Mumbai Airport a Hot Spot? Some mistake surely? This one has all the bells and whistles of any swanky new airport (Terminal 2 has replaced the old international terminal building rather than supplemented it) - majestic interiors and impressive design - but it is unique in one significant respect. It is not nondescript. It is blazingly, riotously Indian. Most airports could be picked up and dumped into another country and no passenger would even notice. But this airport, which opened on February 12, showcases Indian art and crafts to dramatic effect. There is no way, in this airport, that you could think you were anywhere but in India.
OK, but other airports have the odd painting dotted around, so why the fuss over this one? True, but the art at T2 is on a colossal scale. The Art Walk runs for three kilometres and spans four floors, offering a seamless flow of works from all over India. The art stimulates the senses, from the moment passengers disembark, when they pass through immigration and customs and when they arrive at the baggage carousel.
What was the brief? Curator Rajeev Sethi was told only two things by Sanjay Reddy, vice-chairman of GVK Industries, which built the new terminal: "Make the art so stunning passengers miss their flight" and, "Whatever you do, give it character; don't make another Dubai or Shanghai airport."
How did the art become so dominant? The architects at first thought all they had to do was put aside some wall space for paintings and create the odd niche for sculptures. But when Sethi saw the niches in the three-kilometre central wall that separates arrivals from departures, he asked them: "Why don't you give me the entire wall?" From then on the scale became gargantuan and, rather than being conceived as an addition, the artwork was integrated into the very frame and spaces of the building as it was being built.
How much art are we talking about? When all the art has been installed, there will be 7,000 works. At the moment, 2,000 are on display, including paintings, sculptures, installations, carved doorways and windows, stone idols, archways and murals. Each item has been specially commissioned. In the arrivals area, Indian symbols of welcome - lotuses, sacred geometries and celestial guardian figures - are prominent.
Is any of it interactive? Some of the installations invite you to touch, push and feel. A water installation by film director Shekhar Kapur comprises antique stone spouts of the kind found in temples. When passengers walk past, they can touch the spouts, each one striking a different musical note. The immigration area in arrivals is flanked by a 30-foot rippling gold curtain dotted with specks of light that twinkle as you pass.
It may be well adorned, but what of the structure itself? It is architecturally resplendent. Indian airports tend to be congested, poky and drab. T2 is not just huge, at 4.3 million square feet, but easy on the eye. Its leitmotif is the peacock. Its skylights, some of the largest in Asia, are mounted on steel frameworks that evoke a thousand dancing peacocks. Enough granite to cover 28 soccer pitches was used in its construction and the terminal has 188 check-in counters, 52 boarding bridges and 161 escalators, elevators and travelators. It is expected to serve 40 million passengers a year.
Many Indian artists are poor due to a lack of patronage. Will this help them? Although none of the art is for sale, a merchandising project is under way so that replicas and miniatures of the art can be bought, with the proceeds supporting struggling artists.
Is it open to the general public? No, only to passengers, for whom tours will be arranged.
How do I get in, then? By buying a plane ticket to Mumbai, of course! Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) flies the route directly from Hong Kong, but it would seem more appropriate to arrive on Indian carrier Jet Airways (www.jetairways.com) which also operates daily services between the two cities.