secrets of south bombay’s parel queensway

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The stories and secrets Bombay holds in its folds behind its crumbling Victorian edifices and chaotic traffic spans centuries. Of all the streets which cover the city in a tangled web, Queensway, a road that leads through Parel in South Bombay, is perhaps the richest in terms of history and also the least to have divulged its mysteries.

A two and a half kilometre stretch, the wide boulevard lined with towering trees contains 19th Century temple courtyards, odes to the Indian Independence Movement, stories of magnanimous philanthropy, and an open air museum of Indian sculpture traversing 1,600 years. And if you did not know, you would not even come close to guessing they exist. Continue reading

about me: in a bit more detail

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Compliments of the New Year! 🙂

It is already the 7th of January, and it seems just yesterday that I was contemplating the closure of yet another year and what all it had meant for me even as it paved the way for a sequel. There was a sense of déjà vu in the air.

Except for one thing—a chunk of my holidays was taken up in finalizing my personal site. Tweaking it and polishing it to ensure it was perfect, for me at least. You could call the site my fancy online business card, for a better word. But why a personal site, you may ask? Is a blog not enough? Continue reading

3 reasons why the bdl tops as mumbai’s most lovely museum

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Do you like museums? I do. Not all of them though. Just those that stand out, whether it be in scale or the splendour of its exhibits, recount a tale which draws one within its folds, or is so darned quaint it looks like it stepped straight out from another world, another time.

I spent this past Sunday at one that fit the last bill.

One does not often relate Mumbai to museums. And when one does, it is invariably the grand Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya which comes to mind. The name itself is a mouthful as is its repertoire of treasures. But there is another that is just as inimitable, albeit in an altogether different way—reminiscent of a large Victorian doll house brimming with charm and pretty things. It is the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla.

Three things set the second one apart and place it firmly as Mumbai’s most lovely repository: Its restored stunning Victorian edifice, a bevy of vibrant clay models which transform the place into a magical fantasy, and its exquisite collection of decorative arts which showcase India’s rich heritage. Quite a heady mix!

Read on to know more. 🙂 Continue reading

the 158-year-old whimsical parish church on pali hill, bandra: st. anne’s

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This week I want to share with you a little gem in my neighbourhood in Mumbai.

I live in Bandra on a hillock called Mount Mary. Around me, literally, are an abundance of historical churches, of which three stand out. Across the road is St. Stephen’s Church built in 1845 by wealthy English entrepreneurs who made Bandra their home during the British Raj. A couple of hundred yards away is the legendary Roman Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount (1904), the locus of the Bandra Fair and a place of spiritual refuge and comfort for people of all faiths. Down the hill is Bandra’s oldest church which transposes one to Goa with its whitewashed Portuguese facade—St. Andrew’s Church—dating back to 1575.

And for long [in my case] and for many [including me] these three comprised the Christian heritage of Bandra. But there is more. There is always more! Continue reading

a self-guided walk through mumbai’s iconic business district: ballard estate

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Though an avid proponent for guided walks, I love self-guided walks just that tad bit more. They are like a treasure hunt filled with the thrill of discovery! Don’t you agree? As one decodes a route and identifies details, a place takes on an added meaning. From then on, it is never just another precinct, another site, discovered and rapidly forgotten. You start to recognise its finer nuances, unveil layers, and imbibe a bit of its soul. Such was how I explored Ballard Estate a few days ago.

To many in Bombay aka Mumbai, Ballard Estate is just another business district, the chief differentiator being “London-like.” London-like? Yes, that’s the catch word!

Whilst the rest of the city, and in particular, the adjoining Fort area is Victorian-Gothic in style, with its associated chaos, Ballard Estate is serene and uniform. A meticulously planned, purpose-built district by Bombay Port Trust, Ballard Estate is the coming together of two urbanisation concepts in the period between 1914 to 1918. These are: 1) Twenty-two acres of reclaimed land using excavated rock and soil from the creation of Alexandra Dock, and 2) the aesthetic design sense of architect George Wittet. Continue reading

the heritage precinct of gamdevi in mumbai: modern india’s birthplace

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Whoever said Mumbai is all steel and glass often-times grotesque, or miles of slums topped with blue tarpaulin needs to revisit it. Seriously, and, no, this is not some biased Mumbaikar’s rambling.

The city spills over with heritage. It is perhaps not in a blatant form as in other Indian cities which are decorated with grand tombs and forts. Mumbai’s heritage is sepia-toned, like a beautiful memory living on in the modern everyday life we live out on a daily basis, and are unaware of where it stems from. It is a heritage not of brick and mortar but of ideologies and modernism, the latter both political and cultural. It is the sapling that grew up to become “Modern India.”

A few months ago, this became evident to me when I joined a heritage walk through a precinct in South Bombay called Gamdevi or Gaondevi, meaning Village Goddess. The neighbourhood is named after its 200-year-old temple dedicated to Durga, also referred to by its devotees as Lilavati “a graceful woman.”

