A trip to India is not complete without visiting the country’s capital of cool, where “cosmopolitan” feels a little too straitjacket to describe the pulse this city beats to. With over 18 million residents, the hustle and noise are relentless. The car horns provide a constant backdrop to the energy that is exhibited from those who are just trying to survive to those who are displaying cutting edge western brands.
Getting to and from the Airport
You are always at your most vulnerable when you first arrive in a new location. Never wanting to rely on the security that a highly overpriced hotel car will cost you for a man with sign with your name on it at Arrivals, we would recommend getting a prepaid taxi. The booth can be found just inside the main arrivals hall, and a trip into Colaba (the main tourist spot) will set you back around 750 rupees plus another 55 rupees for the new bridge toll. Don’t be concerned that the luggage loaded on the poor excuse for a roof rack will at some point join the highway floor – a combination of physics and good luck will keep it there. The 25 km trip will take somewhere between 1 hour (bad traffic), 1.5 hours (very bad traffic) or 2 hours (normal traffic). Prepare your ears for the constant horns, your eyes for last minute weaving and a will for peace of mind.
Where to stay?
There are many options in Mumbai from cheap guest houses to luxury hotels. For us, there was only 1 choice – the historic and legendary Taj Mahal Palace. Steeped in tradition, this phoenix has risen from the ashes following the horrific terror attacks in 2008. With all visible scars removed and the security significantly heightened the hotel has been restored to the splendor of the colonial age. The magnificent architecture is only matched by service levels we have never experienced before. From check in to check out, no staff member can do enough to make you feel like a visiting member of the British Royal Family. The rooms are exquisite, the food divine and the price tag reasonable if you stay outside of peak season (December to February).
The good news is the must-see sites of Mumbai can be viewed through a good walk. Starting at the historic Gate of India, where the British departed India in 1946, you can take some great photos of the Taj Mahal Palace. There are obviously the usual touts, tourist tack sellers and everyone else you can think of trying to claim some of your dollars. Unless interested, just say no and walk on.
Next stop is the Prince of Wales Museum (locally now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya), which offers some wonderful colonial architecture. Carrying on heading up the road through the bazaars and financial district to the Victoria Terminal (aka Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), the largest train station in Asia and a World Heritage site. Take a peek inside and try to avoid being carried away by a sea of people in a hurry.
Turning back you can take a walk to the Rajabai Clock, which is set inside the University grounds. Following the 2008 attacks you cannot enter the grounds, but the impressive views can be seen from the nearby park where you can also enjoy watching several cricket matches at any hour of the day. Watch out for flying balls!
Head back to Colaba Causeway and indulge in some shopping, but make sure you haggle. Electric Bombay, FabIndia and Good Earth offer air conditioned options if looking for fashion, local attire and handicrafts.
Where to eat
For lunches, Indigo Deli offers an upmarket deli option with Perrier water to suit. Cafe Mondegar provides a more down to earth offering with hundreds of options from around the world.
We chose to dine on the rooftop at Indigo, and the food matched our elevated position. Local seafood meeting Indian spices made for a mouth-watering combination. We went for a local Indian wine, Sula, which served as our bottle of choice for the rest of our trip (we quickly worked out drinking imported wines would bankrupt us).
Watch out for
December to February are considered the coolest months in Mumbai, but with that brings the bigger crowds and higher prices. We chose to visit in late March and we started to feel the heat rise to a bearable high 30s, with significant humidity. We were warned to avoid the months of June and July when near 100% humidity and high 40s heat can drive many to the edge in a city that is often already there.
Crossing the road is like riding a roller-coaster– thrills, adrenaline, fear, surprise and relief. Our best approach was to cross with a few locals to create a large mass for drivers to swerve around.
It’s hard not to stand out like a walking dollar sign, and for that many will want to talk to you. Wear a money belt, and say no while on the move. Most will give up at this point. Avoid anything that sounds too good to be true – you can only be scammed if you are greedy (quote from Hustle).
