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GATEWAY OF INDIA

GATEWAY OF INDIA

MUMBAI’S most famous landmark, the Gateway of India, was the first sight to greet travellers to Indian shores during the heyday of the British Raj. Ironically, it also became the exit point for British troops after India gained independence in 1947. It was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, en route to the Delhi Durbar, but in fact, the King and Queen were met with a mock cardboard and pastiche structure — the actual Triumphal Arch, built in honey coloured basalt, was only completed in 1924, years after the royal visit. This monumental structure with two large reception halls, arches and minarets, and embellishments inspired by medieval Gujarati architecture, was designed by the Scottish architect George Wittet, and commands a spectacular view of the sea. The Gateway looks particularly impressive at night when it is illuminated, with the inky black sea stretching into the horizon beyond it. This is the heart of Mumbai tourist district, the city’s most popular gathering place, and always teems with locals, visitors, vendors and boatmen. Boats and barges moored here provide regular services across the bay and to islands such as Elephanta . They can also be hired for leisurely trips down the Mumbai coastline.

city’s most popular gathering place, and always teems with locals, visitors, vendors and boatmen. Boats and barges moored here provide regular services across the bay and to islands such as Elephanta. They can also be hired for leisurely trips down the Mumbai coastline. North of the Gateway of India, towards Wellington Fountain, is Chhatrapati Shivaji Road. Formerly Apollo Pier Road, it has now been renamed after Shivaji  Maharashtra’s great warrior-hero. Shivaji’s equestrian statue is Placed here in a pleasant garden, in line with the Gateway. Standing nearby is another statue, that of the great 19th-century Hindu philosopher and reformist, Swami Vivekananda. Around the Gateway are some majestic buildings dating from the colonial era. These include the old Yacht Club which now houses the offices of the Atomic Energy Commission (entry restricted), the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, originally built as a residential annexe to the Old Yacht Club, and the Taj Mahal Hotel  behind which lies thebusy Colaba Causeway.

The stately, red-domed Taj Mahal Hotel was built in 1903 by a prominent Parsi industrialist, Jamshedji Tata  who, it is said, decided to construct this magnificent hotel when he was barred from entering the “Whites Only” Watsons Hotel. The Taj, with its splendid Moorish arches and columns, majestic stairways and galleries, remains one of Asia’s grandest hotels, while Watsons is now a dilapidated building, the hotel having closed down long ago. The eastern sea face stretching in front of the Gateway of India is Mumbai’s favourite promenade. Called Apollo Bunder, it was once the traditional dockyard of the local Koli fishermen, the islands’ original inhabitants. Today, snake charmers and performing monkeys, astrologers and ear-cleaners hustle for business among the strollers. Dozens of yachts, fishing hoats and ferries are moored in the waters beyond.

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