“And this is the view from the bedroom,” says Rama, throwing open the window and gesturing at me to look out. “It’s not the same as the view of the sea from the living room, but it’s lovely in the evenings, when the sun is setting and the whole place takes on a soft orange glow.”
Rama is a friend (and also a fellow travel blogger) who has just shifted to Mumbai from Delhi, and she is giving me a tour of her apartment on the 15th floor of a building in Bandra, and also the accompanying views from the various windows.
“Hmm…,” I reply, as I look at the view. The sun is a long way from setting and the light is quite harsh on the buildings, slums, the Mahim bay, and… then, something else. Something I had not expected to see. Was it what I thought it was?
“My camera ! I need my camera. Where’s my bag?” I rushed to the living room to retrieve my bag.
“Why? What happened?”, asked Rama in a slightly alarmed voice. “What is it?”
“Wait. I’ll show you,” I said as I switched on my camera and zoomed in to show her this.
“Rama,” I announced rather grandly, “meet Mahim Fort, one of the 8 existing forts of Mumbai.”
It is only 9.30 am, but the sun is quite intense and if not for the sea breeze would have been quite unbearable. I am on the upper deck of a launch berthed at the Gateway of India in Mumbai trying to peer through a haze that has dulled the shimmer and sparkle of sunlight on water. In front of me, and as far as the haze-driven visibility allows, are ferries, fishing boats, luxury yachts, launches, security vessels… The sea looks like one big parking lot. 🙂
On board the launch, my co-passengers indulge in some gentle jostling for prime spots to photograph, discuss whether the haze would play spoil sport for photography, and generally chat about what is it that we are likely to see in the next couple of hours. As we wait for the launch to leave the jetty, anticipation for the upcoming trip grows. An anticipation for the first of its kind tour of Mumbai’s Port and Harbour organised by the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2014, in association with the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT).
Our tour guide is Dilip Vishwanathan from the MbPT and his narrative takes us through the pre-maritime history of Mumbai, its natural harbour, the seven original islands of Mumbai, the coming of the Portuguese, then the English and the East India Company, construction of the docks, and present day Mumbai Port and Harbour. Mumbai’s natural harbour and port was known to seafarers and traders from as early as eighth century BC or even before. Though it wouldn’t have looked like the view in the photo above to them !
Though I am familiar with some part of the history, it is always nice to hear it from someone else’s perspective. As the tour guide outlines the route for the trip, I am excited to find that we will be passing through areas that are out-of-bounds to the public.
Join me aboard the launch for this tour. I must confess that it is going to be a long one that will take you Mumbai’s maritime history and my own memories.
It was in 2010 (or maybe 2011), when I participated in two walks — (i) Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and (ii) Ballard Estate. The CST walk called for registrations via email for 30 available seats; and I was lucky to get one of them. When I arrived at the meeting point outside CST on the day of the walk and at the appointed time, I found a large crowd gathered there. Most of them had not registered and were determined to be on the walk one way or the other. And they succeeded as your people were just not able to turn them away. This meant that we ended up as a pretty large group and I barely got to hear what the guide spoke.
The Ballard Estate walk turned out to be even more chaotic. This walk had no pre- registrations and interested participants just had to turn up at the World War I memorial in Ballard Estate at the appointed day and time. About 150–200 people turned up that day for the walk. I left 5 minutes into the walk when I found that I could neither see the tour guide nor hear a word of what she spoke.
Thereafter, I restricted my KGAF participation only to the events on Rampart Row every year. Till I came across these words on your website with regard to the 2014 Heritage Walks.
Participants are welcome on FIRST COME – FIRST SERVE [sic] basis… (Maximum people – 50 on first come first serve [sic] basis)…
Note: Only 1 token would be handed over to one person. No email registrations would be accepted.
The “First come – First serve” [sic] and the “Maximum people – 50” clinched it for me. After choosing which ones to go for, applying for time off from work, and reaching well in time to stand up in the queue for the registration tokens, I managed to participate in 5 Heritage Walks and Tours at the KGAF 2014.
