The visit to Nala Sopara in March this year had its beginnings in a museum located 85 km away in Mumbai. On one of my many visits to the sculpture gallery of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, I came across an exhibit which, at first glance, looked like a random block of stone.
But museums don’t exhibit just about any random block of stone, do they? A closer look at the stone exhibit revealed inscriptions and when I read the accompanying information board, discovered that I was looking at the 9th Ashokan Edict. This edict, which dates the third century BCE, had been found at a stupa in Nala Sopara.
I was vaguely aware that Nala Sopara had a Buddhist past, but this was the first time I was hearing about the presence of a stupa there. An internet search revealed that the stupa at Nala Sopara still existed, that it was under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), and also that one could visit it. The same internet search also led me to this fabulous blog post that not only talked about the stupa, but also an ancient temple in Nala Sopara — the Chakreshwar Mahadev Temple.
The result? The first free Saturday that came up saw me headed for Nala Sopara (which is connected by suburban train services from Mumbai) with my friends — Anuradha, Rama and Rupal. :)
A short distance away from the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) buildings in South Mumbai is its Monetary Museum. The museum, which is the first (and perhaps the only one) of its kind is all about something that is an intrinsic part of our daily life — money. The Monetary Museum is not very well-known, but having visited it I can say that is one of Mumbai’s, and perhaps India’s, best curated museums.
Though I had been aware of the Monetary Museum’s existence for some years now, I had never gotten around to actually visiting it. Which is kind of strange as the Museum is located in an area that I visit quite often. And when I did actually visit it earlier this year, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision that led me there!
Mural at the entrance lobby of the RBI Monetary Museum. Please click on the picture for the source of this image
A 10-15 minute walk from CST or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the RBI Monetary Museum is a high security museum, with no photography and no bags inside. Entry is free and after depositing my bag and cell phone in the locker provided, and a security check later, I was inside the first of the 6 galleries of the Museum.
Did you know that there is another dargah near the world-famous Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai? By near, I mean as the crow flies or perhaps in this case as a seagull flies, for it is across the sea at Mahalaxmi to Worli. This dargah is known as the Worli Dargah or the dargah-with-the-blue-dome. Of course, if you are aware of this dargah’s existence then you would know that its full and official name is Saint Ma Hajiani Dargah.
I didn’t know any of this. I can’t even say that I have seen the blue dome of the Worli dargah. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed till a friend told me about it. And that too, when she first mentioned it, I thought she was talking about the Haji Ali Dargah. As did the cab driver taking us there resulting in both of us being corrected by my friend and us, in turn, being reprimanded by the cab driver for not knowing the right name of the dargah or giving him the right directions.
Anyway, we reached the entrance gate leading to the Saint Ma Hajiani Dargah only to be confronted by a suspicious and surly watchman whose inquiring look made me feel like a school girl. When I mentioned the dargah he only pointed the way and motioned us in with a ‘finger-on-the-lips’ gesture.
We followed the direction pointed to us, went past a mosque on one side and some living quarters on the other side and came out into a little clearing with these steps going up.
It’s a little before 7 on a muggy Saturday morning in March earlier this year.
At Bandra’s Basilica of Our Lady of The Mount, otherwise known as Mount Mary, the morning service is in progress. The stalls outside the Basilica are already open for business. At that time of the morning, there are hardly any people out on the roads; an occasional rickshaw, car or jogger pass by stopping for a quick prayer before going on their way.
A jogger stops to say a quick prayer outside Mount Mary
I had wanted to attend the morning service at Mount Mary, but the bus that got me to Bandra from Navi Mumbai got delayed. Not wanting to enter the church midway through a service, I decide to wait at the Oratory of Our Lady of Fatima, which is across the road from Mount Mary.
With me is a friend and together we plan to explore Bandra’s Christian heritage that morning by visiting some its places of worship. I pick up a pamphlet on the history of Mount Mary from one of the stalls outside the Basilica and settle down on the steps of the Oratory to read.
There I was travelling in a Harbour Line local train that hot April afternoon.
I had just woken up from a short nap when the train halted at Cotton Green station. I was still drowsy when the train crossed the beautiful drinking water fountain (that I always look out for whenever I travel by train on this route) just before Reay Road station. I noted that the water fountain was there, a little more decrepit than ever before, a little more lonelier and a… wait a minute… what was the flash of colour on the wall behind the fountain? It looked like graffiti, but I couldn’t be sure.The train had already crossed that patch and was slowing down for its Reay Road station halt.
A week later, I was back on the train travelling the same route at round the same time. This time I did not sleep. And this time I saw that my guess was right. There was not just one wall with graffiti, but what looked like a lot of them. My first impulse was to get off the train and explore the area immediately. But the deserted area, run-down buildings and a general sense of unease at going alone made me postpone the visit to another day and with company.
So a month later, I was back on the train and this time alighted at Reay Road station to wait for Rushikesh Kulkarni, a fellow blogger, the guy who runs Breakfree Journeys, and the guy who very readily agreed to be my bodyguard and explore the area with me. :) A short walk from the station and I was looking at the first of the many works of art I saw that afternoon at Reay Road.
Neighbourhoods of Mumbai is a series that will explore the different areas of Mumbai, their history, their sub-cultures, their architecture, the changes sweeping through them, and what makes them tick.
No discussion or debate on urban heritage and conservation in Mumbai is complete without a mention, and then some more, of Khotachiwadi, a neighborhood / village / hamlet (depending on your perspective) in the Girgaum area of South Mumbai.
I first came across Khotachiwadi in a newspaper article on the rising builder–politician nexus in Mumbai and how old neighbourhoods and enclaves of the city were in danger of being demolished to make way for highrises. The grainy black and white photographs that accompanied the article were all of Khotachiwadi’s cottages. This was sometime in the early 1990s and while I don’t remember who wrote the article or even the newspaper it was published in, I still remember the sense of wonder I felt at seeing the cottages. I actually double checked to be sure that Khotachiwadi was indeed located in Mumbai !
The article was also responsible for sparking an interest in urban heritage and conservation issues. It is an interest that has sustained till date and I still keenly follow the (always heated) debates on this topic. Even after two decades, Khotachiwadi still remains at the heart of such debates.
And yet, in all these years of living in Mumbai I had never visited Khotachiwadi. Something that was remedied when I visited it for the first time two months ago as part of a guided walk of the area organised by Breakfree Journeys. Our group met at Charni Road station and walked the short distance to Khotachiwadi. When we turned off from the main road and into the lane leading to Khotachiwadi, we left the crowds and the cacophony of Girgaum and stepped into a world of peace and quiet. The contrast was so great that I felt I had stepped through a portal and entered another world, another time.