First-time tourists and travellers to India will almost always make a beeline for the Golden Triangle, famed for the Taj Mahal and the stunning landscapes of Rajasthan. But for those who have ticked off the main sights and want to see another side of India, Mumbai might just be the ticket. Dubbed the City of Dreams, this bustling and frenetic melting pot is home to some 22 million people. It's the economic hub of the country, the New York of India if you like, but is also synonymous with one very glamorous, booming industry – Bollywood.
If you're looking for somewhere to stay in Mumbai, Juhu is the best spot. The neighbourhood has some of the most luxurious and prime properties in the whole of India, not to mention a handful of mansions owned by Bollywood's crème de la crème including Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan. Who knows, you might rub shoulders with India's most famous exports while staying in Juhu or nearby Rekha, the Beverly Hills of the city.
A view of the newly opened THE Park Mumbai
The newly opened Soho House Mumbai has helped place the neighbourhood on the map, but the reason for my visit to Juhu in May was for the launch of another gem just down the road – THE Park Mumbai. Leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the city, guests staying at the hotel are in for a real treat. THE Park Hotels group prides itself on being the first to bring the concept of the boutique hotel to India. This means the hotels may be large in size, but they're more personal in concept and design. Each one is different to the next and the Mumbai offering is all about chic, sleek and monochrome vibes.
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The luxury hotel has 54 rooms
The hotel is home to 54 studio rooms, each with a view of the city or the Arabian Sea. Black and white make up the predominant colour palette, but in rooms overlooking the sea, the fuschia or orange tinted windows add a pop of colour while also reflecting the sunset over Juhu Beach. Rooms are spacious with a modern and kitted out bathroom, a bedroom with beds that are almost too good to get out of, plus an extended living space complete with sofa, table, mini bar, tea and coffee amenities, a cocktail bar and a smart TV. And make sure you check out the artwork on the walls. All of THE Park Hotels are decorated with art from chairperson Priya Paul's personal collection, which boasts over 3,000 pieces.
Each room has a view of the city or the Arabian Sea
For those who don't want breakfast in bed, the downstairs Meishi restaurant, located just off the lobby, is an understated yet cool place to relax and enjoy your food. Sticking with the monochrome colour scheme, the restaurant has striking charcoal walls and a hard-to-miss gold mesh curtain that signals the start of the private dining area. We're not sure who would love it more – us or the Kardashians?
Despite being in Mumbai, the restaurant offers a fusion of flavours from Japan, Thailand and China, as well as India. For dinner, guests can indulge in a never-ending tasting menu which features the likes of Tom Yum soup, Thai style sriracha, Asian greens in plum sauce, Malwani fish curry, baked salmon with green onion sauce and teppanyaki style fried rice. We were told about Indian hospitality but the service really is unparalleled at Meishi, from the chefs to the waiters. You really will feel like Bollywood royalty.
A view of the hotel lobby
Guests can also relax at The Walt, a whisky bar just off the main restaurant that also has a cosy alfresco patio. Again opulently designed with metallic structures hanging from the ceiling, the bar was inspired by Mr Walter Garcia, a captain of a ship who lived in nearby Bandra and a lover of malted grain, hence the whisky offerings.
The hotel is opening in phases and later in the year, there are plans to launch the Saffron Room, a 2,500 square foot banqueting space fitted with chandeliers that is perfect for private parties or corporate events. Sun-seekers will also be pleased to hear that the rooftop pool and bar will also throw open its doors.
The Saffron Room is perfect for parties
The hotel certainly has dreams to show their guests the real India. There's also talk of cooking sessions being made available to guests, where tourists can don their chef's hat and try their hand at creating some of the exquisite dishes on the menu. The hotel arranges various tours and day trips and one is to Versova Fishing Village. A word to the wise, it's the real raw experience of visiting a wet market, fish eyes and guts on the floor aplenty, but is nonetheless fascinating and satisfying to select your fresh catch for dinner. When we visited with the hotel's head chef Altamsh Patel, he picked kilos of meaty prawns that he later cooked into the most tasty and fresh tempura.
