Mumbai's BMC headquarters heritage walk: Glimpses of the iconic 128-year-old building [Photos]
These hour-long walks are being curated by Mumbai-based Khaki Tours in collaboration with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) and are conducted over the weekends on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) Heritage Walk initiative was inaugurated by Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray on 28 January this year. These hour-long walks are being curated by Mumbai-based Khaki Tours in collaboration with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) and are conducted over the weekends on Saturdays and Sundays. This is in fact the first time in 100 years that this iconic building has opened its doors for the tourists. In order to take part in this heritage walk, one needs to book tickets worth Rs 300 per person through bookmyshow.com and all the others related to the walk are available on the web portals of MTDC and Khaki Tours. Photograph courtesy of the BMC.
The heritage walk begins from BMC headquarters' gate number 2 and then proceeds to the chowk inside the premises. From there it reaches the offices of various political leaders and officers in the BMC, the Mayor’s office, the general body hall further heading to the office of the BMC commissioner, and finally to the museum on the second floor. Photograph courtesy of the BMC.
"What makes Mumbai different from other cities, is the fact that here heritage is living," says Bharat Gothoskar, Founder Khaki Tours. Most of these office heritage buildings are inaccessible during weekdays, but the Government of Maharashtra has now arranged for them to be accessible during the weekends, starting with the BMC heritage walk. Aditya Thackeray, the tourism and environment minister of Maharashtra is also in talks with the High Court, University of Mumbai, Vidhan Bhavan so that they can potentially be opened for the public soon. For this BMC walk, Thackeray wanted it to be properly curated and that's where Khakhi Tours came in. Ever since its inception in 2015, Khakhi Tours has been creating awareness about Mumbai’s history and heritage in a fun and interesting manner using walks and open-jeep tours across the city. "Frankly, I didn't expect the response to be so good, but we are sold out for two weeks from now. Initially, we started with four walks a weekend, then we increased it to 8 and now we have 12 walks every weekend. Every walk has 20 people and we maintain social distancing; we have amplifiers so that people can listen to the tour guide even while keeping a safe distance," adds Gothoskar. Photo courtesy of the BMC.
The current building was not the original BMC headquarters. It shifted from Girgaum to Apollo Street (which is today known as Shahid Bhagat Singh Road) to Kala Ghoda till finally the present site in 1893. It was designed by an Englishman named FW Stevens who was the architect of the equally iconic building opposite to the BMC headquarters — the CSMT station (which was earlier known as Victoria Terminus) and the Central Railways headquarters. The entire building has a Gothic Revival architectural structure except for the domes and minarets on top — they bear an architectural transition from Victorian Gothic to Indo-Saracenic (the style of buildings like the GPO, CSVMS and the Gateway of India). The central facade’s architecture is similar to the Council Hall in Manchester, UK. Photograph courtesy of the BMC.
The Corporation Hall (shown in the picture above) is a place where history meets civics. Initially, meant for 80 councillors, the hall now seats 227. It was inspired by the Corporation Halls of Glasgow and Birmingham. It was destroyed by a fire in 2001 and was then restored by conservation architect Vikas Dilawari. The hall, with the ornate gilding on the ceiling, displays the ‘athra pagad jati’, the eighteen turbaned communities of the city. Photograph courtesy of the BMC.
The interior dome of the building is not the same as that one sees from the outside. Sandwiched between the interior dome and the exterior domes are water tanks, now in disuse. The water from those tanks powered the building’s hydraulic lift in the days before electricity. The beautiful goldwork (as seen in the picture above) that one sees on the dome from inside is actually made of real gold leaf. Photograph courtesy of the BMC.
Shown above in the picture is the entrance for corporation staff and public. The Mayor and corporators have a separate entrance. The winged lions with serpent tails, on both sides of the staircase, show dominance over land, air and water - inspired by Venetian lions. Mayor's office was originally not part of the building; the mayor used to operate from his personal chambers. The office was added to the building on the insistence of Vithalbhai Patel that the people’s representative should also have an office in the building. The Mayor has a special chair that travels with her wherever she presides. Photograph courtesy of the BMC.
Sir Pherozeshah Mehta is considered to be the Father of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation or the Bombay Municipality as it was known earlier. He drafted the Bombay Municipal Act of 1872 that gave control to elected representatives rather than nominated ones. The statue of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta was erected right outside the BMC headquarters by public subscription. Photograph courtesy of the BMC.
Gothoskar says that through this walk, one realises what is the Indian contribution in an otherwise European-style building: From Indian craftsmen, contractors coming on board in this project to Indian architectural styles incorporated into the design, to how with the Indian Independence movement many Indians got a say in the administration. All these things form a very cohesive narrative about the building and the city. Inside the building, there are busts of several people who had contributed to the development of the city and the country. "When you look at the plaque you realise that the building was built in Rs 60,000 less than what was planned; it was estimated that around Rs 12 lakhs would be spent in the construction of the building, but it got done is something slightly more than Rs 11 lakhs," informs Gothoskar. Photograph courtesy of the BMC.
There are a lot of symbolism used in the design: be it the trees, fruits or animals. All these minute details in a way lend a voice to the building and it starts talking with us, as Gothoskar points out. "This walk is a very immersive experience where we explain each and every corner: what are the tiles you are walking on, which part of England did they come from; what are the architectural similarities between the BMC building and the Taj Mahal Hotel (the same engineer had designed the iconic hotel as well). We try to establish these connections, making the building relatable and personally connected to who you are as a resident of Mumbai." Photograph courtesy of the BMC.