Turn back the clock

If you walk past the bustle of the local train platforms and turn to the southern gate of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the one that faces the Gothic-style municipal corporation headquarters, you will spot between the arches the intricately carved logo of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway.
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Updated on Jan 27, 2011 03:40 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByRadhika Raj, Mumbai

If you walk past the bustle of the local train platforms and turn to the southern gate of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the one that faces the Gothic-style municipal corporation headquarters, you will spot between the arches the intricately carved logo of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway.

The GIPR was born in 1849 — when CST was just a tin shed — and is responsible for all the railway lines originating from this terminus.

Down the road is another first for Mumbai — Asiatic Library, with its cool stone steps and majestic neo-classic architecture. This was once Mumbai’s Town Hall, built to house municipal offices, a museum and, yes, a library.

The Graeco-Roman-style building now houses just a few government offices and the stately library — a massive trove home to about 1 lakh books, including one of only two known manuscripts of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Get a pass for the day (Rs 75) and you can tour the majestic interiors, complete with marble statues, old wooden flooring and spiral staircases.

Across the road are the gilded iron gates to the Horniman Circle garden, built in 1872 so the British administrative officers working in Mumbai’s first planned business district could get some recreation in their lunch hour.

At walking distance from Horniman Circle is Mumbai’s first Anglican church — and the structure that gives Churchgate station its name: The St Thomas Cathedral. Built in 1718, it is believed to be the oldest British building in Mumbai, its architecture a beautiful mix of neo-classical and neo-Gothic.

Also within Horniman Circle is the now-famous banyan tree, under which 20 stock traders began what is now the Sensex, the benchmark index of the Indian capital markets.

And that’s just part of the Fort area. Drive around and you can also rediscover the soaring Rajabai clock tower and the magnificent high court and university buildings. Or drive down Marine Drive and marvel at the Art Deco architecture of the sea-facing buildings.

Head north and you will soon come to Crawford market, with its beautiful stone façade, old stone fountains and friezes of farmers harvesting wheat at the main entrance.

If ancient history is more your thing, head to the Elephanta or Kanheri caves. At Elephanta, hundred-year-old banyan trees dot the road that leads to the five caves containing bas-relief sculptures of Hindu deity Shiva. These sculptures date back to the 5th century.

At Kanheri, situated within the Borivli national park, are 109 rock-cut caves dating back to the 9th century. Built as a Buddhist religious centre, some caves served as prayer halls and bear intricate carvings, beautifully carved rock pillars and carved rock stupas.

Finally, for a glimpse of living heritage, you can walk through one of Mumbai’s remaining gaothans or urban villages. Khotachiwadi in Girgaum still has beautiful homes built in the Gothic and Portuguese styles. And in Matharpacady, Mazgaon, and Pali Village, Bandra, you will still find old Catholic families sipping tea on the porches of their two-storey Portuguese-style villas, with piano music streaming out from indoors.

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