With nearly 8000 stations, 17 zones, and 70 divisions, Indian Railways is one of the largest railway networks in the world. On average, 23 million people walk in and out of India’s railway stations daily! Most people are in a hurry to reach their destinations and in that hullabaloo, seldom do they take a moment to appreciate the awe-inspiring beauty of some of the gorgeous railway stations in the world. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai is arguably the most beautiful and the most famous railway station in India along with being the country’s busiest. The 133-year old station sees three million people pass through it daily. It is not just a railway station. It is an architectural marvel, an iconic landmark and a prized possession of Mumbai. In 2004, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus got the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it must feature on your Mumbai itinerary.
Like several Indian monuments, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus has a colonial past. During the British rule in India, the British architect F.W. Stevens designed the grand edifice, and the construction began in 1878. On its completion after almost ten years in 1887, the station was opened to Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee and was thus named the Victoria Terminus. It was only in 1996 that the name was changed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, after the great Maratha warrior king, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Back in 1887, it was the most expensive structure in the city, having cost a whopping 260,000 Sterling Pounds! The station has been witness to many a historical milestone. This was the station from which India’s first passenger train started its journey to reach the suburb of Thane. It was once the headquarters of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, and today it serves as the headquarters of India’s Central Railway zone. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus has truly come a full circle.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is one of the best instances of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture. The design of F.W. Stevens also incorporated Mughal architectural elements with the classic neo-Gothic elements to produce an eclectic and ornate structure. Spires, stone carvings, friezes, Corinthian columns, neo-classical sculptures, arched windows, lace the facade of the building. You will be fascinated to know that a number of the carvings and gargoyles were created by Lockwood Kipling, father of the Nobel Prize-winning British-Indian author, Rudyard Kipling!
The entrance to the station, made of limestone and sandstone, is graced by the statue of a lion, representing Great Britain, on one side and the figure of a tiger, representing India, on the other side. The interiors of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus are rimmed with fine Italian marble rendering the place a royal appeal. There is a heritage room inside the central dome, which is the focal point of the architecture. I would suggest hiring a guide to understand the finer nuances of the structure. The terminus even has a whole heritage museum inside. The museum, with its carved walls, atmospheric lighting, and winding staircases, will instantly transport you to Hogwarts! If you are interested in the history of the terminus and that of the railways in general beyond the basics, you should definitely take a tour of this museum that remains open from 3 PM to 5 PM on weekdays.
How often do you take a train with the distinct purpose of admiring the beauty of a railway station? When in Mumbai, I say you do exactly that! The Mumbai Suburban Railway, availed by 7.5 million commuters daily, operates over 2300 trains every day, and you can easily board one of the trains to reach the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Ask around, and anyone will happily direct you to one of the railway stations, depending on which area of the city you are in. Alternatively, you can opt for a taxi or public bus to reach the station located in Mumbai’s busiest commercial district, Fort. Mumbai has two airports - the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport and the Santa Cruz Domestic Airport. You can avail a cab outside either of the airports to reach the place as well. While there is no bad time to explore the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, it is wise to avoid Mumbai during the damp monsoon months of June-August as the city tends to come to a halt due to water-logging.
In 2008, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus became the target of the brutal 26/11 terrorist attacks which resulted in the loss of 58 lives at the bloodied station alone. Mumbai was reeling because it was not just a railway station that had come under attack. It was almost like someone had ripped out the heart of the city. Yet, the next morning, everything was back on track at the station as usual. And when the heart pulls through, normalcy usually starts to resume. Similarly, Mumbai also gained back her status as Mayanagri (the city of dreams, Maya-dream, Nagri-city) where millions of people arrive every day to fulfill their aspirations. And most of them first set foot in Mumbai at no other place than this station. So, visiting the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is not just about exploring a 19th-century architectural marvel. It is also about experiencing the soul of the city.
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