“Aap ka naam Mohammad hai?” (Is your name Mohammad?), I double check with the driver as I sit inside my Uber taxi that I had booked to do some last minute sightseeing in Mumbai. “Jee” (Yes), the driver responds as we drive off to see the city’s most iconic destination, the Gateway of India. I casually ask the driver how long it would take us to get there and he replies after checking his GPS “teen ghante” (three hours). My jaw literally drops. 25kms in 3 hours?! And it was already 3pm…
Tip number 1 for anyone travelling to Mumbai: please start your day well in advance, even if you are to cover short distances (25 kms is short by Australian standards). This megalopolis is home to over 22 million people (nearly the same population as Australia) crammed in an area of 603 km². The population density is immense and the traffic is notoriously slow, at any given time of the day.
I have no choice but to accept my fate of having to sit in the taxi forever, just to see one landmark for half an hour and then Uber it back to my hotel just in time for dinner with an old friend. However, after a “mere” 1.5 hours of people watching and small-talking with my driver, I arrive at my destination.
Walking through a long line of security check, the Gateway of India appears like tall, graceful sovereign ruling over its common subjects. The crowd is even more dense in this area, I note. Tip number 2 for anyone visiting Mumbai: keep your personal belongings under your DIRECT supervision. Don’t let your bag or backpack dangle off your shoulder. Pull it forward and keep one arm over it. You can relax a bit more when you get away from the crowds (which might just be your hotel room in Mumbai).
Gateway of India was built by the British in 1924 to commemorate King George V’s visit to India in 1911. It faces Mumbai Harbour from Wellington Pier, also known as Apollo Bunder. The architecture of this building, known as Indo-Saracenic, is one of the most distinct styles of architecture to be ever found, for it symbolises the intermarriage between Indian Mughal and British Gothic design. The result is a building that has both domes and minarets as well as cusped arches. While this particular building leans more towards its Indian heritage, there are other buildings in Mumbai that have a greater degree of Gothic character with features like traceries, spires and stained glass. Of this, the main train station of Mumbai known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, is a great example.
Gateway of India is one of the most entertaining places for people watching. Every day is a festival of sorts here: families and friends on their day out; amateur photographers trying to earn a quick buck by persuading tourists to pose; street vendors and touts selling spicy bhelpuri, chana, balloons and all kinds of trinkets. Also pickpocketers. Beware. This really is the place to be if you want to observe the character of Mumbai. Shame I did not take any portrait photos.