stay?

Colaba is the best area to stay, and a night in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (while quite expensive) is a once in a life time experience.

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Another good spot in Colaba is the Ascot Hotel  – more budget friendly prices, but still an excellent location.

http://www.ascothotel.com/

http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Hotel_Review-g304554-d606365-Reviews-Ascot_Hotel-Mumbai_Bombay_Maharashtra.html

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How to get there?

Mumbai is a major airport in India and good airlines often have specials. Check out Singapore Airlines for regular specials.

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Jodhpur

Why Go?

Dine with fantastic rood top views of the mighty Mehrangarh Fort and beautiful ‘Blue City’.

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Head to the clock tower to try regional snack food favourites including the famous rich lassi, have lunch with a local village family and experience a delicious Rajasthani thali at Gypsy Dining Rooms.

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Where to Stay?

Raas

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But also consider Castle View Home Stay for an amazing view, very thoughtful and kind host and great prices.

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How to get there? 

Mumbai to Jodhpur return $186 Jet Airways (online booking).

Jaisalmer

Why Go?

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Dine roof top on the massive, sandcastle-like fort that rises out of the desert, above this ‘Golden City’ and enjoy regional Rajasthani dishes in between visiting gorgeous havelis and perhaps enjoying a camel safari.

 Where to Stay? 

Garh Jaisal

Gorgeous, well priced rooms with window seats, each a different colour and lovely roof top spot for drinks and breakfast.

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How to get there?

Hire a good sized car (e.g. Toyata Innova) from one of the many car and diver businesses.

(About 4.5 hours from Jodhpur. Stop for a snack or lunch at Manvar Resort and Desert Safari Camp or Samsara Resort long the way).

Goa

Why Go?

A distinct Portuguese influenced cuisine in a setting of post colonial architecture featuring whitewashed churches and colourful villas as well as beautiful beaches.

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Lunch at a spice plantation, visit local Mapusa market on a Friday and marvel at the lush greenery of rice paddies and coconut palms.

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Where to Stay?

Anjuna

(home to the famous Wednesday Flea Market)

Casa Anjuna

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or Marbella Guest House (Candolim)

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How to get there?

Mumbai to Goa return $152 Jet Airways (online booking).

A virtual tour of Mumbai with Rick Stein

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Watch Rick Stein's India on ABC TV for great India itinerary ideas

The first half of BBC’s ‘Rick’s Stein’s India’ second episode is all about Mumbai and you can travel there yourself, without leaving home.

Visit Sassoon Dock fish market, eat Berry Pulao at Brittania & Co and meet Mr Kohinoor, go with Krishna from Reality Tours & Travel as he takes Rick to his favourite fish curry restaurant and on a tour of Dharavi slum, and play cricket on Oval Maiden.

Reality Tours & Travel – a great way to taste the best of Mumbai

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Reality Tours & Travel offers really great, good value tours around Mumbai that include the famous Mumbai street food, the dabbawallahs that deliver thousands of home cooked lunches to workers, without ever writing anything down, and a socially responsible, sensitive Dharavi slum tour.

It’s a best way to see and try lots of the best of Mumbai, in a short time. It’s hard to pick a favourite tour, but it might have been the Public Transport Tour – the dabbawallahs and Dadar flower market were hard to top.

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Reality Tours and Travel has the most amazing local guides to show you around and uses 80% of its profits to fund community development projects in Mumbai’s slums.

And Evelyn at the end of the phone and email, is lovely, endlessly patient, always available, and genuinely trying to organise you the best experience.

Mumbai’s Dharavi ‘slum’ – not what you expect!

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Dharavi Slum Mumbai is surprising!

Its easy to see the things that aren’t so great about Mumbai’s 2,000 slums. And there’s definitely plenty of opportunities to improve workplace safety, sanitation and water supplies. However, these isssues are not unique to slums, they are shared by communities and countries throughout the world.

