a walk through 175 year old khotachi wadi

The Virgin Mother with Infant Jesus, Khotachi Wadi Chapel wall painting

Just behind the buzz and lights of Chaupati aka Chowpatty beach in Mumbai’s third southern most island Girgaum, is a historical precinct – the village of Khotachi Wadi.

When a friend’s facebook update showed up saying that she was taking a guided walk through the precinct, I, a rather self-acclaimed art and history buff, nearly jumped with joy and excitement, determined not to let this opportunity go by. 🙂 An itinerary which consisted of endless strolls and complimentary high tea in a 155 year old bungalow, over lazy conversations with its fifth generation owners, was both the carrot and the cherry.

Like all metropolises, Bombay is chaotic. But as I nearly passed, and then walked back inside into one small, blink-but-you-miss lane, I entered a different world… Narrow winding lanes, centuries old colorful Konkan-Portuguese style architecture, a catholic chapel with stone benches and street art for decor, chawls, and an eclectic mix of various Indian ethnicities and religions coexisting in harmony. The noise inexplicably got muffled. The colors brighter. The pace more relaxed.

A Gaothan or coastal village founded in around 1840 by Khot, a Pathare Prabhu (Hindu Brahmin) who sold his plots of land to the East Indian Christians, Khotachi Wadi was originally home to the resulting two communities. And then in the 1940s and 50s there was an influx of Goans, followed by Marwaris, Gujaratis, Sindhis.

Its most famous resident is James Ferreira, a life-long resident, celebrated fashion designer, and Khotachi Wadi activist. He lives in No. 47G.

The village is in essence a capsule of the transition from Bombay to Mumbai. Once upon a time there were 65 such bungalows. Today there are a mere 25, and that too fast facing annihilation. Khotachi Wadi was declared a protected historical precinct in 1995 by the Bombay Municipal Corporation, but this was reversed in 2006 in the quest to turn the city into another Shanghai. And that is where much of the debate lies.

Over the past few years numerous properties have been demolished and in their place monstrous edifices built – blatantly out of place amidst the remaining old-world wooden homes.

On one side is the conversion of urban areas into steel and glass representations of globalization and economic ‘success’. Then there is what we obsessively and emotionally hold on to, our cities’ heritage, history, roots, which give it and, thus, us a sense of continuity. But the youth have migrated. The old with limited resources left behind. Each side believes it is justified.

As the sun set a golden glow on the candy colored walls, I took one last lingering glance back. The external wooden staircases, open front verandas, overhanging balconies. Everyone knowing each other, greetings being exchanged. Children playing badminton and cricket. The elderly walking unafraid. And then I was back again in the faceless office rush hour traffic of Mumbai.

– – –

This walk was done with Breakfree Journeys. To know more about their walks in Bombay and trips within India, write here

Khotachi Wadi Chapel

A typical street – Konkan-Portuguese bungalows lining winding lanes

Inside our host’s house, No. 27, Baptista House

Candy perfect staircases

Fairy-tale homes

Khotachi Wadi’s most celebrated resident, James Ferreira’s home, No. 47G, Ferreira House

Hindus, Muslims and Christians in harmony

Nature and graffiti, also in harmony 🙂

Khotachi Wadi Pin 400004

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