Mumbai a melting pot
- June 1, 2008
By Joan Tupponce
Ted Sojourner can thank an airline snafu that delayed his luggage for introducing him to bargain shopping in Mumbai, India. “I was able to buy two shirts, two pairs of pants and a tie and belt for less than $100. In the U.S., I would have spent around $300,” he says. “I spent time walking down the streets and looking through all the different brand name shops.”
He was unaware at the time that clothing is one of Mumbai’s largest exports. Many great buys can be found on Fashion Street, a collection of small shops along Mahatma Gandhi Road.
Sojourner has become acquainted with Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) because his company, Essel Propack, has its headquarters there. He is the company’s Danville-based vice president for the Americas. “We were the first company to introduce laminated tubes in India,” Sojourner says. “In 1993, our business went into Egypt, then China and Germany. We began to expand.”
The company is part of The Essel Group, an India-based company involved in media, entertainment and packaging. “Essel Propack is the largest specialty packaging company in the world and the largest manufacturer of laminated tubes,” Sojourner says. “We have 32 percent share of the business in 14 countries with 23 manufacturing locations.”
Sojourner travels to Mumbai frequently for meetings and strategy sessions. He learned that workdays in India last 10 hours, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. “The first time I was there we started our meeting at 10 a.m. and stopped at noon,” he recalls. “I thought we were having lunch, but it was a tea break. We didn’t eat until about 3 p.m.”
A melting pot of cultures, Mumbai has about 13 million residents. Its location on India’s western coast makes it a draw for tourists. Many begin their tour of Mumbai at the Gateway of India, the city’s most visited monument. The arch was built to commemorate the 1911 visit of British King George V and Queen Mary.
Steps behind the arch lead to launches where visitors can take cruises around the harbor. Some boats go to Elephanta Caves on Gharapuri Island. The 1,200-year-old, rock-cut temple features sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses.
Another city attraction is the palm-tree-lined promenade along Marine Drive. The walkway bordering the sea is called the “Queen’s Necklace” because street lights lining the drive sparkle like gems at night.
As Sojourner learned, bazaars and street markets around the city offer a wide variety of goods. Many bargain hunters flock to the Chor Bazaar, a multi-street flea market filled with antiques shops.
After his first visit to Mumbai, Sojourner learned an important rule for any visitor to the city. “You don’t dare drive,” he says. “Traffic is incredible. It’s just crazy.”
Where to stay
Mumbai offers a variety of accommodations, including several upscale hotels such as Le Royal Meridien Mumbai, the Grand Hyatt Mumbai near the financial district of Bandra-Kurla; and The Oberoi, overlooking the Arabian Sea. Sojourner suggests The Leela Kempinski Mumbai, set on 11 acres of landscaped gardens near the airport. The 12-story hotel has four restaurants as well as a
spa, shops and exercise facilities. “It’s a luxury hotel with outstanding service,” he says. “The rooms are very spacious and accommodating. It really caters to professionals.”
The city’s economy
Mumbai’s economic base includes engineering, health care, finance, manufacturing, information technology and clothing. The city is headquarters to several large companies such as The Reliance Group, India’s largest private-sector enterprise with key investments in oil and gas development; the Tata Group, which includes 98 companies in seven business sectors; and the Aditya Birla Group, an aluminum and copper producer. Mumbai is also home to the Bhabha Atomic Research Center and a growing number of technical industries. The city is a finance center, housing the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange of India. It also serves as the capital for India’s Hindi film industry, known as “Bollywood.” Its studios and production companies produce more than 900 films annually.
Where to eat
Ted Sojourner admits he’s been cautious about the food he eats when he travels. His favorite picks for Mumbai include an Italian restaurant, Stella, on the top floor of The Leela Kempinski Mumbai Hotel and a Chinese restaurant, The Great Wall, in the same building. “Stella has a great wine selection and steaks and veal,” he says.
Local cuisine includes dishes such as vada pav, a potato-based patty served on a roll, and bhelpuri, which includes a piece of puffed bread and a sauce or chutney.