Marine Drive, Mumbai's iconic curved coastal boulevard, is often referred to as the Queen's Necklace because of its glowing string of street lights. This popular seaside promenade provides a refreshing break from the claustrophobic concrete jungle that covers most of the city. In 2018, the long stretch of Art Deco buildings lining it received UNESCO World Heritage status, as part of the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai. Notably, Mumbai has the second largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, after Miami.
This complete guide to Marine Drive provides more information about its history and how to visit it.
Marine Drive was built as part of the British government's Back Bay Reclamation Scheme during the second phase of Mumbai's urban development in the early 20th century. This scheme involved dredging the sea and dumping stone into it, to create land and expand the city westward.
An inscription on a lamp post near Girgaum Chowpatty indicates that the construction of Marine Drive began there, at what was called Kennedy Sea Face, in 1915. It was named after Sir Michael Kavanagh Kennedy, an engineer who was Secretary of the Bombay Public Works Department and a General in the British Army. Unfortunately, he died in 1898, well before the reclamation works began.
Marine Drive actually ended up shorter than planned, as logistical problems meant less land was reclaimed than expected. By the mid 1930s, most of the infrastructure works were complete, and the pavement and sidewalk were being laid. Attention turned to architecture, particularly the Art Deco style that was gripping the world. It was seen as glamorous and modern, and was eagerly embraced by the wealthy movie stars and Parsi migrants who went on a building spree along Marine Drive.
Many of the Parsis were progressive industrialists. They favored contemporary apartments and offices, as opposed to the city's pervasive imperial Gothic and Indo-Saracenic structures. The Art Deco style reflected their aspirations and enabled them to portray themselves as elite jet-setting Indians, engaged in western culture. It also rebranded Mumbai as a metropolis on the move and breaking away from the British.
The last of Marine Drive's Art Deco buildings came up in the late 1940s and 1950s, towards the northern end of the boulevard. The owners were mostly wealthy Hindu families who migrated from Pakistan during the 1947 Partition of India. Kuwaiti royals also owned a couple of the buildings (the Al-Sabah and Al-Jabreya Court buildings) as holiday homes.
Many of Marine Drive's hotels have interesting histories as well. The Sea Green Hotel was previously a residential apartment building that was occupied by the British army in the Second World War. The Intercontinental used to be the Natraj Hotel, built on the site of the exclusive, Europeans-only Bombay Club. The Natraj had what was possibly the city's first ice cream parlor, Yankee Doodle. Hotel Marine Plaza was originally the Bombay International Hotel, where the members-only Studio 29 nightclub revolutionized the city's party scene in the 1980s. The Trident hotel was constructed as the Oberoi Sheraton in 1972. This towering hotel was the tallest hotel in India at the time, with 550 rooms and 30 floors, and was the first hotel in the city rival to the landmark Taj Palace hotel. The Trident and adjoining Oberoi hotel, a newer luxury business hotel that opened in 1986, were attacked by terrorists in 2008.
The proximity of Marine Drive to Churchgate Street (now known as Veer Nariman Road) ensured its popularity as a residential area. By the swinging sixties, the street was the epicenter of the city's nightlife.. Locals enjoyed being able to walk to its many jazz clubs, bars and restaurants.
After Bombay became Mumbai in 1996, numerous roads were also renamed to remove lingering colonial connotations. This included Marine Drive, which is now officially called Netaji Subhash Chandra Marg.
The boulevard's prime location and the city's shortage of space have driven the price of old Art Deco apartments up to $2 million or more. These days, most people can only ambitiously dream of living there, and nostalgically dream of the past.
Marine Drive extends about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the Nariman Point business district to Girgaum Chowpatty at the foot of posh Malabar Hill in South Mumbai. Its bordered by the Back Bay, which joins the Arabian Sea, on one side and Western Line of the Mumbai local train on the other.
How to Get There
Marine Drive can easily be reached by taxi in less than 10 minutes from the Colaba tourist district. Expect to pay around 60-120 rupees, on depending where exactly you want to go.
If taking the local train, there are three stations near Marine Drive on the Western Line — Chuchgate Railway station (at the far south, where the trains originate at terminate), Marine Lines (near the center), and Charni Road (at the far north, near Girgaum Chowpatty).
What to Do There
Joining the city's inhabitants for a stroll along Marine Drive is a quintessential thing to do in Mumbai. It takes about an hour to cover the whole stretch.
Girgaum Chowpatty beach is the sunset hangout spot in Mumbai. You'll be able to watch the sun slink down behind the Malabar Hill skyline, while sampling local snacks from the assembly of street food stalls. It becomes circus-like there on weekends. Mumbai Magic conducts an evening walking tour of the area. If you're a foodie, you may prefer this Reality Tours & Travel street food tour.
Those who have cash to splash should head to Dome, the seductive rooftop bar at the Intercontinental hotel on Marine Drive, for sunset cocktails. It's the perfect place to soak up the fading light of the day, as it's replaced by the illuminating flicker of candles and glow of the Queen's Necklace.
A block away, on the corner of Veer Nariman Road, is one of Marine Drive's most prominent and best preserved Art Deco buildings, Soona Mahal. It was built in 1937 by the late Kawasji Fakirji Sidhwa, a Parsi who had a flourishing country liquor business, and named after his grandmother Soona bai Kawasji Sidhwa. The family ran a plush bed and breakfast there. Nowadays, the building is home to the renowned Pizza by the Bay restaurant (formerly Talk of the Town, which opened in 1968).
Those who are particularly interested in Art Deco buildings may wish to join the Mumbai in Design architecture tour offered by No Footprints. If you'd like more information on the buildings along with pictures check out the Art Deco Mumbai website.
Head to the National Center for Performing Arts, at the far southern end of Marine Drive, for a dose of culture. Catch a talk, film screening, play, dance or live music show.
Children will appreciate a trip to Taraporewala Aquarium, which reopened after renovation in 2015. It's India's oldest aquarium, built in 1951, and named after Parsi philanthropist DB Taraporewala who donated money for its construction.
In addition, Marine Drive is a popular spot for fireworks on Diwali (late October or early November each year) and the immersion of Ganesh statues at Girgaum Chowpatty during the epic annual Ganesh festival (usually in September each year).
Marine Drive's hotels are clustered at the southern end of the promenade. For the ultimate indulgence stay at the Oberoi, one of the top five-star hotels in Mumbai, for upwards of about 15,000 rupees ($220) per night including tax. It has a handy location close the National Center for Performing Arts.
Good deals are often available at the Trident Nariman Point next to the Oberoi. It's possible to get a room for under 10,000 rupees ($140) per night, including tax.
The Hotel Marine Plaza is a nautical-themed boutique hotel in a similar price bracket, with sea view rooms from 12,800 rupees ($170) per night including tax. The rooftop swimming pool has outstanding views as well. Another attraction at the hotel is Geoffrey's, a famed British style pub.
Rooms at the Intercontinental Marine Drive are priced from about 14,000 rupees ($200) per night, including tax. It's a small five-star hotel with 60 rooms.
The atmospheric Sea Green Hotel is a cheaper option that's retained its Art Deco character. The spacious rooms all have balconies and most have sea views. Expect to pay around 6,000 rupees ($85) per night upwards, including tax and breakfast.
Bentley Hotel, in Art Deco Krishna Mahal, recently received makeover and is suitable for budget-conscious travelers. Some of the rooms are small but they're clean and comfortable, and priced under 3,500 ($50) per night including tax and breakfast.