When one thinks of a museum in Mumbai, one tends to think only of the Chatrapati Shivaji vastu sangrahalaya - or the Prince of Wales museum, as it was formerly known. It is a very nice museum - lovely convenient location, extensive collection, lovely building and all that.
But there is one museum in Mumbai which is far older - The Dr Bhau Daji Lad museum at Byculla! It was first conceived as ‘The Central Museum of Natural History, Economy, Geology, Industry and Arts’ and was the first museum in Bombay - way back in 1855!
George Buist - the editor of the Bombay Times (ancestor of ‘The Times of India’) - and 'The foremost man of letters in India' - took a keen interest in setting up this place. Buist was a very interesting fellow - the son of a rich and rather cantankerous Scottish minister (the priest kind - not the political one) - he was a man of wide learning and wide interests. He was one of the open-minded clergy of the era - trained to be in the ecclesial field, but more interested in science and botany (then called Natural Philosophy) than in preaching. He started as a newspaperman in Scotland and London and then accepted a post in 1839 to come to India and edit the Bombay Times. Imagine! Moving to India in 1839 to edit a bi-weekly newspaper! He remained the editor for 20 years till 1859 - when he resigned due to differences with the shareholders.
But Buist was more than just a newspaper editor - he was a scientific man. He was a keen geologist and meteorologist - and became the unpaid inspector of the observatories of Bombay. During his time in England in 1845 he obtained special grants from the government for improving agricultural machines and rural economy in India, and for establishing 12 observatories, from Cape Comorin to the Red Sea, for meteorological and tidal research. He also formed the geological collection for the museum of Elphinstone College, Bombay.
But 1857 as we all know - was a watershed year in India, being the year of the Great Sepoy Mutiny, or the First War of Independence, as we call it now. North India burnt and the Company sarkar tottered - but Mumbai and West India were largely peaceful. Buist was ousted from his post as editor because the Indian shareholders of the Bombay Times thought that he was too pro-British and not taking them to task over their brutal reprisal and revenge on Indians - and the East India company was nationalised and the Crown took over the country and India formally came under the British Raj.
This affected the museum as well - it was closed to the public and the collection was shifted to the Town Hall. But luckily for it, the eminent and learned Sir George Birdwood - the noted Indiophile and nature lover - was appointed curator of the collection and he drummed up support to create a new home for the collection.
A committee was formed of the who’s who of eminent Indian businessmen and philanthropists was formed - Dr. Bhau Daji Lad, Sir Jamshetjee Jeejeebhoy, David Sassoon and Jaganath Shunkerseth. They raised money for a new building for the museum and land was allotted in the precincts of the Victoria Zoo and Botanical gardens in Byculla - and the elegant building was built and inaugurated in 1872 as the Victoria and Albert museum.
But in just a few years, this museum was deemed to be too small and a grand new museum was opened in central Fort area in 1905 - The Prince of Wales Museum - and this overshadowed the old museum entirely...so much so that people forgot that the older museum even existed!
After Independence, people wanted to expunge all memories of the British and there was a wholesale renaming of all British names. The Prince of Wales museum became the ‘Chattrapathi Shivaji museum’ after the great Maratha ruler, and the Zoo and botanical garden were named after his mom ‘Jijamata udyan’.
The Victoria and Albert museum was named after the first Indian founder of the museum - Dr Bhau Daji Lad.
Dr Bhau Daji Lad was a very remarkable personality - he was a doctor .. a physician, a sanskrit scholar and antiquary. He was born in Goa, but moved to Bombay ...because he was good at chess! An englishman noted his brilliance at chess, and told his dad that he should give the kid a good education. Well… the best education institutions were in Bombay - so the kid was sent to Bombay and was admitted in the Elphinstone institution. He did very well at school, and went on to take his medical degree at Grant Medical college - he was part of the very first graduating batch of GMC in 1850.
(think of the context here - it would have been extremely unusual for a ‘native’ to be allowed to learn medicine in 1850! Remember, the whole mutiny happened because the British were racist and disgusting. He must have been really outstanding)
He started practising as a doctor and was very successful. He mixed the learnings from traditional Indian medicine and modern western medicine and was a pioneer in using ancient methods for modern treatments.
As a guy who came up from nothing just due to education - he was a great votary of getting people educated, and was a founding member of the University of Bombay. He was the first president of native origin, of the Students' Literary and Scientific Society. He was the champion of the cause of female education. A girls' school was founded in his name, for which an endowment was provided by his friends and admirers.
He was twice chosen Sheriff of Mumbai, once in 1869 and again in 1871!
(Again! Think of the context! A ‘native’ - not bue-blooded, not a rich plutocrat - being given such a respected post)
He was an ardent historian as well - he amassed a large collection of rare ancient Indian coins and antiquities, which he studied - deciphering inscriptions and ascertaining the dates and history of ancient Sanskrit authors and stuff - and as we have already learnt - was the founding member of the first museum of Bombay.
One can assume that the other luminaries - Sassoon, Jeejeebhoy and Shankarsett - provided the money, while Dr Lad and Dr Birdwood provided the intellectual underpinning.
Unfortunately, it was totally neglected after independence, and apart from changing the name - the museum was totally ignored and became quite a mess. Indian politicians and municipal leaders were more interested in lining their pockets and looting the country blind rather than maintaining the venerable little museum.
But luckily for all of us, a bunch of public-spirited individuals came together to save the institution and convinced the government to adopt a public-private model to save the place!
In 2003, the non-profit Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) joined forces with the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation and the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to undertake a painstaking refurbishment of the building, aided by historian and donor Tasneem Zakaria Mehta. The results were spectacular. In 2008, the building reopened with its High Victorian architecture fully restored, and the collection (which pays special attention to the history of the city of Mumbai), back on display amid high vaulted mosaic ceilings, intricate Minton tiled floors, etched glass and gold details, and freshly painted Corinthian columns.
The part I really loved was the painstaking dioramas which show the various scenes of day to day life in Bombay - and a very detailed gallery of the various communities which made up Bombay - and India, for that matter. These colourful portrayals of people were created by a clay modeller who was specially brought from Lucknow to work at the museum and was assisted by students of the JJ School of arts.
The figurines were created as a way of scientifically documenting the identities of the people of India and their way of life during the early 20th century - and the then curator Ernest R Fern (1918 - 1926) noted that these clay figures were an immediate success and were very popular with the visitors. These have been painstaking restored and look awesome!
Especially today - when all of india is becoming an amorphous mass of similarity and losing all the charming detail and uniqueness it used to have - I felt that this is very important for us modern day Indians to realise what our people used to look like and dress like. I really loved them!
Now it is a most charming little space - and they are planning to expand and do more things in the future. It has lovely little art gallery, a little theatre, a cafeteria and a charming garden - which is the home of the original ‘Kala Ghoda’ - an equestrian statue of King George in black stone and the original ancient elephant statues of Gharapuri island which gave ‘Elephanta caves’ its name.