Go for It
Go in with your eyes and heart open, and you will leave Mumbai feeling exhausted, overwhelmed but alive with the energy and vibrancy you have just been a part of.
Having lived on 12th in Kitsilano for about 18 months, we realised that we had never actually tried dinning out in our immediate neighbourhood!
Our first stop just off Granville Street was Vij’s restaurant, which has legendary status amongst our friends in Vancouver. We soon discovered this reputation was not limited to our immediate circle as the hostess informed us it was an hour and half wait for a table for 2 (it was Saturday night after all). To pacify our obvious disappointment, the hostess suggested that we go grab a cocktail at West Bar & Restaurant just one block away while we waited.
West Bar & Restaurant
We soon discovered that this fine dining restaurant is the perfect place to enjoy a personalised pre-dinner cocktail from the “World’s Most Imaginative Bartender,” David Wolowidnyk. David won this prestigious award (to go with his many others) in a recent global competition organised by Bombay Sapphire where he wowed the judges with his Pastorini creation – a recipe of Bombay Sapphire gin, a light jasmine green tea and pink grapefruit peel infusion and a juniper berry meringue!
In the hands of a true creative cocktail making genius, our liquor preferences were discussed before our tipples of choice were carefully selected by the extremely affable bar tender (see link for full cocktail menu). While our drinks were being concocted, we were treated to a few cocktail related stories of how Jim Bean makes its various whiskeys based on the height of their storage, how mint julep is made and why peach foam is not whipping cream! However, it was hard to keep up with the cocktail education as we were both mesmerised by the speed and team work that the 2 bar tenders showed while making our drinks……it was a beautiful thing to watch two artists working in unison, all for our benefit of us! Paul’s Knob Creek whiskey, mint julep with peach foam was phenomenal, while Helena’s Kakkoii (gin and plum wine, cinnamon syrup and fresh lemon) was brilliantly refreshing.
With fascinating stories, an exhibition of some amazing cocktail making skills and great tasting original drinks (at just $12 each) it was a great way to start any evening!
Returning to Vij’s an hour later Lady Luck was on our side as we were immediately shown to a table in the centre of the dimly lit and tranquil restaurant, whose ambience was created by the excited chat of its casually dressed patrons.
Our immediate attention was drawn to the menus in front of us, where each mouth-watering dish jumped off the page. Wanting to order everything, we decided to share dishes and after some UN Security Council level negotiations involving some trading of future naan bread rights we went for the wine marinated lamb popsicles in fenugreek cream curry on turmeric and spinach potatoes, and BC spot prawns in coconut and fenugreek masala with wheat berry pilaf rice. The pork tenderloin in tangy cayenne and ginger curry, and braised beef short ribs with roasted okra and walnuts will have to wait for our return! We also settled on a half-litre of pinot blanc at a very reasonable $29.
Immediately on ordering we were presented with some complimentary starters, by a casually dressed but extremely happy waiter who was the most popular man in the building. Although we did not catch the name of the tasty treats, they were all brilliant on the taste buds and left us stupidly excited about the arrival of the main course!
Our beautifully presented food arrived within 10 minutes of ordering and came with phenomenal nan bread. The spot prawns in masala sauce and pilaf rice was amazingly rich in taste, and the prawns super tender and bursting with flavour. The succulent lamb cutlets were presented on the bone, and served with soft spinach potatoes in a complementing creamy sauce. Refills of naan bread and rice were available (there was no need to trade rights on these after all), as was a doggie bag.
Without doubt, it was the best Indian food we have tasted in Vancouver, and we will certainly be returning to try more of the menu. Total cost of the meal with wine was a reasonable $115 including tax and tip
The service was casual and friendly with all serving staff being happy to meet every customer’s request.
Celebration of Light
With our doggie bag safety in tow, we started the 20 minute walk to Kits beach to watch the annual celebration of light fireworks display which started at 10pm.
The festival attracts over 600,000 visitors each night so it’s wise to get there early to grab a good spot and set up your camp. This was advice we failed to follow, so we settled for some kerb grass which offered a nearly unimpeded view.
