A Sunday morning walk in Mumbai

“Lets go for a walk. You can see a different side of Mumbai that way,” I said to a friend who was visiting Mumbai from Delhi on work and wanted to experience the city in a zara hatke way.

“A walk? In Mumbai?,” she asked incredulously.

“Of course,” I replied.

She laughed herself silly over my suggestion and then asked, “But where is the space to walk in this city? And what about the weather, the crowds, the traffic, the pollution, etc.?”

“The weather is not too bad in Mumbai now. Besides, if we go for a walk on a Sunday, the crowds, the traffic and the pollution will be manageable,” I responded.

“Er… what is there to see in Mumbai, apart from the not-so-clean beaches, the Marine Drive, the Siddhi Vinayak Temple, the Haji Ali Dargah, and houses of film stars?” she asked a little too politely.

Since this was the first time that my friend was visiting Mumbai, and was only repeating what she had heard from others, I guess she could be forgiven. But still, it was a matter of pride for me to present my city to a visitor in a way that only an insider can. “You and I are going for a walk this Sunday. No ifs and buts or whats and wheres. No arguments. Meet me outside Platform 1 at CST station at 8.00 am. And try not to be late, will you?”

The front façade of the UNESCO World Heritage site and Central Railway Headquarters, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

So that is how, we came to standing outside Platform 1 at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or CST (formerly known as Victoria Terminus or VT) at around 8 am looking and soaking in the activity at the station on a beautifully cool and crisp Sunday morning (well, as cool and crisp as Mumbai can possibly get at this time of the year).

The CST building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and perhaps the only living one, in the sense that it is still in use today and is not just another monument. In addition to being a railway terminus for both suburban railway services in Mumbai and long distance trains, the CST building is also the headquarters of the Central Railways, which was earlier known as the Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIPR). Designed by the British architect Frederick William Stevens, construction of this building began in 1878 and was inaugurated on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s (the then reigning British monarch’s) golden jubilee in 1888. Today, only the platforms and the suburban booking office are open to the public and photography is strictly forbidden inside the premises.

Platform 1, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Photo credit: Maria)

Platform 1, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Photo credit: Maria)

We began our walk with a stroll down Platform 1, one of the six original platforms of the CST building, and which still retains many of the original features today.

Since it was a Sunday, there were hardly any people and we were able to wander around leisurely. I was particularly keen on showing my friend the only two remaining stained glass windows located somewhere in the middle of the platform. One cannot miss them at all — their vivid colours, design and the quality make them stand out. Their brilliance is enhanced as they are easily visible in a row of insipid, washed out replacement “stained glass” windows, which look suspiciously like acrylic. The picture on the left, sadly shows only the replacement windows. :-(

Suburban Booking Office, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. (Photo credit: Ting Chen)

Suburban Booking Office, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. (Photo credit: Ting Chen)

We then moved to the suburban booking office to look at some more stunning stained glass work, wood paneling, intricate trellis-work as well as soaring pillars reaching up to an arched ceiling. The ceiling is  grand—painted a light greenish blue and gold, it is a sight to behold.

A few years back, this ceiling came under some controversy when a regional party in Mumbai declared that the ceiling design looked suspiciously like the Union Jack, and should therefore be destroyed ! In the photograph on the right, one can only get a glimpse of the ceiling; for a better look at the “Union Jack” ceiling of CST, do click here.

The main dome of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building

Once done with a tour of the interiors of CST, we step outside to see the building in its entirety. Though I have seen the building countless times, it still thrills me whenever I see it. As for my friend, who is seeing the CST building for the first time, she is quite awestruck with delight !

Built in the Victorian Gothic style, the CST building has a distinctly polychromatic effect, in spite of the visible dirt/soot on it. The bulk of the different coloured building stones were locally sourced from quarries in Kurla and Ulhasnagar, with only the white marble sourced from elsewhere. The building is very discreetly, yet richly, embellished with sculptures of animals found in the Indian subcontinent like the mongoose, bandicoot, squirrel, peacock, lion, tiger, among others. The GIPR emblem can be spied at regular intervals too. The main entrance to the CST building, which leads to the Central Railway offices, has sculptures of a lion and a tiger guarding it—the  former supposedly representing Britain and the latter, India.

