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October - November 2008
My Magical Mumbai
I have a little ownership of this mega city of Mumbai, as it was my home town for five years when I studied and later taught architecture at the famous Sir J.J. Institute of Applied Art / College of Architecture. Hence the title of this travelogue.
The city of Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is situated at the edge of the Arabian Sea. It is the booming Capital of the State of Maharashtra. Mumbai, including Thane and New Mumbai, houses nineteen million people making it the fifth most populous metropolitan area in the world. There were originally seven separate islands on the Konkan coastline which were joined to form the city of Bombay. It was later joined by bridges and causeways to other island and the mainland to form Greater Mumbai.
The city is steeped in traditions with a rich historical past, but it always embraced modern and innovative ideas and offered with open arms opportunities to those who came here to seek and make their lives with the skills they brought with them. In the process Mumbai has become a great centre of trade, commerce and industry and the financial nerve centre of India. The Mumbai Stock Exchange is the oldest stock exchange in Asia. It is also the home of a globally influential film making industry- Bollywood, where the largest numbers of films are produced per year.
Most of the tourist attractions are in the oldest part of the city, downtown, which includes the areas of Fort, Colaba, Malabar Hill, Nariman Point, Marine Lines and Tardeo. The richest and most expensive neighbourhoods in the country are located here. I give below a few of my favourite places.
Mumbadevi Temple is located in Bhuleshwar. Its resident deity is Maa Mumbadevi who is the city’s patron goddess, hence the name of the city - Mumbai. The idol of eight armed goddess with an orange face sits on an altar strewn with marigold. It symbolizes the Mother earth. It is believed that the devotees who seek her divine favour are never disappointed. There are also idols of Indra, Ganesh and Hunuman.
Gateway of India is synonymous with Mumbai. It was constructed in 1911 to mark the occasion of the royal visit of King George V and Queen Mary. Visitors congregate around it, overlook the seascape and enjoy the performances of buskers either singing, or showing the dancing monkeys or their skills as a snake charmer. Also there are street sellers to add to the excitement of the place.
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is opposite Gateway of India. This old hotel building is seven storeys high and built in Islamic and Renaissance styles. A new wing in the shape of a twenty one storey tower was added to enhance its accommodation. There is a magnificent and grand stairway in the older parts of the hotel. It has been a famous landmark and tourist attraction since it was built in 1903 by the well known industrialist J.N. Tata.
Victoria Terminus popularly known as VT, now named Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is the headquarters of the Central Railway. Its building is a remarkable example of Victorian gothic architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Crawford Market is old large indoor market built in Norman gothic Style. It is a shopping experience and a place to come either just to see its grandeur or to buy fruits, vegetables and meat products.
Sir J.J. Institute of Applied Art is a great educational establishment. The campus is located opposite VT Station and includes the Institute of Applied Art, School of Art, College of Architecture and the Institute of Printing and Technology. The campus is beautifully landscaped and contains many trees which are more than a century old, and houses many heritage buildings. The interesting historic feature of the site is a century-and-half old wood and stone bungalow that was the birthplace of Rudyard Kipling. A sculpture of his bust stands at the entrance to the bungalow as a homage to the legendary writer of works such as ‘The Jungle Book’.
Marine Drive is a major road linking the financial and commercial area of Nariman Point to Chowpatty, foothills of Malabar Hill and districts beyond to the north. It was built in the shape of an arc in 1920 on reclaimed land with flanking Art Deco Apartment Blocks. At night, lit with street lights, the light from all the apartments and the head and taillights from cars, Marine Drive looks very attractive. It has earned the name of ‘the Queen’s necklace’.
Chowpatti Beach is a popular spot for romantic strolls and spectacular sunsets. In the evening buskers and street sellers appear on the beach and the party then begins which everyone can join at no extra cost.
Hanging Gardens at Malabar Hill are tranquil, lush green and well maintained. It offers superb panoramic views across Chopatti Beach, Marine Drive and up to Nariman Point.
Hajji Ali Dargah is situated in the middle of Worli Bay. The two storey white building with minarets and an onion shaped dome is striking and eye catching. It was built in 19th century. The legend says that Saint Hajji Ali died when he was on pilgrimage to Mecca and somehow the coffin floated back to this spot. The access to the Dargah is only by a causeway which gets submerged at high tide.
Juhu Beach is about five kilometres long and some twenty kilometres away to the north from the city centre. It is another playground for the residents of Mumbai. They come here to seek entertainment either on the beach itself or in clubs, restaurants or in high class hotels.
In addition there are many museums, art galleries and an aquarium to visit.
I finish on the note that Mumbai is a dynamic city with business magnates and movie moghuls dominating the limelight. It is a city of dreams, despair, drama and dazzle. The spirited and lively atmosphere of Mumbai offers a memorable experience to the local or international travellers alike.