A double-decker bus, a launch & Mumbai

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.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari

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.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
This griffin proudly displays the BB&CI logo
Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
The statue of progress or is it Engineering?

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.

Q6. Make your own Superhero. Name, clothing, power, characteristics. #TSBCI don’t know the name of this peach-coloured building on D.N. Road, but the motifs and patterns were really eye-catching.

Q6. Make your own Superhero. Name, clothing, power, characteristics. #TSBCThis 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.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
The central dome of the CST building with Progress perched on top
Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
The statue of Progress

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.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
Part of the GPO Building

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.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
Statue with a trident. Detail from the Marshall & Sons building.

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.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
The new Reserve Bank of India Building
Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
All these rows and columns of windows of the new Reserve Bank of India Building reminded me of an excel sheet !

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.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, NilambariThe 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.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
Regal Cinema

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.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
Since 1871… That part I didn’t know

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.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
The red domes of the Taj Mahal Hotel

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 !

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
The revolving rooftop restaurant of the Ambassador

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? 🙂

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari
Sunset over the Arabian Sea. Doesn’t the silhouette look like a long ship?

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. 🙂

17 thoughts on “A double-decker bus, a launch & Mumbai

  1. hey thanks! great post. and worth the wait.

    a bit on the revolving restaurant. maybe 4 kalaghoda festivals back there was a ‘heritage walk’ inside the revolving restaurant. they just pointed the roof tops of all the buildings around and ones we saw on this bus tour. there were also photos of how those places looked earlier. Totally different perspective. i could then compare how far the sea had actually come in, i was looking at the reclaimed area from a high perch!

    we just stood in that space and walked around in circles and saw so much! that heritage walk was one of my first in india and is to date my favourite! so, i haven’t eaten there and don’t know how the food is, but if you get a chance to go up. grab it 😀

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      1. Manageable 🙂 like 15-20.and registration by email. No queues. Went for two walls that time, just by reaching the meeting point on time. Those were the days no one knew about kgaf!!

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    1. Yes, it does. An open air double decker bus ride definitely makes a lot of difference in the way you look at a city. Maybe it is the height, maybe it is the relaxed mode, maybe both. 🙂

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  2. Your post reminded me of Patang, the revolving restaurant in Ahmedabad. I have always wanted to visit, but haven’t yet.

    And, I want to visit Leopold’s cafe too!

    Great post, and interesting way of seeing a city that you know so well. 🙂

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    1. I have visited Patang and let me tell you the view is better than the food 😉

      Leopold’s is an institution and while it was already famous, Shantaram made an icon out of it. When I was in London, people would ask me about Leopold’s once they learnt I was from Mumbai.

      When you are in Mumbai you must take the open air bus ride on the upper deck in the evening during sinset. I can tell you it is one of the most magical sights in Mumbai – the sea, the sun, the breeze and the magic of Mumbai.

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  3. Lovely pics and very interesting facts. Felt like I was on that tour bus!
    Thanks for the historical and architectural perspective about my lovely city (and yes, it can be lovely!).

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  4. The statue of Progress atop VT station came as such a pleasant surprise. A little change in perspective indeed brings us so many new views, doesn’t it? Loved seeing the tops of the structures. And the Asiatic Library used to be my haunt during the time we lived for some time in Colaba. It had never failed to induce awe with its columns and of course the tomes. Sadly I had not been aware of the copies of rare manuscripts that it possessed 😦

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    1. The Asiatic Library used to be my haunt when I was working in the area and it was my place to go to for any researching and referencing. Sadly I didn’t know of Dante’s manuscript then.

      I want to go on an open air bus ride once again now to see stuff that I had missed the first time and to see stuff that I saw then once again 🙂

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