The fireworks we saw were from Thailand, and spectacularly lit up the night sky for a full 25 minutes pleasing the huge crowds on land, at sea and in the air.
A great ending to a lovely evening in and around our home on 12th – a perfect twelfth night!
Can’t decide what to eat on a Saturday night? Well fear not because your indecision can be solved by a trip to the Richmond Night Market where the abundance of food stalls from around the world will meet all your taste buds needs. The Richmond Night Market is open from May to October every Friday and Saturday from 6pm to midnight, and Sunday nights from 7 to 11pm. The market is located at 8351 River Rd, just off the junction of Bridgeport and No. 3 Road in Richmond, BC.
Why Visit Richmond Night Market?
– The main reason everyone visits the Market is to try out the huge variety of food offerings from all over the world. We adopted a time-consuming reconnaissance approach which involved walking 200m in a zig zag fashion to weave through packed stalls to view what was on offer before deciding on our top 4 tasty treats….
- Rotato – a finely cut, spiralled, deep-fried and seasoned potato on a stick which is amazing to watch being produced, and even better to eat. Wait time for this popular snack was around 20 minutes, and cost was around $5.
- Deep fried Seafood Takoyaki Balls – sold in packs of 6 for $5 these were very tasty and also piping hot with a 2 minute queue.
- BBQ skewers from Chef James – there are a few alternatives in the BBQ category but we decided to go with Chef James as he had the biggest flames and grill! Lamb, beef and prawn skewers were all excellent! Queue time was around 10 minutes for this $6 snack.
- Mango Shaved Ice from Mango Yummy was an excellent way to finish off the evening with a huge portion for a reasonable $5.75…we were still eating it 20 minutes later when we got back to the car!
– For an idea of all the snack options available, check out this food photo gallery from Urbanspoon.
– The market also has a large stage featuring live entertainment who compete with some of the 90s dance classics that are being pumped out through the PA system.
– In addition to food stalls, 50% of the markets “retail space” is dedicated to non-food pitches selling everything from the usual iPhone covers and pet accessories to the less than usual samurai swords (these were surprisingly buy one get one free) and Apocalypse Surplus survival gadgets!
– The event has 1500 free parking stalls and is situated next to Bridgeport Skytrain station, a 20 minute ride from Downtown Vancouver
– The Richmond Night Market has a token $2 entry fee, and it’s free for kids under 10 or seniors over 60. Frequent attendees can obtain a zoom pass which entitles holders to a number of free admissions.
– There are fun games and activities such as “pond” zorbing!
– The Market offers a Magic Duck Island Adventure Board Game with apparently $100,000 worth of prizes. Given we had no idea how to play (we think it was like monopoly) it might be worth entering as contestant entries could be low!
Watch out for…
– The biggest hurdle to an enjoyable time at the market will become apparent as soon as you decide to drive there! While the 1500 car parking spaces was during our visit sufficient supply to meet demand, the access roads into the site are not. It took us approximately 45 minutes of queuing on the local roads before we could park the car. Our advice, go early or take the Skytrain.
– The market is hugely popular which can mean some big waits for the more popular food items on offer. The Rotato was a 20 minute wait so we quickly developed a survival strategy of eating our recently purchased food in the queue for our next treat!
– With over 800,000 visitors in 2012, this is one of North America’s largest night markets so if you don’t like big crowds and tight space come early or late as it gets very busy especially around the food stalls.
– For anyone wanting a beer to quench the thirst after a long week at work, you will have to wait longer as there is no beer tent!
– Although ATMs are provided on site, bring cash to avoid the big queues as most stalls are cash only.
– No Richmond Night Market visitors are allowed to park at River Rock Casino Parkades at anytime, something that looks strictly enforced by some big looking security guard types!
– Lastly, make sure you don’t have dinner before you go, otherwise you will be too full to enjoy all the tasty treats on offer!
In Summary, a reasonably priced evening out which will reward your taste buds, just make sure you take the Skytrain there!