The first batch of 15 excited, wide-eyed tourists entered the hallowed portals of the iconic BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) building - the headquarters of Asia's richest civic body which administers India's commercial capital - for the inaugural 'Heritage Walk' here on Saturday.
The tourists were accorded a warm welcome with flowers by Mayor Kishori Pednekar, the first two - Archana A. Nevrekar and Sitaram N. Shetty - were presented a memento, and all in the group were gifted a copy of the BMC's 2021 calendar.
"This is the first municipal corporation in the country to organise such a Heritage Walk. This initiative will boost tourism and also give Mumbai an identity as a tourist destination," said BMC Municipal Commissioner I.S. Chahal.
In an aggressive bid to boost tourism, the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation and BMC came up with the joint proposal to conduct the Heritage Walk inside the 128-year-old BMC building.
Among the most-recognisable landmarks of Mumbai, the building was built in the Victorian Gothic Revival style with golden beige basalt rockstones in 1893, by architect Frederick W. Stevens - who also designed the UNESCO World Heritage site Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, just opposite the BMC headquarters - said a civic official.
The BMC building was built on a 6,600-sq metre plot of land at a cost of almost Rs 11,20,000, below the estimated costs, and the construction work of the awe-inspiring monument was completed in less than 50 months.
The building has a 235-feet-tall tower, a 68-feet-long, 32-feet-wide and 38-feet-high conference hall, where the elected city corporators sit and deliberate on the future of the city and its estimated 1.50 crore souls, ranging from among the richest in the world living in skyscrapers to the poorest pavement dwellers.
"The Heritage Walk in two batches includes visits to around 17 scenic spots with an expert guide appointed by the MTDC. Some of the sites include the BMC Main Dome, the Corporation Hall, the Standing Committee Hall, Inner Dome, the Mayor's Office chambers, the Museum Tower, the duck fountain, the offices of various political parties," the official said.
The intiative was inaugurated by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Maharashtra Congress President and Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat, state Tourism Minister Aditya Thackeray and other dignitaries on Thursday.
"The architectural jewel of Mumbai's administration is now open for visitors/tourists on weekends. It's the fulfilment of a dream. We are also working on similar guided tours of the Bombay High Court, Gateway of India, Wankhede Stadium and other landmarks in the city," Aditya Thackeray said.
"Not only the people of Mumbai, but also people from other states, and foreign nationals can now get to see the majestic municipal building of the country's leading city, and after viewing it, it will make both them and us feel proud," Uddhav Thackeray remarked even as Pawar and Thorat admitted it was their own maiden visit to the BMC headquarters.
The weekend excursion - conducted by Bharat Gothoskar's Khaki Tours - begins from BMC Gate No 2 and the tourists step inside to the main square inside the sprawling building, and from there they proceed to the landmarks hidden from public view, during the 60-90 minute Heritage Walk.
Besides the BMC building, some of the other eye-catching architectural marvels in south Mumbai built in similar architectural styles include: the University of Mumbai along with its iconic Rajabai Tower, Taj Mahal Hotel, the General Post Office, the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule (Crawford) Market, the Bombay High Court and Sessions Court, the DGP Headquarters, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum, St Xaviers College, Anjuman-i-Islam School, Wilson College, Elphinstone College, the Western Railway headquarters building, the David Sassoon Library, and the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum.