When I decided to spend two weeks in Bombay last month, meeting friends, travelling on a local train and trying local food only were on my agenda. I explored various parts of the city to tick off these items from my bucket list.
Though my first trip on the local train was from Bandra to Andheri, the one I took from Bandra to Churchgate was my favourite. Not because I got to see the Wankhede stadium or Marine drive on the way, but because it took me to a Bombay that I wasn’t prepared to see. The Bombay that left me in awe, the Bombay where I left a piece of my heart.
Dear Bombay, why are you so beautiful? Architecture of Mumbai
Love at First Sight
It was 26th May and I had taken a couple of days off from work to explore Bombay. Early in the morning, I headed out to Khar road railway station from where I boarded the slow local to Churchgate. The train arrived, and a sea of people got in. As the train chugged by various stations, more and more people started getting in. I remember I could barely see outside because of the crowd.
After a while, I got a glimpse of one of the lights of Wankhede and I realised the final destination was close. Within a few minutes, the train slowed down and the crowd disappeared. I was the only one in the coach.
I got off the train and walked out of the station. That was the first time I saw a beautiful building, the western railway headquarters. I stood there still in awe of the magnificent structure that was in front of me. While I’ve had a few love-at-first-sight moments back in school, this one was different. I had absolutely no agenda for the day apart from meeting a few friends so I was free to explore South Bombay and experience the beautiful architecture of Mumbai.
Architecture in Mumbai – Gothic Victorian, Indo Saracenic & Contemporary
The above heading might make you feel that I know a lot about architecture. Well, I know just as much as you, or maybe a lot less. It’s because of my exploration of south Bombay, I decided to spend time reading more and understanding the various forms of architecture in Mumbai.
Each of these styles is quite different from the others and has a unique story behind it. At the same time, I’ll not dig deep into any of it, just a one-liner to basically help you understand the difference between each of them.
This style was prevalent in the early 18th and 19th centuries during the British raj. A few distinct characteristics of this architecture are beautifully crafted & expressive elements like flying buttresses and tall and narrow windows with beautifully stained glasses.
Indian architects took this Gothic style and added some Indian elements. This new variation of Victorian Gothic architecture came to be known as Mumbai Gothic. The famous Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus building and Municipality building follow this architectural style.
This form of architecture is a mix of Islamic, Hindu and British architecture. So elements like stained glasses are coupled with arches, domes and minarets. Back in the British considered the Mughal architecture as classic Indian and used a lot of elements from it to construct buildings.
Some of the buildings in Bombay that follow this style are the Gateway of India and the Chattrapati Shivaji Museum.
The contemporary architecture in Mumbai comprises towering skyscrapers and high-rise buildings. The financial capital of India needed to keep up with the times and be able to attract foreign investments. This is in stark contrast with the old Bombay or Fort as it is called.
In fact, the small strip of land in the fort itself houses buildings following both these architectural styles and I just loved exploring the alleys.
You’ll also find a lot of buildings with the Art Deco style of architecture as well in the area. It took me barely a few hours to fall in love with fort so much so that I visited the area for the next 3 days! Yes!
Buildings Worth Seeing in Fort, Mumbai
As I mentioned above, in the small area of fort itself, you’ll find a variety of different architectural buildings. Starting from the Churchgate railway station itself. I’d like to put it like this, taking a right and walking towards Marine drive, you’d see more modern and contemporary buildings while on the opposite are these marvellous buildings from the past. In fact, a section of the row of houses facing the sea on Marine Drive is declared a world heritage site.
On this side of the city, you can see the beautiful skyline of Mumbai, the magnificent building of Trident and the NCPA. The lane behind this is home to some of the richest businesses in the world – Reliance Industries. Makers Chamber is the business heart of the city.
Taking a stroll from Nariman point toward the museum, you’ll slowly notice a change in the architectural style. You reach the famous oval maidan and look at the marvellous High court building you’ll feel like committing a crime to just get inside and see the beautiful building.
The civil court and the clock tower are not just a couple of buildings from the Gothic Victorian era, there are a lot more in the vicinity. Not far away is the Flora fountain built-in 1800 which is another structure worth seeing.
In the background, you’ll see Victorian buildings that are now offices of international and national banks. From here you can walk towards the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station or explore more of the fort area. Not many would know but Fort has the pin code 400001 and the famous Dalal street is here. From the magnificent Ballard Pier to the SBI building, every lane, every building left me in awe.
As you move a little further away going back towards Churchgate, you’ll come across the Jehangir Art gallery and the Chattrapati Shivaji museum. The museum may not be the best in terms of the collection, but the building is something you must witness. This is an example of Indo-Saracenic architecture.
At a stone’s throw distance from this museum is the famous Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. Both buildings are the trademark of Bombay, and only when you visit these places in person you’ll know why.
Spend a Day in Fort, Mumbai
This was my first trip to Mumbai and I didn’t expect this at all. There were times I felt that every building in the fort had a story to tell me. I stopped in front of every such building just to admire and appreciate the beautiful architecture.
Whether you are planning to visit Mumbai for a personal or work trip, I highly recommend you spend a day in Fort. Ask the cab to drop you at CST or Oval Maidan. Take a bottle of water and just stroll around, I bet you’ll also say, Dear Bombay, Why are you so beautiful?