The Fine Architecture Seen on the Streets of Mumbai | India

The streets of Mumbai casts a dizzying spell even to this third world traveler who is used to seeing voluminous crowds and long queues of people rushing to and from various errands. It reminded me of our first stop in India; the city of Kolkata where all noises came to us like cannon blasting from all directions, the relentless honking of automobiles and the incessant yell from vendors among dozens of other reverberations, all comprising a mix tape of mother of all audible uproars.

After Kolkata, Aileen and I see the same kind of overwhelming street scenes at Varanasi before tapering off by minuscule in New Delhi and unto the desert state of Rajasthan – where long stretches of desert and dry mountains serve as space fodder for its large population. Here in Mumbai, as described to us by a Caucasian we met at the Jaisalmer bus terminal “you won’t see an empty space, almost each spot is occupied by someone”. That may be a bit of stretch, but upon hearing the noise now and almost getting lost in the sea of humanity on our way to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus while we try to reserve a train ticket to Kochi, we get the drift of what he told us.

Amidst the multitude of humanity, an impressive set of buildings also crowd the streets of Mumbai – in an eye popping manner especially for an architecture-junkie like me. Leading the pack is the Gothic Victorian architecture design of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, which is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, fortifying the centerpiece of Mumbai’s complex but effective railway system.

Aileen and I sauntered inside looking for the booth that sell train tickets to Cochi, unmindful of the thick crowd we pushed our way inside a large air-conditioned room filled with ticket outlets before finally locating the correct cubicle selling train passes to our next destination. With the dark air brought upon by the harrowing terrorist attack during the infamous Mumbai attack of 2008 all gone; the iconic train station has now washed all overtones from that unfortunate event and has become a must-see for travelers from different parts of the world. The terminus operates as the main artery that usher the boundless wave of commuters to other cities in India.

Art Deco Galore

Outside the terminus and a few steps away, one is quickly dazzled by an array of art deco buildings that earns the city of Mumbai the distinction of being the second city – next to Miami, to have the most numbers of surviving Art Deco buildings in the world. Your architectural visual feast doesn’t stop there as Gothic, Victorian, Indo-Saracenic, Modern and Contemporary architectural styles blends charmingly with historical landmarks from the British colonial era that stands beautifully behind the swarming sidewalks of the city.

Bombay Deco

The wave of optimism that flourished at the turn of the 20th century and after the First World War attracted many local businessmen to set up residency here and along came a rich fusion between traditional architectural styles and the Art Deco design emanating from the cities of Paris and London. Not long after, rows of lavish offices and glittering residential apartments started appearing and adorning the huge city blocks that earned the city’s Bombay Deco” reference. While many of these buildings are at the mercy of passing time with peeling paints, broken glass and an unkempt facade, the character emanating from these structures are hard to miss. I do hope that the Indian Government would implement a city-wide restoration program the soonest, or they risk repeating the same mistakes we committed here in Manila – of surrendering our city’s architecture heritage to modernity.

Other than the aforementioned Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, we passed by the stand-alone Art Deco Regal Cinema which was constructed during the ‘cinema boom’ of the 1930’s. Currently showing the Bollywood film about a solo female traveler, the box-office smash “Queen”. It is one of the many cinemas from its era that still operates up to this day. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel situated near the Gateway of India is another eye candy of an architectural marvel. Built in 1903, it still retains the flavor of its visual elegance represented by the Florentine, Moorish and Oriental architectural style. Like the Chhatrapati Terminus it also became an infamous site of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

As the afternoon crowd started to thicken at the water’s edge of Mumbai Harbor to take photographs of the Gateway of India, I lifted my head and gazed at the sheer size of its magnificent Indo-Saracenic architectural flair that blend beautifully with Hindu and Muslim design influences. Often compared to the Arc de Triomphe in the city of Paris, the Gateway of India was built to commemorate the the visit of King George the fifth and Queen Mary in 1911. Encircled by the many architecture wonders facing the waterfront, I walked into an open spot and stood out at the opposite direction towards the sea where I saw countless docked yachts and small boats, swaying and dotting the blue waters of the Arabian Sea.

I felt the cool breeze of the wind and inhaled the aroma of curry it carried. Suddenly, I craved for more Indian food. My friend Aileen and I walked towards a street lined up with interesting hole-in-the-walls establishments that sandwiched a lone Starbucks branch and unto another street filled with bazaar stalls, until we settled for a café serving local and western baked goodies. For an hour, we sat by the window and observed the hectic pace of the locals darting in and out of my sight. With the heritage structures standing broodingly at the background, I sensed a throwback vibe to decades past - all thanks to the olden sentiment the classic architecture of Mumbai brings.

Staying true to the diversity of Mumbai’s populace, the aesthetics of the city’s stellar architecture presents a glimpse into the quixotic footprint that thrived  once upon a time in a now frenzied and crowded environment. The city where much of the film “Slumdog Millionaire” was filmed showed me that there is more to it than endless shanty towns, all of which are visible at each edifice, that up to this day battles the rigid curse of decay and abandonment, all in an attempt to preserve the opulent heritage and storied past of Mumbai. 

I wanted to walk more and see more of the city, but the hours seemed to roll by quickly and just before the remaining daylight was swallowed by night’s darkness, we flagged down one of the iconic Premier Padmini cabs to cap of our metaphoric time travel through Mumbai’s architecture wonders.


This article appeared on the February 25, 2018 issue of Business Mirror