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Gateway of heaven called India

30 Mar

Imagine sailing through miles and miles of a turbulent Arabian sea, all the way from Great Britain to the shores of a new land. And as the shore of this new land edges closer, you see a splendid structure welcoming you. A contrasting yellow basalt stone against the blue sky and sea visible from far away, it was on a wintery December evening in the year 1911 that King George V and Queen Mary must have savored, for the first time, this beautiful sight. The gateway of India was built especially to welcome the royal couple on their first ever visit to India and was designed by George Wittet. The gateway still stands tall after almost a century, and the priceless sight of a welcoming giant gate, meant only for the royal eyes is now available for Rs.50 ($ 1) on a ferry ride.

Prior to the construction of gateway the land where it now stands was merely a crude jetty used by sailors and the fisher  folk and was referred to as Apollo Bunder or Wellington Pier.  Near Apollo Bunder was the royal Bombay Yacht Club established in 1846 and right opposite was the Taj Mahal Hotel which was built much before the gateway in 1903. It still is the most prominent landmark near gateway of India. Gateway is a mixture of ancient Hindu architecture with perforated windows from Gwalior and a dome that best aligns with Mogul architecture. It is interesting to know that gateway was supposed to have a road leading to it but it was never made for the lack of funds. An exorbitant twenty lakh Rupees ($ 40,000) were spent on its construction.

During its 100 years gateway has been a witness to many important events in history. Right from the last British troops leaving the Indian shores in 1948 to the terrorist siege at Taj Mahal Hotel in 2008. It has been an enduring symbol of Bombay and its spirit. Even today it attracts hordes of tourists from varied backgrounds.  Like any other tourist destination in India, gateway too is full of hawkers who will try to sell everything to you, right from things to eat to imitation jewellery. However there are hawkers of a different kind who click pictures and hand them over to you within five minutes for less than Rs 70-80 ( $2). These pictures can make quite a memorabilia. However one must take care when dealing with these hawkers as they can get quite aggressive especially around foreigners.

 

One can also enjoy a ferry ride that can take you sailing for 30 minutes along the coast and you can enjoy the view of gateway and the coastline for a mere Rs. 60. It is from here that ferry rides to Elephanta caves and Alibaug originate.  Elephanta is an island located about 10 Km to the east of Mumbai and has Hindu and Buddhist sculptures dating back to 8th and 10th century. These caves can make a good day time visit but one must generally refrain from visiting them late in the evening. These caves however are not comparable to the renowned caves at Ajanta and Ellora in Aurangabad, Maharashtra.  Alibaug on the other hand is a weekend getaway, frequented by the affluent of Mumbai to enjoy the solace of the sea, away from the city life. Alibaug has quite a few popular and scenic beaches such as the one at Kashid.  The fares of these ferries can range from Rs 100 – 350 ($2-7).

 

The early morning hours provide a good opportunity to visit gateway without being disturbed by a noisy crowd and hawkers.  It is only during morning hours that you can notice the height of these domes and the beauty of the perforated screens. Gateway makes a pleasant attraction during the months of winter and during monsoons when it is pleasant to drive around the roads nearby. Ideally a visit to gateway should be planned only for about an hour if the ferry ride to Elephanta is not included. Visiting gateway and Elephanta should be planned for about 4-5 hours. One can start early in the morning and expect to come back late in the evening if a trip to Alibaug and gateway is to be scheduled.

Gateway to India is a five minutes drive from Churchgate station and a cab would cost around Rs.15. It is also a ten to fifteen minutes drive from CST Station (formerly known as VT Station) and would cost Rs. 20 approximately in a cab.

 

Gateway of India is a stone throw away from Colaba Causeway, a place famous for selling imitation Jewellery, clothes, handicrafts and gift items. It is here that the famous Leopold Café and Café Mondegar are situated. It is recommended that Gateway be visited along with Colaba Causeway in the same day, if there is no journey to Elephanta caves or Alibaug on the cards

 

Although built to welcome the king and the queen of England the gateway of India is not remembered as a symbol of colonialism. It was one with Lakhs of Indians bidding good bye to the last British troops in India and is hence remembered as a symbol of the end of an oppressive colonial era and beginning of a new era of freedom.