Drive-by shop­ping

Su­san Kuro­sawa takes a Cool Cab to cruise around Mum­bai’s most fas­ci­nat­ing stores

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

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.

Check­list

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

Pic­ture: Su­san Kuro­sawa

At your ser­vice: Gen­tle­manly Mr Har­ish is in de­mand for his cool ser­vices

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