My first Double-Decker BEST bus ride in Mumbai

Mumbai is a special city for me. It is one of the first places I traveled solo to. When I first came to Mumbai, I had no idea how to catch a train or a bus, I knew nothing about Mumbai except what I had learnt from books and movies. It was scary, but I learnt bit-by-bit, and now it is one of my favorite cities to be in. I love just walking down the streets, standing in the balcony and staring at the busy streets below, the food scene, the local trains, the malls, the heritage, all of it.

One of the unmissable sights in Mumbai is the red BEST buses. They are iconic in their own way and form an indispensable part of Mumbai’s identity. Everyday, thousands of Mumbaikars commute to their offices, colleges, classes, etc. and back home in the BEST buses. If there’s something more iconic than these red-colored BEST buses, then it is the red-colored double-decker BEST buses.

Double-deck public transport as first introduced in Mumbai by the Bombay, Baroda & Central India Railway (which is now called the Western Railway). At that time, they introduced double-decker coaches for general class crowds of Bombay. When trams were introduced in 1870, they too soon became immensely popular means of public transport. After that, in 1920, double-decker trams were introduced in the city.

Modelled on the lines of the other iconic red public transport buses of the world – the London buses, double-decker motor buses were introduced in Bombay in 1937. In the 1960s, some UK-built Routemaster model buses came to Bombay. Since then, the double-decker buses of Mumbai have become a valuable part of Mumbai’s heritage.

I first visited Mumbai in 2013, when the God of cricket – Sachin Tendulkar was going to play his last match, at the Wankhede stadium. by 2018, I had visited Mumbai so many times that I had lost count. But what I had never done until then, was travel by a BEST bus. I generally preferred walking around or taking the suburban train. But in early 2018, I read it in the newspaper that BEST was going to phase out the double-decker buses and they would no longer be plied on the streets of the city of dreams. An icon would cease to exist and would only remain in everyone’s memories. That got me worried. It wasn’t an experience I wanted to miss out on.

So on my next Mumbai I made it a point to travel in the double-decker BEST bus. I looked up the routes on which the double-decker buses ply. I was told the longest regular route is from CST to Worli. Now, that would be quite a scenic and memorable trip, no doubt. But I really didn’t have as much time during that trip, I was only there for the weekend. Just as I was standing at the CST bus stop and thinking what I should do, a double-decker bus came out of the depot and stopped just a few steps away from me. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is.

I asked the conductor where the bus was going.

He said, “Nariman Point”.

I hopped on. I was going to NCPA to attend an event at the Tata Theatre.

I ran up the steps to the upper deck and claimed my front seat. I couldn’t be happier at getting that seat.

The bus filled up soon and started off.

The bus rolled into one of my favorite streets in the city, going towards the Hutatma Chowk. Having the wind in my face and being able to see the beautiful sights of the colonial quarter was a joy. A joy so great that I distinctly remember every minute of the rather short journey I made over 2 years ago.

When you use public transport instead of cabs and personal vehicles, you realize how a city feels for majority of its inhabitants. A city’s public transport is indicative of how the city really is. The double-decker BEST buses are indictive of Mumbai’s rich history and the importance of public transport in a city as busy as Mumbai.

The double-decker bus was thankful not crowded. It is always a good idea to make your way to the exit about two stops before your stop. This is because the crowds will generally let you move towards the exit and get off if you get up just when you are at your stop and you will most likely miss your stop. If the bus is not so full, feel free to stay seated till the last minute, but that’s a rare possibility. And today, was that rare day.

As the bus was waiting at the traffic signal at Hutatma Chowk I took my time to think about how many times I had walked past the Flora Fountain at this chowk and it had always been on foot or in a taxi and never, ever in a BEST bus before, leave alone a double-decker bus. By then I had made many trips in a double-decker train, which is also quite a journey. Those trains are quite cramped with little to no legroom, and the only relief is the air-conditioning. But I, for my part, have often got seats on the middle deck or in the central area where there is a table fixed into the ground in front of me, which makes the journey a lot more comfortable.

Back to the bus. The bus passed by the Telegraph office, the Bhikha Behram well, onwards to Churchgate Station, making multiple stops on the way. But I stuck to my seat, not moving an inch. Thankfully, nobody came and sat next to me for the entire trip, so I had the entire seat to myself. I carry my minion toys with me, and ensure they enjoy the trips I take as much as I do. Besides, they make great muses for colorful, lively pictures, and are definitely way more photogenic than I am. I took pictures of the minion enjoying the front-seat ride too. It even sat on the window pane and looked at the passing sights. I often use the hashtag #motherofminions when I share the pictures of my minions, my minion toys are very dear to me.

Travelling by the double-decker bus in Mumbai made me realize why I travel. I knew it in my heart already but that ride helped me realize it again. I travel because that’s when I feel free, I feel me. It gives me an opportunity to experience new things, to learn more about the world we live in, different cultures, different foods. I wouldn’t say it gives me a chance to meet new people because that’s not a department I am too big on. But traveling makes me feel alive. And traveling in that double-decker bus gave me a chance to experience a slice of history first-hand, with an added benefit of having the best seat for the show. I had windows to the front and windows to the side, what more could I ask for.

Now, I know a lot of people would cringe when I said I enjoyed my bus ride. One, its just a damn bus ride, no big deal. Two, commuting in an extremely crowded bus everyday is exhausting so when you had to do it once you had the time of your life. Three, the bus wasn’t even so full so of course you enjoyed it, trying doing that every day with thrice as many people. Well, I get it, it was just a bus ride, commute can be hard and I was just a tourist. But, I still enjoyed it! I’ve done it a few times again since then. And that first ride is stay in my memory always.

Imagine my joy now, when last month I found out that the BMC is bringing back the double-decker buses! The Maharashtra Government had launched the Mission Begin Again in the current unlock mode. Under this mission, double-decker buses from six depots have already been pressed into service and more buses will soon be on the job. With this, Mumbai’s iconic double-decker buses have got a new lease of life. And I, can’t wait to be in Mumbai again traveling on a double-decker bus in the front seat of the upper deck!

One Comment Add yours

  1. bhavipatel says:

    Reblogged this on blackbeautyandme.

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