Both the major museums of Mumbai - CSVS and DBDL - have benefited through public-private partnerships, and I sincerely hope that things get better and better.
Check out the website - https://www.bdlmuseum.org
And check out the story of the rebirth of the museum https://www.apollo-magazine.com/mumbais-oldest-museum-looks-to-the-future/
PS - I really wish they would sell copies of those figurines, or even a cool poster.
May 1st is celebrated for many reasons… it is internationally famous as ‘International Labour day’ to commemorate various movements all over the world for worker’s rights. It is also ‘May Day’ - officially the ‘first day of summer’ for western countries since antiquity. It used to be celebrated as ‘Floralia’ by the ancient Greeks where they used to celebrate the goddess of love - Aphrodite and the god of wine - Dionysus - and I assume the festival involved a lot of drinking and lovemaking. Nowadays they have Mayday parades and dancing around Maypoles and May queens.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson even wrote a poem about it - ‘The May queen’ -
‘You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow ’ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.’
In India, we are already well into the hot summer by May, and our version of Floralia - Holi - is already over. We no longer celebrate wine or lovemaking - both are rather frowned upon officially! You need a license for one, and closed doors for the other.
But in Maharashtra we do have another reason to celebrate the 1st of May - It is celebrated as ‘Maharashtra day’ - the day that the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat were carved out from the erstwhile Bombay state.
When the British came and conquered the entire land of India, they drew a new map over the bewildering patchwork of kingdoms and principalities of old and divided India into ‘Presidencies’ ruled over by a ‘Governor’ - all of whom reported to the boss of India - the ‘Governor-General’
The Western part of India was called the ‘Bombay presidency’ and encompassed parts of what is now Maharashtra, Gujarat, Sind (now in Pakistan) and even the Arabian lands of Aden and Socotra.
It was a fairly peaceful area - The Maratha empire was conquered and the area was largely quiet even during the 1857 Mutiny/ War of Independence.
The moneybags, merchants and others were already making huge money from the illegal Opium smuggling into China before the Mutiny - which had been officially arranged and organised by the East India Company - and after the Mutiny, the American civil war (1861 - 1865) gave rise to the Indian cotton boom as American cotton was no longer available, and huge fortunes were made by all the entities involved in the cotton trade - private merchants and government alike.
A lot of money was pumped into building docks and facilities, building trains and laying track, building factories - and fancy buildings and huge impressive edifices. All kinds of people streamed into Bombay looking for work and education and the city grew rich and powerful.
Bombay gained hugely in prominence due to the roaring trade and industry and became the ‘Urbs Prima Indis’ - the ‘Prime city of India’. Later the state of Sindh was hived off to become another state - and later, part of another country!
After Independence, the ‘Bombay Presidency’ was converted to ‘Bombay state’ - and the various kingdoms in the area - Baroda, Kolhapur, Dangs and numerous small states of Gujarat and Maharashtra - were merged into it. (Check out the book ‘The integration of Indian states’ by V P Menon for the fascinating story of how the old princely states were absorbed into the Union of India)
Later in 1956, there was a bit of reorganising due to the States reorganisation act, where the old states were redistributed on linguistic lines. Pandit Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel were not happy with the idea, and predicted that this will threaten the unity of the country and may even result in the Balkanisation of India (and were proven right too, to an extent) but the idea kept going - and one committed Telugu dude called Potti Sriramulu actually fasted to death for the cause of the creation of a separate state for the Telugu speaking people - Andhra Pradesh.
This sparked off a lot of unrest in the country and in 1956, the SRC (States Re-organisation Committee) recommended the creation of linguistic states of Andhra Pradesh (for Telugu speakers), Kerala (for Malayalam speakers) and Karnataka (for Kannada speakers) but recommended a bi-lingual state (speakers of Marathi and Gujarati) for Maharashtra-Gujarat, with Bombay as its capital but keep the state of Vidarbha (also Marathi speakers) outside Maharashtra.
This was greeted with a lot of protest in Bombay state - and this escalated to frenzied rioting! On 21 November 1955, demonstrators were fired upon by the police at Flora Fountain in the capital city of Bombay. Flora Fountain was subsequently renamed Hutatma Chowk or "Martyr's Crossroad" in their memory. It is estimated that in a total of 106 people were shot by security forces during the period of agitation and at different places.
So ironic. Independent India shooting its own citizens.
Morarji Desai, who was the then chief minister of Bombay State was later removed and replaced by Yashwantrao Chavan as a result of criticism related to the 21 November incident. The then Union Finance Minister - C D Deshmukh - resigned his post rather than continue with the Central government, as they did not support the cause of a separate state for Marathi speaking people.
Finally, after a long and bloody campaign, the Kannada speaking districts of Belgaum, Dharwar, Bijapur and North Canara were shifted out into the neighbouring ‘Mysore state’ and the Marathi speaking districts of Marathwada and Vidarbha - formerly parts of Hyderabad state and Central provinces - were taken into Bombay state, as were the Gujarati speaking states of Saurashtra and Kutch. Thus the new Bombay state was known as the ‘Maha Dwibhashi rajya’ or ‘Great state with two languages’.
But even the hiving off of the Kannada speakers was not enough for people - they wanted a ‘Marathi only’ state - and launched a campaign called the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra movement’ for the same. The Samiti demanded the creation of a new state from Marathi-speaking areas of the State of Bombay, a Marathi state, with the city of Bombay as its capital. The Gujjus can get lost!
Finally, the Samiti achieved its goal and ‘Bombay state’ was split into the linguistic states of Gujarat and Maharashtra on 1st May 1960.
Now even the name ‘Bombay’ has been removed from India and the city of ‘Bombay’ has been renamed as ‘Mumbai’ - so one can say that ‘Bombay state’ is gone forever.
While looking at this history of the ‘Maharashtra for Marathi-speaking people’ movement, it is interesting to study the story behind it.
At no time in the history of India, all the regions which now constitute the State of Maharashtra were politically one. They were ruled for centuries by different dynasties till Shivaji succeeded in carving out an independent kingdom for the Marathas in 1674. Even at that time, Shivaji’s father Shahaji was based in what is now Karnataka, and his half-brother Ekoji and family continued to stay there after Shahaji’s death. The Maratha empire extended well into South India - and when Aurangzeb attacked - Shivaji’s younger son Rajaram went to what is now Tamil Nadu, and holed up in the fortress of Gingee for years. Later, in the heyday of the Maratha empire. the Peshwas wielded considerable influence in the politics of North India. Marathi leaders ruled far-flung states such as in Gujarat (Gaekwads of Baroda), MP (Holkars of Indore, Bhosles of Berar, Scindias of Gwalior), UP (the famous ‘Rani of Jhansi’ Laxmibai was a Marathi lady) and many others - so why shouldn’t all these places also be part of ‘Marathi Maharashtra’? A fascinating thought.
But of course, there are ‘n’ number of stresses and strains and political factors and self-interests that go into this kind of decision. Check out this article for more information and opinions on this.
