I just might be too young to articulate my experience of a traveller’s life, but in my five years away from home, I realised something about travelling, something conceptual. I grew to gather the fact that one may adopt wanderlust as one’s hobby, but it’s only with time that one gradually falls for it. Falls for the element of surprise that a new place has to offer. Falls for the unexpected. Working on the same lines, Mumbai - The City of Dreams or Bombay [as I love to call it…] had packed somewhat of a similar punch for me.
Living in Marine Lines, South Mumbai amidst the city’s history, was possibly the best thing to happen to me. The south region of the metropolitan encapsulates myriad of architectural marvels all dating back to the colonial era in India. South Mumbai or Sobo ( ‘SOuth+BOmbay’ as defined by hashtags nowadays) is what you’d call the ‘traveller’s package’. Right from the flamboyant Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus flaunting it’s hand-perfected romance arches and Tudor casements to the concrete symbol on which the city gains pride- The Gateway of India; the cityscape had me enticed from the very start.
The mornings and the evenings, weekends and possible weekdays found me running towards the sea, sitting for hours at Marine Drive staring endlessly into blue nothingness, dragging my feet across the sunburnt sands of Chowpatty, familiarizing myself with the damp-soggy pidgeon stench while looking at The Taj and The Gateway of India in wonderment. The more I wandered, the more I got sucked into the city’s rushed-life, the one which had it’s own rhythmic ebb and flow. Hailing from a silent settled townside area of Dehradun in Uttarakhand, my sudden infusion into the ‘metro life’ had me running at heels to places in search of solace and believe me I did not have to run very far!
A ‘C’ shaped, 4km stretch of asphalt, lined with trees on one side and an exotic natural bay view on the other, this much-loved avenue has more to it than what meets the eye . A mind-numbing view of the Arabian Sea, reaches its pinnacle when the evenings are lit by white street lights, giving it the name “Queen’s Necklace”.
The promenade has been a constant home to my thoughts, both loud and silent ones. A refuge away from the daily humdrum of affairs. Though the drive is steps away from a six-lane concrete road, buzzing with rowdy vehicles and the incessant honking like a giant hornet’s nest, it’s simply amazing how one can as easily shut out the worldly noise, listening to the water ‘thudding’ against the bay, looking far into the sea. Trying to gauge the vastness through eyes.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP)
My search for those hidden spots of solitude, found rest upon entering the gates of this age old national park, thriving and flourishing amidst the city lights. Known to be a geographical boon for the metro city, this humongous growth of wilderness in the northern part of Mumbai encompasses overall area of 104 km2 and is fenced by rural populated areas on three sides. Apart from being the only other large green cover in the thick of urban society, after Central Park, New York, the rich flora and fauna comes with rich culture, history and novel experience [Central Park being a man-made construction, makes SGNP the only naturally occurring and thriving ethos]. Carved in the lap of these hills lie the ancient Kanheri Caves; age-old buddhist monastery and university of buddhist learning and knowledge.
The damp caves arching over my head would often make me forget the egos one carries as an individual in a crowd. The fact that the various buddhist shrines, channeled water inlets, water pools, seating area, assembly hall, temples, were carved out of the once large basaltic rock mountain, and have survived the tides of time are enough to stupefy the tourists while they trail through the caves. Carelessly and abundantly decorated by plush flora and fauna, the park has become one of the most visited tourist attractions of the city. Cycling through the forest area, with a thick foliage of Kadamba and Shisham trees on either sides, canvassing the rough terrain, I often tend to put my brain on mute and shy away from the rigid citylife that keeps me tethered. What helps is the perpetual lyrical tuned by bulbuls, racket-tailed drongos and mynahs.
Another attempt of the city to dazzle me with its history and architecture, had me appalled and excited. Staged in the sultry lanes of Byculla, this temple has been around to see a lot of stories being played to their ends. Although, my first visit to the church was unfortunately mistimed, as it was under renovation, but still for the part of the tour that I could manage, the synagogue loomed over me in its ‘almighty’ glory, the delicate glass art behind the altar allowing the sunlight to filter through. A warm yellow halo that was crowned back in 1632 by Portuguese Franciscans, stills continue to radiate the church.
The light flutter of pigeons murmuring shabbily, often makes you realise that one can never be as alone as he/she wants to be. And maybe, that is how it should be.
What better way to run away from city noise, than to sit in a motor boat and slowly see the cityline diminishing (also, cheap fare rates…). Being chased by the shimmering sunlight, the seagulls too, soon catch up. Cackling away to glory, the birds make sure the ride never goes lonely and this rambunctious interference in the watery silence seems welcomed without realisation.
In my time spent in Mumbai, I realised that there’s so much to the city than just crowded trains, destitute people living on societal fringes and traffic-choked roads. There’s warmth in the setting sun, that can be experienced while sitting at Chowpatty, pondering over life. There’s beauty in chaos, and it flourishes in the heart of wilderness at Sanjay Gandhi National Park. There’s an understanding to confusion; the way I perceive, allowing travel to make me grow and continue to deepen the thirst for unexplored.