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India Getaway

India Getaway

By
Trip Plan Tags: 
arts + culture,
beach + island,
budget,
city,
hiking + trekking,
romantic,
shopping
Destinations: 
Ajabgarh,
Alwar,
Asia,
Delhi,
Goa,
India,
Mumbai,
Rajasthan

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ITEMS

Nightlife

Colaba

From swanky boozers and Studio 54 clones to working-class dives, it's hard to beat Colaba for variety. Kick off the evening at Leopold, a noisy backpacker haven, whose mix of local color and international rowdiness has made it a veritable landmark for tourists of all types. The 141-year-old café, which hums with activity throughout the day and night, is reminiscent of a waiting room at a grand old railway terminus. Warning: The waiters tend to be as chilly as the beer. Well-heeled partyers congregate at Henry Tham, a plush DJ bar that serves delicious cocktails, and has sassy touches like a vibrating massage chair. For a taste of Mumbai's gay scene, head to Voodoo on a Saturday night (but be forewarned that there will be overfriendly females and paunchy businessmen thrown into the mix). Still up for more? Head to Polly Esther's, where the 1980s are on permanent rotation and the dance floor lights up à la Saturday Night Fever. Although the crowd skews young, Mumbaikers go crazy for retro-cheese. Check your attitude at the door, and you'll have a kitschy-good time.

Nightlife

Bandra

A hub for filmmakers, artists, models, and expats, Bandra has some of the city's most vibrant nightlife. The center of action is Zenzi, where hipsters bask in a casual living room atmosphere, as talented local DJs drop tracks from Kraftwerk to Kanye West. Seijo and the Soul Dish, across the street, pulls in a slightly older crowd, most dressed in black, with wall-length Japanese anime prints giving it a Tokyo-meets-Manhattan edge. The pace is usually frenetic at Poison, a megaclub run by superstar DJ Aqeel, with assembled lovelies vying for attention on the dance floor to a soundtrack of Bollywood mash-ups. A booth replete with velvet sofas and a gold throne overlooks the VIP enclosure, in case Bollywood superstars like Shah Rukh Khan and his coterie put in an appearance.

Shop

Kimaya, India

3 Delstar, below Kemps Corner Flyover
Mumbai, India
Tel: 91 22 2386 2432
Website: www.kimayastudio.com/kimaya.html

Ever since its 2007 opening, Mumbai fashionistas haven't stopped chattering about the flamboyant clothes and accessories at this high-end store. Some of the hottest designers, like Rohit Bal, Shahab Durazi, and the Peacocks display clothes here, often fresh off the runway. The Western-style lines tend to have subtle local influences, like intricate detailing and embroidery. The ethnic lines veer away from the traditional, with sharp, low cuts. The back of the store is dedicated to bridal trousseaus, including a dizzying array of heavy, ornate saris.

Open daily 10:30 am to 8 pm.

Shop

Crawford Market, India

Mumbai, India

Crawford Market—now officially known as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market—is a gigantic bazaar dealing in just about every kind of fresh food and domestic animal imaginable. Shopkeepers perch vertiginously atop piles of fruit and vegetables; they'll nimbly navigate these towering displays to fetch and weigh your chosen items. Keep an eye out, too, for the wholesale buyers and the cryptic handshakes that confirm their deals. Above the main entrance, you'll see a bas-relief frieze designed by Rudyard Kipling's father. Animal lovers should steer clear of the pitiful pet stalls. The market operates Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Lokmanya Tilak Marg and Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Rd.).

Shop

Chor Bazaar, India

Mutton Street, opposite Null Bazaar
Mumbai, India

Chor Bazaar has everything from rare LPs to antique timepieces, from Burmese military medals to vintage Bollywood posters. Even long-standing loyalists are surprised by the oddities that surface here. Urban legend has it that robbers disposed of their loot at Chor Bazaar ("Thieves Market"), and to this day shopkeepers brag about how Queen Victoria's violin landed here after being pinched from her imperial galley.

Open daily Saturdays through Thursdays.

Eating

Kebabs & Kurries, India

ITC Grand Central Sheraton, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Road, Parel
Mumbai, India
Tel: 91 22 2410 1010
Website: www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/property/dining/index.html?propertyID=1540

Giant skewers stacked with meat, chicken, and fish line the walls of this immaculately clean open kitchen in the Sheraton. Chefs deftly slide the well-rubbed kebabs into glowing tandoors, or clay ovens, nurturing them until they explode with flavors like fenugreek, cumin, and pepper. The focus is traditional Mughlai and Nizami cooking, though the chefs at this sprawling restaurant have also developed their own exciting recipes, most notably the oven-cooked jumbo shrimp split and stuffed with crumbled potatoes, spices, and pomegranate seeds. There are extensive vegetarian selections, very popular with the city's legions of wealthy vegetarians.