Since those days we have had many more separations of states - The first linguistically separated state - Andhra Pradesh - itself got further separated on tribalistic grounds into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh! Wonder what Potti Sriramulu would have thought about that!
Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar got split into two (resulting in the new states of Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand) on administrative grounds, in spite of having the same language… so one can easily see that politicians will always find some-or-the-other chauvinism to further separatist agendas. There are long-simmering demands for carving out states of Bundelkhand from MP, Gorkha land from West Bengal etc. There will always be some historical case for carving more and more - where will all this lead to?
Anyway - all this is beyond the scope of this little article - which was supposed to be just about me going to attend the Maharashtra day parade for the first time - on cycle!
So - it’s a birthday party for Maharashtra state! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, M!
The day starts with a parade at Shivaji Park, Dadar. The Governor of the state along with the state reserve police, home guards, Mumbai Police, BMC Force, traffic police, among others take part in the parade. (The guv doesn’t march btw - he makes a speech and salutes the marchers)
Liquor sales to Indians are prohibited on Maharashtra Diwas across the state. (Why? I never understood this Indian passion to have ‘Dry days’ for every occasion. What is the point? Wouldn’t you like to have a party to celebrate a great day? Pop Champagne? Have a beer and barbecue? Be happy? If the idea is to deter a habitual drinker from getting drunk on that day - then won’t it be self-defeating...as the habitue would stock up on the eve of a dry day? It’s a most strange concept.)
Anyway - coming back to the parade.. Delhi has the Republic Day parade, and we have the Maharashtra day parade - which I was going to see for the very first time! I cycled my way over to Shivaji park and locked the bike to a convenient post and went off to find the entrance to the viewing area.
The Maharashtra government does not really promote the parade as an event to attract viewers - more’s the pity - and there were minimal facilities for viewers, and there were pretty few viewers as well - a contrast to the teeming crowds for the R-Day parade in Delhi. We were pretty far from the bigwigs and could hardly make them out. The governor made a speech - but I couldn’t hear that clearly. And there wasn’t a clear field of view for us to see the parade while seated - the wall of bamboos impeded vision - as you can see from the photos.
But the parade itself was quite nice. It was obviously not up to military standards, but the cops tried their best. They had a fancy band, a number of groups in various uniforms, sexes and battle gear. Apart from the cops, there were marching groups from various other groups like Home Guards, National Cadet Corps, National Social Service scheme - and even the Fire Brigade!
The grand finale was the drive-around by various vehicles - the cops showed off their motorcycles, their patrol cars and paddy wagons and even their fancy armoured cars with big guns which looked like they would be better on the border than in a city!
But for sheer coolness, nothing could beat the fancy red fire-wagons and the long ladders of the Fire Brigade!
I was very happy as I stepped out of the park - I had seen the M-Day parade! WOOHOO! Hopefully they will make it more spectator and citizen-friendly in the future.
I got on my bike and cycled home. Another Sunday well spent.
PS - For me, the most important thing about May 1st was that it was my mom's birthday :) Trumped May day, Maharashtra day and any other day! Happy birthday mom! Miss you.
Nipposan Myohoji Japanese Buddhist temple
Mumbai is full of small wonders, and the only thing that stops us - well...stopped me...from stopping to check them out is that we are busily going from one place to another and have no time to stop and explore them.
One such thing for me was the enigmatic temple with a very Japanese name - I had seen it a zillion times while travelling on that road, but had never stopped to actually check it out. But now I said that I will make a point of it - and cycled there to check it out.
The Nipposan Myohoji Japanese Buddhist temple turned out to be a little wonderland! An oasis of peace in busy Mumbai.
The Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple started out as a Japanese Buddhist monastery and dates back to 1931 when it was built by a Japanese monk, Nichidatsu Fujii, who was visiting India trying to follow the prophecy of the 13th century Japanese monk Maha Bodhisattva Nicherin. Nicherin believed that the ultimate salvation of humanity, who was contaminated by all that was evil, lay in India.
That bit of history really intrigued me… a Bodhisatava who believed that India will be the source of salvation - back in the 13th century!
The story of the monk who came to India 600 years after the said prophecy is equally fascinating!
Nichidatsu Fuji was the founder of the Nipposan Myohoji order of Buddhism, which is deeply engaged in promoting world peace. Born August 6, 1885 in Aso, Kyushu Island, Japan, he became a Buddhist monk at age 19 in opposition to the tendencies of the time, which strongly encouraged a military career.
As a pacifist, he was deeply impressed by the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi.
‘I was astounded to see pictures of Gandhiji on the Salt March or spinning yarn. I felt I was witnessing something incredible unfold: at this time of modern scientific civilizations, a genuine revolutionary movement that does not rely on science or machines, which is, in fact, completely contrary to them, had been launched. Can such a movement overcome the solidly fortified institution of the modern state and create a different world, a world of nonviolence? Even if it does not succeed, I thought it to be a fine plan, with extraordinary insight. Spinning yarn or salt making are things even a disciple of the Buddha like myself can be part of and make a contribution. I decided to immediately leave for India to pray for the success of Gandhiji's revolutionary movement.’
He arrived in Calcutta in January 1931 and walked throughout the town chanting the daimoku and beating a drum, a practice known as gyakku shōdai.
In 1933 he met Mahatma Gandhi at his ashram in Wardha.
‘My first opportunity to meet Gandhiji came on October 4, 1933 at the ashram in Warda. Our meeting lasted only 15 minutes, and there was hardly any time to speak on matters of substance. We met the following day and the day after that, but unfortunately I could neither speak English nor Hindi. I therefore submitted an English translation of my views to Gandhiji. This is how it came to pass that I found residence in the Wardha ashram.’
Gandhiji was so impressed by the concept of the gyakku shodai that he added it to their prayer routine.
He went back to Japan during WWII and despite the dangers to himself he declared himself in favour of pacifism and went round Japan actively promoting it. This was actively dangerous, as the government was completely hawkish and anyone resisting the war could be immediately imprisoned!
He later recollected: “The Pacific war raged ever more brutally. I could no longer...keep silent about the war, in which people were killing one another. Thus I travelled through the whole of Japan and preached resistance against the war and [advocated] the prayer for peace. It was a time in which any person who only spoke about resistance to the war, would go to prison because of that alone”
After the war, he became a very active campaigner for world peace - another dangerous activity during the intolerant atmosphere of the Cold War.
“The reason I came to espouse nonviolent resistance and the antiwar, antiarms position was not because I met with Mr. Gandhi. Rather, it was because the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children, burning and poisoning [the population], a tragedy without precedent in human history, leading Japan to sue for unconditional surrender. In this we see the mad, stupid, barbaric nature of modern warfare.”
At the end of World War II. Fujii returned to India and built a World Peace Pagoda in Rajgir, in 1965. He also built a Japanese style temple in Rajgir which is still inhabited today.
The Most Venerable Nichidatsu Fujii [1885-1985] was awarded the Nehru Award for International Understanding from India in 1979.
Read this amazing statement by him here.
