The Grand Tour III-9: Bombay (Mumbai)…City of Extremes

1 - GAteway to India

The Gateway to India was inaugurated to commemorate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary at Apollo Bunder in 1911. It was finally finished in 1924 and remains one of the most iconic buildings in Mumbai.

Bombay is India’s port city extraordinaire; the most glittering of the glittering port cities dotting the never-ending coastline of the Subcontinent; a city of extremes.

Once, the city was split into seven islands – seven puny and peripheral landmasses at the north-eastern edge of the Arabian Sea; variously under the jurisdiction of successive Buddhist and Hindu dynasties – the Mauryas, the Satvahanas, the Abkhiras, the Silharas, the Chalukyas and more… followed by the (Muslim) Gujarat Sultanate.

The islands fell into Portuguese hands in 1534, with Portuguese settlements established in Mazagaon, Salsette, Andheri – suburbs of the city today.  They called the city Bombaim – which could have meant “good harbour”; or could have more likely been derived from the Portuguese pronunciation of the name of the city’s Patron goddess – Mumba-devi (the local version of the Mother Goddess).

Bombaim was neglected, however, in favour of Goa, the capital of the Estado da Índia. So for a hundred years, the islands slumbered.

2 - Portuguese Bombay

Traces of Portuguese Bombay, in the corridors of the former Prince of Wales Museum.

The city’s fortunes took a turn on 8 May 1661, when, as part of the marriage contract between Charles II of England and Catherine of Braganza (in Portugal), Bombay (and other Portuguese possessions) were turned over to the English as part of Catherine’s dowry.

Between 1782 and 1845, the English undertook and accomplished an ambitious and unprecedented feat of engineering and land reclamation, linking all seven islands of Bombay into one island – today’s Old Bombay – with a deep, natural harbour. This exercise is known as the Hornby Vellard, after William Hornby, the Governor who initiated it.

3 - AMH-6748-NA_Two_views_of_the_English_fort_in_Bombay (1)

Two Views of the English Port of Bombay [Public Domain.]

4 - Bombay_1909

The Island of Bombay in 1909. The Bombay Harbour is at right, while Back Bay

City and port grew swiftly from the mid-1800s on, particularly in the aftermath of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which made Bombay THE port-of-call par excellence in British India. By the turn of the 19th century, Bombay had become the most important port in India, and one of the wealthiest cities on earth.

This wealth was built into the very fabric of the city, which boasts some of the most monumental and monumentally over-the-top buildings of the colonial era this side of London. Almost all of these buildings still stand today, and are concentrated around the iconic Flora Fountain, built in 1864 and named after the Roman Goddess of Spring, Fertility and Youth.

5 - Flora Fountain

Flora Fountain, 1864 – arguably the heart of Old Bombay.

6 - Military Building

The Bombay Naval Dockyards and Clocktower.

7 - Horniman Circle

Elegant Neo-Classical buildings frame Horniman Circle.

8 - Asiatic Society

The “Town Hall” of the Royal Asiatic Society, Bombay, was built in 1830 in a Doric style.

From the very beginning, Bombay, unlike Calcutta, was seen as a European, rather than an Indian city. It was westward-facing – one of the first stops for any vessel coming from Europe and Suez.  And certainly, without the British, there would not have been Bombay the metropolis. And so in terms of architecture – it was the Imperial City of London, and none other, that offered inspiration.

Bombay’s heyday was during the Victorian era, and the city is (still) known for having quite possibly the largest collection of Victorian Gothic Revival buildings anywhere on this planet.

9 - Oriental Buildings

Oriental Buildings, Bombay, designed by Frederick William Stevens in a Victorian Gothic Revival Style. Built in 18

10 - JN PEtit Institute

JN Petit Institute (1898).

11 - Elphinstone College

Elphinstone College (1888).

12 - Central Telegraph Office

The Central Telegraph Office, built in an Italianate Style (1869).

13 - Maidan

The Oval Maidan (Bombay’s massive cricket and recreational green). To the left is the High Court (1878), and to the right is Rajabai Tower (1878), part of the campus of the University of Bombay.

14 - Crawfurd Market

Crawford Market, built in 1869 was the city’s main bazaar. It is also known for its connection to John Lockyard Kipling (who designed a fountain that still stands in the market today) and Rudyard Kipling.

The most important, most stunning and most extreme of these is the Victoria Terminus (known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus today), completed in 1888 as a symbol of Bombay’s opulence and importance to the Empire, and echoing St Pancras Railway Station in London.

The message was clear: after London, it was Bombay that claimed the title of second city of the British Empire.

15 - Municipal Corporation

Bombay Municipal Corporation Building (1893), by architect, Frederick William Stevens.

16 - Victoria Terminus II

Across from the Municipal Corporation Building – Victoria Terminus (1888), by Frederick William Stevens. This is Bombay and Stevens’ crowning glory.

The 1920s and ‘30s brought another economic and thus building boom to Bombay. Then it was that another icon of the city was completed – the Gateway of India, 1924. But another, thoroughly modern architectural form would define Bombay for what it was – a glittering, and thoroughly modern port of the 20th century.

Art Deco took the world, and particularly Bombay, by storm. Even today, Bombay boasts the second largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, after Miami. In fact, Bombay has its own version of Miami Beach – this is Marine Drive, a 3.6 kilometre long waterfront boulevard framing a magnificent bay, and flanked by a seemingly endless row of Art Deco buildings.

