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Mumbai - For business and leisure

India’s commercial capital might not seem the obvious choice for a stopover on your holidays, but if you want to understand this country as it begins to emerge as a global power, Mumbai is the place.

Here, what is reputed to be the world’s most expensive home sits alongside Mahatma Gandhi’s former base, while fabulous Victorian Gothic architecture belies the tech-savvy city that Mumbai has become. Throw in Bollywood and the chance of some laughter therapy and there’s a lot to love.

A couple of nights on the way to Kerala or Goa are enough to experience the madness and majesty of Mumbai. No one can accurately predict how many live here, but the estimates reach over 20 million and on the roads, it can seem like they’re all going your way.

Mumbai is a city that is industrious, rather than industrial (for proof check out the enormous open air laundry known as Dhobi Ghat, where the dirt is pounded from clothes in huge concrete vats under blistering heat), and its beachfront means that those that have made it really want to be here. Among them is business magnate Mukesh Ambani, whose 27-storey home Antilia was built at a reputed cost of $1 billion, arguably making it the world’s most expensive. When it was completed in 2008, the family reportedly delayed moving in due to problems with its spiritual alignment.

Nearby is Mani Bhavan, the one time home of a diamond merchant that was Gandhi’s two-storey headquarters for 17 years, and is now a shrine and museum complete with his possessions and letters. Gandhi doubtless would have frowned upon Antilia, but would probably be proud of Mumbai’s achievements after British rule ended.

There is ample evidence of this rule, the most spectacular being the must-see central railway station, whose façade is a rival to London’s St Pancras in ornateness. The nearby museum is in the same style, while the High Court resembles a Bavarian castle.

More power architecture is found at the Gateway to India, the waterfront arch built to commemorate the visit of George V and point of departure for the city’s last English rulers. Many of the locals milling around here will gawp at the foreigners, but this is nothing compared to the attention some of the guests at the adjacent Taj Hotel receive. Have a classic afternoon tea here and you can mingle with Bollywood’s best, who make their American counterparts look positively dowdy.

If all this glamour is too earthly, a climb to the Malabar Hills overlooking the city brings you back to the real India, where the Jain temple, a riot of brightly coloured icons, mirrors and murals is a shrine to anti-materialism and virtue. A few yards up the road are the Hanging Gardens, a great place to watch the sunset.

Sunrise in Mumbai presents the opportunity for a bit of a laugh. In fact, it’s often quite hysterical down on Chowpatty Beach, where laughter yoga classes are a big hit with locals and tourists alike. The practice began in Mumbai and it’s now a worldwide export, but if dawn is too early for belly laughs, try the more British way at Mumbai’s Comedy Store, the only one outside the UK.