In 1956, the same monastery was renovated into the present-day temple by the Birla family, whose trust maintains the temple to date.
That is amazing too. This was Jugal Kishore Birla, the brother of GD Birla - Mahatma Gandhi’s close friend and devotee. The Birlas do a lot of quiet philanthropy - something that seems to differentiate the old guard from the new tycoons.
I have never heard of the Ambanis doing any philanthropy! Even when they open schools and hospitals, they seem to be extremely overpriced premium stuff with a profit motive. (To be fair - if are doing quiet philanthropy, then obviously I wouldnt have heard of it! I do hope they are! )
The temple follows the order of Nicherin Buddhism and the main prayer of this school is ‘Na Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo’, a chant for peace. The resident monk, Bhikshu Morita, has been in India for over 30 years and has become something of a local legend after he fearlessly walked through streets during the bloody communal riots in 1992, beating his drum and loudly chanting ‘Na Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo’ as a call for peace. The chant, he says, is the key to total salvation. It’s not what you should understand but what you should adopt.’
Wow- That is another amazing story!
Check out another story on this here
And another one here
"We must go out among the people." Fujii taught. "In the Sutra there is a line that states, 'So this man, practising in the world, shall disperse the gloom of living.' Religion, which does not 'go' will not be able to provide the relief which must be brought about." The prayers of the Daimoku are to disperse this gloom. "Religion becomes isolated from the happenings of the world because it tends to be occupied in seeking solutions to one's own spiritual matters. If we fail to prevent a holocaust, one's desire for security is nothing but a dream. All must be awakened."
Unfortunately for me, Bhikshu Morita was not around when I dropped in - or if he was, he was smart enough to keep his distance from a sweaty fat cyclist in tight clothes.
I was so happy to have dropped in on this peaceful Japanese temple - Aum Mani Padme Hum! May their tribe increase.
Every place is full of stories and wonders - we just need to seek them out!
(This is an old ride - pre Corona :) )
Another Sunday, another day of exploring Mumbai by cycle. I was totally into this project - combining physical exercise with the zen of cycling and exploring the city.
Inspite of having lived in Mumbai all my life, and having seen it a zillion times - I had never actually been to Haji Ali dargah - one of the icons of Mumbai. So today was the day - I left early morning to tick that off my list.
I set out from Chembur and made my way first to Worli sea face - it was a really fun experience to ride the empty Mumbai roads and go up and down a number of flyovers to reach Worli and it is always fun to cycle on the sea face. The place is so full of positive vibes in the early morning - filled with walkers, joggers, cyclists and exercises of every description. The BMC (or whoever) has done a great job of putting up a number of interesting things out there - statues of R K Laxman’s ‘Common man’, benches...
...and exercise stations! These exercise stations are the brainchild of - and are sponsored by - actor Dino Morea, and were first introduced in 2013. Dino put these up for the good of common citizens and to help them in their fitness goals. Good on you mate!
From Worli I made my way to Haji Ali and locked my bike in front of the famous ‘Haji Ali juice centre’ and walked to the dargah. Finally! I was at Haji Ali! Alhamdulillah!
The dargah has a very intriguing story… It is the mausoleum of a pious merchant from Uzbekistan! Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari was a Sufi saint and a wealthy merchant from Bukhara - in Uzbekistan.Bukhari gave up all his worldly possessions, made a pilgrimage to Mecca, travelled around the world in the early to mid 15th century, and eventually settled in present-day Mumbai.
Wikipedia tells some random story about a woman spilling oil and he making it gush out of the earth for her and so on - but the most interesting outcome to me was that a wealthy merchant turned mendicant would travel from Bukhara to settle in Mumbai...in the 15th century!
He being a Sufi, apparently asked his followers not to bury him and make a fetish out of him - but to just chuck his body into the sea. But apparently his body - or his shroud - ended up on a rock off the coast...and of course his followers did just what he probably did not want them to do - and made a fetish out of it.
They built a memorial on that rocky promontory - and in due course of time, pious merit-seeking people built a fancy dargah and mosque out there.
It is about 500m from the coast, and they have built a little walkway to the place. It doesn't have railings and stuff and is covered by water during high tide - so you can visit only during low tide.
The walkway is normally chockful of beggars and pilgrims - but this being early morning was deserted and pleasant.
The structure itself is built in the Indo-Saracenic style - marble domes and stuff. The tomb itself is covered by the usual green shawl, and is supported by an exquisite silver frame, supported by marble pillars - something that the ascetic Sufi saint might be bemused about!
It was very pleasant there in the early morning and one could get awesome views of the Mahalaxmi and Tardeo areas.
After I exited Haji Ali - my eye caught another structure - a blue dome on the other side of the bay. I had wondered for years as to what it was - so I made my way there to investigate.
It turned out to be another mausoleum! It was erected in the memory of a lady saint - Saint Ma Hajiani, who may have been the sister of Pir Haji Ali.
The tomb was built in 1908 by- Haji Ismail Hasham, ‘a wealthy ship-owner and pioneer of Indian shipping.’ He founded the 'Bombay Steam Navigation company' in the 19th century and was one of the pioneering Indians of modern shipping.
(That sounds so exciting! I would love to read more about him and his life as a pioneer of Indian shipping)
He himself died soon after - in 1912 - and was buried in that tomb he had built himself! Most Egyptian and pharaonic, I must say.
His epitaph says ‘In memory of Amir-bahr Haji (I think it means rich sea-man who did the Hajj) Ismail Hasham Bahadur, A great captain and navigator of the Indian seas who died on 20th September 1912, and was buried in this tomb erected by himself. May he rest in peace.’
Well - good for him. May he rest in peace!
This dargah is also made in the Indo-Saracenic style, which was all the rage at the time - and sits on a rocky outcrop 80 feet above the sea. It is in good condition because it is maintained by the family trust - which also owns institutions like the Ismail Yusuf College in Jogeshwari and the Marine college at Worli (Which has since moved to Nhava).
Well - that was fascinating! I had no idea! What a discovery!
(The place has apparently been through a major restoration since I visited it - check out the details here - https://www.livehistoryindia.com/snapshort-histories/2019/05/07/reclaiming-the-lost-glory-of-ma-hajiani )
I was doing a project of exploring Mumbai - it had started by me starting cycling! I started cycling as a new project for the year - it started by being a fitness thing, but I got bored of going around in circles and started going further and further and exploring and discovering unknown parts of Mumbai (well...unknown to me at least) on cycle. By this time I had gone and explored various ancient forts of Mumbai - Sion, Sewri, Mahim, Worli, Bandra, Dharavi - by cycle. (You can check out the blogs by clicking on the links)
After doing this, the exploration bug kicked in a little more, and I started exploring even without a cycle. While going over the lists of tourist attractions in Mumbai - I saw that one of the main attractions was Mani Bhavan - Mahatma Gandhi's memorial in Mumbai. It was on the lists of all the Mumbai tour operators trips - and every firang visitor to the city seems to have seen it ... but I had never done so. It had never been in my mindspace at all - I had not known of it, not wanted to see it.