Open daily 12:30 to 2:30 pm and 7:30 to 11:30 pm.

Eating

Kandahar, India

The Oberoi, Nariman Point, Colaba
Mumbai, India
Tel: 22 2202 4343 ext. 6111 or 22 5632 5757
Website: www.oberoihotels.com

This upscale restaurant has linen-clothed tables, maroon banquettes, and mirrored pillars. The cuisine is northern Indian—but updated, so that it's subtler and lighter. Diners can watch as chefs prepare delicacies in the glass-fronted kitchen. As you wait, nibble on khakras, (crispy flatbreads famous in the city of Surat) served with the house chutneys, including a perky green one made with coriander and raw mango. Be sure to try the salmon ka tikka, cubes of salmon marinated in dill, fennel, ginger, honey, and mustard oil, then roasted in the tandoor.

Eating

Indigo

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt dined at this, Mumbai's best stand-alone restaurant, following in the footsteps of slain Wall Street Journal journalist Danny Pearl, who used to play the saxophone on a makeshift stage here. Indigo's ever-evolving menu focuses on sophisticated European fare, with some interesting local twists and turns. The gorgonzola beef tenderloin is served with a tandoor-roasted onion. The converted bungalow is divided into four distinct spaces, including a courtyard, a bar area, and an anteroom, but none is more enchanting than the fairy-lit open-air terrace where old-money types gather to see and be seen. The atmosphere is a little more laid-back at Indigo Deli, a sister restaurant located a few streets north, serving soups, salads, sandwiches, and high-quality comfort food—just ask the hordes of hungover hipsters digging into eggs and waffles on Sunday afternoons.

Open daily 9 am to midnight.

Eating

Goa Portuguesa, India

Kataria Road, Mahin
Mumbai, India
Tel: 22 2444 0202 or 022 2444 0707
Website: www.goaportuguesa.com

Goan cuisine has fiery flavors and tropical ingredients, and it also encompasses some Portuguese dishes (Goa was formerly a Portuguese colony). This superb restaurant is about ten miles from the heart of tourist Bombay, halfway to the airport, and a dinner there makes a magnificent last night's banquet on your way out of the city. Guests eat in a tropical-theme dining room; the amiable wait staff wear dhotis and sarongs. Try the grilled spice-rubbed tiger prawns served with three sauces: garlic butter, a Portuguese brown sauce, and a Goan masala. For dessert, don't miss bibinka, the Goan sweet of stacked coconut pancakes.

Eating

Bukhara, India

ITC Maurya Sheraton & Towers Diplomatic Enclave, Sadar Patel Marg
Delhi 110021, India
Tel: 91 11 2611 2233

Housed in the ITC Maurya Sheraton & Towers in southwest Delhi, Bukhara has Flintstones–style decor, with stone walls and mock log-top tables. You can watch chefs at work in the kitchen, where meat and vegetables are skewered on kebab spears. Good choices include the murg tandoori (a whole chicken marinated in yogurt, malt vinegar, ginger, garlic, lemon juice, chili, turmeric, and garam masala); the tandoori pomfret, a whole flatfish from the Indian Ocean roasted with spices; and bharvan kulcha, a baked bread stuffed with cottage cheese. In deference to the restaurant's northwest-frontier theme, there is no cutlery, nor finger bowls: Diners are expected to tear their chicken apart with their bare hands, with only an apron for protection.

See + Do

Chandor, India

Chandor, India

A few miles east of Margao lies the small, sleepy village of Chandor, once the site of Chandrapur (capital of the ancient state of Govarashtra), the most spectacular city on the Konkani coast. Today, Chandor is worth a visit to see the Braganza House, probably the grandest colonial mansion in Goa. Dominating the dusty village square, the structure, built in the 16th century by the wealthy Braganza family for their two sons, has a huge two-story facade, with 28 windows flanking its entrance.

See + Do

Bhangarh, India

Alwar, India

Think of this little-known collection of ruins as Machu Picchu without the crowds. Once a town of 10,000 souls, it was supposedly abandoned almost overnight under mysterious circumstances many centuries ago. On the road from Jaipur to Alwar, 15 minutes south of the luxury resort Amanbagh, virtually the only thing known for sure about these ruins of palaces, temples, bathing pools, and shops is that that they were built in the 1630s by the younger brother of a renowned general and deserted a short time later. Locals call the town "Bhangarh of Ghosts" and won't visit after dark; according to legend, the desertion had to do with an evil magician who cursed a virtuous queen when she wouldn't succumb to his advances. Whatever the history, it makes for a good afternoon.