But if instead you go looking for all the good things in Dharavi, you might well be very surprised. The community shows great creativity and innovation, collaboration and co-operation, to make the most of a small space and enable many people to migrate to Mumbai from villages for work and opportunities, and to live together on land they don’t own.

And once you understand a bit more about Mumbai’s ‘slums’, it can look very different from first impressions.

Mumbai is the worlds most densely populated city. Dharavi has 1.5 million people per square kilometre. In Mumbai, the government owns more than half the land. Dwellings built on government land are legally owned, and have some services like electricity and some water, but are technically called ‘slums’ . In Mumbai, you are more likely than not be living on government land, and as such, living in a ‘slum’. That’s why people working in a wide range of jobs, including  professional people, often live in slums in Mumbai and why Mumbai has so many slums.

But houses are very small, really just one tiny room, with maybe just washing facilities for women. 1,500 people share each toilet, that is only cleaned about four times a month.

However, in Dharavi there are schools, hospitals, markets, banks , a cinema ( of sorts) and plenty of creative industry. And no begging or signs of poverty.

Clearly there are many challenges, but also many things to admire.

It reminded me of a mixture of an Australian beach camping ground with minimal shared facilities, crowded with families in January, with tents packed tightly together and everyone working in with each other to make a small space and basic facilities work for everyone. But it also reminded me of the retirement communities that are popular, where people buy a house, but don’t own the land, live in community and start up all sorts of clubs and co-operative groups in their ‘closed’ community to make life better for everyone.

The best way to see Dharavi for yourself is with Reality Tours & Travel. Not only is this their signature tour that started them off, but 80% of their profits support a Dharavi based NGO ‘Reality Gives‘.

(Photos provided by Reality Tours & Travel, as photography is not permitted on tours, for community privacy).

 

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Dabba-wallahs – Mumbai’s famous lunch delivery system in action

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20140817-155443-57283937.jpgIf you loved the movie ‘The Lunchbox’ (and even if you missed it) it’s a real treat to see Mumbai’s dabba-wallah’s in action. Every work day, around 5,000 Dabba-wallahs, collect 150,000-200,000 lunch boxes (‘tiffins’ or ‘dabbas’) from homes and deliver them to offices and schools so that thousands of workers and students can eat home cooked meals. Each layer of the dabba tin contains a different part of the meal, rice, breads, vegetable curry, dahl etc.

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Its fascinating to stand outside Churchgate or CST Station in Mumbai at lunchtime and watch the lunches arrive on bikes, handcarts and wooden trays carried on the head and then to be re-sorted according to a coding system that requires no literacy. The collaboration between dabba-wallahs, who not only collect and return dabbas from and  to homes across Mumbai, but (at no extra cost) also take any food labelled with a ‘share’ sticker to a food distribution centre for needy people ‘on the way’ is very impressive. Especially when you think that less than one in a thousand lunch boxes ever goes astray.

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A Mumbai Heritage Architecture Walk with dabbawallahs and great eats along the way!

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High Court

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It’s very easy and lovely to take a brief (1.5 hour/2.5 km) walk around the very best of Mumbai’s heritage architecture. A wonderful mix of colonial-era and art deco buildings are closely grouped together in the neighbouring Colaba and Fort districts. The Lonely Planet Guides have a good map with directions.

On a work day, you can also see dabba-wallahs at work outside Churchgate station and the walk takes you near some great eating spots like Samrat Restaurant (for thalis from noon) (near Eros Cinema), Trishna (for seafood from noon) (between Sasson Library and St Thomas’ Cathedral), Bademiya (behind Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, from about 7pm) and  Olympia Coffee House (Chilla Muslim cuisine, Colaba) (near Regal Cinema and the Majestic Hotel).