At the northern end of Marine Drive is Bombay’s popular Chowpatty Beach and (in)famous Malabar Hill – the exclusive, rarefied residential district of Bombay’s super-rich and famous. In their palaces in the sky, the city’s elite sequester themselves, keeping their distance from everyday Mumbai-kers blissfully at play in the water.

17 - Gateway Again

The Gateway again…

18 - Interior Prince of Wales Museum

The interior of the former Prince of Wales Museum (today’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya), completed in 1915, but only opened as a museum in 1922. It is built in the Indo-Saracenic style.

19 - Bombay Art Deco

Bombay Art Deco

20 - MArine Drive I

Sweeping view of Marine Drive, the “Miami Beach” of Bombay.

21 - MArine Drive II

Close-up of Marine Drive.

22 - Chowpatty bEach

Chowpatty Beach, busy with families on a weekend.

23 - Malabar Hill

Malabar Hill – gleaming in the distance, across the opal-hued waters of Back Bay.

Bombay wasn’t built by the British only. Like many other Indian port cities, it had (and still has) a cosmopolitan population, including Jews, Arabs, Armenians and of course, Indians of all religions (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain) from all over the Subcontinent.

Its Roman Catholic, Portuguese residents continue to live and worship in the old Portuguese settlement of Mazgaon, today a suburb to the north of Old Bombay, and with an atmosphere redolent of Goa. A stroll through the suburb takes one to a few outstanding places of worship, including Gloria Church and Hasanabad – a mini Taj Mahal-like mausoleum believed to be the resting place of Aga Khan I, the 46th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.

In Mazgaon too, lived the city’s resident Chinese population, reduced to a few individuals and a single Chinese temple today. A visit to this temple – dedicated to Kwan Kung, or the God of War, is a must, if one can find it.

24 - Synagogue

The Knesset Eliyahu is the second oldest Sephardic synagogue in the city, established in 1884 by the Sassoon family. It is located in the Fort area of today’s Mumbai.

25 - Parsi Apiary

The Maneckji Seth Parsi Agiary is the second oldest fire temple in the city, established in 1733 by the Maneckjis, a wealthy Parsi trading family. It sits in the Borabazar area.

26 - Gloria Church Mazgaon

Gloria Church, Byculla, Mazgaon, is one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in the city, first built in 1632 by the Portuguese, though this version was built in 1913.

27 - Seeyup Koon MAzgaon

The See Yup Koon is Bombay’s only remaining Chinese temple, dedicated to the worship of Kwan Kung.

28 - Hasanabad Mazgaon

The Hasanabad in Mazgaon was established in 1884.

29 - Portuguese House MAzgaon

Portuguese-style houses in Mazgaon afford it an atmosphere redolent of Old Goa.

Bombay is perhaps best known for being home to the largest population of Parsis in world; in particular, one Jamshedji Tata, who in 1868, formed Tata Group, India’s biggest business conglomerate today, owning interests in many industries including power, steel, automobiles, real estate and hospitality.

Jamshedji Tata is known for yet another icon of the city’s — the fabulous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, on the banks of Apollo Bunder, beside the Gateway to India. Tata was believed to have commissioned the Taj Mahal Palace  in 1903 after having been refused entry to the leading hotel in Bombay at the time, the British-built and “whites-only” Watson’s Esplanade Hotel.

The Parsi community in Bombay is known also to be fabulously wealthy, and many of them live, naturally, in Malabar Hill. On the hill today still stands a Towers of Silence – the Parsis are Zoroastrian, and they practice sky burial: leaving their dead exposed in circular towers to decompose while exposed to the elements and to be devoured by vultures.

[Unfortunately, the city’s vulture population has plunged dramatically due to the birds being poisoned by insecticides. As such, the viability of sky burial has been called into question.]

30 - Cafe Leopold 1871

Café Leopold, one of the city’s oldest and most popular cafes, was established by a Parsi family in 1871.

31 - Cafe Mondegar

Interior of Café Mondegar – the other famous and still highly popular eating joint in Bombay; also established by a Parsi family in 1932.

32 - Goan Fish Curry

Café Mondegar is one of the best places to have absolutely scrumptious Goan Fish Curry.

33 - Watsons Esplanade

The former Watson’s Esplanade Hotel, established in 1863, still stands. It is the rather dilapidated building to the far right of this photograph. At the time, it was the city’s first cast-iron building.

34 - Taj Mahal Palace water

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (1903), in an opulent and eclectic Indo-Saracenic style.

Also on Malabar hill stands another landmark – the surreal, unmissable, towering Antilia, a 27-storey residential home of Indian tycoon Mukesh Ambani, complete with 600 staff, 6 levels of underground parking and 3 helipads.

It is an indication of the phenomenal and almost absurd wealth that continues reside in the city, alongside squalor and poverty; a sign of how Bombay – now Mumbai – remains a city of extremes.

35 - Antilia

Antilia, named after a mythical island in the Atlantic, towers over everything else in Malabar Hill.

36 - Ogling Bombay

Everyday Mumbai-kers enjoying the panoramic view of their city from the Hanging Gardens of Malabar Hill.

37 - Gateway Once More

Meanwhile… back at the Gateway to India, the crowds are amassing.


About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Cities & Regions, Culture & Lifestyle, Heritage, India, Landmarks & History, Photography, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s