Iconic CST Mumbai – The Nuances You Do Not Know

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CST Mumbai Heritage Building
CST Mumbai Heritage Building

If you have been to Mumbai or if you live in Mumbai, you have used the CST Mumbai station. Maybe you have just passed by this beautiful station. Let me walk you through the history & quirky facts about this heritage railway station. A lot has been written about this lovely train terminus, so let me just give you some quirky facts and trivia about it. This includes the small nuances that you should not miss when you visit CST in Mumbai.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is India’s oldest and the most beautiful railway station. Originally called Victoria Terminus or simply VT, UNESCO has inscribed it as a World Heritage Site in 2004.

CST Mumbai from across the Road
CST Mumbai from across the Road

CST Mumbai stands where the story of Indian Railways began in 1853 when the first ever train chugged out of Bori Bunder station. It took 10 years to build this lovely station between 1878-88.

Do you know CST Mumbai is one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are still in active service?

The other one also belongs to the railways – Mountain Railways of India including the Darjeeling Himalayan Rail.

The CST Mumbai Museum

History of CST Mumbai through its architectural designs
History of CST Mumbai through its architectural designs

Walk through the main gates of the CST Mumbai building. You can easily spot it with the two giant lions that guard this gate. To the right of this gate is the single hall museum that aims to show you the history of Indian Railways when it was called Great Indian Peninsula Railway.

Mumbai Railway Maps at Heritage Museum
GIPR and the Bombay City grow together

The journey of Railways in Mumbai is traced through maps which are lovely – you not only see the growth of rail network but also that of the city. It looks like they were growing hand in hand.

Design and the reality - a CST Heritage Museum, Mumbai
Design and the reality – a CST Heritage Museum, Mumbai

I loved the display of architectural design sheet places next to the actual building photographs. You can see how intricately the design was done on the drawing table. It almost feels the actual building was made as a 3-D image of the drawing. I quietly uttered a word of appreciation to architect F W Stevens. Next minute, I spotted an interesting communication between Stevens and Railway department, where he demands an additional compensation of Rs 5000/ – Remember this was still 1888.

Silverware used by the Railways - once upon a time...
Silverware used by the Railways – once upon a time…

You see the various communications exchanged, the drawings, the logos, and even the good old silver cutlery.

Ferroequinology – Name for the study of railways

Timetable of GIPR in The Bombay Times
Timetable of GIPR in The Bombay Times

Timetable

A look at the timetable would make you appreciate the one who designed it – giving you all the information in one square box. It has train timings, fare, distances and all the stations.

Advertisements for Deccan Queen - when it was launched between Bombay & Pune
Advertisements for Deccan Queen – when it was launched between Bombay & Pune

If you thought the people of India took to trains without any persuasion, look at this advertisement for Deccan Queen – that still runs between Mumbai & Pune. Even the timetable was published on the front page of The Bombay Times. It is said that regular travelers on this train could even get their mail delivered on the Deccan Queen.

You can see the model of Sahib – one of three engines that pulled the first ever train in India. Other two are called Sindh & Sultan.

Commemorative postage stamps on Indian Railways at CST Museum
Commemorative postage stamps on Indian Railways at CST Museum

GIPR had 10 directors initially and two of them were Indians – Jagannath Nana Shanker Shett and Cursetjee Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy.

Timetable of trains between Bombay & Calcutta
Timetable of trains between Bombay & Calcutta

The commemorative postage stamps issued on railways are on display. How I wish people could buy these stamps, maybe even their replicas.

Story of First Indian Train between Bori Bunder and Thane

Logo of Great Indian Peninsular Railway - engraved in stone at CST Mumbai
Logo of Great Indian Peninsular Railway – engraved in stone at CST Mumbai

It is said that 400 invited guests traveled on the first train that traveled between Bori Bunder as the CST area was then known and Thane some 35 km away on April 16, 1853.

21 gun salute was given to the train before its 14 carriages were pulled by the 3 engines – Sahib, Sindh & Sultan

A high tea was arranged for everyone on board at Thane where special arrangements were made to receive the guest on board this historic ride. One can only imagine the importance of people chosen for this special train.

Since there was a paucity of space, the ticketing office of GIPR operated from Shankar Shett’s home for some time.

Read more about this iconic journey in this Hindu article.

The Star Chamber at CST Railway Station

Star Chamber at CST Mumbai
Star Chamber at CST Mumbai

When I first heard the word star chamber, I expected it to be a star shaped chamber. I would have fooled myself had I shared it with anyone else. The chamber is actually where the ticket issuing office is. If you have ever taken a train from CST Mumbai, you would have seen this chamber. However, to see the stars you have to stretch your neck and look at the ceiling. These are stars made in gold sparkling on the pistachio green ceiling. The arched room looks beautiful from the first floor.

Arches create an aura of it being a large durbar hall.

Do people buying tickets look up and admire or are they too busy?

In & Around the Iconic Dome of CST Mumbai

Iconic CST Dome - Closeup
Iconic CST Dome – Closeup

The dome stands tall at the center of the CST building. Come with me inside it, get up close & personal with this architectural masterpiece.

Wooden door framed by recessed arches - CST Mumbai
Wooden door framed by recessed arches – CST Mumbai

The doors leading to the staircase that takes you closer to the dome is a piece of beauty. Framed by a set of recessed arches, its wood shines as if it has just been polished. The brass fittings add a regal aura and you know you are entering a special space.

