The bus takes tourists through Mumbai in the calm of night. The advantage is that Mumbais busy business districts through which the bus winds its way are empty during the evening. The two open-decked buses, Nilambari and Vibhavari, have attracted the interest of not just international but also domestic tourists who queue up to watch some of the popular heritage places.
These buses will ply initially on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. The first tour is from 7-8 pm, followed by a second tour from 8.15-9.15 pm. Choose to go on the upper deck at Rs 90, where the view of Mumbai is electrifying. The charge for the lower deck is Rs 40.
The journey begins from the MTDC Information & Booking Centre at the Gateway of India. It then passes through Nariman Point, Churchgate, Horniman Circle and the heritage buildings, like the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the High Court and the Rajabai Clock Tower.
A tour guide, Sandhya Merchant, unravels the sights and sounds of Mumbai. The bus covers the South Mumbai neo-Gothic structures. The bus starts from the Gateway, which is a landmark sight in Mumbai, where King George V and Queen Mary landed 1911. But the Gateway was not there when they arrived. It was completed in 1922! The structure is Indo Islamic. Then wind down Madam Cama Road, where one sees the Wellington Fountain. It was inaugurated by Lord Wellington in the 18th century. Most monuments here belong to the 17th and late 18th centuries. From the upper deck, you can see the overview of the layout. There is the junction of the six roads leading to Town Hall, Museum, Regal Cinema and Gateway.
The bus moves slowly. It does not stop anywhere but tourists can see the structures clearly. It is interesting to know that the police commissioners district headquarters was built as an old sailors home originally. There is a sculpture of Neptune, the sea god, to prove the claim. You can see it under the roof, which is visible with the sodium vapour lights on the street.
The bus goes down to the National Gallery of Museum and Art (NGMA), which was earlier in the Cawasjee Jehangir Hall. NGMA holds art exhibitions, paintings and has extensive art collections. From here, the bus goes past the Oval Maidan. There are art deco buildings on one side of the Oval, where the residences are today. On the other side, where the Mumbai University and High Court buildings are located, the structure is neo-Gothic.
The Bandstand, where in the days of yore a live naval band would play, has a garden where you can ride ponies. The bus goes from here to Mantralay, the seat of the state government. The next landmark is Nariman Point, the modern business district built on reclamation land in the 60s. Then the bus moves from here to Hotel Oberoi from where one gets on to Marine Drive. The awe-inspiring bay and the Queens Necklace are stunning.
From there, the bus goes straight to Churchgate station, where one goes past the Bhikha Behram well. This well was built in 1725 by a Parsi philanthropist to provide water to travellers and bullocks. Now it is a wishing well, where Parsis light lamps. Then on to the road behind Bombay Gymkhana where one can see old residences. Then on to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the first railway station to be built in Asia. The Bombay Municipal Office building opposite the station and VT were designed by the same architect, F W Stevens, in the late 18th century. Both the structures are in the Indo-Islamic style.
Turn at VT Station and go back this time towards Khadi Bhandar. Go through the bank street, which is the headquarters of many banks. The Bombay Stock Exchange building, a modern building, towers over here. From here you pass St Thomas Cathedral, the oldest cathedral to be built in the city.
The bus then goes towards Town Hall, which houses a precious collection of books and is now called Asiatic Library. A lot of buildings in the fort district were destroyed in the fire in the early 1800s. The Town Hall is one of the older buildings which remain. It was earlier used as a social and recreation centre by members of the East India Company and then converted to the present library in the early 1900s. The steps of the library are impressive. The building boasts of a Grecian Gothic structure.
Go past the naval dockyard to the left side. Did you know, the British preferred the Indian-made ships to their British ships, as the former were made of teak, which made them stronger and lighter. Another interesting fact is that the American national anthem was written on board an Indian ship built in the Bombay dockyard, which was part of the British Navy. Francis Scottkey, who wrote it was a prisoner on the ship, Minden. The ship was sailing in the British colony of America, where Scottkey looked longingly towards his home country. It was then that he wrote the anthem.
The bus then goes past Rampart Row, to the state police headquarters and then the Gateway. Mumbai is very interesting, said Frenchman Pierre Rasquin. He summed it up well for the tourists and the interested locals who get on on the bus.