NO BETTER WAY TO SLAM-DUNK into the heart and soul of Mumbai than by visiting Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station. A UNESCO World Heritage site housed in an elaborate Victorian building, it is often called “the lifeline of the city.” At all times of day or night the place pulses and surges with humanity, alive with the sounds of huge, clattering, smoking railway cars. From businessmen in three-piece suits to Sikhs in turbans and dhotis to housewives in shimmering saris and dozens of bangle bracelets, they all rush in and out of crammed carriages. Nothing is slow and relaxed here; the station, almost a life force in itself, proves a microcosm of the city in general.
Besides boasting an astonishing 20 million estimated inhabitants, Mumbai hosts Bollywood, the National Stock Exchange and countless financial and scientific institutions. Savvy and primed for success, the city welcomes business travelers from all parts of the world.
Doing business in India can require a little patience, especially for Westerners. It is common to engage in small talk at the beginning of a business meeting. And while business locals adhere to punctuality, meetings can start and finish later than expected, and interruptions occur on a regular basis. Flexibility remains important, and when negotiations move more slowly than one is used to, it’s wise to relax and not force the situation.
English is widely spoken in business, and Indians place importance on formal titles such as Mr. or Mrs. or sir and madam. Business dress tends toward smart but comfortable: lightweight suits for men and pantsuits for women.
Mumbai prides itself on its impressive assortment of top-of-the-line meeting venues. One of the most historic venues, The Taj Mahal Palace hotel opened in 1903 and was the country’s first harbor landmark. One of its nine-seat conference rooms proves perfect for a small gathering.
Indigo Delicatessen, a European-style eatery with outstanding comfort food, offers circular banquette seating, making it ideal for a casual brainstorming meeting. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Michelin-starred Yauatcha serves outstanding Cantonese dim sum cuisine. A business meeting involving such superb food will undoubtedly impress any client.
With more than 34,000 square feet of event space and 21 event rooms, the Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel is clearly equipped for meetings of all sizes. Especially handy for business travelers staying at the hotel, Fratelli Fresh serves excellent Italian cuisine and offers a great place for a quiet client dinner.
Among hotels that cater to business travelers, the super- swanky Oberoi proves top-notch. Besides a stunning location on Marine Drive, the hotel boasts luxuries such as silk- upholstered armchairs and mother-of-pearl dressers. But it also offers the latest in-room technology and exceptional levels of service. For more reasonably priced accommodations, the Indian ITC Hotels Group offers the Grand Central and the Maratha, both good business hotels boasting great service, good food and more warmth than the big global hotel chains.
Business travelers always face the issue of how to traverse a new city, especially one as huge and immensely crowded as Mumbai. There’s the local train, of course, with its 120 stops and four primary lines — not for the faint of heart. With the cars packed to absolute bursting, hordes of people moving like lightning rush on and off the train.
Local buses also pose a bit of a challenge, especially as they have no air-conditioning and incur frequent traffic delays. The famous black and yellow Kaali-Peeli cabs, offering the best deal for short distances, will cease operation in June. Uber and Ola provide comfortable options.
If you have time for sightseeing between meetings, consider several interesting possibilities. The Gateway of India, a colossal structure constructed in 1924 and probably the city’s most iconic landmark, overlooks Mumbai harbor. Film aficionados can arrange for tours of Bollywood studios and locations. But for the most unusual sight, check out Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, a massive open-air laundry in operation for more than 140 years. Dirty laundry arrives here from all over Mumbai to be handwashed by the dhobis (washermen) in the seemingly endless rows of concrete troughs.
To see how the locals shop and to experience a feast for all the senses, make a trip to the Crawford Market. With 72,000 square yards of space in a historic Norman- and Flemish-style building, the market has been in business since the 1860s. Besides the dazzling array of beautifully displayed fresh fruit and vegetables, vendors sell everything from spices to poultry to housewares and gift items, and there’s even a pet shop.
If you need to recharge your batteries after a morning of business meetings, stop by one of the branches of The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf or Barista Lavazza and get WiFi-connected while you sip a rejuvenating cup of coffee or tea.
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