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Mumbai correspondent shares top spots

CNN's Mallika Kapur recommends the Zodiac Grill at the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace hotel for a special occasion.
CNN's Mallika Kapur recommends the Zodiac Grill at the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace hotel for a special occasion.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aer bar, on the rooftop of the Four Seasons Hotel, offers stunning views of the city
  • The Gateway of India is a monument tourists shouldn't miss
  • Sample the pepper garlic crab at Trishna, a popular Mumbai eatery
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CNN's Insider Trip Tips taps staffers around the globe for a local's look at places where they work and live. Mallika Kapur is a CNN International correspondent in Mumbai, India.

(CNN) -- Mumbai, one of the world's most densely populated cities, buzzes with energy in a sea of contrasts.

Capital of the Maharashtra state in southwestern India, the city is both India's economic hub and rife with poverty. Bollywood glamour and cutting-edge design mix with ancient culture and world religions in this city on the Arabian Sea.

CNN International correspondent Mallika Kapur has lived in Mumbai for two years.

"Mumbai has a great vibe. It's a big, bustling city with an energy that's infectious," Kapur said.

"There are always cars and buses on the road, thousands of people in a rush, car horns tooting, music blaring. It looks and sounds chaotic, which it often is, but somewhere in the middle of all that, there is a rhythm. Once you spot that, you will learn to love Mumbai."

The city's eclectic mix of people from all over the world gives it a decidedly cosmopolitan flavor. Here Kapur shares some of the city's luxurious hot spots:

Where can you get the best view of the city?

A couple of my favorite spots: The poolside of the Trident Hotel. You get a sweeping view of Marine Drive, also known as the Queen's Necklace. Gaze at the circular road at night, see the street lights sparkle against the sea, and you'll know how it gets its name. Another great place is the recently opened Aer bar on the rooftop of the Four Seasons Hotel.

You don't always need to go to a hotel to get a great look at Mumbai. Drive on the Sea Link, a bridge connecting the suburbs with central Mumbai. Going southbound, look left. The skyline, especially at dusk, will take your breath away.

Mallika Kapur, right, is a CNN International correspondent based in Mumbai.
Mallika Kapur, right, is a CNN International correspondent based in Mumbai.

Which restaurant would you take your loved one to for an anniversary or other special occasion?

Zodiac Grill at the Taj Hotel. Great service, great food. It's elegant and romantic.

Where is the best place to people-watch?

Tote on the Turf after 10 p.m. It's a restaurant located at the edge of Mumbai's racecourse that boasts of cutting edge design and fine dining. It has a lovely lounge upstairs with an impressive variety of drinks. Tote on the Turf is where Mumbai's beautiful people hang out.

If you are under 25, Aer (see above) after midnight. You must have heard, Mumbai never sleeps.

What is your favorite neighborhood?

The one I live in. I live next to the gorgeous Priyadarshini Park, a large patch of green in the middle of an urban jungle. It hugs the Arabian Sea. I love it.

How do tourists stick out, and what's the best way to blend in?

The usual: backpacks, cameras, clutching guidebooks. Forget about blending in. Enjoy Mumbai in any way you can!

What's the biggest misconception about your city?

That it's all about bling and Bollywood. While I love Indian cinema, there's much more than movies to Mumbai.

Where do you go to relax?

Tahaa Spa on Napean Sea Road. It's brilliant. And it's open till 10 p.m. (which is well after the kids have gone to bed).

What essential thing should visitors see/experience if they only have a few hours?

I'd suggest going to the Gateway of India, opposite the beautiful Taj Hotel. The waterfront monument is an icon of Mumbai. The last of the British ships that set sail for England after India achieved independence left from here. Today it's the most popular tourist attraction in Mumbai. It's always bustling with activity, has a great view of the sea, and it's surrounded by lovely stores and restaurants. A great flavor of Mumbai.

What's the biggest tourist trap? Is there a "tourist trap" that's actually worth seeing?

One that's definitely worth experiencing is Trishna, a fabulous seafood restaurant that's cheap and cheerful. People use clichés to describe it. They call it "legendary," "an institution." It's all that -- and more. Go!

Where was your most memorable meal?

I love seafood, and I live in Mumbai, so it would have to be dinner at Trishna. There's no ambiance, no fancy décor, just really yummy food. Try the pepper garlic crab, Trishna's signature dish.

Where's your favorite place to spend a night out on the town?

It's usually so hot and muggy during the day in Mumbai, so I like to take any opportunity to be outdoors when it's cooler at night. So I'd pick Aer, the rooftop bar of the Four Seasons Hotel, or Dome, on the rooftop of the Intercontinental.

Are there local specialty dishes or drinks that visitors must try?

Definitely! Pav Bhaji. Spicy, buttery vegetables in a tomato base, eaten with warm bread.

What is a good local souvenir?

There are tons to choose from! Perhaps a little Ganesh, the elephant god who is worshipped throughout Mumbai. You can buy it in almost any texture: wood, sandalwood, glass, silver, gold, plastic. It'll be an auspicious souvenir.