Well - this is 'diya tale andhera' stuff, and so I decided to check it out.
My friend Vijay claimed to know it well - as it was just behind his college - the Wilson college, Marine drive - and so we agreed to check it out together. I took an Uber and reached the place - and there was no sign of Vijay! He was late as usual.
The building was in a fancy neighborhood - Laburnum road, just off Marine drive. I thought rather cynically that Gandhi seemed to have chosen to live with this rich seth in a fancy location, rather than in a poor and humble place.
As per the Wikipedia entry - 'Mani Bhavan was Gandhi's Mumbai headquarters for about 17 years, from 1917 to 1934. The mansion belonged to Revashankar Jagjeevan Jhaveri, Gandhi's friend and host in Mumbai during this period. It was from Mani Bhavan that Gandhi initiated the Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi and Khilafat Movements. Gandhi's association with the charkha began in 1917, while he was staying at Mani Bhavan. Mani Bhavan is also closely associated with Gandhi's involvement in the Home Rule Movement, as well as his decision to abstain from drinking cow's milk in order to protest the cruel and inhuman practice of phookan meted out to milch cattle common during that period.'
In 1955, the building was taken over by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi in order to maintain it as a memorial to Gandhi - and I wonder if they paid the family anything for this prime piece of real estate? It would be worth many hundreds of crores today!
I wonder what the family of Jhaveri seth feel about it now :)
I hung around outside Mani Bhavan waiting for Vijay - and was stunned at the amount of tourist traffic the place seemed to have. Every minute a little tourist taxi would zoom up, a guide would hop out with his clients and give them some info about the place and they would be in and out within five minutes and off to the next tick mark on the itinerary.
My heart went out to the tourists - the guides were untrained and unqualified and obviously knew nothing about the place, about Gandhi, about Indian history or the freedom struggle. He would have mugged up something and duly replayed it to every client and just made up stuff when asked questions. Poor tourists.
I finally gave up on Vijay and went inside alone.
The place is rather depressing - being ill-maintained and utterly out of date. It doesn't seem to have been touched since 1955 and is a dead mausoleum.
The first thing you see is a big Gandhi bust, and there is a library full of his writings. Imagine that - he wrote so much! And like all Indian libraries - the shelves are locked tight and are dust covered! The books are things to be worshipped from afar and not to touched or read!
Go up the stair case - and you have his old room with a charkha and some knick-knacks of his. And a few cool dioramas - small scale models with little human figures and little houses and painted backdrops - depicting his life. But this too doesnt seem to have been touched or restored since 1955.
There are some cool framed photos - Gandhi with his brother, him as a young man etc and some frames showing evolution of Indian flag etc.
But overall, it is rather sad and depressing - showing the utter disinterest successive governments - Congress and non-Congress - have had in Gandhi's message and philosophy. Which is a great pity. All they do is pay lip service and make everybody put a flower basket in front of Raj ghat.
in 2010, Barack Obama became the first high-profile international visitor to visit Mani Bhava in the last 50 years. Before him, only Martin Luther King Jr. had visited Mani Bhavan in the 1950s.
I think Rajkumar Hirani's movie 'Lage raho Munnabhai' was the finest modern-day tribute to Gandhi and his philosophy and reintroduced millions to Gandhi - and it would be great if some modern museum curator takes this place under their wings and reinvents it. Old and forgotten museums like the Bhau Daji Lad museum have been resurrected by modern curators, and hopefully a similar thing can happen here.
It should bring out the ramifications of Indian history and Indian culture - British rule - the good and bad, why Indians fought for independence, the story of the freedom struggle, the uniqueness of Gandhi's approach and how it made a difference and why exactly Einstein said that 'future generations will not believe that such a dude ever walked this earth.'
The Apartheid museum in South Africa is so powerful that it makes your flesh creep - and Gandhi section there is better than all Gandhi museums here. Maybe someday we can do a better job of presenting our own history.
Till that happens, Gandhi will just be a face on a currency note - a legacy which MKG might not be very happy about.
The portuguese era in India is something that is not much talked about nowadays, possibly because the British had no love for them and were happy for them to be forgotten. But they were the first western power to visit and colonise India in 1498 - and for that matter, were the last power to exit India.. Well after the British left, all the way till 1961!
They ruled a vast swathe of land, and had forts starting from Diu in Gujarat and all the way down to the Kerala coast. They had an extensive presence on the Eastern coast as well - with forts from Tuticorin till the Hooghli, and also ruled the island of Sri Lanka. They could have easily been the dominant power in the subcontinent, but got bogged down in royal politics and were ultimately outmaneuvered by the British East India company.
The main capital of Portuguese India was Goa, of course - but the Northen capital was Vasai - or ‘Bassein’ as they knew it. It was an extremely rich fort - the centre of a flourishing kingdom and was the dominant power in the region - much bigger than the small outpost of Bom Bahia, or Bombay island.
But now the fort is ruined and abandoned, and Vasai has been relegated to a sleepy backwater. It was to this place that I decided to cycle to on Sunday morning. If you drive down to Vasai then you have to take a circuitous route, but if you go on cycle you can carry the bike through the subway under Naigaon station and save a few Ks.
I had tried to go the earlier Sunday, but bike broke down on Thane flyover - had to do some major repairs and change the axle, gear system and chain. Now the bike was fine again and I was off again.
I left by 5.30 AM and got a pleasant surprise when I reached Thane. There was a cycle rally on there and so the police had shut off the flyovers to vehicular traffic, and they were reserved for the cyclists. Naturally, they thought I was part of the rally as well, and I got a royal welcome from the organisers as I was the first cyclist on the route. I had not waited for the starting whistle, and so was ahead of the pack. I grinned and waved as they took photos of me, though I was soon overtaken by a peloton of racing cyclists. I left them behind at the end of Ghodbunder road and carried on to Gomukh ghat and crossed over Versova creek and hit the mainland. The versova creek bridge is under maintanance, and so I was lucky to cross it without waiting for too long.
On NH8, I kept an eye out for the Naigaon flyover where I had to turn off the highway and hit the inner roads to cross under the railway line at Naigaon station. Once I did that and entered the Vasai area, I could immediately see the Portuguese influence in the place. The area was very much like a Goan village, with small neat bungalows with beautiful gardens. The names, the roads, the village crosses, the very look and feel of the place was like the portuguese christian places like Bandra or Goa - though of course the features of the people were of the typical north Konkan people.
I asked directions of the locals and made my way to the Vasai fort area. I had covered about 65 KM in roughly 4 hours.
When I reached the fort, I was astounded at the size of it! It was simply huge! I crossed some small ASI signs and stone walls and stopped to the memorial of Chimaji appa - the brother of Bajirao Peshwa, who conquered the Vasai fort from the Portuguese in 1739, only for the fort to be surrendered to the British within a few years.
‘Where is the main gate?’ I asked an ASI official.
‘You have been in the fort for quite some time’ he replied. ‘It covers an area of 109 Acres’
Wow. thats big.
