But a few salient points stand out, in general life, after even a couple of days back in the luxury hotels of Mumbai, or Bombay if you prefer. The gal is staggered by how many new hotels are coming up.
The best way of travelling around for a first-time tourist, incidentally, is a hotel car with knowledgeable driver, but at some point you must take even a short ride in a tuk-tuk.
You will hear, during your visit to Mumbai, about the famous dubbawallas who deliver tiffin boxes to regular lunch clients around the city. There are 5,000 of them, and every weekday, despite the ghastly traffic, and without modern techniques, they contrive, to management consultants’ amazement, to deliver over 200,000 pre-ordered tiffin boxes around the city, arriving exactly on time.
No-one knows how this is done. Many are illiterate but all can identify signs on each order showing where it should be taken – like a relay race, one dubbawalla passes on to others for the next stage of delivery. Error rate is said to be one in 16 million orders
Mumbai Four Seasons has an operational challenge when it comes to room service – its 202 rooms are on 33 floors. In addition, all Four Seasons worldwide must offer room service delivery within 15 minutes. The hotel’s imaginative GM, Andrew Harrison, thought, why not offer a Dubbawalla menu?
There are copies of the menu in all bedrooms and also in the hotel’s WiFi-enabled cars. I wanted to see if this innovative private dining concept works. I was lunching with Andrew Harrison in the hotel’s San-Qi Asian restaurant, but at Four Seasons nothing is impossible. Your meal will be with you in 15 minutes, said the waiter.
Sure enough, it arrives, in five metal pots one atop the other, all held by two side bars that come up to form the whole’s handle. A black fabric cover (through the top of which the handle protrudes) has outside pockets holding juice, cutlery, a straw and paper napkins.
My order for two of the tiffin offerings, caprese and spaghetti carbonara, saw all five bowls filled: the other three bowls held dressings, bread rolls and butter, and parmesan and crudités. The server also carries a big white place mat, black-printed as if a newspaper, to show the front of the Four Seasons Times, which gives the story of the dubbawallas.
What a unique memory, and so typical of Mumbai (the logistical mystery so intrigued Prince Charles, by the way, that he invited two of the dubbawallas to his wedding to Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall).
But there are many unique dishes that stand out from this visit to Mumbai. In the eighth floor Club Lounge of the Leela Mumbai, my eye was taken by the yellow ladou and orange mapua desserts (but they are ‘very sweet’, I was told).
Be aware, all Indians do tend to offer things that are too sweet for many westerners – spa welcome drinks fall into this category. And everything, even a simple cauliflower starter, can be so spicy that it knocks off both your socks and the roof of your mouth.
That is why luxury hotels do offer alternatives. Oh what bliss, at Taj Mahal Palace, to be able to enjoy a simple unadorned and unspiced whitefish carpaccio at Wasabi by Morimoto. But even Indians want relief from spice from time to time.
I am told that whereas five years ago seven out of every ten meals eaten out, in luxury hotels, was Indian, now it is down to four (with Chinese remaining at two meals out of ten). Hey ho, now back to the road. Where next, I wonder?