We walked around the entire building trying to identify the different animals and admiring the architecture and design. Once done with the CST building, we walked the short distance to the General Post Office (GPO), our next halt in this walk.

The GPO building is supposedly modeled on the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur. Designed by John Begg, a consultant architect to the British government, the GPO building was the first building to be constructed in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture in India. Inaugurated in 1913, the GPO took 9 years to build, and today functions as the central post office for the city of Mumbai.

General Post Office Building in Mumbai. (Photo Credit: N Ghosh)

General Post Office Building in Mumbai. (Photo Credit: N Ghosh)

The architectural features of the GPO building are not visible up close as there are a lot trees around the building. Its only when we crossed the road and saw the full building could we discern the influence of Islāmic architecture in the design of the GPO, as well as its symmetrical features (see photo above).

Central Hall, GPO

Central Hall, GPO

The GPO’s interiors are beautiful and quite in contrast to the CST building that we have just seen. No stained glass windows or soaring pillars here—instead, there is a circular central hall with an (apparently) unsupported  dome towering above at 120 feet. The Central Hall is also the hub of the activity at the GPO with a circular wooden counter positioned in the centre for conducting business. Since it was a Sunday, the Post Office was closed for business, but visitors like us could still walk in and admire it, but not take photographs.

Our next destination is Ballard Estate, which is a pleasant 10 minute, leisurely walk from GPO. I am quite excited about this part of the walk as I used to work here once upon a time and can’t wait to show my friend around the area.

Wikipedia best describes Ballard Estate as “an old European style business district”. Built on reclaimed land, Ballard Estate is a collection of buildings that are uniform in architectural style and design. This was possible only because all the buildings were designed by one person—George Wittett. The first building to be constructed here was the Old Custom House. A much sought after business address in Mumbai, Ballard Estate is home to some good restaurants (think Cafe Britannia), the Grand Hotel, corporate offices and headquarters, some amazing street food, etc.

An office building in Ballard Estate

We had fun walking in and out of the various tree-lined lanes that criss-cross the Estate. Except for security guards posted outside the buildings, a group of boys playing cricket, 4 goats and 2 cows we saw no one else. This was the first time I was visiting Ballard Estate on a Sunday and the place was quite unrecognisable without its cars, hawkers and the suited and booted men and women who inhabit the place on working days. It was almost like seeing the place for the first time !

The Grand Hotel at Ballard Estate

An empty street and bus stop at Ballard Estate

The Mackenzie Building, Ballard Estate

World War II Memorial, Ballard Estate

The Alexandra Docks skirt the Ballard Estate and we manged to persuade the security guard at the gates to let us peek inside. He allowed us on the condition that we would only peek and not take photographs. After we had put our cameras inside our bags and our mobiles too, he allowed us to look inside. And what did we see? The sea, of course, a cruise liner which was docked there, and some rich and famous looking type people walking about !

After the walk in Ballard Estate, it was time to head to our next destination—the Asiatic Library and Horniman Circle Garden. It was another lovely walk, where we passed the Mint and the Reserve Bank of India buildings on our way there.

Construction of the Asiatic Library building or Town Hall was completed in 1830 and today it has been classified as a heritage structure. The Greco-Roman architectural design of the Library building is striking and it is not at all surprising that this building finds its way into ads, films, and videos ! The Horniman Circle Garden, earlier known as Eliphinstone Circle, is perhaps one of the few places in Mumbai with well-defined pedestrian arcades. The Garden was laid out in 1869 and is oriented in such a way that it has the Town Hall at one end and Flora Fountain at the other.

The front façade of the Asiatic Library building

The Asiatic Library building is a popular tourist destination and it was not surprising to see tourists there posing and clicking photographs. It was also not surprising to see cars and bikes slow down and have a look at the building before moving on. Such is the effect of this grand structure and in spite of its rather sorry state due to renovations these days, the Asiatic Library building still made for an impressive photo-op.