He pointed the way to the sea gate and I went off to investigate that. It was most impressive, and the battlements are still intact, and you can still see the fleet of fishing boats on the shore which must have been there in Portuguese times as well. Vasai is still a major fishing port, and supply a lot of the fish in Mumbai fishmarkets.
"The complete form of the Portuguese name is "Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaim" or the Fort of St. Sebastian of Vasai.
The name "Bassein" is the English version of the Portuguese "Baçaim" (with the "ç" spoken as "s" and with the "m" silent)
Portuguese mariners exploring the north Konkan Coast, discovered the Arab Sultanate of Khambat or Cambay, building or renovating or expanding the fort in the early 15th century and attacked it in a failed effort to seize it. Later, after more systematic efforts, the Sultanate of Cambay ceded the fort to Portugal by the Treaty of Saint Matthew signed on the Portuguese brig Sao Matteus anchored in the Bhayander Creek or Vasai Harbor.
The Treaty of Bassein was signed by Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat and the Kingdom of Portugal on 23 December 1534 while on board the galleon São Mateus. Based on the terms of the agreement, the Portuguese Empire gained control of the city of Bassein, as well as its territories, islands, and seas. The Mumbai Islands under Portuguese control include Colaba, Old Woman's Island, Mumbai, Mazagaon, Worli, Matunga, and Mahim. Salsette, Daman and Diu, Thane, Kalyan, and Chaul were other territories controlled and settled by the Portuguese."
I stepped out of the sea gate and checked out Vasai jetty. It was in quite nice shape and as usual I wondered why we do not use the sea lanes more. It would be so easy to have regular sea lanes to Mumbai, North Konkan and Gujarat.
There were so many ruined churches in the fort area. Even in their decrepit state, they looked stately and wonderful...in the heyday they must have been absolutely wonderful. They must have been destroyed and ruined when the maratha forces overran Vasai fort, and were never restored after that. The protestant anglican British never saw the point in restoring catholic portuguese churches I suppose.
What really struck me was the amount of non military buildings in the fort area. It showed how stable and peaceful the area must have been, and how rich the area must have been with regular economy and taxation for them to afford so much civilian and ecclestial buildings.
After exploring the sea gate and the churches, I wandered over to where there was some restoration masonry work going on and bumped into that ASI gentleman again and started chatting with him. I complimented him on well maintained the fort was - no undergrowth and no rubbish - all that was lacking was information boards at all the building which would give some info and background about what we were seeing. He thanked me and said that it had been cleaned up fairly recently. It had been completely overgrown and in a wild jungle state, and had been cleaned up by them recently. While funds and staff were completely insufficient for a fort of this size, they were trying their best. They were reconstructing the buildings, using the original stones and using traditional mortar made as per the ancient formula of lead and whatever.
He told me to check out the other churches and especially the Franciscan church, where a lot of the ancient portuguese were buried in the nave of the church and I could check out their burial slabs. I went off exploring, and checked out a couple of churches where the local boys were playing cricket in front of it.
On my way to the franciscan church, I passed a strange sight. A group of guys were faking an accident photo. One guy was lying on the ground and another was coating his head and shirt with blood, while a photographer was directing them to perfect the gory sight of a victim lying dead or grievously injured in the bushes. Wonder what they were doing this for - an insurance scam, or a blackmail plot perhaps. I didn't stop to ask, as they didn't look happy at all to see me see them.
I found the ruined franciscan church with the graves of the long dead foreign adventurers and grandees. It was quite a pathos heavy site. This must have been a grand church once - the main one of the fort. It must have been a great honour to have been buried in the nave of the church, and people must have jostled and quarrelled to get their loved ones buried there. The dead people must have come from so far away, and must have been filled with immense ambition and energy and greed. They had come and created a whole new world on the other side of the globe and changed the fortunes of millions. Now they are all dead, the church is dead and roofless and their slabs weather in the sun and no one can even read their names.
I decided to exit from there - the sun was beating down and it was getting quite hot. I was planning to take the bike on the train from Vasai to Dadar. This was the first time I would be taking the cycle by train. I hoped that there would be no issue with taking the cycle on the train - the idea of cycling back was not appealing at all. But it turned out to be a smooth issue - I bought a ticket at the counter and then went inside and took a luggage ticket from the TC who sold me a cycle ticket for 200 rupees. I went to stand on Platform 3, but rushed to platform 5 to catch the fast local. I located the luggage compartment and shoved the bike in. The people were very kind and shuffled around to accommodate me. Some of them asked me where I had been and were very impressed to hear that I had cycled from Chembur to Vasai. They couldn't figure out whether to admire me or pity me for being an idiot, I suppose.
I got off at Dadar and cycled back home. It had been a nice day - a long satisfying 80 Km + ride and a visit to a place which I had always been curious about.
A 2000 thousand year old rock carved cave temple right in the middle of Suburban Mumbai...and no one seems to care very much about it!
I have been doing Mumbai exploration this year, and while researching online for places to visit, I stumbled on Mandapeshwar caves in Borivli. I found it simply incredible that we have an ancient almost pre-history rock cut temple right here and no one seems to know or care about it.
I read about it on Ashutosh Bijoor's blog, and found that it was carved in 550 AD, around the same time as the nearby Jogeshwari caves (which also is an unknown treasure) and the Kondivate or Mahakali caves, and was carved in the same style as the Elephanta caves or the Ellora temples.
Well, I simply had to see this, and one rainy sunday, I cycled from chembur to Borivli to visit the caves. It was a about 40 Km each way, and passed through or by many things that make Mumbai amazing ( a forest, a lake, hills, ancient temples, modern highways and urban sprawl)
I found the caves tucked unobstrisively away in Borivli bylanes in an overwhelmingly christian area - it was near the IC colony and just below a church - the church of our lady of immaculate conception. It seemed that it would have been on church lands before the ASI took ownership of the area.
The other point that struck me was that it seemed to be really obscure and unmarked. There were some building materials outside which indicated that there are plans to fence it off, but as of now it was open and and nameless. There was no indication that a unique rock cut temple was nearabouts.
But when I entered the caves and looked around, I was entranced! What a wonderful cave temple! And it was reasonably well maintained as well.
It was originally built on the shores of the Dahisar river, but now the river has changed its course and the temple has become inland. But you can just imagine the temple as it must have been - in a jungle, along the riverside, on a small hill, the most talented artists and sculptors had created a beautifully carved temple out of the living rock.
The idea of rock cut caves was started by the buddhist monks, but the hindus also liked the idea and also started making the same. Possibly the same sculptors who created the buddhist caves started making caves for the hindus as well - depending on who was signing the cheques. The Mumbai area was a big trading area due to the many big ports in the area - Thane, Sopara, Vasai, etc and there must have been a lot of rich seths willing to finance cave making in the forests of Mumbai. We have Buddhist caves and Hindu caves in Mumbai - Mahakali and Kanheri are Buddhist, and Jogeshwari and Elephanta are Hindu.
