Mumbai has more to offer than Bollywood and the Gateway of India; let us dig deeper to find the soul of this changing city…
Shall we look at travel differently? Trod the untrampled path? Walk beyond the malls and the gawking multitude of selfie happy tourists to make travel a tool to find a hitherto hidden layer and shed pre-conceived notions. For as Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
Use it to empower yourself. At Urban Vaastu, we decided to look at old places with new eyes. We met up with Viren D’sa, the founder of Zamorin of Bombay, a tour company. His aim is to give people a ‘cultural understanding’ of the city – beyond the historical monuments, dates and the basic history of the places.
“When open-minded people come together and have conversations regarding anything – philosophy, psychology, history, economics – it gives them a more complete understanding of the city,” he says. Through Viren we learnt about some of the unseen and unsung gems of Mumbai.
Let’s look at the visions of Mumbai beyond Bollywood, Chowpatty and spanking, new malls.
Mahakali Caves: In the hustle of Jogeshwari in the crowded suburbs of Mumbai, almost lost in the slums and debris lie the 1,500 year old Jogeshwari caves. These rock-cut cave shrines are amongst the earliest known cave temples in India.
All of us have heard of Elephanta caves but Jogeshwari seems to be the missing link in the cave history – between the older Buddhist caves of Ajanta to Elephanta cave.
Overlooked by scholars, and almost forgotten by the unending rush of Mumbai, Jogeshwari’s Mahakali caves are a hidden gem for those with an eye for history and a desire to uncover forgotten details.
China Town: In the early 19th century, Mumbai was home to tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants. Slowly their numbers receded till the Sino-Indo war in 1962, marking mass exodus of Chinese from Mumbai and Kolkata back to China.
But they left their mark on the city with the Kwan Kung Temple near the Dockyard. It was built in 1919 and pays homage to the Chinese God of protection, justice and courage, Guan Gong.
The Kwan Kung Temple has its share of dragons or Chinese figurines and a mural of three Chinese Gods of blessing, longevity, and prosperity on the wall. There are wind chimes and paper lanterns of all sizes and, even Chinese scriptures on the wall. It’s an amazing find in the middle of a regular Mumbai street.
Armenian Church: In the Fort area of Mumbai, stands one of the few Armenian churches in India – St. Peter’s Armenian Orthodox Church. Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity and its people carried their religion wherever they went.
Mumbai’s Armenian Church was set up by relatives of one of Emperor Akbar’s queens, Mariam, who was an Armenian Christian. This is considered to be the oldest Oriental Orthodox Church in Mumbai, built in 1796 and is today considered to be the mother church of all Orthodox churches in western India. Due to the dwindling number of Armenians in India, the church also opened its doors to Syrian Catholics and Russian Orthodox members.
Worli Fishing Village: Cheek-by-jowl near Worli lies the 800 year old fishing village. Inhabited by Kolis, traditional fisher folk, this area is a warren of narrow streets – built to confuse and ward off pirates in bygone days. Here you can also see the remains of the Worli Fort built by the British in 1675 to fight pirates and sample a day in the life of the matriarchal Koli society.
As you walk though pathways that merge into one and another and lead to different homes, this Mumbai feels so different from the bustling, commercial one you just left behind; yet this too is Mumbai.
Gilbert Hill: This is Mumbai’s 66 million year old secret that even most die-hard Mumbaikars have no clue about. It stolidly stands near the teeming Andheri railway station. The rock has a sheer vertical face and was formed when molten lava was squeezed out of the Earth’s clefts during the Mesozoic Era.
One more amazing fact – the Gilbert Hill is one of only three such gigantic rock structures found all over the world. The others are the Devil’s Postpile in California and the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. You can walk up a steep stairway to the top of Gilbert hill and enjoy a steaming cup of tea as you contemplate on life or even pay your respects to the local diety at the temple built on top of this pre-historic structure.
To know more about Zamorin of Bombay and how they use travel to explore history and attitudes, check their Youtube site – ‘why we do what we do’.