Start at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, and on your way you will pass the Gateway of India, Royal Bombay Yacht Club, Dhunraj Mahal, Regal Cinema, Sailors Home (now Maharashtra Police Headquarters), Regal Cinema, Majestic Hotel, National Gallery of Modern Art, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum (formerly ‘Prince of Wales Museum’), Elphinstone College, David Sassoon Library, New India Assurance Building, Flora Fountain, St Thomas’ Cathedral, Horniman Circle, Town Hall, High Court (well worth going inside to see hundreds of gowned advocates and dozens of court rooms in action), University of Mumbai, Rajabi Clock Tower, Oval Maidan and Eros Cinema.

Go India offers some good ideas and background to key sights too.

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University of Mumbai

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Majestic Hotel                                                     Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

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Elphinstone College, Sassoon Library                       St Thomas’ Cathedral

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CST Terminus (not on this walk)                   Gateway to India

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Taj Mahal Palace Hotel                                    Dhunraj Mahal

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Sailor’s Home                                  National Gallery of Modern Art,

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Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum (formerly ‘Prince of Wales Museum’) & Elphinstone College

 

 

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David Sassoon Library                  Rajabi Clock Tower

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New India Assurance Building                       Flora Fountain

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Oval Maidan                                                       High Court

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Rajabi Clock Tower                        Eros Cinema

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Regal Cinema                                   Samrat Restaurant on J Tata Rd (near Eros Cinema)

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Bademiya kebab stall (two streets behind the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel), loved by locals!

 

 

 

 

 

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai – a unique experience

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A night at the Taj Mahal Palace heritage hotel, is more like a themed experience than just a night’s nice accommodation.  From the hope of a possible upgrade, to the showmanship of Viren, on the heritage tour of the hotel’s history, to just enjoying the ambiance of  a hotel with such an iconic place in Mumbai’s identity, it’s all great fun.

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Also, the longer spent there, the more you find a genuine commitment to the personal needs of guests, which is truly lovely.

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The downsides are the significant cost and also a reluctance to leave the hotel and miss out on anything. It deserves full attention, so best timed after major sightseeing.

Rooms start at about $AUS 254 (Sat/Sun) for a city view in the newer Tower Wing.

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While this might miss out on some of the atmosphere of the older historic Palace Wing (Luxury Grande Rooms start at $AUS 396 (Sat/Sun)for a city view), the older rooms are limited by the era in which they were built and are quite small.

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Club Room

Paying more for a sea view of the Gateway to India ($436 (Sat/Sun)for a Luxury Grande Sea View Room in the Palace Wing), might sound good, but there is no balcony or floor length window to really enjoy it.

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The best parts of the hotel i.e. delicious breakfast by the pool, heritage tour, colonial architecture, history, sense of style, pool and luxurious atmosphere can just as easily be enjoyed when staying in the cheaper rooms. The Taj is very well located for Colaba Eateries (Olympia Coffee House, Bademiya as well as Leopold’s Cafe and Indigo Deli if you’re looking for Western foods) and enjoying the surrounding heritage architecture close by, like the Gateway of India, Royal Bombay Yacht Club, Dhunraj Mahal, Regal Cinema, Sailors Home (now Maharashtra Police Headquarters), Regal Cinema, Majestic Hotel, National Gallery of Modern Art, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum (formerly ‘Prince of Wales Museum’).

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If you do decide to lash out for a Palace Wing Room, consider paying a little more ($AUS475 Sat/Sun) for a city view Club Room (includes airport pickup) on a high floor, with not only Palace Lounge Privileges (all day tea/coffee and biscuits, but also Club Room privileges of  high tea 3:30-5:30pm, cocktails and hor d’oevres (6:30-8:00pm), cognac/Bailey’s/Kalua and chocolates (9:30-10:30pm), butler service, early check in (9:00am) and late check out (6:00pm – can just squeeze in one more high tea!). (See what I mean about, needing your full attention!).

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Make the most of the weekend (Sat/Sun) rate.

But a much cheaper alternative, to still get a sense of what all the fuss is about is to visit for a full, elaborate high tea (3:30-7pm) in the Sea Lounge  that includes Mumbai street food delicacies like bhel puri, sev puri, and pani puri (for about $AUS 27 per person).

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