See + Do

Chowpatty Beach, India

In the City
Mumbai, India

Situated north of the city center, near Malabar Hill and along Marine Drive, this is a Mumbai institution, which really comes to life at night and on Saturdays. People don't come here to swim, since the sea is polluted, but instead they wander, sit on the beach, have a massage, get their ears cleaned, picnic, and people-watch. You'll see astrologers and snake charmers, as well as children riding the rickety Ferris wheels. Bhelwallahs sell addictive bhelpuri, the local snack of puffed rice, vegetables, and fried noodles laced with chili, mint, and tamarind, then scooped up with a puri, or deep-fried bread.

See + Do

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus), India

Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Road
Mumbai, India

Built in the colonial era as a sign of British power, this throbbing railway terminus serves three million commuters each day. Its architect was a proponent of the Indo-Saracenic style—which combined native Indian traditions with Gothic Revival elements from Victorian Britain—and the grand, stone structure is an immaculate example, fusing Venetian-Gothic flamboyance with intricate local detailing. Snarling gargoyles leap off its facade, and a pair of imperious lions guard its entrance. The British christened the building "Victoria Terminus" in honor of the reigning queen, but in a show of regional strength, it was renamed in 1996 after a revered Maratha warrior-ruler. CST, as it's better known these days, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, and is the second most photographed building in India, after the Taj Mahal in Agra.

See + Do

City Tours

Navigating around Mumbai's intense streets can be exhausting and overwhelming at the best of times, so go easy on yourself and sign up for a tour. Bombay Heritage Walks conducts a variety of tours focusing on the architecture of various neighborhoods, from the Gothic delights in Fort to Churchgate's Art Deco buildings and Bandra's Portuguese-era hamlets. If you'd prefer to be shuttled around, hop a ride aboard Nilambari, an open-roofed double-decker bus that traverses the historic streets of Fort by night, to soak in the illuminated colonial-era buildings that are still Mumbai's most impressive structures. Nilambari operates tours every Saturday and Sunday 7 to 8 pm and 8:15 pm to 9:15 pm, starting at the Gateway of India.

To get some perspective on the more complicated nature of Mumbai, take one of Reality Tours and Travels' sensitively run forays into Dharavi, Asia's largest slum. More than a million people crowd into Dharavi's 430 acres, and 15,000 small industrial units chug away within its narrow alleyways, recycling plastic and manufacturing leather, jewelry, chemicals, and clay pots. You will see men laboring in steamy warehouses, families living cheek by jowl, and children playing near open drains. The chirpy 18-year-old guide, Ravi, keeps the mood light with incessant banter, but there's no escaping the reality that this is how 60 percent of Mumbai lives. Eighty percent of the profits after tax go to local NGOs who work in Dharavi.

See + Do

Colva, Benaulim and Palolem, India

Colva, India

Hard to believe that only about 25 years ago, little existed of what visitors today know as Colva, the main package-holiday resort of south Goa. Benaulim Beach, less than two miles south, is tranquil, but Palolem is probably Goa's most beautiful and idyllic stretch. The sweeping crescent of white sand is fringed by a shady rim of coconut palms, and the whole shore is hemmed in by rocky crags at either end. The development is low-key and mostly consists of simple rickety beach huts and guesthouses.

See + Do

Akshardham, India

On the Yamuna River, Near Noida Mar
Delhi 110092, India
Tel: 91 11 2201 6688
Website: www.akshardham.com

One might be tempted to call it Hinduism's answer to Disney World. But the Akshardham temple, which opened in 2005 as a showcase for the celebration of Hindu culture, is without question one of the largest places of worship ever built. A 100-acre complex, it contains exhibition halls, boat rides, gift shops, an Imax Theater, and a massive central monument, constructed of white marble and red sandstone, that rests on a plinth of 148 stone elephants. Admission to the complex is free, but a fee is charged to visit some of the exhibitions. No mobile phones or cameras.

Closed Mondays.

$400 or more
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Hotel

Amanbagh, India

Ajabgarh, India
Tel: 91 1465 223 333, Tel: 800 477 9180
Email: amanbagh@amanresorts.com
Website: www.amanbagh.com

The 40-room Amanbagh resort serves as an excellent example that hotels other than Oberoi can do "new palace" architecture well. One of two Amanresorts properties in the region (the other is Aman-i-Khás), it oozes excellence. Good luck finding stand-alone bathtubs carved from single blocks of dark-green Udaipur marble anywhere else—standard in all of Amanbagh's rooms. The indulgence extends to the North Indian–inspired cuisine—you'll gorge on yogurt and sesame seed–crusted kebabs, perhaps, or murg kalongi, chicken with ginger and onion seeds. Still, our favorite thing might just be its rural location, allowing for a chance to see the "real India." Two hours by car north of Jaipur, Amanbagh sits in a narrow, fertile valley, ideal for organized forays into the countryside and nearby villages. Smart guests will head out in the late afternoon, at "cow dust" hour, when locals are herding livestock on farm roads yet are not so busy that they can't smile, and wave, and perhaps even invite you to stop in for a cup of tea.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.