Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mumbai: Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Elephanta Caves and a Walk Through Colaba

I've traveled far and wide, and have availed myself of a wide array of lodging at many different levels.

My days of shared rooms in youth hostels are long past and I don't frequent bed & breakfasts, but I'm usually content with motels & hotels that best combine acceptable quality and desirable location at the lowest price.

Given that a decent bed, clean toilet and working shower are all I really require, on road trips Motel 6 has long been my brand of choice. I've probably stayed in well more than 50 M6 locations and rarely have been displeased.

When I went to Kansas City in April by train, I stayed in a Motel 6 even though it required cabbing & Ubering to & from city sights. This was still cheaper than staying in a downtown hotel.

But often when going to cities where I won't be driving, I try to find a reasonably priced hotel--ideally less than $160/night, pre-tax--that allows easy access to the sights I want to see. ( has proven quite beneficial in this regard.)

I've found some rather stellar hotels at relative bargains--the Hyatt Regency near the Capitol in Washington, DC comes to mind--but was rather shocked that I could book a night at Mumbai's venerated Taj Mahal Palace Hotel for $163/night with no prepayment (via

As my Delhi/Jaipur/Agra tour package included 7 hotel nights for less than $50 per--assuming the bus rides, tour guide, admission fees and several provided meals comprise about half the total cost--I decided to treat myself for a night in Mumbai.

It worked out phenomenally well.

To begin with, I think it was the nicest hotel I've stayed in, by far. In Manhattan, a room like mine at the Palace probably fetch a grand, easy.

Though I had booked the cheapest room type--in the newer tower, not facing the water (an inlet of the Arabian Sea, I believe )--upon check-in I was provided a free upgrade to an "Ocean View" room in the Palace Wing dating to 1923.

If I had chosen such a room through, it would have cost twice as much.

My room was beautifully appointed and I was taken to it by a lovely hotel hostess--Deepika--who I asked to join me for dinner. She seemed to politely consider it (perhaps that's part of her job) but despite saying she'd check her schedule, seemingly ran for the hills.

In addition to overlooking the water, my room looked out upon the Gateway of India monument, which at night was adorned by colored lights as part of an India 70th Independence Day celebration.

My seat at dinner in the Sea Lounge had a similar perspective and the food--a special prix fixe menu for the holiday--was fantastic.

I also enjoyed the restaurant's pianist, singer and sax player playing mostly American music, such as "Summertime," "Blue Moon" and "Come Away with Me," the last by Norah Jones, who happens to be Ravi Shankar's daughter.

I didn't avail myself of the pool or spa, but took a tour of the hotel, had a soda in the Palace Lounge and enjoyed warm hospitality at every turn.

And the hotel was ideally situated for what I wanted to do, especially with only about 8 total hours of touring time. My flight out to Bangalore Wednesday was moved from 8pm to 4:45p, so I basically had Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.

Almost as soon as I'd gotten into my room, I was heading out to the Gateway of India to buy a ferry ticket to Elephanta Island, home of caves with carvings dating back 1500 years or so. 

Buying the ticket and queueing up for the ferry was a bit chaotic, the boat ride took an hour and once on the island, it required about an hour walk and a grueling (for me) 130 steps in stifling humidity. I was quite happy not to have a heart attack.

But the caves themselves were, rather amazingly, worth the effort. That such artwork could have been carved out of mountainous rock somewhere between the 5th & 8th century AD is rather staggering to consider.

This trip has had a number of once in a lifetime sights, but the Elephanta Caves were definitely one of them.

This excursion was followed by hotel tour and then dinner, so I was glad to put my plush bed to use rather early.

Wednesday morning was devoted to a walk around the Colaba area of South Mumbai, close to the hotel.

I saw the Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue and even went inside, a splendid clock tower, the Bombay High Court and several other grand buildings likely dating back to the days of British rule in India.

The grandest of these is the Chhatrapati Shivagi Terminus, a railway station formerly known as Victoria Terminus and one of the world's busiest.

As I had on the ride from the airport, in the cab back I made a point of taking pictures out the world and getting a better sense of the Mumbai I did not see up close, including abundant skyscrapers and slums.

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