2024 India – Part 5 – Maharashtra

Old and new discoveries…

Next day was a flying day. After breakfast I chatted a bit with my host, took an Uber to the airport, checked in and enjoyed an hour and a half flight to Mumbai. 

During the Uber ride to the Fort area I enjoyed the skyline of the city of hope and started to recognise things in the city that I once hated but had learned to love.

Once I had checked in to my hotel I left my things behind and moved to a restaurant rant I wanted to go for dinner. As it only opened at 7 I spent some time at the Beer Cafe next door, a place that went rather downhill since last time I was there in 2020.

My first fine dining experience in Mumbai this trip was at Umame. I enjoyed a spicy tuna sushi, sashimi, Thai bbq’ed spareribs and to finish off a baked basilicum yoghurt, rosepeddle icecream and pomegranate. I had it matched with some domestic wines which were fine but a bit to outspoken for my taste and the reds definitely too chilled. 

As I had visited Mumbai several times before there was no need to do some extensive sightseeing but there was one thing on my list I did want to accomplish; shop for fresh spices and masala mixes at Crawford Market. 

So after having enjoyed an excellent South Indian masala dosa for breakfast I slowly headed towards Crawford Market whilst I enjoyed the Victorian brickwork that can be admired all over the south of Mumbai.

While the official name of this market is now called Mahatma Jyotiba/Jyotirao Phule Market, everyone still calls it by its old name of Crawford Market. Located to the north of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the market was designed by William Emerson; completed in 1869, it was the first building in India to be lit up by electricity. This architectural extravaganza of Moorish arches and half-timbered gables, topped by a clocktower, consists of a central hall with two wings. The floor is paved with stone from Scotland, which remains cool through the day, and the lamp brackets are shaped like winged dragons. Above the entrance doors are marble bas-reliefs depicting scenes from market life, which were carved by Lockwood Kipling, as was the fountain in the courtyard decorated with Hindu river goddesses and animals. This is still where Mumbai comes to shop and that was exactly what I came to do.

First I strolled at ease through the market and enjoyed the vivid scenery. Less did I enjoy the pet section where animals were treated not in the most correct way (I’ll spare you the details) and as it was too painful to watch I returned to the vegetable section, always a favourite of mine.

When I was done I returned to the stall of Spice King where I smelled, tasted and stocked up on fresh spices and Indian masala’s. I felt like a kid in a toy shop, but then thousands of d times better.

Back at my hotel I stored my new shoppings and continued southwards towards the Gate of India. Then I continued to the famous Leopold Cafe (it plays an important role in the book of Shantaram) and treated myself to two bears before I continued on my stroll through Colaba. I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere but noticed I was getting a bit tired, time to take a taxi to my hotel for an afternoon nap. 

One of the things I have probably been looking forward to mostly during this trip was a visit to India’s best restaurant, which ranks number 16 on the Asias best restaurant list. So in the evening I put on my long trousers and a polo-shirt for the very first time in 7 weeks and took an Uber to Masque.

Nestled within one of Mumbai’s old textile mills, Masque is an ingredient-driven restaurant founded by entrepreneur Aditi Dugar, with Head Chef Varun Totlani helming the kitchen. The restaurant’s 10-course chef’s tasting menus – a first of its kind in India – marry tradition and innovation; as the seasons change, so do the menus, defined by ingredients sourced from local farmers, producers, and foraging trips.

The food at Masque stems from the team’s sustained efforts to give platform to local ingredients and extract maximum flavour from the wealth of Indian produce.

All very promising indeed but was it worth the hype? Absolutely. I had the choice between a wine, cocktail or mock tail pairing and decided for the premium cocktail pairing. After my aperitif the first course, a selection of three small bites were served after which my first cocktail arrived. The flavours matched perfectly and slowly one course after the other, combined with flavourful and perfectly paired cocktails were served in front of me. An amazing experience which only became better when I was invited to the kitchen where a palate cleanser was served in front of the complete kitchen brigade.

Back at my table a special version of a Thali was served, together with a very spicy cocktail. This was the final main course followed by three deserts. That was the finish of an absolute amazing evening and this dining experience simply has arrived in my top five of all time. 

My bill was presented together with a Polaroid picture that had been made during my visit to the kitchen. I still had a small chat with my hostess for their evening after which i left and took a taxi to my hotel.

I had been looking forward to this for a long time and what an amazing experience it had been. Simply breathtaking.

After a good night of sleep I enjoyed a light breakfast and then reorganised my suitcase, something that really needed to be done after 7 weeks of travelling. I then relaxed a bit at my room, waiting for the next …

Whilst researching for this trip I did find out that Mumbai not only hosts India’s best restaurant but also number two. As I could not make up my mind I booked a table at both of them so today’s lunch was arranged at the Bombay Canteen for a taste of India without borders.

The Bombay Canteen is a place where the vibrant spirit of India comes alive! Their core philosophy is simple: celebrate and showcase the diverse cuisine of India without borders.

They are passionate about telling the untold story of Indian cuisine. With a fun and playful approach, they’ll bring you closer to their roots, filling your heart and stomach with the Bombay charm!

Enough said, time to grab a taxi and go for lunch. The Bombay Canteen was located in the same trendy area as Masque so I recognised most of the places on my way down there.