Since the Horniman Circle Garden was closed, we decided to move on to our next and final destination of our walk: St. Thomas’ Cathedral.

St. Thomas’ Cathedral is the first Anglican church in Mumbai and is also believed to be the oldest British building in this city. Though construction of the Cathedral of St. Thomas began in 1676, it was abandoned and remained neglected for nearly 40 years, when it was “adopted by an East India Company Chaplain in 1710. It was opened for worship as a church on Christmas Day in 1718″ (for details click here). St. Thomas’ was consecrated as a cathedral in 1837 and was selected for the UNESCO Asia-Pacific heritage conservation award 2004.

 

The St. Thomas' Cathedral (Photo Credit: Craig Moe)

The St. Thomas’ Cathedral (Photo Credit: Craig Moe)

This was my first time at the Cathedral and I was looking forward to seeing it.. When we arrived, Sunday morning services were over and except for a couple of people, the premises were empty. The cool white- washed interiors, stained glass windows, simple wooden pews, polished brass, and memorials and wall plaques—all this  transported me back to England and I had to actually tell myself that I was in Mumbai !

We spent some time reading the wall plaques and memorials dedicated to soldiers who had either died in battle or had succumbed to illness. And then we spent some more time admiring the many stained glass windows. My pick was the window with St. Gabriel, St. Thomas and St. Michael in one frame. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Stained glass window depicting St. Gabriel, St. Thomas and St. Michael at the Cathedral of St. Thomas, Mumbai

By now, hunger and thirst had caught up with us and we went looking for a place to have refreshments. It took us a while as all the eateries were closed on account of it being Sunday. So you can imagine our relief when we discovered the little café at the Kitab Khana at Flora Fountain. That was an absolute life-saver ! The next hour or so was unwinding and relaxing over some excellent sandwiches and tea, and discussing our morning walk. :-)

I confessed to my friend that when I had ordered asked her to meet me at CST station for the walk, I had no clue as to what kind of walk I was going to take her on. I just had a vague idea of the places that I loved and wanted her to see. I guess that if hunger and thirst pangs had not interrupted, we might have just gone somewhere else.

My friend stared at me for some time and then burst out laughing. She said, “I could never tell that this was not a planned walk, if you know what I mean. If you are looking for another profession, Sudha, start conducting such walks in Mumbai. It was just P.E.R.F.E.C.T.”

“So does that mean one can walk in Mumbai and see things other than the not so clean beaches, Marine Drive, etc.,” I asked my friend slyly

“Touche, Sudha. Touche,” she smiled.

So, dear readers, what do you think of the walk that you just took with me? :-D

P.S.: I know that, ideally, I should be putting up a map and routes and directions and what not, in case you are keen on doing this yourself. Umm… I’ll try to do it sometime soon. But really, this is not a difficult walk to do without directions and each stop is a maximum of 10 minutes away from the next. So directions or no directions, why don’t you try out this walk this Sunday or next Sunday or the Sunday after or … You could even do it on a weekday, but I would always recommend a Sunday for this walk.

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83 thoughts on “A Sunday morning walk in Mumbai

  1. Sudhagee, that is an amazing travelogue! It took me many years down the memory lane when I had first come to Mumbai. I used to wander alone in all those places and many, many more like the Gateway, Elephanta and Kanheri Caves. I used to be a solitary wanderer as my batchmate, who was also posted to Mumbai, refused to accompany me after a couple of excursions.

    And those are excellent photographs.

    Like

    • Thank you, Umashankar. This was a nostalgia trip for me too, especially the Ballard Estate part and a perfect way to introduce someone to the city’s colonial history and of course to spend a Sunday morning.

      I am usually a solitary wanderer too, unless I have a like-minded person with me. It’s better that way, as I am sure you will agree.

      Maybe, this post could be considered as a gentle reminder take the nostalgia into reality :-)

      Like

  2. I love your way of looking at Mumbai. Next time I am there we have to take a walk together. It’ll be all the more enjoyable in your company. :)

    Kudos to you on an excellent post.