The golden age of cave temples ended about 1500 years ago, and India and Mumbai went through many epochs and empires since then. The importance of the Mumbai area dwindled and the big traders went off to other areas, and the whole area went into obscurity. The muslim waves into India started, with first the persian gulf muslims and then the Mughals from the Mongol lands swept over India, and big temple building went into decline as the Hindu kings were swept away. But they were not too interested in this part of the world, and kept away from it.
But the portuguese came to India in the 1500s and they were extremely interested in this area because of the access to sea lanes. They rapidly built up a formidable presence along the western coast and established a string of forts from Diu right down to Mumbai and were the rulers of the sea. They took over the sea shore lands as there wasnt anyone to oppose them.
Along with the conquisadors came the priests who were licking their chops at getting so many heathens to convert to the word of the lord, and they went around converting all the villagers they could find. As the Portuguese military hold tightened, they could use harsher and harsher measures to get converts. One of these was was to deface local temples and use them as churches. As we can see here - there is a bas relief of Shiva which had been carved down to a cross. They built a monastery on top of the temple, whose ruins can still be seen today.
As an article in the Hindu notes -
"The Mandapeshwar caves perhaps have the most tumultuous history of all the Mumbai caves, or so it would seem from the scars the walls still bear. A Hindu temple, it was targeted by the Portuguese, who asserted their religious beliefs over it by literally building a monastery and a church dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception on top of the cave temple. Fr. Porto founded the monastery and church in 1544.
A visitor in 1804 noted: “The good priests had covered [the carved Hindu figurines in the cave] with a smooth coat of plaster and had converted the whole into a chapel.”
The time of the portuguese was limited though, as they were faced with a wiler enemy - the British. They teamed up with the Marathas and persuaded them to go to war with the Portuguese and destroy them. Under Chimaji appa, they besieged and defeated the huge Portuguese fort of Vasai and then wiped them out of the Mumbai area, which included Borivli. This was of double advantage to the British, as the Portuguese were thrown out, and the marathas were fatally weakened at the same time, enabling the British to defeat them within a few years.
"In the 18th century the church was desecrated after the Battle of Bassein in which the Marathas defeated the Portuguese. They uncovered and worshipped the rock-cut sculptures again, but towards the end of the 18th century the British defeated the Marathas and the caves once again functioned as a place of Christian worship. After the end of colonial rule the church fell into disrepair and the caves gradually reverted to the worship of Siva. The church, including its roof, has been destroyed, but older local residents recall playing among the aisles and the nave of the church when they were children."
Mandpeshwer caves have sculptures of Nataraja, Sadashiva and a splendid sculpture of Ardhanarishvara. It also has Ganesha, Brahma and Vishnu statuettes. These works depicted the mythical tales of the Hindu gods and goddesses. Even today an elaborate sculpture representing the marriage of Shiva with Parvati may be viewed from the large square window at the south end of these caves
I saw that this place was becoming a live temple again, with people praying there and offering flowers and stuff. I have mixed feeling about this - on the one hand, I strongly believe that ancient monuments should be left alone and properly preserved, and we tend to mess up temple areas very fast. On the other hand, it brings the old temple to life when people pray a bit and offer bright flowers. It gives you a little glimpse of what it must have been in the old days.
The funniest part of all is the fact that people apparently know about this cave, but do not care about it. I told my mom about it, and she remembered the location as she had lived in Borivli many years ago. But she had never been there, and didn't seem impressed with the idea of a 2000 year old rock cut temple.
I spoke to various friends living in Borivli, who either had no idea about the existence of the place, or if they did - then had not been there - or if they had been there, were not sensible about the importance of the place.
In Europe, every small thing is celebrated as a Unesco world heritage site - an olive plantation, some obscure town and watchtower, some small road, anything.
This is a national treasure, and even the locals dont know anything about it, and care even less. So weird.
The church of Our Lady of immaculate conception - which must be an offshoot of the same church which was built on top of this ancient temple - was full for Sunday mass, and I couldnt help but notice the difference in the fortunes of this temple and that church.
I wouldnt want it to be locked up behind ASI fences and rendered inaccessible, but definitely we should nurture and protect this place and make more people aware of this.
Mumbai has a great history, and hopefully we will protect and enjoy it in the future as well.
Another monsoon Sunday! ITS TREKKING TIME! AND CYCLING TIME!
Delzad was out of town so this time I convinced Adi to join me for a trek. He was excited and scared at the same time.
‘My back is paining bro’ he complained, but I convinced him to come along – we will do a simple trek. I also wanted to do some good cycling, and after some research, decided on Kondana caves. I saw it in Harish Kapadia, and then read Ashutosh Bijoor’s amazing blog on his cycling trip there. As soon as I saw the photos I was hooked...what an amazing carved cave temple! I want to see this.
This would be the longest one way cycling trip yet – about 70 KM! Kondana was near Karjat.
I started at daybreak – about 6 AM - and set out on the Bombay Pune road. I had done Karnala earlier, and it was the same route till Panvel, where the highway split into the Bombay Goa road, and the Bombay Pune road.
It took me about 5 hours, but luckily it was cloudy and slightly rainy, and that kept the temperature cool. Adi slept off in the morning, and set out late – but that turned out to be a good thing, as it took him only an hour to reach karjat and he caught up with me as I was having some wada pav for breakfast.
I loaded the cycle in the Scorpio and we went off to kondivade village. This is also the starting point of the trek to Rajmachi fort.
I was a bit taken aback by the crowds on the trail – it was packed! As this is a pretty simple trek, and easily accessible by road – you get a lot of first level trekkers, and also since packaged treks by companies are becoming a big thing, you get a lot of organised groups as well. There was a group of children and another couple of groups of adults there, and also a lot of family groups and local people as well, and Indian crowds being what they are, there was a lot of noise and the inevitable litter and garbage.
But on the other hand, it is a good thing that these people are stepping out of home and malls and seeing the hills and valleys and ancient culture of our country. Maybe they will develop a love of trekking and become mountain and history lovers. So good for them.
We found a villager who volunteered to show us the way to the caves, and that was lucky for us as he showed us a fairly unused and virgin way to the caves and avoided most of the crowds. It was doubly lucky for me, as I dropped my cap on the way and it was still there when we came back down.
The kondane caves are amazing! What carvings! What artwork! What a location!
They are 2000 years old, and still look regal and outstanding. The main Chaitya hall has a intricately carved entrance, and the wall carvings are superb.
Kondhane caves were first discovered by Vishnu Shastri in 1850. Kondhane, Bhaja and Karla are caves that are located around Lonavale. In fact, Dr. D. J Wilson in his writings mentions that the name Lonavala may be corruption of Lenavali – or the grove of caves
The stupa is in a damaged condition, and one can see large rock pieces on the floor that could have been part of the roof. A large part of this damage is presumably due to severe earthquakes in the Pune region that occurred between 1752 to 1812
The whole portico-area is carved to imitate a multi storeyed building with balconies and windows and sculptured men and women who observed the scene below. This created the appearance of an ancient Indian mansion. The carvings are truly exquisite, with clearly visible features such as the garments, weapons and ornaments they wore, as well as peaceful happy expressions on their faces.
