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Monday, 18 September 2017

An enchanting monsoon morning at the Gateway of India

At Apollo Bunder in Colaba, South Mumbai

It was during monsoon, last year, when I was at Mumbai, preparing for a trip northwards and decided to take an unplanned stroll in the city, as I had some time to spare. What better place to begin with, other than the famed Gateway of India, one of the greatest landmarks of Mumbai, I thought, and gave it a visit. The calmness of early morning, coupled with the monsoon breeze and the sound of the pigeons, added an enchanting charm to this grand gateway.

Gateway of India, Mumbai – A brief history

The Gateway of India (not to be confused with the India Gate in Delhi!) was built in the early 20th century to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary at Apollo Bunder (Wellington Pier) on their visit to India in 1911, but it was actually completed only thirteen years later, in 1924. This grandiose gateway was designed by George Wittet, a British architect. This gateway later served as the ceremonial entrance to the new Viceroys and Governors of “Bombay”, during the British reign over the region. [1][2][3]


The "Gate of India" that existed before it, looked like a structure built in an oriental style. The below black and white photograph from approximately 1905 published by Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd depicts the Apollo Bunder, a port where viceroys and governors landed when travelling to India.[4]


Here's how Apollo Bunder looked in sometime around 1905, before the Gateway of India was constructed there.
Picture from - "The Apollo Bunder- the Gate of India" - Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library.

A monsoon morning at the Gateway of India

This magnificent towering structure, the Gateway of India, is about 26 metres (~85 feet) high, and built from yellow basalt rocks (locally known as Kharodi) and reinforced concrete, in the Indo-Saracenic style. This great gateway faces South-eastwards, at the sea between the Mumbai peninsula and the mainland coast (see below map).


There are two large halls on either side of the central arched gateway, with arched doorways featuring ornamental designs. The central gateway part, and these two halls on its either sides, each have a small dome shaped roof, which is hidden from the ground view by the high wall-like parapets surrounding them. An inscription on the Gateway of India reads, “Erected to commemorate the landing in India of their Imperial Majesties King George V and Queen Mary on the Second of December MCMXI”. Where, MCMXI is the year 1911, written in Roman numerals.


It was a tranquil morning with monsoon clouds filling the sky, and several pigeons on the ground. I was wondering why so many pigeons had gathered at the place. I wondered whether this pigeon congregation was some sort of a social gathering or whether they were here for food, although they didn’t seem like eating something on the ground. That’s when I spotted a boy in a red shirt amidst them, taking out what appeared to be grains or perhaps puffed rice, and putting them out on the ground for the pigeons. It appears like it is a typical practice here to feed the pigeons, and hence they flock here each day.

These pigeons that we commonly see in the cities are feral pigeons, which are domesticated Rock Doves that have returned to wild or semi-wild conditions. Some were domesticated for food, others as homing pigeons and some as ‘fancy’ pigeons [5]. They are also called city doves, city pigeons, street pigeons, etc. You will find them nesting on the city buildings, almost everywhere in the world. Their prominent features are the bright orange or red iris of their eyes, their blue-gray colour, the green and purple iridescence around their neck, and their red feet.




The calmness of early morning, coupled with the monsoon breeze and the sound of the pigeons, added an enchanting charm to the grand Gateway of India. The pigeons took flight in an impressive way before the monument, which I was fortunate to capture in a short video.



This esplanade at Apollo Bunder, where the magnificent Gateway of India stands, in the Colaba area of South Mumbai, was once an important harbour, and a point of arrival and departure of people and goods. This harbour front was realigned and rebuilt to form an esplanade around the Gateway. It now serves the ferries to the famed Elephanta Island, which takes about an hour. The Elephanta Caves are one of the designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. The Elephanta caves are open from 9 AM to 5 PM, and are closed on Mondays.

Since 2012, the annual Elephanta Festival of music and dance is conducted at the Gateway of India, instead of the Elephanta Island.[6]

The Taj Mahal Palace hotel majestically stands opposite to the Gateway of India, featuring its well recognised Gothic dome. Interestingly, this magnificent architecture is a bit older than the Gateway itself. It was commissioned in 1903, by Jamsetji Tata, 21 years before the Gateway of India was erected. [7] This hotel is also the first structure in India to acquire an “image trademark”, or an intellectual property rights protection for its architectural design [8]. Next to this building, stands a towering modern structure, called the Taj Mahal Towers, also a part of Taj Hotels.

A statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji stands nearby the Gateway, to commemorate the famed Maratha warrior king of 17th century. A statue of Swami Vivekananda, the famed monk and philosopher, also stands close by.

Sadly, this place has witnessed a couple of tragic incidents of terror, where many lives were lost - The unfortunate terror attack of 26 November happened at The Taj Mahal Palace nine years ago, in 2008, and an explosion near to the Gateway of India, in 2003.

So many thoughts crossed my mind during this short time at the gateway of India, from its history, to pigeons, and the unfortunate incidents. Then it was time to go, and I moved on, just like the great city of Mumbai keeps moving every day. The Gateway of India has witnessed several events over a century. If it could talk, it would certainly have many tales to tell.

Finally, the Gateway of India that once stood as a symbol of British conquest and colonisation of India, the monument which was built to commemorate the then colonial masters, a remnant and a reminder of the past pre-independent colonial India, stands today as an emblematic monument of the city of Mumbai, the largest metropolis of Incredible India.

Gateway of India - Location Map



References:
[1] Peace,War and Friendships By Kenneth Chapman. ISBN 0955188105, 9780955188107
[2] Gateway of India : Mumbai/Bombay Pages
[3] Bombay- The Cities Within, by S. Dwivedi and R. Mehrotra. ISBN 9788185028804, 9788190060264
[4] Apollo Bunder - the Gate of India. approximately 1905. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. September 17, 2017.
[5] Pigeon videos, news and facts - BBC Nature
[6] Elephanta festival ‘moves’ to Gateway of India - The Times of India
[7] The Taj Mahal palace, Mumbai - Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces
[8] Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace hotel acquires image trademark - The Indian Express




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