Spanning less than 500 metres across in width and length each, Gamdevi is where Bollywood talkies originated and Indian feminism shaped itself. Its lanes have triggered the imaginations of painters and authors alike, and its edifices given concrete form to convictions. It is also where Mahatma Gandhi lived and launched the Quit India Movement in 1942. Gamdevi is a pot pourri of the makers of Modern India, and their stories, and by default, our stories, I like to believe. Continue reading

global travel shot: the unknown 5th century shiva saptamurti in parel

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You may well say, Aah, I have seen this sculpture before. That is, if you are a museum buff. Wrong.

Allow me to make a confession. I often find myself torn between awe at the cultural treasures with which India bursts at its seams with, and angry at the apathy, neglect and state of degradation in which many lie. I know I am not alone in this conflict.

Exactly a year ago I visited the sculpture gallery at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India. Like very many others, I fell in love with one piece. Continue reading

bhuleshwar bhulbhulaiya: lord shiva’s neighbourhood in mumbai

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Last Sunday I was invited to attend a test walk through Bhuleshwar curated by Khaki Tours. I had just returned to Bombay from a hectic trip to Delhi, and would have given anything to just sleep in. The only thing more tempting was the idea of this walk.

So come 6 am, I found myself wake up to the persistent alarm on my phone, and drag myself, accompanied with my camera to CP Tank, our meeting place. CP Tank, by the way, stands for Cowasjee Patel Tank. It used to be a water tank, built by Parsee philanthropist Cowasjee Patel in 1776, for supplying drinking water in Girgaon. Today, it is an island on VP Road. Dhirubhai Ambani and his family had a home in Bhuleshwar till the 1960s.

For the uninitiated, Bhuleshwar is a predominantly Gujarati neighbourhood just north of the Fort District. Try googling and there is very little you can, if truth be told, lay your hands on about it. Apart from a long list of shops, “Alice in Bhuleshwar” by Kaiwan Mehta and the claim that there are a hundred temples in the vicinity alone, try finding out more, and there is nothing.

Which makes sense, for the 100 temples mentioned are not tourist sites but places of worship for the locals over the past 150-odd years. They are part of their everyday life. Continue reading

lal baug aka red garden—my love affair with bombay on valentine’s day

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It is Valentine’s Day and everyone and everything seems to be abuzz with how to celebrate a day devoted to love and affection with Mr. X or Mr. Z. My facebook wall suggests I spend it getting to know my adopted city a little better. After all, I love it, don’t I? The offered walk is through Lal Baug on Sunday morning, 14 February, 8:30 am.

I know nothing about the precinct mentioned in the marketing pitch. The name Lal Baug translates to red garden. Red for love. 🙂 Curious, I click on ‘going’.

Lal Baug, I soon discover is not one story but a tapestry of many, weaving into each other, much like a person if I may say so. It is more than a geographical area. It is a context, a community. Bombay or Mumbai or vice versa would be incomplete without Lal Baug. Let me explain. Continue reading

babulnath mandir: south bombay’s ancient shiva temple

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Perched on a hillock in the heart of Bombay, behind a rather inconspicuous entrance is the 200-year-old Babulnath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.

I hadn’t done much exploring in the city in the last couple of months (as you may have figured from my blog) and was antsy to start digging deeper again. Mention of the Babulnath temple cropped up whilst I was compiling an itinerary on ‘Mumbai in 48 hours’ for my sister’s very first time visit to Mumbai. I wanted to show her the touristy, as well as the local everyday sights. The temple, near Girgaum Chowpatty, I was told had to be in that list. Now was I going to wait till December to see it myself?? Haha. No ways! Continue reading

banganga: lord ram’s stopover in mumbai en-route to lanka

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“Excuse me, Banganga kahaan hai?” [Where is Banganga?]
This is the umpteenth time I have stopped to ask. There are no sign posts of any kind. Guided by countless shopkeepers, cab drivers and Marathi women with flowers in their hair, I finally find my way off the main road on to a small side lane with stone steps leading down into a valley.

Yes, I am confused. Around me urban Mumbai throbs with concrete high rises and bustling markets. The corner store keeper assures me, “Down the stairs on your right.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, sure.” And smiles.

So down the stairs I go, and at the bottom look to my right. A huge water tank guarded by deepstambhs, pillars to hold diyas, and surrounded by temples and dharamshalas clinging to its walls greets me with old world whimsical charm. Continue reading

nala sopara: mumbai’s ancient buddhist stupa and mythical temples

The historical and artistic magnificence of India never fails to amaze me. Take a step in any direction and one is flooded with the country’s inordinate rich past and culture. Which does not always work in its favour for it lends to the Indian populace a nonchalance towards their own heritage.

Medieval sculptures which audiences lust over in international museums lie covered with petals and incense soot in temple nooks here. Millennia old crumbling edifices stand forgotten, holding on to time in desperation in an attempt to evade being razed down. And because they are in the multitude, one more or one less, sadly become irrelevant.

No part of this country is immune to its own cultural excess. Not even an uber metro like Mumbai. In fact even less so, for I have discovered and experienced sights here across centuries and religions, coexisting in uncanny innate ease. Continue reading