Susan Kurosawa takes a Cool Cab to cruise around Mumbai’s most fascinating stores
WHEN in Mumbai, shop. That is my mantra and a very fine one it is, too. Armed with a copy of Fiona Caulfield’s Love Mumbai guidebook and notes from previous visits, Travel & Indulgence ’ s contributing editor Christine McCabe and I are off to a flying start. There is something almost military about our precision; she has so many little page markers and fold-out charts, I feel as if we are about to invade a small country. And, if we are to consider South Bombay (SoBo) as a retail nation, then indeed we are. But first, like any serious invaders, we need a vehicle.
From the porte-cochere of the waterfront Taj Mahal Hotel at Colaba, opposite the landmark Gateway of India, the doorman summons us from the taxi stand a blue and silver airconditioned Cool Cab (expect to pay about 50 per cent more for an a/c cab than the standard black and yellow rattletraps that buzz about Mumbai like cranky old bumblebees). We are in luck; at the wheel is Mr Harish, who speaks English and is very gentlemanly about opening doors, adjusting airconditioning and, later, securing our packages in the boot.
It is not until the end of our frantic day that he tells us he is mentioned in Caulfield’s Love Mumbai guide and that we are ‘‘ most excellent shoppers, almost in league of Miss Fiona’’, and we must see him again next visit. His name card declares, with a degree of triumph, that he is ‘‘ always at Taj Mahal stand’’ but, of course, he’s not, such is the demand for his cool services.
We start, as invariably one does, at Central Cottage Industries at 34 Chatrapati Shivaji Marg, Apollo Bunder (as a bonus, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar’s eponymous restaurant is next door, on the first floor of Narang House). This rather dingy government-run emporium has (fairly low) fixed prices and desultory service but carries handicrafts from across India, including painted Rajasthani wooden screens and Kashmiri papier-mache boxes. www.cottageemporiumindia.com.
In a low-ceilinged upstairs space at Moshe’s Cafe in Fabindia, on M. G. Road, we order fizzy peachycheek drinks and sit under enormous white lanterns at a windowside table overlooking footpath stands of ‘‘ ladies underwearings’’ and mirrored sunglasses sheltered by bright mango-coloured umbrellas.
Our bags are bulging with the Fabindia village-spun cotton shirts and loose pants we have selected from well-organised shelves downstairs. These compartments also hold a cargo of bed linen, curtains and bolts of fabric, all in natural fibres. Fabindia was founded more than 40 years ago and there are stores throughout India; spend money here and you are supporting traditional artisans. www.fabindia.com.
There’s a similar philosophy of sustainable industry at the long-established Anokhi, with branches across the country; its readymade clothing is lovely, all loose and cool for those muggy subcontinental summers. Its most accessible Mumbai store is off Hughes Road in Chowpatty, north of Colaba. www.anokhi.com.
At Bombay Paperie, upstairs in a vast and rather empty space at 59 Bombay Samachar Marg, we go wild, swooping up deckle-edged notebooks with blockprinted covers, stationery sets, sheets of gold-stamped paper and gorgeous gift and wine-bottle bags with rope and furled paper flower ties. The paper here is produced by hand, according to age-old practice, at Daulatabad near Aurangabad, in Maharashtra, the west Indian state of which Mumbai is the capital. www.bombaypaperie.com.
Stationery becomes a leitmotif of our hunting and gathering as we descend on Chimanlals (and Mr Harish hunkers down in his seat for a nap). In Wallace Street, this colourful cavern is packed to bursting with notebooks, cards, sheets of paper with paisley motifs or parades of stylised elephants and tigers, bags, boxes and all manner of stationery, including gift envelopes with scalloped flaps (perfect for popping money or a gift voucher inside). Just glorious. www.chimanlals.com.
We lunch on fish curry and frothed pineapple juice at Leopold Cafe on Colaba Causeway ( Travel & Indulgence, July 5-6). Our choice of reading as we wait for our (cheap and delicious) meal is Suketu Mehta’s sociopolitical masterpiece on Mumbai, MaximumCity , and Gregory David Roberts’s novel Shantaram, with some of its scenes set at the raffish Leopold Cafe. www.leopoldcafe.com.
After we have bargained with gusto at Colaba Causeway’s strand of hawker stalls (velvet evening bags inset with sequins and little mirrors and bangles strung with glass baubles painted and textured to look like rows of lollies), Mr Harish drives us along the Arabian Sea shoreline to Nariman Point, home to the twostorey New Oberoi Shopping Centre behind the Oberoi Hotel. It’s a classy precinct with shiny floors and fierce airconditioning, but shopkeepers are willing to do deals, and the scallywag salesmen lounging outside their shops spare no compliments in their attempts to lure foreign madams inside.
We head straight for Regal Leather Goods, shop 58 on the street-level floor, which has the best handbags, totes and luggage in Mumbai. This is where international airline crews shop. J. K. is your man here, ever ready with a smile and a calculator.
Also worth looking at in the Oberoi mall are Shahenaz for fabrics, throws and pretty placemats and Nalini for custom-made saris and Punjabi tunics and trousers (allow at least three days). www.shahenazexports.co.in; www.nalinisarees.com.
Back to the southern tip of SoBo where, on Mandlik Road, running behind the Taj Mahal hotel, on the ground floor of Sunny House, Maspar sells bolts of divine fabric in jewel-bright patterns, cushions (choose one with your initial in cursive lettering), towels, aprons, bolsters and bed-throws. www.maspar.co.in.
In the chilled reaches of the Taj’s arcade, it’s into Ravissant, one of India’s most glamorous design brands (stores also in the New India Centre on Cooperage Road, Taj Lands End arcade and Kemps Corner). Here there are sterling silver baubles, jewellery, bedspreads and embroidered cushions; it’s like a subcontinental Tiffanys, with extra glitter, and full of socialite customers who look freshly lifted from the pages of a Shobha De tell-all novel. www.cest-ravissant.com.
Diagonally opposite Ravissant is the Indian Textile Company, where tissue-soft shawls, bedcovers and collectible fabrics are available; the salesmen do not pressure customers and, as is so often the case across India, hotel shops often have very good prices.
And then to our favourite bookshop, Nalanda, in the Taj Mahal’s rear arcade, past the marble vastness of the lobby. We scoop up the latest novels by our favourite Indian writers including, of course, Mumbai’s own, Rohinton Mistry, who writes of the imperilled fortunes of the city’s Parsi community (his must-read novels: A Fine Balance and Family Matters ). Nalanda is a good source of music CDs, too; look for traditional artists of the ilk of sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan. Later during this trip, in southern India, we will ask a gentle driver named Nagaraj to play our new Khan CD for us as we cruise around the shops of Bangalore. He obliges, at tiptop volume. Another day, another shopping cruise. India’s retail treasures twinkle to eternity. Susan Kurosawa was a guest of Qantas and Taj Hotels.
Qantas operates three services a week between Australia and Mumbai, the only direct route between Australia and India. Qantas also codeshares on Jet Airways return flights between Delhi and Singapore and Mumbai and Singapore. Qantas Holidays offers a nine-day Highlights of India escorted tour, visiting Mumbai, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. From $1599 a person twin share, including transportation and accommodation, daily breakfasts and sightseeing. Itineraries feature city tours of each destination, including Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. More: 131 415 or travel agents; www.qantas.com.au. To contact Mr Harish, check the taxi stand outside the Taj Mahal hotel or phone +91 9892 695 669. www.tajhotels.com www.incredibleindia.org
Shop and drop: Hit the arcades of the Taj Mahal Hotel
At your service: Gentlemanly Mr Harish is in demand for his cool services