    Like

    • It’s a deal, Meera. :-D I look forward to taking you around the city I love, but do not always like.

      I find it irritating that it is also not considered a place worth exploring apart from usual suspects or the slum tourism variety. More than any other place in India, Mumbai has many parallel worlds residing in it, and every world is worth visiting. I am a little tired of reading only negative things about this city. A little positivity never hurts anyone, does it ? And besides, everything lies in the eyes of the beholder :-)

      Like

  3. This post on ( to me it still is) Bombay is better than most of the must-flaunt coffee table stuff, not to speak of the handouts that you get from the sleepy may-I-help-you tourist kiosks that litter the entry points in the city. I am sure that even the suited booted kind who crowd the place five days a week will be surprised-and not a bit ashamed-that they haven’t noticed this, ever.

    Like

  4. Loved reading this one, Sudha!thanks for reminding me of the things that make me love this city!

    for your interest, when I was in Melbourne, I saw the Flinders Steet Station. Apparently, the blueprint of VT and FS were accidentally exchanged. So we have what initially was meant for melbourne!

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  5. Sudhaji,
    you won’t believe it, I did that when I visited Mumbai, in 1993. We saw the places you mentioned, esp. Ballard Estate area, and soaked in the atmosphere. I was prepared to settle down and work there, I loved all those second hand books on the footpath , and the leisurely pace too!

    VT is another location, that strikes the person when they look up. This part of Mumbai , looks awesome.

    Missed the chance, had to settle for another place :-(

    Lovely narrations and pictures.

    Like

    • Yes, Ballard Estate is that kind of place—it makes you want to work there. In fact a friend of mine was even prepapred to stay out in the streets provided she had a clean loo and a hot shower for use closeby :-D I worked in the Ballard Estate area for 2 years and loved every single day there. My route to work everyday was VT to GPO to Ballard Estate.

      Have you been to Bandra or Vasai? That has a Portuguese influenece and is equally stunning. But then these little pockets of Mumbai like Girgaum or Dadar with their sub-cultures are fascinating. I hope to explore these places one day and write about them too.

      Like

  6. Wow.. this brought some memories of my recent visits to mumbai .. although I prefer to forget them because of the person i was with ..

    but still such beautiful places and hopefully I will come and visit them all soon probably with someone who deserves to be with me :)

    Like

    • Well then, Bikram, you’ll just have to come back with the right person or just by yourself :-) Because this place, in my opinion, has to be visited, explored, walked … Besides you have to make some nice memories, right? :-)

      Like

  7. A walk to remember! :D
    With these kinds of insider walks in the kitty, your friend was destined to change her former opinion about the city. Very, very useful travelogue with, as is the norm, great pictures! :)

    Like

    • Thank you very much, Deboshree.

      Yes, it was definitely a walk to remember. When I used to work in Ballard Estate many years ago I used to walk the VT-GPO-Ballard Estate Route every morning and the reverse in the evening. I used to idly glance at the beauty and heritage around me and marvel at it occasionally. It is only after I changed jobs that I started missing this place and remembering the details and its significance. It’s quite amazing how much the mind remembers !

      Like

  8. Dear Sudha, if (and whenever) I come to Mumbai, you have to be my guide for at least one day! It is lovely the way you explain. In return if you ever come to Bologna, I wil be happy to be your guide :)

    Like

  9. I have never had the opportunity to go on such a leisurely walk in a practically empty Mumbai. So consider yourself booked for a walking tour when I come there next. And I do get the feeling that the GPO pic might be snapped up too? Another treat for me? :D

    Like

    • Booking confirmed, Zephyr. :-D

      Not all the pics are mine. The ones of CST interiors and well as both the GPO photos have been taken by someone else. The credits are given in the caption itself and clicking the photos will take you to the site I got it from.

      As for the treat, does there need to be a reason? ;-)

      Like

    • Welcome too my blog, Sangeeta and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Mumbai is like that—it makes life difficult and then offers succour at the most unexpected places ! I have lived in Mumbai for almost 20 years now. Its home, its familiar, its comforting and yes, it is also tough enough to shake me out of that comfort zone every now and then.