Driving around Mumbai in a tuk tuk, or an autocar as locals say, with the incessant sound of cars beeping, weaving in and out of non-existent lanes, is a far cry from the glamour of the hotel. But it's the more authentic experience that THE Park Mumbai doesn't shy away from offering its guests. As soon as you step out of the hotel, the frenzy and unapologetic chaos of Mumbai hits you. It's a wonderful feast for the eyes and the senses, just good luck trying to cross a road!
There are 25 Bollywood studios dotted around Mumbai
The glitz and glamour of Bollywood calls thousands of visitors to Mumbai every year. A visit to a Bollywood film studio is an absolute must and will definitely be a highlight for film buffs and soap opera addicts; who knows, you might bump into your favourite actor or actress. The hotel can arrange tours and with 25 studios dotted around the whole city, you're spoilt for choice. We did an excursion to S. J. Studios, where a number of Bollywood shows have been filmed as well as French production Un + une, starring Jean Dujardin.
During the tour, we were shown five different sets including two hospitals, a courtroom, a prison and a family home; we were even lucky enough to see two Bollywood TV shows being filmed live. We may not have been able to understand what was happening, but the actress weeping and the extras running around in the background did make it look pretty dramatic! We were also taken to a recording studio where, if you're brave enough, you can sing and record your own song that will be emailed to you. The big finale of the tour takes place in the dance studio, where you'll be treated to a few dance sequences by energetic Bollywood dancers, plus be given an insight into the industry's 100-year plus history.
The hotel is located by Juhu Beach
Many Bollywood scenes are also filmed on the picturesque boardwalk in the south of Mumbai. The hotel can organise excursions to the other side of the city where you'll almost certainly drive past the famed boardwalk, but also visit local markets such as Crawford Market to pick up some exotic fruit and the Mirchi Galli for some of India's fragrant spices and herbs.
While in the south, you can't miss the Gateway of India, a gargantuan monument that served as the symbolic entrance and exit to India for Viceroys and the new Governors of Bombay. It's the city's answer to the Taj Mahal and is selfie central. Nearby, you can have lunch at Bagdadi, a no-frills restaurant which, from the outside, doesn't look the most appealing. But step into the simple eatery and you'll have one of the best meals you'll ever have in Mumbai – I guarantee you. The dishes are presented in the most basic way, but it's the flavour that counts. The dhal, the paneer, the chicken fry masala – it's all so tasty and moreish. Dunk your naan into each dish over and over again and you're in heaven.
Another local institution just around the corner is Leopold café, famously referenced in Shantaram and more sadly, one of the sites that was attacked in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The restaurant serves Iranian and continental food but it was the dessert menu that beckoned us in. I challenge you not to be tempted by the different cheesecakes, pastries, red velvet slices and volcano chocolate cakes on offer. It's another must-try when you're in the south.
Denmark Tavern is the group's first heritage project
THE Park Hotels collection has 11 properties to its name, including THE Park Mumbai which opened this year and Denmark Tavern in Serampore, the group's first heritage project just north of Calcutta. It just re-opened this spring and given its history, THE Park Hotels has aimed to meld its contemporary aesthetics with its ancient structure. Denmark Tavern has a more exclusive and intimate feel given that it only has six luxurious bedrooms, located on the banks of the Hooghly, but its café is open to hotel guests and day visitors alike.
THE Park Calcultta was the first to open in 1967
In stark contrast, the hotel group's oldest offering is THE Park Calcultta, which opened in 1967 on the fashionable Park Street, hence the name of the collection. It's the equivalent of staying on Times Square and with its four party areas, including the infamous Tantra nightclub, the hotel is always teeming with activity. You might fancy one night in the English pub, which boasts live music, and the next in the swanky cocktail lounge, which also doubles up as a club. And the best thing about partying at THE Park Calcutta is being able to crash in your bedroom, literally upstairs. Sadly we weren't able to stay the night at the hotel given that Cyclone Fani was wreaking havoc at the local airports and disrupted our travel plans. Well, we'll just have to return again for another trip.