bandra & the bandra fest: your walking tour guide!

[Part of a personal #postaday September Challenge. I’m one day behind schedule. This is post 8]

Bandra is now buzzing with the annual Feast of Nativity of Mary which is from 8th September onwards and the Bandra Fair that goes along with it from Sunday onwards. While I am not a great supporter of loud religious festivals, I think this is a great time to discover Bandra is during the annual Mount Mary Festival. Of course, that’s only if teaming crowds and roadside stalls are your thing. But come on, once a year, it can be your thing! Apart from Mount Mary, I also think it is a great time to walk around and get to know some of the older parts of Bandra. A lot of us see Bandra as this hip and cool suburb, but that was not how it all began there– those were not the origins of this old settlement.

This post is your weekend plan in Mumbai and if you don’t live here – it’s some armchair travelling!

Bandra was once covered with paddy fields and marshy land and mangroves — in different sections. The name Bandra came possibly from the Urdu / Persian word for ‘port’. It lies on the Salsette Island, probably one of the most densely populated islands in the world. Legend has it that the word Salsette comes from the original Marathi word Sasashti which refers to the 66 villages that were on this island or the 66 groups of brahmins who settled here? You can choose which story you prefer. This Salsette Island is 619 sq. kms, almost as big as Singapore. Bandra is the bottom left hand tip and in the distant past, could be accessed only during low tide. But a series of reclamations , causeways and here we are standing on what we think is solid ground today!

Let’s begin the walk at Hill Road. Wondering why it’s called Hill Road? This comes from the hill towards the end of the road, yes the hill with Mount Mary Church. Anyway, this road was the nerve centre of the cluster of villages that made up Bandra. Bazaar Road that intersects this road is famous for having a clutch of religions all withing two kms… You can see a Jain Temple, two Hindu temples, a mosque, a chapel and even a Gurudwara. Today it is a street-shopper’s manna from heaven. And all Mumbaikars have bought from these shops sometime in their life — even if once home, those items didn’t look as good as you thought 🙂

Enter the lanes behind Hill Road and walk till Waroda Road. The roads that extend in all directions are part of one of the Bandra villages or gaothans. Tiny houses stacked next to each other, each leaning on the other, for support and company. It is said that there were more than 300 such villages across Mumbai at one time. Want to take a guess how many there are today? None? Not at all… there are believed to be around 180 — many of us live, work, eat, walk by Gaothans and never even realise that it is one of the original villages!

Walk towards the sea, towards the West on this road and you will see many houses with porches. These are East Indian homes. Let’s go back a bit in history to understand where that name comes from. It is a rather puzzling name as afterall this is the Western Coast of India! In around 55 AD the original inhabitants of this region the Kolis or fishermen were converted to Christianity. And then later to Catholicism by the Portuguese. At that point they were the Portuguese Christians, but later when the British came to India, in order to differentiate themselves from the Goan Christians they took on the name East Indians. And that name has stuck even today!

You will see some beautiful houses as you walk down this stretch. But the reason this stretch is awesome is the graffiti. A bunch of artists decided to liven up this entire stretch and with permission from the house owners, they painted the walls in this area. I always like to walk around and find my current favourite piece. I used to love the image of the little boy staring, but it has now been painted over. I still miss him when I walk by.

As you walk down Waroda Road and head back to Hill Road, look out for the beautiful bungalow at the junction. It is one of my favourite old bungalows in Bandra called Maryville. Given that this is East Indian area, you will find many old bakeries and if you look carefully, some old chimneys too! My favourite is American Bakery, on Hill Road — it’s almost a century old and feels like a relic when you walk in. Stop here for a pit-stop maybe.

If you continue down Hill Road, towards the sea, you have St. Andrew’s Church. This is one of the oldest Portuguese  Church’s in Mumbai and was built in 1575. It always takes me to some other land when I see it, don’t you think? There is a large cross at one corner of the compound.

An interesting story to tell you here. There are around 150 crosses all over Bandra. One legend says these were built to ward off spirits, another says that when the plague hit in 1896, people were dropping dead like flies. These crosses were built to ward off the plague. Or sometimes in thanks for being alive! This is one of the oldest crosses built in 1610. It is believed to have around 39 emblems of the passion of Christ.

Just outside the church, if you walk towards the sea along the boundary wall you will notice a tiny water fountain…. There was a time when benevolent souls constructed such water fountains all over this city… there are hardly any left today. But you can read about the Pyaus in Mumbai here

If you walk towards the end of this road you will finally reach the ‘hill’ in Hill Road. Walk up the hill and you’ll reach Mount Mary Church. This church was believed to have been built around four times. And each time it is a story of invasion, destruction and a story of reconstruction. The Annual Bandra Fest along with the Feast of Mount Mary celebrates the birth of Jesus’ mother on September 8. An interesting observation at this church, like other religions, you will notice some Hindu habits that have permeated. Most visitors remove their footwear outside the church before they enter, not something that you normally see in a church! Once you are done here, exit via the gate. Just opposite the church lies a tiny lane that leads you to bandstand, with SRK’s house to your left towards the end. Once you hit the sea take a left and walk towards the end.

This the Bandra Fort. It was called Castella de Aguaga in Portuguese or after the fresh water found here. This dilapidated fort was once a watch tower to look over the Mahim Bay. Today you look over the sea at the beautiful Bandra-Worli Sea link. Take a deep breathe. I love this point as this is where the old and the new are juxtaposed side by side. The past lingers and flows into the present. How much we choose to carry with us it unto us?

Make it happen:

Starting Point: Hill Road 
Ending Point: Bandra Fort 

Best time to go: Early morning – 6am, or early evening – 5pm and end at Band Stand for sunset
Refuel: American Bakery, Ray’s Café on Hill Road, Birdsong Cafe on Waroda Road, Yoga Cafe behind St. Andrews, CCD / Barista at Bandstand or splurge at the Taj Landsend.
Distance: Around 3 kms

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