Sometimes, all it takes is a bus ride to see your surroundings in a new light, or a new perspective. Don’t believe me? Read on… 🙂
It all began with an invitation from Audio Compass to celebrate the launch of their AudioCompass Guide with an “open air bus journey through Mumbai at sunset, discussing and getting to know her many stories”. So, on the appointed day and time on a beautiful day in March, I boarded the open air, double-decker BEST bus near Churchgate Station in South Mumbai.
As I surveyed my surroundings from the upper deck of the bus, it was with a sense of familiarity of seeing old landmarks—the Asiatic Departmental Store across the road, Resham Bhavan on my left… And yet, everything looked so very different. That’s when I realised that the elevation made a huge difference to what I was seeing and things that I had not noticed or details that were not visible from ground level were suddenly in focus. For instance, I could see the white spire of St. Thomas Cathedral rising above the trees through the left windshield of the bus — something I had never noticed before.
This is the ‘church’ whose ‘gates’ have given Churchgate its name. To me, this felt like an auspicious start to the tour and I couldn’t wait to see what else was going to be revealed during the bus ride. I didn’t have long to wait and once the other guests had arrived we set off. The tour began at Churchgate station, and took us through Fort, along D.N. Road, past Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and the General Post Office, before turning onto Mint Road and proceeding towards the Asiatic Library. Once there, we went around Horniman Circle and then drove past Regal Cinema, along Colaba Causeway and back, and finally down Marine Drive, all the way to Chowpatty where we ended the tour.
Arghya Lahiri was our storyteller and his opening statement of “Bombay is the only great city to be built on rotten fish and coconut palms” sure got our attention. I was familiar with most of the stories that Arghya narrated, but seeing familiar landmarks from a new perspective made me feel like I was listening to the stories and seeing the the various landmarks for the first time.
Hop aboard the bus with me as we begin the tour and pass by the first of the landmarks — the Western Railway (WR) headquarters in Churchgate, a grand building built in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture and designed by Frederick Williams, the same person who designed the neo-gothic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building. WR was known as Bombay, Baroda and Central Indian (BB&CI) Railway and I saw the BB&CI sign for the first time that day.
Built in 1938, the iconic Eros Cinema is part of the heritage art deco district in Mumbai. A corner building, with horizontal spans, its stepped octagonal tower is meant to replicate a ship’s watchtower.
I don’t know the name of this peach-coloured building on D.N. Road, but the motifs and patterns were really eye-catching.
This was the first time I was seeing the dome of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Building and its details with so much clarity. The figure on the dome is, once again, Progress. 14 feet in height, she holds a winged wheel in her left hand and a flaming torch in her right.
The General Post Office building was designed by John Begg, a consultant architect to the British government and 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 be built, and functions as the central post office for the city of Mumbai.
The Marshall & Sons Building at Ballard Estate is one of the few examples of Edwardian Baroque architecture in Mumbai. It was designed by Frederick Stevens’ son, Charles Stevens.
The Reserve Bank of India was set up in 1935 at Kolkata, and subsequently moved to Mumbai in 1937. It operates out of two buildings, both of which I have never really considered to be impressive, particularly the new one. But that day, from the upper deck of the bus, the newer building appeared magical and I enjoyed photographing it. It also reaffirmed my love for photographing structures.
Construction of the Greco-Roman Asiatic Library building or Town Hall was completed in 1830 and is perhaps Mumbai’s best known landmark and heritage structure thanks to all ads and films that it features in. The Library is supposed to have one of the two original copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
The Regal Cinema was the first art deco building to be built in Mumbai in 1933. It was also the public building in Mumbai to be fully air-conditioned, equipped with an underground car park and to use neon lighting. The initial editions of the Filmfare Awards were held here.
The Leopold Cafe is perhaps the most popular and well-known restaurants in Mumbai. I have known even people — who have not been to Mumbai — ask about this café thanks to Shantaram and the 2008 terror attacks.
As the bus negotiated the busy traffic on Colaba Causeway, I was lucky to get this picture of the red domes of the Taj Mahal Hotel. Again a view that I have never seen before.
The rather ugly, revolving rooftop restaurant of The Ambassador. There was a time when I desperately wanted to visit this restaurant and be at the revolving dome. Not anymore though !
The last stretch of the ride on Marine Drive was very nice and relaxing. Who can resist a sunset and that too over the sea with such beautiful colours playing out? 🙂
I first used an audio guide, sometime in early 2009, at the Byzantium 330–1453 exhibition held in Royal Academy of Arts, London. I liked it so much that I became an instant convert and thereafter never let go of an opportunity to use them. Though I haven’t yet had a chance to use the Audio Compass Guides yet, I have listened to some of them and they seem pretty good. Of course, just how effective they are will be known only when I use them on site and am waiting for the first chance to do so.
The bus tour was just the beginning and one that left me with the warm feeling of having made Mumbai’s acquaintance all over again and discovering more about this beautiful city of mine. Thank you Team Audio Compass for inviting me and introducing me to the wonderful work that you do. 🙂