Nestled between modern skyscrapers the red stoned Bombay Canteen looked rather modest between it’s giant neighbours. The interior was tastefully done and once seated I was given three menu cards to make my choice, mission impossible it seemed.

My waiter suggested the Canteen Experience, a selection of quintessential Canteen plates, designed for the ethnic cutlets who wants it all. That sounded right to me so I agreed with that and asked my waiter to pair some cocktails with the dishes.

It was the right decision, one after the other the most delicious dishes were served in front of me, one even more tasty than the other. The cocktails were excellent as well and almost three hours after I arrived my final dish was served. A truly excellent lunch.

I was extremely happy to have planned my visit to Mumbai from a completely different perspective, all driven by my passion for food. I had hardly done any sightseeing but thoroughly enjoyed some of the culinary delights of this marvellous city and visited both India’s best reputed restaurants. Tomorrow it’s time to leave this gigantic city and  swap it for a more quiet and peaceful environment. It’s almost time to start relaxing and practice the gentle art of doing nothing…

Next morning I packed my suitcase and not much later I was on my way with what is my last train journey of this adventure. It started at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the largest train station in Mumbai and as expected it was chaotic.

Glad I arrived at the station in good time and could admire the chaos during the boarding process at the cheaper classes.

Fortunately I had a first class ticket but still found out my berth was already taken and the cabin loaded with luggage, nothing a friendly conversation could not solve.

It was a three and a half hour journey to Nashik where my friend Pardeshi has already arranged a taxi for me to Little Cove Nature Resort. I was picked up by his wife, son and a driver for the hour drive to Little Cove Nature Resort.

On arrival I was blown away by the sheer beauty of it. Two lines of teak wood bungalows were aligned in a perfectly maintained garden and a bit further was an inviting pool. The bungalows were spacious and beautifully decorated. A large 2 person bed looked inviting and comfortable for the night.

The place looked like a fusion to me between Balinese and Southern India (Kerala) atmosphere. Truly a wonderful place to relax for a couple of days.

Pardeshi’s wife had cooked a wonderful lunch for me and I truly felt at home. A relaxing swim completed a wonderful afternoon.

Unfortunately a bit later I started to feel unwell so I decided to skip dinner and return to my room.

So far on this journey I had been lucky and was able to escape from all unpleasantness from travelling but now it hit me big time… “Delhi belly” had become reality and it became one of the most miserable nights I can recall for years. I spent more time in the bathroom than in bed and finally could not get bothered to return to my bed but just lay on the bathroom floor just to be in the vicinity of the toilet.

Next day was a lost day as well, I drank lots of water with ORS and slept most of the day to catch up from the night before where I only managed to get 45 minutes of sleep in total. Still I could not cope with anything substantial to eat as I found my internal system was completely messed up and needed time to reboot. Even two bananas did not do me well.

In the mean time I still felt like a VIP guest. Pardeshi’s wife and the manager of the resort checked out frequently with me to see how I was doing and if I required anything. It is wonderful to be surrounded by such wonderful people whilst you are alone and feeling so miserable.

At the beginning of the evening Pardeshi’s wife had cooked a mutton broth for me to strengthen me. It tasted wonderful and was the first thing I could keep inside since 24 hours.

By now I was, went to bed and slept non stop for over 10 hours. Needless to say to say that did me very well and although I still felt a bit weak I decided to go for breakfast, had a black tea, some toast and two bananas. I opted for a quiet day in the resort; some music, sun, a swim and a massage. 

I could not have wished for a better place, surrounded by better people, whilst undergoing this traveller’s curse. My mind drifted to what could have happened if this would have occurred during a long train journey. It would have ben an absolute disaster. Now it just was a nuisance, a miserable nuisance indeed but nothing worse than that. I can call myself lucky in a way.

In the evening Pardeshi’s wife cooked moongdal khichadi for me, a very nutritious but lightly digestible dish that Indians cook a lot after recovering from bad stomach. It was the first solid food I had in two days and not only did it taste wonderful, it did me well.

And then, next morning, about 48 hours after my Delhi Belly had begun, it felt like nothing had happened and the world was fine again. The rest had done me well but it was without doubt the tender loving care of the people around me that helped me to recover so quickly. I could only feel extremely thankful and was now ready to complete the final part of my journey.

In the afternoon we went out to visit some temples in Nashik. The first place we visited was Sita Gumpha, the place where Lord Rama stayed during his 14 year exile from Ayodhya. He built a hermitage close to a cluster of five banyan trees. Sitka Gumpha is a series of caves which can be reached through some very narrow tunnels, it’s definitely not for the claustrophobic and I was happy it was not to crowded so at least I got some kind of feeling of space.

Nearby was the Kalaram temple, another very sacred site. Inside is a spacious space for sitting and meditating. The idols of Lord Ram, Laxman and Sita are in black, which is very unique.

By the time we came out of the temple I once again got issues with my eyesight and. Sunita did see I was not doing well and decided I needed to consult a doctor. It turned out I was completely dehydrated and my blood pressure was 74/47. Far too low, no wonder I was feeling miserable. I was put on several different infusions for about 2 hours after which my blood pressure was more or less normalised. Also I was given medication for 5 days, not really the kind of last evening I had hoped for.. Glad I was in good hands.

I had a little bit to eat that evening and went to bed early, it had been an exciting day but not the way I had hoped for….

Continue to Part 6 Goa – Time for yoga and meditation