It was built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary of England. Today, the Gateway of India, Mumbai, stands testimony to a versatile, colourful city.
The Gateway of India stands tall on the waterfront. Little Hormazd liked hopping on to a boat to ride the shimmery waters of Mumbai. He liked sitting on stone benches, looking at balloons. Not just any balloons, but animal-shaped ones. He has memories of the “photograph guy,” the “telescope guy” and the kulfiwallah. At the Gateway of India, there was always something to capture your fancy.
Years later, south-Mumbai resident Hormazd, now 27 years old, has grown up to be a travel buff. The memory of several boat rides at the Gateway remains one of his fondest.
A boat ride is in fact also a link to history. As the name suggests, the Gateway was an entry point for British officers and royalty to arrive at the Bombay harbour. It was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay. The wide expanse of its open foyer and the grandeur of the arches made the monument a perfect place for ceremonial events.
“The British viceroys would walk through the Gateway for ceremonies. George Wittet, an architect, did a temporary gateway to welcome them. Prior to that it was a pagoda, which was demolished. He then designed a magnificent amphitheatre. Work on the Gateway was completed in 1924. This monument then became the icon of Bombay,” says Sharada Dwivedi, Mumbai-based historian and researcher.
As per the records, the first major event that took place at the Gateway was the passing of the First Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. They were the last British troops to leave India after independence. The ceremony was conducted on February 28, 1948.
Even today celebrates ‘Navy Day' at the Gateway with music, operations and colourful pageantry. This yearly event carries much sentimental valur for Ms. Dwivedi.
“Prior to independence,” she says, “the place was popular for performances by bands. Post independence it was a venue for people to get away from their congested city homes and get a breath of fresh air.”
The monument has a towering arch of approximately 26 metres in height. Yellow basalt and reinforced concrete were used for the construction of the structure. The Indo-Saracenic style architecture used in late 19th century in British India itself reflects the amalgamation of cultures giving a Gothic appeal and using elements from indigenous styles of architecture.
At the top of the monument there is a central dome and the façade and the arches have intricate latticework reminiscent of Moghul architecture.
Much of the old-world charm can be found at the Gateway in the boats and catamarans that still ply at the harbour. The decorated horse carriages that line along the pavements and the iconic Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel complete the setting. In the 21st century however, the monument has seen two terror attacks. A blast which took place in 2003 and the 26/11 attacks at the Taj in 2008. Heavy barricading therefore is a reminder of modern times. The area around has been decorated and parking has been regulated. Howeverfor old-timers like Ms. Dwivedi, the renovation is a major put off. “They replaced the ledges with cement concrete. They could have used stone. I don't like the new plaza. It's a heritage site, but you have booking offices blocking the view of the statue and the monument till you are near it. Plus, they destroyed a lot of trees,” she rues.
The dead structures infused with history may change with the passage of time. But the ferries, the water and the pigeons that give people company have remained the same.