Every heritage walk revealed yet another interesting aspect about this beautiful city of ours. Unfortunately, every heritage walk also revealed how much things had not changed with regard to organising and conducting them. The words on your website just remained mere words and didn’t translate into action.
A 9-day festival of all things art, the KGAF 2014 offered various programmes in the area of children, cinema, dance, food, heritage walks, literature, music, street, theatre, visual art, workshops, and urban design and architecture. This was the 16th edition of the KGAF and like previous years, every event and programme on offer was free.
Like every year, I made a beeline for the visual / installation art. And unlike previous years, I also made an effort to register and participate in some of the heritage walks as well as a workshop on offer. This meant that I was able to discover something more about this beautiful city of mine and fall in love with Mumbai all over again. 🙂
Let me take you through the highlights of what I saw and experienced at the KGAF 2014. First up are the visual art /installations and stalls, followed by some captures from the Heritage Walks / Tours I went on.
What I love most about travel is the unexpected. I don’t mean the ‘discovering’ type of unexpected; I mean finding something you were not aware of before and in a place where you least expect it to be.
Take for instance, the trip I made to Hampton Court Palace (near London) in 2009. It was a beautiful summer’s day and I had arrived at Hampton Court Palace in style — by boat over the River Thames, much like how King Henry VIII would have. I spent a wonderful time at the Palace (actually they are 2 palaces, but that is a story for another post!), and wandered around its extensive grounds, tennis courts, privy and knot gardens, and what not, and nearly drained my camera battery with the number of photos I took. Just what I expected a palace in England to be like.
When I came across a rather nondescript looking glasshouse, I almost didn’t go in to explore. But then curiosity won, and I found myself in the presence of the world’s longest, and one of the world’s oldest, grape vine, also known as the Great Vine.
The Great Vine was planted in 1769 on the site of the first glasshouse built in the Hampton Court Palace; today, the Vine has filled up the entire glasshouse. A lot of care is taken to protect the Great Vine from encroachment by other plants, as well as from disease. Only organic manure/fertiliser is used and the Vine is protected from mildew by vaporising sulphur using small electrically operated vaporisers suspended amongst the plant’s branches.
the average crop of black dessert grapes is about 272 kilograms… The grapes are … sold during the first three weeks of September.
I had visited Hampton Court Palace in late July when the Great Vine was laden with plump grapes and were due to be picked in a month’s time. I love grapes and wished I could have tasted them, though I doubt if I would have been able to afford them. Still, that didn’t stop me from imagining what they would have tasted like — juicy, sweet, and just a little sour. Just as I like my grapes.
PS: Apologies for the photograph quality; this one is from my pre-blogging days 😛
The room was dark and the only light, feeble as it was, came from a flickering oil lamp placed in a corner of the room. But it was enough for the fortune-teller to recognise the man being ushered in by his son.
“Salaam, Master,” the fortune-teller greeted the robed man.
“You know who I am, ” the robed man said. It was a statement and not a question.
“Who doesn’t know you, Master?” said the fortune-teller. “Everyone knows you and about you.”
“Then you also know why I have come here.”
“I can guess, Master,” the fortune-teller bowed.
“I have no choice but to leave this region. Where should I go? London? China? Where does my future lie?”
The fortune-teller was silent for a long time. Just when the man was about to ask him again, the fortune-teller said.
“Your should leave immediately for Bombay in Al-Hind [Arabic for India]. A bright future and fortune lies awaits you there.”
The robed man was surprised with the response, but he knew better than to ignore the fortune teller’s advice. After paying him handsomely and thanking him, the robed man left. His mind was already planning for the move to Bombay.
And sometime later in 1832, the man arrived in Bombay and over the next 32 years made a phenomenal contribution to the city that Bombay was developing into. That man was David Sassoon