Its simply amazing – I was very impressed.
We soaked in the place for a while, and then made our way down. It would be really nice to come here on a weekday, when there would be less crowds.
It was a pretty small trek, but then it was a longer ride so it was a Sunday well spent.
After the trek to Visapur, Delzad was very enthu about doing more trekking. I was also enthu about doing some long cycling, and so I thought of Karnala fort. Its close to the highway, so easily accessible on cycle – and it was quite a nice trek – not too easy, not too difficult.
We decided to go on a Friday, so as to avoid the crowds. I would leave early on cycle, and Delzad would follow later in the Scorpio and we would meet at Karnala.
Home to Karnala was about 45 KM, which was not too bad but definitely not a pushover either. It would be important to focus on proper nutrition to prevent cramping. I carbed up in dinner, and carried some electrolytes and a couple of chapattis.
It took about 3 hours, and the only unpleasant part was the disgusting state of the Bombay Goa road – more holes than road. It was a nice climb up the Karnala ghat at the end of the ride and the Police guy at the gate was very impressed when he learnt that I had cycled all the way from Mumbai.
Delzad timed the driver perfectly and rolled up a few minutes after me, and we loaded the cycle into the Scorpio and locked it.
Other people also seemed to have had the same idea as we did, of coming on a Friday to beat the crowd, and they created a crowd of their own.
There was a corporate group which was assembling there, so we decided to leave fast and go ahead of them. But after a bit of a climb, we ran into a group of school children.
‘How many children are there?’ I asked an organiser
‘120 children...and 45 parents too’ he answered glumly.
Shit! No way I am going to get stuck being 165 chattering children! I engaged turbo mode and climbed like a demon and zoomed up the trail – and overtook all 165 of them! Simply left them behind in my dust!
And once I was ahead of all of them, it was so incredibly quiet and pleasant. It was like being in heaven!
The Karnala fort has the most incredible setting – it sits right on top of the spire of the hill and looks like a fairy fort. Its an ancient fort – built about 1200- 1400 AD, and commanded the hill passes of Raigad district. It was built probably by the Devagiri Yadavas in the 1200s and further fortified by tughlaq rulers in the 1300s – which makes it really old – pre mughal. As the area was ruled by various dynasties, it was controlled by Gujarat sultans, then Nizam shah of Ahmednagar, then the Portuguese (who were really powerful back in the day), then the Marathas under Shivaji, then Mughals under Aurangzeb, then back to the Peshwas, until the British borg assimilated everyone.
Now the time of forts has passed, and the remains sleep. The hill has been declared a bird sanctuary, and there is only peace and quiet. The fort commands an awesome view all over the surrounding area, and you can see all the way to the sea. In fact you can see the forts of Prabalgad, Manikgad, Haji Malang, Chanderi fort, Matheran, Sankshi fort,Dronagiri fort, and Rajmachi from the top – which is pretty awesome.
There is a magnificent stone pillar right at the top – a natural basalt formation, its the remains of the lava flow from when it was a volcano. And magically, there are huge natural water tanks right at the base of the basalt pillar. Brave people do rock climbing on it, I believe – but obviously that is not possible in the rains.
The fort was incredible, and I climbed right to the top to avoid the crowds which would follow, and enjoyed almost half an hour of peace before the sweaty and reproachful face of Delzad appeared at the base of the fort. He had tried to engage turbo mode as well, but ran out of gas and was forced to march right in the middle of the gang of children. Poor fellow, he was completely fagged out and went to sleep at the top for a bit.
We decided to climb down before the kids did, and enjoyed a quiet and peaceful walk down and had an excellent lunch in a nearby hotel and then drove back home in the Scorpio. This ‘bike up, trek and drive back’ is an excellent idea.
This Sunday I decided to avoid the cycle ride and do a trek instead. This was because Bawa - the actual owner of the cycle, from whom I have ‘borrowed’ it (wink wink)- requested me to go for a trek with him. As both of us could not fit on one cycle, we decided to drop the cycle and do only the trek.
‘But where shall we go?’ he asked.
‘Don’t worry re.’ I replied ‘I shall consider and decide on the day’ and spent Saturday evening watching ‘Deadpool’ and drinking a lot of Single malt whisky.
On Sunday morning we met up at Vashi, and had an excellent breakfast at a roadside idli wada stall along the highway. After reading ‘Trek the Sahyadris’ and consulting with SHE-WHO-MUST-BE-OBEYED I decided on Visapur fort.
Visapur fort had many things going for it – it was easily approachable by the expressway and NH4, we could bypass Lonavla city and avoid the crowds, I knew the way as it was close to Lohagad where I had been several times, it was a fort I had been wanting to visit for a long time, it would be much less crowded than the nearby Lohagad, and we could visit Sheetal da dhaba for an excellent lunch after the trek!
The easily findable part of it was crucial – as we were two navigation challenged people, who had managed to get lost and take the wrong turn on a single lane highway in Ladakh, and had reached all the way to Tanglangla pass before we realised that we were going the wrong way.
And sure enough, here also I managed to miss the turn to Malavali station inspite of having been there umpteen times, and had to take a U turn to get back on the right track. We drove past Bhaje caves and up the ghat and found the turnoff to Visapur. We parked the car there, and started walking.
Visapur and Lohagad are twin forts which guard the Mandavi river and the approach to Pune. Out of the two, Lohagad is much older, being in existence since the time of the Satavhanas – which would make it about 2000 years old.
Visapur was built much later – in 1713 – in the reign of Balaji Vishwanath, the first Peshwa. Unfortunately, the Maratha empire did not last very long after that, and the British conquered the fort in 1818, using 380 european and 800 native soldiers and a battering train summoned from konkan, artillery from Chakan and 2 british battalions. On 4th march 1818 Visapur was occupied, and the British bombarded Lohagad fort from there and took over that as well.
After that, they blew up the whole fort with artillery and dynamited the entrances so that it would be unusable to the Marathas ever again. So there is nothing remaining in the fort but some walls and few ruined buildings.
Now, two and a half centuries after that day, the fort is so forgotten that even finding a path to the fort is difficult. If not for directions by the villagers and the arrows painted by trekking groups, you cannot even find the way up. We walked right past the turn and went on for quite some time before the villagers turned us back.
The stairway to the fort has been completely destroyed, and it becomes a waterfall in the rains. It was great fun to climb up that.
We reached the top and we were the only people there. It was an amazing feeling to wander around the deserted and desolate top of the fort. It was green and rainy and foggy – an absolute paradise.
After exploring the top for some time, we made our way down the waterfall again, and due to the rains the water flow was much more. It was great fun to make our way down that way.
We were completely soaked when we got down, and it was great to change out of wet clothes and get into the car. And ho – now for Sheetal dhaba and amazing food!
Bawa was so tired that he fell asleep in the car immediately in the return journey and snored all the way back to Vashi.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!