      Like

  10. “What is there to see in Mumbai, apart from the not-so-clean beaches, the Marine Drive, the Siddhi Vinayak Temple, Haji Ali Dargah, and houses of film stars?”

    Exactly the same question which was in my mind and maybe thats why I never went to Mumbai to “see” things. Well now I know.

    Thanks Sudha :)

    Like

  11. Beautiful writing which brought back nostalgia of my walk on this stretch admiring them on day after day for three years in Mumbai ! Do you know that the station of Melbourne and VT(CST) are replicas, almost, and were designed by the same architect and these somehow got swapped at construction!

    Like

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comments, Rahul. I’m glad that it brought back nostalgic memories. They are after all the best type of memories after all. I did read about the blueprints of the Flinders Street Station and that of VT getting exchanged. In fact, Sumanya mentioned the same thing in an earlier comment on this post. Have you seen Flinders Street Station?

      Like

      • Thanks Sudhajee! I somehow missed reading Sumanya’ s comment! Yes I have seen Flinders Street Station and stayed just across the station for almost 10 days:)

        Like

  12. You know, I’ve lived and worked in these areas in my younger days, and simply loved accompanying you on this walk ! VT still inspires awe, and wandering through Ballard Pier area, and all those INS Navy places really takes you to another world… Thank you for this very informative, interesting and amazing post !

    (Someone needs to get this printed and distribute it to folks visiting Mumbai ….)

    Like

    • Thank you Suranga. Somehow, I knew that this post would strike a chord with you. I love this part of Mumbai and even when on a weekday when its crowded an chaotic just to stop, take a breath and look around is so invigorating. When I am overwhelmed with work, I try and sneak to this part, even if it is only for an hour and come back feeling refreshed.

      Like

  13. My only trip to Mumbai (last year) had been inthe rainy month of July. Can’t say I saw much, not as much as you have outlined here! This has been such a delightful walk! :)

    Like

  14. I enjoyed that virtual walk through bombay. Must admit that I was in your friend’s boat before the walk started, having only seen the city in passing a few times!

    Like

    • Welcome to my blog, Shivya, and welcome to Mumbai too. :-)

      The sights in Mumbai are not in plain sight; they are hidden behind illegal constructions, hoardings, grime, filth and what not. I hope this has interested you enough to try this walk when you are in Mumbai next. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Like

  15. I LOVED the piece you wrote.

    You are just the kind of travel guide I would love to have with me when I go anywhere. Not the one who says, “you have 12 and a half minutes to run through the museum and come back in time to catch the bus” !!!!!!!!!! Or that, the more one stares at a painting or sculpture, the more meaning one can read into it.

    I love the sensitivity with which you write and the humour-laced pragmatism that infuses your words. Your unstated premise that everything has a story to tell is both original and self-effacing; showing a willingness to allow the subject of your work to talk for itself, rather than as your medium.

    Can we do a walking tour of the ancient churches in Mumbai, once? It is something that I have always wanted to do. Not that anything will match up to Coventry, of course, but well, maybe something may come close…the old ruined cathedral in Andheri East, at SEEPZ, or the strange dome-shaped structure in old Bandra.

    Like

    • Thank you, Suma. Your words humble and overwhelm me at the same time.

      I would love to go on a Mumbai walk with you. In fact, I have identified some interesting routes that one can go on, both in South Bombay aad in the suburbs. I have heard of the ruined cathedral in SEEPZ, but which dome like structure in Bandra are you talking about?

      Like

  16. Hey sudhagee,
    Thanks for a very readable article.I followed it after reading today’s writeup in DNA. Every time I come to fort area on Sunday mornings( for some other work) I am struck by the contrast that one sees compared to other days & keep asking my family to accompany me on Sunday morn for a stroll in this area. But no takers. Now hubby has agreed for a walk in Mumbai! Thank you!
    Arpana Kulkarni.

