In the Land of Bollywood and Beyond

Discovering Mumbai

19 DECEMBER 2014,
Ganesh visarjan day in Mumbai, India © Sandeepa Chetan
Ganesh visarjan day in Mumbai, India © Sandeepa Chetan

Mumbai is the economic powerhouse of India. It is easily the fastest moving, most affluent and the most industrialized city in India. This enchanting city is the stronghold of free enterprise and a major manufacturing centre for everything from cars and bicycles to pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals. The city also happens to be India’s financial centre and the hub of India’s burgeoning film industry - “Bollywood”, which has carved a niche for itself in the competitive global cinematic enclave.

Recently, a team of 20 Archaeologists from France had come on a fortnight’s visit to India to attend an international seminar in the city of Mumbai for a “Workshop on Archaeology”, conducted by the University of Mumbai. I was entrusted with the task of guiding the group during their 10 days long stay in India and as a token of affection to the French guests, the Department of Tourism, Government of Maharashtra offered the entire group a complimentary weeklong train journey aboard the luxurious Deccan Odyssey, which is ranked amongst the best luxury trains in the world and is up there with the likes of the Orient Express of Europe, the Eastern and Oriental of South East Asia and the Blue Train of South Africa.

But isn’t Mumbai unputdownable? So, off we went on a roller-coaster ride of Mumbai, India’s Manhattan. My discerning French guests were absolutely awed by the city’s rich colonial heritage. The British took possession of all the islands, seven to be precise, in the year 1668 and the rest, as they say, is history with the city witnessing accelerated developments on all fronts – commercial, industrial, financial and as a much sought after trading centre.

The principal part of this exciting metropolis is concentrated at the southern end of the island, while the northern part is relatively less populated. We toured the city’s southern promontory – Colaba Causeway, as well as the northern end which is known Colaba.

The city’s two main landmarks – the iconic Gateway of India and the magnificent Taj Mahal Hotel made my French guests wonder with amazement to the sheer class and sophistication of this part of Mumbai. We proceeded up north, all the way to Mumbai Fort, which is where some of the city’s most impressive historical edifices are located.

As we drove to the west of the Fort, we discovered Back Bay around which sweeps the Marine Drive. The southern end of this drive is marked by Nariman Point, the city’s business district replete with luxurious hotels, skyscrapers, airline offices and banks. The other end of the drive is the picturesque Malabar Hill, which is India’s version of Malibu.

Since we had just a day left before being onboard the Deccan Odyssey, we made a quick detour of Mumbai’s film studios, which churn out the quintessential Bollywood Masala Films. This has earned it the worldwide fame and recognition as the world’s biggest film producing city. Awesome isn't it?

Contrary to popular beliefs, a visit to the city’s film studios isn't all that difficult to arrange. Thanks to the cooperation of Maharashtra Tourism Department, we landed on the sets of Whistling Woods Studio, which is ideally located at Aarey and happens to be Asia's largest film, television, animation & arts institute. We were told that this state-of-the-art studio was patronised by one of India’s most renowned film producer - Subhash Ghai.

The guided tour of the film studio was an education in itself for my French guests and they were amazed to know that no Indian film is made “one-at-a-time” as in the west. A big star like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan could be involved in a number of films simultaneously - shooting a day on one, a week on another, a morning on a third. This involves phenomenal scheduling and also means that Indian films generally take a long time to complete.

After all the excitement of the film studio, we decided to have an impromptu lunch on the Chowpatty Beach and we hired the services of the quintessential Mumbai “Dabba Walla”. The beach at Chowpatty is one of those typical slices of life where anything and everything can happen. For instance, the sight of Mumbai’s popular snack – “Bhelpuri”, being expertly prepared by the beach vendor was pretty amusing to my French guests. What is more, since it was that time of the year when the annual festival of Ganesh Chaturthi had just ended, the chaotic immerssion of the elephant - headed god on the sea waters was simply amazing.

Now, cometh the time, cometh the train – the luxurious Deccan Oddyssey. As the train chugged off from the Chatrapatti Shivaji Terminus, the quintessential whistle blew its final salutation to all that was royal and grand about the state of Maharashtra. The train with its 21 royal coaches out of which 11 coaches are exclusively meant for passengers offered all the royal indulgences one would associate with the erstwhile Indian royalty. Apart from passenger coaches, the train also had an exclusive coach dedicated for conferencing and two coaches that served as royal restaurants. The Spa coach was meant for those inclined to rejuvenate their senses with the most relaxing of natural therapies.

My guests from France, probably never imagined the kind of onboard opulence that was in store for them and were bedazzled with all the regal aura inside the train. Each coach is aptly named after some of the finest historical places and forts in the state of Maharashtra.

The seven days round trip covered some of India’s most fascinating tourist destinations like Mumbai, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Goa, Kolhapur, Pune, Nashik, Aurangabad (Ajanta - Ellora), Nasik and back to Mumbai.

After exploring Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, on Day 4 we arrived at Karmali in the state of Goa and an air of expectancy prevailed amongst the guests. We went on a whistle-stop tour of Old Goa and visited the renowned Se Cathedral, The Convent & Church of St. Francis of Assisi, the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Church of St.Cajetan, the church of St. Augustine, The Church & Convent of St. Monica and other lesser-known heritage buildings.

The past week, as we traveled together discovering some of India’s rich virile past, fascinating palaces and forts, breathtaking beaches and stunning architectural facades meant that we were all bonded in a unique manner, sharing the diversity of culture and heritage that each of us were bequeathed with. Today even after one full year had elapsed since we undertook that magical royal train journey, many of us still keep in touch with each other through telephone, E-mail and online chatting reminiscing about that memorable train journey.

Indeed a journey onboard the Deccan Odyssey is one of the world’s most unique train journeys. Are you up for the ride?

Traveler’s Fact File:

Getting There: Mumbai is well connected with major cities around the world like New York, London, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur etc….. Some of the world’s best airlines like British Airways, Emirates, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Malayasian Airlines, Qantas, Thai Airways, Cathy Pacific etc… offers regular flights to Mumbai.

Where to Stay: Mumbai being a world city, there is enough options to choose from. All the big names of the hospitality world like The Taj, the Oberois, the Marriot, Hyatt, Intercontinental etc… have there presence in Mumbai.

For further information:

Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation
C.D.O. Hutments, Opp. L.I.C.(Yogakshema) Building,
Madame Cama Road,
Mumbai-400 020, India.
Tel: +91 22 2204 4040
Toll Free No: 1800 – 229930
contactmaharashtratourism@gmail.com