Anand & Madhura Katti take a stroll through central Mumbai, India.
Mumbai was a group of seven islands when the Portuguese seized it in the early seventeenth century. They named it Bom Bahia, meaning “Good Bay.” The islands were given as a dowry to Charles II of England in 1661 for marrying Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal. The Portuguese leased the islands to the East India Company, who then joined the islands through land reclamation. It became a vibrant trading port during the British rule. The region gained independence from Britain with the rest of India in 1947. Grandiose architecture developed by the British in ‘Bombay’, as they called it then, makes for a good walking tour. Bombay was re-christened to its earlier name of Mumbai in 1997.
1. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST)
CST train station, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built as the Victoria Terminus and is reminiscent of St. Pancras station in London. The first train in India departed from this station in 1853. Today, half a million commuters use it each day to travel within the city and to its outstations. The beautiful structure designed by Frederick William Stevens, houses the head office of India’s Central Railway. A new heritage museum here remains open during the afternoons. You can observe the frenetic activities of dabbawallas, or lunch carriers, at the station during weekdays.
2. Crawford Market
Next to CST is the Jyotiba Phule (earlier known as Crawford) Market. The entrance has a Victorian-style clock tower and two big murals. The market is vibrant with fresh produce, livestock and stores selling fresh and packaged food from across the world.
Before you get too heady with more colonial architecture, break for a cool falooda at the Badshah’s next to the market. It’s a busy place selling a hundred varieties of the cool milk based drinks in a hygienic atmosphere.
Have a good look at the Gothic styled Mumbai Police Commissioner’s office before moving on for a look at Sir J. J. School of Art.
3. Sir J. J. School of Art
It can be a surprise to find sprawling gardens on the precincts of J. J School of Art in this busy area. The school, founded in 1857 is named after Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy, a businessman and philanthropist, who donated the building to establish the school. The current neo-Gothic building was built in 1878 under the Dean John Lockwood Kipling. The bungalow where his son, the famous British author Rudyard Kipling, was born is maintained as a heritage building.
More faculties have since been added to the school. Modern paintings by students on the walls are a visual treat.
4. Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai
You walk across another colonial building, now housing the Times of India press office, to arrive at the Bombay Municipal Corporation. The BMC, as it’s popularly known, was designed in Gothic style by F.W. Stevens, the same architect who designed the CST station across the street. It has the inscription urbs prima in Indis, meaning the first city of India. This largest civic building in the country governs Mumbai’s 434 square-kilometre area. It has cusped window arches and elaborately-domed corner towers.
You then turn to Murzban road, walk across to Freemasons House, Tata House and towards the Hutatma Chowk or the Martyr’s Square.
5. Flora Fountain
The lovely fountain with Flora, the Roman goddess of beauty and prosperity at the square was built in 1869 using Portland stone at the point where the fort’s church gate once stood. There is a combined statue depicting Jai Jawan (Victory to Soldiers) and Jai Kissan (Victory to Farmers) and an eternally burning flame.
Here you can taste vada pav, Mumbai’s popular street food at the busy food stalls. Two of these hot fried potato cakes stuffed in soft buns and a big glassful of sugarcane juice make up an afternoon meal for many working people in the area.
The General Post Office building built here in an Indo-Saracenic style is India’s largest post office with more than 100 counters to cater to customers.
6. Mumbai University
The Mumbai University building houses the library in its significant Rajabai clock tower. We end our tour at the grandiose convocation hall decorated with beautiful stained glass.
Winter, from early October to end of March, is the ideal time to visit Mumbai.
Weekends are good for a heritage walking tour so that you can avoid the busy working crowds.
Wear a good pair of walking shoes, sunglasses and a hat to avoid the harsh sun.