6 years ago, during an exchange program semester, we were discovering Bombay and India for the first time. So, we will stay forever a bit nostalgic of this time where we’ve exeperienced everything for the first time: first rickshaw first masala chai, first misunderstanding, first shower in the toilets…. We had loved this period and it explains a lot why we live nowdays in India full-time.
6 years later so, we were really excited at the idea of going back to Bombay (even if we already came back quickly 3 years ago during our motorcycle trip) but at the same time we were wondering if, now that we live in Bangalore, we would find again our past sensations there.
So of course, we couldn’t help but compare everything during this week-end between Bombay and Bangalore. Here is sample:
> Bombay is beautiful (at least in the South). Yes, Bombay has a longer history than Bangalore. Consequently, there is more architectural heritage (specially from the British Raj) which is even now being under restoration (not all of them, but some of the main ones). And there’s the sea… and that’s changing a lot, allowing the city to breath, to look further and giving a skyline to the city.
> Bombay is a city on the move! Yes, 20 millions of inhabitants are helping to give this feeling of intense dynamism. But more than that, the city is bustling and full of ideas, initiatives… New restaurants, bars, concepts are emerging and sometimes you could think you’re in NYC in one place, in Paris in an other one, the all being always remixed with the Bombay sauce after all. There is money, but also taste. And it’s lively, day AND night.
> Bombay is a true big city on the move mixing old and new. You find there brand new buildings higher and higher next to slums.The suburban trains, running all doors opened are still the backbone of the city but their stations are now linked by “skywalks” (pedestrian ways above the street) to deserve their area all around. The iconic Padmini cabs, dating back from the 60s are giving a unique character to the city and are resisting (for our pleasure) the rise of the neutral Hyundai… but for how much time?
> In Bombay, it’s possible to go out in different places in just one night. Yes, you don’t have to hurry up finishing your pint before 11.15pm because bars there are closing at 1.30 (and there are nightclubs closing at 4).
> Bombay is also way more harsh than any other city in India. The poverty is more overwhelming and bitter than in Bangalore for sure. Families are living on the street and half of the population are living in slums. There are also kids who seems to be living on their own.
> In Bombay, life in general seems also bitter for everyone. Rents are almost at European levels while salaries remain Indians, transport is effective but always crowded and the climate is difficult to stand. And you can feel it even during a week-end in the Mumbaikers’ stare, they seem more anxious and stressed…
So, Bombay, as we already knew it but we’re confirming it, is the best and worst of India. Different worlds are knocking together (or avoiding them) here. Differences between standards of living and way of life are huge. Antilia, the “house” of one of the main industrial family in India (Ambani from Reliance) is maybe conveying those contrasts in the sharpest way as it’s actually a building of 20 storeys and is rumored to be the most expensive private residency in the world, with a daily staff of 600 persons… That’s also the only building that we found attractive in Bombay thanks to an orginal contemporary architecture.
But stll, we fill there a unmatachable energy and a history which are really missing in Bangalore. Then, we’ve never lived there more than a few months and we don’t know if we would be able to live there for real. Bangalore is a “pleasant” city (on Indian standards), Bombay is “crazy” in all its senses… but we like craziness.
Some good spots that we’ve (re)discovered during our stay in “Maximum City”:
In the South of Bombay (SoBo as some are calling it), near Fort:
- Khyber : it’s one of the most iconic restaurant in Bombay. We missed it in our different trips there before so we made it mandatory to visit this time. The décor is pretty unique but we weren’t very impressed by the food (apart from their yummy “cheese-naans” that we obviously tried). Maybe it’s also because we already have some good North Indian food also in Bangalore…
- The Pantry : here is one of those places that you don’t expect to come across in Bombay and which are actually emerging. Everything is really set-up there with taste in every details, which is pretty rare. Perfect place for a café-dessert or a light lunch. We’ve also met one the French manager there who gave us some good tips, thanks to her!
- Bademiya : we found this place by chance even if it has been apparently pretty popular among locals for a long time. They serve delicious kababs of lamb or chicken and we particularly love their special dish that we never tried before, the “baidas”, sort of meat galette really tasty.
In the north of Bombay, near Bandra :
- Toto’s Garage : it was already our favorite spot in 2006 and it still is. Funny, laid-back and noisy, this is how we like it. You’ll get Kingfisher pitchers served by old waiters in orange overalls in a real garage decor with a Cox at the top of the bar. Don’t be afraid to have to fight to get your way to the bar though. As it’s in Bandra, you’ll also be able to continue your pub-crawl just walking around.
- Imbiss : an other unexpected restaurant in Bandra where you’ll eat oddly German dishes (wursts, pork chops and all) served by a non-pretentious staff in a simple place at reasonable rates.
In between, at Lower Parel:
- Café Zoé : an other of those new places giving a new face to Bombay. You could think you’re in the middle of NYC here with a decor of an old industrial warehouse reconverted in bar-restaurant with apparent red bricks.This décor is a nice mix of western inspiration spiced up with Indian details (a Belgian guy is actually owning the place). Located in Lower Parel, this area is becoming one of the fast moving one, with industrial sites being reconverted in the middle of skyscrapers rising up. For once, new places are not coming up in glitzy neutral malls, it’s good!