    Like

    • Welcome to my blog, Arpana, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I’m absolutely delighted that you found the post useful and are actually going to try it out. I would really appreciate it if you could let me know how it went and whether it was doable.

      Thank you once again and I hope that you will keep visiting :-)

      Like

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  18. I ENVY you Sudhaji!.. I make a solemn promise that I will work only in Mumbai once my Stupid Course ends,.. Apart from everything else its the plain fact that my sweetheart resides at Vashi..So thats another incentive to come over there!

    Like

    • Why envy me, Hari? The moment you are done with your course, take the next available train/bus/flight/ and get yourself here. Hopefully the rains would also be over by then. But then, walking around these areas with your sweetheart in the rains will be something else altogether ;-) Enjoy

      Like

    • It IS a wonderful and leisurely walk, Modern Gypsy and on Sundays it is quite other worldly too. Let me know when you’re in Mumbai next and you’ll have an enthu guide to take you on this walk :-)

      Like

  19. Wow! This makes for such an amazingggggg read! I’m a student of std 12 n it’s my wish to explore Mumbai aftr my boards! And this article of yours has made my wish even more strong! Loved reading it! Thanks a lot! And hey, the pictures were great too. :)

    Like

    • Hello, Aladybird, and welcome here. Delighted to see you here and even more delighted that you liked the post and the pictures. Hope you’ll get to do this walk for real one day in Mumbai. :-)

      Like

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  21. What a delightful walk that was, Sudhagee!! We’ll be shifting to Mumbai in a couple of months on account of my husband’s transfer posting, and I was kind of apprehensive at the thought of having to live in Mumbai. I must say your post makes me look forward to being in Mumbai — I would definitely love to go on walks like this one!!

    Like

    • Welcome here, Scribblehappy and also a warm welcome to my city in advance. :-) Thank you so much for liking the post and also commenting. Mumbai has its good, bad and ugly points and I hope you experience only the good. Please do write to me at sudhagee[at]rediffmail.com if you need any information on this city. And hope you will keep visiting this blog as well :-D

      Like

      • Thank you Sudhagee, its very kind of you to offer help to a would-be newcomer :-) Will be mailing you.
        I have already subscribed a few days back–will definitely be hanging around here regularly :-)

        Like

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  23. The story of Mumbai was beautifully narrated. I am still amazed about the grandeur that even after 125 years, CSTM is able to inspire awe and grandeur among us. Truly, I still haven’t been to Ballard Estate but I’m just really curious to visit it.

    Like

    • CSTM is one of a kind, Akshay, and never will such a grand edifice be built ever again. Ballard Estate is the original Central Business District of Mumbai and is best visited on a Sunday. Unless you want to wade through rows upon rows of cars and suited and booted people on a weekday ;)

      Like

  24. What you show is the tip of the iceberg. One should go there in the morning and at the time of setting sun. If you want your portfolio or facebook photos, its the place to click.
    Thank you for refreshing my memories.
    Kushal Mial

    Like

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  26. I am from Assam…its morning.. I woke up thinking of going for a morning walk but this back ache stopped me from doing it. I turned my laptop on and typed in Google “Morning walk in Mumbai” I do not know why Mumbai came to my mind and then I found this… Honestly, it was as refreshing as a morning walk. Thanks for sharing your experience and writing so well.

    Like

    • Welcome to “My Favourite Things”, Dharitri. Thank you so much for your lovely words with which I started my morning, and also for commenting.

      PS: I like your name very much :)

      Like

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  28. Some years ago, while preparing to write my novel ‘The Empress Emerald’ I was trying to imagine what many of the places you visit in your wonderful walk used to be like in the early years of the C20th. What were the streets and buildings like in what was known as old Bombay before the noise and fumes of motor cars? for example. What was the old Victoria Terminus station like when there were huge steam engines chugging in and out? Looking at your photos and reading your descriptions has calmed one of my greatest worries: some places may have changed internally because industry/engineering/technology mean our society moves at a faster pace, but essentially the external appearance of most old buildings, and perhaps what the architects first envisaged, has not. Thank you, Sudhagee. JGH

    Like

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