Bandra Heritage Walk
Alisha Sadikot was doing another walk, this time not too far away from where we stay. And well, we were not doing anything useful and so we decided to go ahead and book for this one. At the time of booking, monsoons didn’t seem like a big deal. Little did we realise that this weekend was gonna see the heaviest downpour of the season.
Braving the urge to snuggle under the covers on a rainy morning (thanks to the 700 bucks that we paid for the walk… money can always be a trigger for sticking to commitments), we set out at around 8 am to Taj Lands end which was the starting point for the walk. We were relieved to see that there were quite a few fellow enthusiasts who had turned up even in this weather.
First up on the route was the Bandra fort. Here Alisha took us through a brief history of what were the seven islands back in the 1500s. Bombay was not a significant play in the initial period when the Portuguese set foot in India. The more important vantage locations for them were Goa which was their capital and Daman/Diu. Bombay was just pretty much a set of islands with marshy inlets separating them. Portuguese basically camped here to spread Christianity and to facilitate spice trade. Bandra fort was built primarily as a fresh water point where the ships could dock and refill the fresh water reserve, thanks to the Mahim and Bandra creeks which flowed towards the sea here. It was not so much a strategic fort until the late 1660–1690 when the English got hold of the seven islands as dowry for the wedding between Princess Catherine and Charles II.(The story goes that it was East India company which influenced the English to demand these islands as they wanted to start trade here. But Charles II was under a wrong impression of these seven islands being closer to Brazil and later rented them out to the company for a measley 10 pounds a year. Damn smart lobbying I say!) During the First Anglo — Maratha war, Portuguese requested English for the help and had to destroy the fort. Post the possession of the fort by English, they donated the area to Byramjee Jeejebhoy who later on opened up the fort and the road leading towards it to the public. Cut to the present day, BBRT and PK Das have been relentlessly working to make the area near the fort (interesting part is that fort is under ASI, but not the adjoining area where Jeejebhoy used to stay which has a fascinating 180 degree view of the coast) as an open space to be utilised by the public for leisure, events etc. They are also behind the setting up of Promenade along Bandstand which stands to disappear if the coastal road is going to be a reality.
Mount mary was our next stop. This is one of the most popular catholic churches in the city which is open to all faith and at all times unlike many other churches in the vicinity. There are Hindu worship influences in these churches which are evident in the kind of offerings which can be made at the oratory opposite the church which comprise of shapes of stuff that you desire, marigold flowers etc. Close to Mt. Mary is a very quaint, English gardenesque church which is extremely smaller in comparison and is called the St. Stephen’s church. This was an Anglican church unlike Mt. Mary which was a Portuguese one. This stems from the fact that English were not settled in this part of the town and therefore didn’t require big churches to cater to them. There are many fables such as the Arab pirates cutting off the hands of Mother Mary at the Mt. Mary which could be quite true considering the fact that this particular idol of Mother Mary holds the baby Jesus on her right side hiding the hand and so we will just never know whether this story is true or not. During the Maratha war, the story goes that the statue of Virgin Mary was moved to St. Michael church in Mahim (in fact it is the oldest church in Bombay). Another interesting tidbit about this Mother Mary is that before the church fest, it is believed that she goes and invites the other 6 devis of Mumbai such as Prabhadevi, Sitladevi, Mumba devi etc.
Even Lady Jasmhedji, wife of Byramjee is known to have visited the church and she sympathised with an incident of capsizing of a couple of boats which were going to visit the church. To prevent such incidents in the future, they constructed the Mahim causeway what we now call as LJ Road or Lady Jamshedji Road.
From Mount Mary, we headed towards the Ranwar village. While walking down the steps, she pointed out the stone laid out for the steps which bore the name of Byramjee’s son. It had begun raining so heavily that we were considering giving up our umbrellas as it was practically of no use :|But the stories kept coming and we braved them all to get hold of more slices of history! We passed by one of the houses which had the star of David on the walls indicating the inmates were of Jewish origin.
Ranwar village is one of the original 66 villages of Bandra which used to be occupied by the rice farmers. During the Bombay plague of 1895–1900 in which 50% of the population got wiped out, a lot of the immigrant population (which was majority of the residents) left for their home states or moved to parts of Bandra which were relatively un affected. But, the original Kolis, Kunbis or Bhandaris had no where to go and they had to figure out ways to ward the evil of Plague out. Taking a leaf out of the Hindu rituals, they would set up crosses on the peripheries of their settlements or rice fields to ward away the evil pests. Most of the houses which are still up in Ranwar are extremely close to each other and most of them have very less of privacy and have rooms added to them in the course of time. Ranwar is the epitome of community living. One of the ways they managed to ensure privacy across houses was to ensure they set the window heights at different levels
There is a lot of conservation effort being routed to Ranwar which have not yet seen many fruits.
The walk ended at the Jude bakery near Waroda road which is a classic landmark in this part of the town.
Adios for now. But before I sign off this piece, here is a trivia — Jan Huyghen Van Linschoten is credited with copying top-secret Portuguese nautical maps thus enabling the passage to the elusive East Indies to be opened to the English and the Dutch. This enabled the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company to break the 16th century monopoly enjoyed by the Portuguese on trade with the East Indies. He had come to India as the Secretary to the Viceroy in Goa and look what he ended up doing. Choose your secretaries wisely!