Lion with Coat of Arms
Lion with Coat of Arms

As you enter you see a lion with the coat of arms welcomes you with its towering presence.

Spiral Staircase

As soon as I took my eyes off the lion, they were beheld by the spiral staircase that goes closer to the dome. There is no support for this wide staircase except the support that comes from the thick walls. The walls are good 8-10 feet thick. The sculpted wall behind the staircase frames it in a way that your eyes struggle to decide which is the most beautiful part of the visual.

Staircase with Jali Work window at CST Mumbai
Staircase with Jali Work window at CST Mumbai

There is fine Jaali work between the two levels.

On the first floor, you can step out and gave a look at the upper storeys of the building.

Top view of the spiral staircase at CST Mumbai
Top view of the spiral staircase at CST Mumbai

To reach the dome you have to take the narrow metal stairs, followed by another narrow staircase with almost nothing to hold. The stained glass that you see when you reach the top is worth all the effort.

Inside view of the CST Mumbai dome
Inside view of the CST dome

The double layer of stained glasses tell the story of GIPR and highlight the journey from elephant rides to train coaches. When you stand right next to the dome you realize how big it is.

Double layered stained glass planels inside CST Mumbai Dome
Double layered stained glass panels inside CST Mumbai Dome

The view of rest of the CST including the central railway office in the building behind this is lovely. The height changes the perspectives of the buildings surrounding the Mumbai CST.

CST Mumbai Railway Station – from the outside

3 different arches at 3 different levels at CST Mumbai
3 different arches at 3 different levels at CST Mumbai

The outer structure of CST Mumbai is majestic and imposing.

Notice some of these nuances:

The arches at 3 different levels represent 3 different architectural styles representing 3 different eras.

There is a bust of each of the 10 directors of GIPR or Great India Peninsular Railway.

Animals Carved on the pillars of CST Mumbai
Animals Carved on the pillars of CST Mumbai

The empty slot in the middle held a statue of Queen Victoria after whom the terminal was initially named. After independence,  the statue was removed.

Gargoyles are water management system of the CST Mumbai. See the various animals that form the gargoyles all around the facade.

16 different turban styles on a relief panel at CST Mumbai
16 different turban styles on a relief panel at CST Mumbai

The most intriguing bit for me was on the base of the windows with 16 different types of turbans carved as bas reliefs. I can only guess that this was to represent the diversity of the native population.

Sewage Pipes on CST Mumbai Facade
Can you spot the Sewage Pipes on this CST Mumbai Facade?

The toilets in the corner look like a chamber, it is only when the guide points to the pipe running along that you figure out that it is a toilet.

Peacock carved on a window of CST Heritage Building
Peacock carved on a window of CST Heritage Building

Indian Flora and Fauna

CST Mumbai is full of Indian flora and fauna. You can walk through the sculpted pillars and get a lesson in local bio-diversity. My favorite though is this dancing peacock carved on one of the windows.

View from the CST Mumbai Dome
View from the CST Mumbai Dome

The lady on top looks small but she is good 16+ ft tall and is called – The Lady of Progress. She holds the wheel in her left hand symbolizing progress or movement towards progress. In her right hand, she holds the torch, much like the statue of liberty. Our Guide told us that this symbolizes the fact that city never sleeps. Well, it seems it is in the DNA of Mumbai that it could never sleep.

Travel Tips for CST Mumbai Heritage Tour

View from the dome of CST Mumbai
View from the dome of CST Mumbai

You can take a guided tour of the CST station that covers its heritage parts as well as the CST Railway Museum.

The museum is open from 2 PM – 5 PM on weekdays. I wonder why they do not open on weekends as that is when maximum visitors would come. Hope this changes soon.

Heritage tour takes about an hour. The dome part that I mentioned above is not a part of the tour, rest everything is.

At the time of writing, the tour ticket is priced at INR 200 with a special rate of INR 100 for students.

Recommend you read following Mumbai attractions for visitors.

  1. Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum – Celebrating city of Mumbai.
  2. Banganga Tank – Ancient heritage of Mumbai city.
  3. Exploring the Street Art in Bandra, Mumbai cityscape.
  4. Mani Bhavan – Mahatma Gandhi’s imprint in Mumbai.
  5. Journey of Money at RBI Monetary Museum.
  6. Global Vipassana Pagoda or Golden Pagoda, Mumbai.
  7. Cathedral of the Holy Name, Colaba – Heritage of Mumbai.
  8. Kanheri caves, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing this. CST is one of my favourite buildings in Bombay, and I loved getting to revisit it through your lens. I would love to take part in a heritage tour on my next visit to the city and explore a few more of CST’s nooks and crannies. Great post!

  2. Wow.. never got to know the inside story of this such beautiful building. Visited it during Diwali.. It glows up with all colored lights. Great sight.

  3. I wanted to have the tour for the CST Building. I did ask at the railway station counters, but they had no responses. From your write-up I realised why I missed it. Next time, a trip to see only the CST insides. It is a beautiful building. Every time I go there, I pause and look at all its beauties.

  4. I live in chennai .After reading this blog i am thinking to visit Chattrapathi Shivaji Terminus atleast once in my life time.At first , I thought it was just an railway station and I don’t know it is an heritage center in mumbai

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