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It's Mumbai Darshan time again

... with somewhere to go. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation blue double decker bus is full this tourist season. A report card on what you can learn about Mumbai from this darshan

As tourist season has well and truly started in Mumbai, a trip on the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) open deck bus was in order. The bus ride is from 7 pm to 8 pm and 8:15 pm to 9:15 pm, every Saturday and Sunday from Gateway of India.

The MTDC open deck bus arrives for the start of the Mumbai darshan at Gateway of India. Pics/Bipin Kokate
The MTDC open deck bus arrives for the start of the Mumbai darshan at Gateway of India. Pics/Bipin Kokate

Ticket trouble
With tourists up and about in the city, getting tickets for the bus ride was tough. Summer vacations for city kids and a healthy flow of tourists from outside the city, meant that tickets of the 30-seater buses were sold out as soon as bookings opened.

The Town Hall with its Greek temple design evinced ‘oohs’ from tourists
The Town Hall with its Greek temple design evinced ‘oohs’ from tourists

While walk-in ticket bookings are possible during other months, April and May are peak season and as soon as bookings open on Tuesday, the buses get full with parents opting to teach their school going children about Mumbai’s history through this tour.

Pankaja Rodrigues, the heritage tour guide begins the South Mumbai darshan
Pankaja Rodrigues, the heritage tour guide begins the South Mumbai darshan

Pramod Thakkar, a Mumbra resident says, “I wanted to take my children for the Mumbai darshan but it ended up getting booked in no time. People block book this season is what the man at the counter told me. After two attempts, I finally managed to get tickets.”

The Queen’s Necklace is a view to behold from the open deck bus
The Queen’s Necklace is a view to behold from the open deck bus

Blue bus
With reporting time for the buses at 6:45 pm and 8 pm, a good 15 minutes before the ride commences, a group of enthusiastic tourists comprising mostly kids and their parents wait in anticipation.

Flora Fountain was not working which made some tourists sad
Flora Fountain was not working which made some tourists sad

The bus is blue with the deck open and has maroon cushioned seats. It came by at 6:50 pm to the cheers of the children who waited with their parents.

This colourful show cheered them upThis colourful show cheered them up

Seat numbers are mentioned on the tickets and seats are allotted accordingly. The bus driver and cleaner ensure that the mike for the guide is in working condition with a sound test.

Dnyaneshwar Mhaske from MTDC who runs the show from coordinating with the bus driver, sitting at the counter selling tickets to checking tickets on board the bus, ensures that everyone is on board.

From Gateway of India, the bus ride commences with the mike giving trouble as Pankaja Rodrigues, the guide on board the bus jokes, “The mike is made in India and only works when the bus is in motion.”

Witty words
As Rodrigues starts the tour, she chooses humour and an interactive method to describe the heritage of South Mumbai. As the bus leaves Gateway, the history of the monument by the sea, the architecture and design details are explained by the guide.

The bus passes Regal, Wellington Fountain as Rodrigues details dates, the architects, and the makers. The children in the bus are awed. She explains how the Portuguese named the seven islands that they would give in dowry later on to the British, Bombay.

Alka Agnihotri, 12, a Delhi resident who is in Mumbai for a short holiday was stunned as she gasped, “I struggle to remember my chronology for history class and she said the dates by heart.” There were some who sought to check it out on Google just in case Rodrigues was getting something wrong.

Mohan Madan, 20, a Bandra resident who took the trip with his college friends said, “I was continually on Wikipedia checking out the dates and names. Rodrigues surprised me and my friends with her in depth knowledge and trivia. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip and will go to our college History class with more information about our city.”

Royal view
From atop the bus, Mantralaya, the Queen’s Necklace and Marine Drive are seen in a whole new light. The box trees which were planted by the British to suck the saltiness from the air along Marine Drive, Rodrigues tells us still stand today many years later. We are even able to see bird’s nests with chicks in them in these trees.

A little trivia about the Queen’s Necklace is what the guide gives us, as she talks about the tubelights that were used to illuminate it, earning the structure the name ‘Diamond Necklace’.

Now that sodium vapour lamps have replaced them the necklace is orange. A few kids express their desire to go to the beach and splash in the water, which their parents promise to let them do the following day.

The revolving restaurant, Churchgate Station and the Western Railway office are next with information about the architecture of these iconic buildings.

