I think that when you travel to Mumbai, this hotel is a must see. A landmark in its own right, the Taj was built in 1903 by a man who was not allowed in other hotels because of the color of his skin. He vowed to build the grandest hotel in Mumbai and surely he accomplished that goal.
People who have stayed here or graced these grounds are numerous and humbling. Duke Ellington, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Oprah, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Ghandhi were all here.
I suggest staying in the Tower wing. It is newer and cheaper but most important it gives you an excellent view of the older part of the hotel which is stunningly beautiful.
Right before my trip, I had some concerns about how to get a visa for India. I contacted the travel office where I work and was instructed to go through a third party as they didn’t recognize the website I had found. The third party was expensive and was going to take some time. This is their website: https://www.g3visas.com/ Sorry, I’m just going to say it. This was bad advice.
That might be a great website for getting a business visa to India, but for a simple tourist visa, there is a much faster and easier way. In fact, by following the instructions to the letter, I received my e-Visa to India (and it worked) in 24 hours. Here is the website for that: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/index.html
One more tip. When you get your passport photos (I got mine done at a local FedEx office), get several copies. The other copies will do for your visa and then once you get to India and you want to get an Indian phone number, a passport photo comes in really handy because they will want a photo of you when you get your temporary Indian phone number. More on that in a later post.
People will argue with me about this, but I’m going to say yes it is important. Knowing at least a little Hindi will set you apart from all the other foreigners. Just knowing please, thank you, hello, goodbye, etc really goes a long way to showing interest and respect.
And, in my experience here, the people I was most drawn to knew very little English.
Yes, you can get by without knowing anything. Most educated people will speak English, but you have to remember that their education is a result of privilege. Privilege insulates you from the harsh realities of the world and can even breed entitlement. In my experience people who feel a strong sense of their own entitlement are not only ignorant of the world but down right dull.
To meet all the coolest people, learn some Hindi.
Tips: People tell me the best time to go is in November. This is for lush greenery and nice temperatures. They also say the rainy season is good for the waterfalls that run right past the caves. So that means June on into November. Take shoes with good tread for the rainy season because these rocks can get slick, and I personally would take a walking stick for this weather.
The posh experience: For luxury in India, it is my bet that you can’t beat the Taj hotel and its affiliates. Just be aware that you get what you pay for. These hotels can be as expensive as nice hotels in Seattle and New York City. But their service is phenomenal.
Authentic and more affordable Ellora caves experience: For much lower prices but to still get a safe and enjoyable experience, I have a couple of people to recommend. These guys are “hometown” men and know the region better than anyone. I have full confidence in them and they are who I would contact if I ever decided to return to the region. They can get you an affordable hotel walking distance from the caves! If you want to support local people, this is a great way to do it.
Mr. Sadeek speaks fairly good English. He knows everyone who is anyone in town. People go to him to get their problems solved. In other words, he’s the man.
The other person I met I don’t have permission to share his name and contact number simply because I didn’t ask. This person took me on a wonderful tour of Khaldabad, the resting place of Aurangzeb himself, and he too knows everyone. Younger and less experienced than Sadeek, this man is highly honorable. If interested, contact me via this blog and I can ask him if I can share his contact info.
For the finest cloth I have ever seen, hand spun on looms, you must visit this place. It is fairly close to Ellora caves.
I will be shopping with them online and possibly via WhatsApp.
And for great, trustworthy, knowlegable cab drivers, my choice is:
I really liked Emirites Airlines. First of all, I got here alive. That merits an automatic “B+” in my book. But Emirites has more than earned an “A.”
Second, they are classy. The stewards and stewardesses look amazing, and they are exceptionally helpful and friendly. My top favorite airline is still Lufthanza, but I would definitely fly Emitates again.
The food was pretty darn good, the best I’ve had on an airline ever, but that was probably attributable to the customers served—Indians flying back home to India, so incredible vegetarian dishes were available. Have I mentioned I want to buy a cookbook here?
While the planes themselves didn’t look new new new, the pilots were fabulous. One landing in particular was as smooth as silk. We were up and then down. No furious breaking at the end. It was all nice and easy.
The video entertainment was outstanding. Movies galore! Plus, great flying and map stats in real time about our flight. Images are captioned in both Arabic and English.
This what first class looks like.
But I found my economy fare to be exceptional. Both of my flights had empty seats, so I had my row all to myself.
The plane ride to Dubai was uneventful. Just like I want all my flights to be!
Landed in Section C. Was a little like amazing race getting to Section S! All of a sudden everyone was friendlier too.
There has been a lot of advice to NOT ride the trains in Mumbai. They are crowded. They aren’t designed with foreigners in mind. They can be dangerous. People die on the tracks every single day. Blah, blah, blah. I’m totally going to do it. (I think.)
Notes to Self on Trains
- Mumbai has 3 major train lines that run north and south.
- There is also a new metro line in the northern suburbs and a monorail in eastern Mumbai.
- The “Western” line has the most points of interest for travelers. (It starts in the south from Churchgate Station.)
- To get around not being able to read or understand Hindi, note your stop, how many stops you’re traveling, the stop before your destination.
- Avoid peak hours! (9 to 10:30 a.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.)
- Avoid going South in the morning.
- Avoid going North at night.
- At the ticket window, there should be two lines, one for second class tickets (right) and first class (left)
- Tell the ticket attendant: [destination station] + first class + return journey + head wobble?
- First Class ticket costs between 10 and 50 Rupees
- Female only cars are green
- First class is denoted by red and yellow strips on the columns nearby or red and white stripes on the actual rail car
From Reality Tours and Travel
- Can I just get a monthly pass or something like that? Do I have to buy a ticket every time?
- Where do I get a map in English?
Special thanks to: