Time travel the Fort-Esplanade chapter

Published: 17 November, 2011 08:13 IST | Dhara Vora |

Walking past some of Mumbai's most popular heritage landmarks can be insightful and is bound to make one want to fall in love with Mumbai, all over again. Dhara Vora signed up for a heritage walk and returned with a bagful of lesser-known facts and trivia about a city that we call home

Walking past some of Mumbai's most popular heritage landmarks can be insightful and is bound to make one want to fall in love with Mumbai, all over again. Dhara Vora signed up for a heritage walk and returned with a bagful of lesser-known facts and trivia about a city that we call home

While we love the city and are positively obsessed about every gargoyle that juts out of the buildings that stand as remnants of the Raj, going on a heritage walk and fussing over these stoned beauties never fails to excite us. If the person guiding us around is a Masters in Art History from The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, holds a diploma in Heritage Education and Interpretation and has been a part of the curatorial team at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, we didn't need much convincing that she'd be ideal to play guide on a heritage walk around some of the city's historic landmarks.

The vertical lines on Dhanraj Mahal's facade represent the Art Deco
style. Pics/Bipin Kokate

High on heritage
Our expert guide in question is  Inheritage Project founder, 27-year-old Alisha Sadikot. For now, Alisha conducts the walks in the entire Fort area, Ballard Estate and the area around the Bazaar Gate. She plans to cover other parts of the city in the future. The starting point of our 90-minute walk (abridged version) was the Gateway of India. Though Alisha arranges walks according to one's convenience, her advice is to set out on either in the morning, "...the afternoon sun is a nuisance," she says. "Alternatively, late evenings are convenient but step out before sundown, as it gets difficult to study most heritage buildings due to poorly lit outer facades."

Our first stop was the Gateway of India, which as commonly known was built to commemorate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary. What is not well known is that the architect George Wittet, passed the designs of the structure around for public opinion, Alisha reveals. The structure, built from locally sourced yellow basalt stone, is a combination of Hindu and Mughal architectural styles. After a history lesson about its neighbour, the Taj Hotel and its modern structure beside it, we were ready to move.

Standing in front of Alisha's favourite structure, The Watson's Hotel

2. Next up, we stopped at Dhanraj Mahal on CST Marg. This sterling example of the Art Deco style of architecture was also one of the most expensive buildings of its time. Alisha shared some of the finer points of this style, "Art Deco is the opposite of the Gothic style. While the latter is all about magnanimity and intricate detailing, Art Deco buildings exhibit simplicity and lean towards modern products including plastic and concrete as opposed to natural materials such as stone and rock. Since most Art Deco buildings were of medium height, architects introduced vertical detailing on its outer facades to help give it a taller character. Note, the straight lines running across the front of the building."

3. We moved towards our next stop, at the junction where the Maharashtra Police Headquarters, the museum, Regal cinema and the Wellington fountain and National Gallery of Modern Arts (NGMA) are visible. The police headquarters was earlier called the Royal Alfred Sailor's Home (built in blue basalt). Alisha pointed out details of the structure such as sculptures of Merlions, carvings of waves and windows shaped like a ship. While the Sailor's Home was designed by the famous architect FW Stevens, its neighbour, Regal cinema was designed by his son Charles Stevens in the Art Deco Style, decades later. The Wellington Fountain (which has been painted over) stands in memory of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte.

4. Walking into the Old Dockyard Road we spotted the Church of St Andrew (its tower was struck by the lightening and had to be rebuilt), the spot where the long gone Ice House stood and lastly, the building that was once the Governor's House -- the mystery of which is best heard by Alisha while on the walk. Alisha also shared several old maps and lithographs to give us an idea of how Mumbai looked in the 1800s.

5. The Kala Ghoda sub precinct is a great spot to observe architectural styles across the Elphinstone College, Army Navy Building and David Sassoon Library. "Though the library is Venetian Gothic, what sets it apart from the rest is its shrunken size," shares Alisha. The Army Navy Building is an example of Neo-Classical style with is Grecian designs.

6. Beside the Army Navy building is the Watson's Hotel, our guide's favourite structure. Soon, we figured why. The iron structure was built in England and shipped to India. The design of the structure is such that locals dubbed it the 'giant birdcage.' Mark Twain is believed to have checked in while Mohammed Ali Jinnah tried his hands at billiards here. Today, the building lies in a derelict state and none of the opulence with which it was associated now remains.

7. Our last stop was the University campus. An old print of this site dating to the late 1800s showed how the Esplande (today's Oval Maidan is a fractured version of it) was the only landmass that separated it from the Arabian Sea. Several reclamations later, today's view is different. We longed to step into a time capsule at that moment. The soothing chimes of the gigantic clock of Rajabai Tower brought us back to reality, hastened by honking cars in the vicinity.

Call: 9930317897
Email: theinheritageproject@ gmail.com
Cost: Rs 400 per person if in a group of three or Rs 1200 if going solo.

Did you know?
Completed in 1870, the David Sassoon Library is named after one of the most prominent members of the Jewish community of the time. A part of the costs of the construction of library was covered by a donation of Rs 60,000 made by David Sassoon. A bust of Sassoon can be spotted above the main arch to the library. Originally from Baghdad, Sassoon monetarily contributed to several other structures in the city including the Gateway of India, Sassoon Docks and the Victoria Gardens (now Veermata Jeejabai Udyan).

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