Rodrigues tells all those who don’t know about Mumbai how the hotel offers various views the sea, the skyscrapers, the slums and the station. The animal structures outside Churchgate have the children in the bus feeling like they are at the zoo.

“The lion looks exactly like Simba,” says an enthusiastic six-year-old as he points to the mix of wild and domestic animals remembering Disney’s The Lion King. The architecture and design details of the Western Railway building are explained as the bus moves on.

Iconic streets
As the bus moves to Oval Maidan, Rodrigues takes us back in time when the British fought with the Marathas. Now Oval, the huge ground was earlier called the Maratha Ditch she tells us.

We stop at Rajabai Tower to hear the chime as Rodrigues tells us the tale of the clock. She says, “Rajabai was deaf and had to ask people the time.

So, in order to solve his mother’s problem, her son paid a huge donation to build the tower and it was named after her as chimes are sounded every 30 minutes. The clock is a miniature of Big Ben that stands in Britain.”

At Bombay High Court, we are told details of the structure, the various animal models which according to the architect are prototypes of people we encounter in the court.

The statues of Lady Justice and Lady Mercy stand in the complex, we are told, as snap, snap everyone tries to capture the huge court complex with their cameras.

Bombay Gymkhana and Tata Mansion are what we pass next as we are told the story of the statue of the dog that stands in the complex. How the Tata family loved their dog so much that they immortalised him with a life size statue.

Historic structures
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), Mumbai Municipal Corporation, Hutatma Chowk and Flora Fountain are the next set of structures the bus passes.

A few tourists point out that they came to Mumbai by train from CST, as the guide gives details of the structure and intricate patterns.

“The martyrs are remembered as the flame burns with the names etched and statue of the farmer and the businessman who comprised most of those who died stands.

The separation of Mumbai from Maharashtra after independence led to death of these martyrs who are immortalised here,” the guide tells us.

The bus next moves to Bank Street, St Thomas Cathedral, Horniman Circle and the Asiatic Library. “The cathedral was used as a landmark by people in the city to state where they stayed.

People used to say that they live 2-km or 10-km from St Thomas Cathedral. The banyan tree in Horniman Garden where Dalal Street was founded also stands and all the shouting happened under it once,” says Rodrigues.

She explains how the Town Hall is like a Greek temple with 33 steps where in olden days, on retirement days the office came to bid farewell to an employee. The bus moves on to the docks, past the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, the Mumbai Police Headquarters.

The architecture of each of these is explained in detail as we return to Gateway of India from where the trip started. Almost all those on board were elated that they were going back having learnt a lot more about the island city Mumbai.

Behind the scenes
Pankaja Rodrigues, the guide says, “From June to October, due to the rains we do not run the bus service. I work as a full time guide and conduct heritage walks for tourists and foreigners in the city from Monday to Friday.

As a student of Ancient Indian Culture from St Xavier’s College, I learnt a lot about Mumbai which I use during the Mumbai darshan. I also read up to keep my self updated.

Today, with internet on phones people are very aware and even if I have a small slip-up with the dates or names, they catch it.”

Mhaske, who is in charge of tickets and bookings adds, “Though there are demands for trips on weekdays especially during April and May, it is difficult to run the service on working days due to traffic in the prime areas of Mumbai.

For weekends, we have the traffic police permissions and they help the bus wade through traffic so both trips end in the stipulated time frame of one hour.”

Some grievances
Kalpesh Khanna, a Bangalore resident said, “The MTDC insisted when we booked that we take a trip on the open deck bus. My kids are in school and study about Mumbai, so my wife insisted we all go on this trip.

Very few people know what we have learnt from this trip. It would have been nice to spend some time actually visiting the structures, rather than be seated in the bus. On the whole, the trip was a power packed hour.”

His wife Malini added, “The trip is informative but there are many buildings and some end up getting missed. If the trip included actually going into CST, the museum, stopping at Marine Drive, the Asiatic Library where we could actually get a feel of these places, it would have been much better.”

Route of the open deck Mumbai darshan bus:
Gateway of India - Vidhan Bhavan - Oberoi Hotel - Marine Drive - Churchgate Railway Station - Eros Theatre - Oval Maidan - Maharshi Karve Road - Rajabai Tower - CST Railway Station Building - Hutatma Chowk - Homi Modi Street - Horniman Circle - Asiatic Library - Gateway of India.
Ticket price: Rs 180. 30 seats per trip. 
Tickets are available at Reservation Division, MTDC and Gateway of India Counter.

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