Know Your City: Mumbai For The History Lover And Architecture Buff

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Bombay High Court, Rajabhai Tower, City Civil and Sessions Court

For those interested in reliving the past, Mumbai is at her generous best. The Mumbai of today is a heady cocktail of Maratha, Mughal, British and Post- independence modern India.  I have always felt that history and architecture share a symbiotic relationship in any city. And moreso in Mumbai.  Her history is reflected in the architecture. And her architecture is inclusive of her history. That is what is post is all about!  

Gateway of India has always been special to Mumbaikars. I don’t know a more apt postcard picture for Mumbai. Built to commemorate the visit of King George V, it ironically also witnessed the last batch of soldiers who left India post Independence! It is not just about the building façade, but the atmosphere around it. The Taj Mahal hotel, India’s first five start hotel, built as a symbol to demonstrate the growing Indian prowess in British India, stands bang opposite the Gateway of India, amidst the clutter of other older buildings. Just sitting for a few minutes by the Gateway of India, makes one imagine the Mumbai of yesteryears. And hence it is a fitting way to start the trail. As with other popular places on the tourist circuit, it tends to get very crowded during the day. It is best to reach the place by 8 am.

Marine Drive, Bombay to Mumbai
Marine Drive, Bombay to Mumbai

The majestic Boat Yacht club stands across from the Gateway, inviting you to rent one of those yachts and sailing boats and spend an evening by the sea. For those of us who don’t want to go sailing, there are the chants of ‘Elephanta, Elephanta, Elephanta’ in the air that is our calling card! Don’t dismiss them hurriedly and hop onto one of the ferries towards Elephanta Caves. One of the few places in Mumbai where the journey is as interesting as the destination!

Elephanta caves was once a favoured picnic destination for schools in Mumbai.  And that is when most of us first visited it, I’m guessing. But visiting it as an adult, I admired the subtlety of the caves better. I recommend you spend some time in the designated UNESCO sites. At the same time, there is more the island offers. It is indeed commendable the way this island has been restored in recent years, though much more still needs to be done.  The caves date back to 2400 years (You read it right) and exactly who built them is still a debate. Perfect opportunity for history buffs to start analyzing, discussing and debating.

By the time you head back the sun would be getting cruel. In my experience of city tours be it in India or abroad, walking around in the afternoons can get really hot, harsh and sap the energy. So grab a quick bite and head towards the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya, colloquially still referred to as the Prince of Wales museum, to avoid the heat and spend the afternoon soaking in history. A beautiful building, built on a massive space of 3 acres in the heritage heart of the city, the museum is also very well maintained and boasts of around 50,000 artefacts. It usually takes an exceptional museum to keep person like me engaged, and this one did.

Victoria Terminus
Victoria Terminus

After reminiscing about another era and beating the heat, it is time to continue on the walking trail. This time towards the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, albeit with some detours. Head towards Mumbai University now, wherein en route you pass by Kala Ghoda, the place which is now made popular by the art festival that take place here. The actual ‘Kala Ghoda’ is at ‘Rani Baug’ at Byculla currently. This black stone statue of King Edward VII (colloquial name – Prince of Wales) mounted on a horse was built by David Sassoon. 

Just within 400 meters radius from the Jehangir Art Gallery lies the oldest synagogue of India and a popular library David Sassoon library which is nestled in a beautiful stone building. Mumbai owes a lot of its architectural beauty to the generosity, vision and artistic love of David Sassoon.

Continue on the straight road from Kala Ghoda towards the University of Mumbai. This University building, referred to as Rajabhai tower by most people, tops my list of favourite buildings. There is indeed something magical about it. It is perhaps one of the few things which make me proud to be a Mumbai University student! Move on to cover the circle of the University gardens and come towards the University road. The best way to head towards Ballard estate would be to walk through Dalal street.

En route towards Ballard estate lies the Greco-Roman styled Asiatic library. It doesn’t take a history or architecture lover to recognize this building. A movie buff will be able to spot it as well! Bang opposite the library is the Horniman circle and the pretty garden it holds next to it. This garden has emerged as popular place for arts and theatre in recent times.

Rajabhai Tower, Bombay to Mumbai
Rajabhai Tower, Bombay to Mumbai

Ballard Estate was once ‘the’ area of official space in Mumbai. It still is, in many ways today as well. I love the massive pillars that adorn the buildings around. This place really makes me wish I could witness this road in its full glory back in the few years post-independence. And the perfect place to brood and sigh about this is at café Britannia. I didn’t want to make this post about eateries, but this one does deserve a special mention. It is like a cherry on a cake around this place. It is still one of the few Parsi eateries in Mumbai that has maintained its old world charm – almost stubbornly, this place reeks of nostalgia. Any walking trail in this area is incomplete without having the good old chai-bun maska at this old giant.  I am sure that is something which is not changed the years, as much as the environment outside!

The last place on the trail is used by most people for sprint sessions from the office and back.  A place which is cribbed about often for its stinky loos (or the lack of it!), long queues,  delays etc. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building serves as a giant reminder of the British Raj in India with its European and Mughal architecture . It was the place which hosted the first local train to Thane a whopping 160 years ago. Today it serves a reminder of the grit of Mumbaikars, whether it is the harsh commute to long distances or the stoic strength during the 26/11 attacks. It is almost impossible to walk around the place in a slow pace on a weekday. So a weekend is probably the only time you can admire the building without being tossed around!

This trail will require some energy and some liquids to keep one energised. But most importantly it will require motivation and curiosity. Although it is very much possible that you come back a little overwhelmed about Mumbai and talk about her more passionately then! Keep Walking!

Post By Guest Blogger, Aparna Amte (6 Posts)

Pursuing multiple careers, that of a freelance HR consultant, writer, photographer and food critic. An obsessive compulsive day dreamer. Wants to have the cake and eat it too (a dark chocolate one, please).

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Guest Blogger, Aparna Amte

Guest Blogger, Aparna Amte
Pursuing multiple careers, that of a freelance HR consultant, writer, photographer and food critic. An obsessive compulsive day dreamer. Wants to have the cake and eat it too (a dark chocolate one, please).