There still exists a Bombay that’s distinct from today’s Mumbai. Some of you may have sauntered down the streets of Ballard Estate. No cars honk there, and the sidewalks are as wide as today’s suburban roads. On a cool winter afternoon, some might even have walked down Navy Nagar, the farthest outpost of southern Mumbai. A church there by the name of St John the Evangelist (Afghan Church) was built eons ago in 1838 in the wake of the Anglo-Afghan War. Our great-grandparents weren’t even born then. The church still remains intact.
Alongside the entire eastern stretch of our city lies a deserted Bombay that has no nightclubs, no multiplexes, no shopping malls and no high rises. Not yet, at least. A walk down its carefully planned avenues will make you wonder at the level of city planning undertaken over a century ago.
Take a look the Cotton Exchange. You may not have even heard of it. But it’s been around since 1844. It’s located just a stone’s throw away from Cotton Green station on the Harbour Line, which incidentally gets its name from the building.
The Exchange is an excellent example of Art Noveau architecture, and is a sight to behold even today. Washed in pastel green, and three storeys tall with large windows and high ceilings, it towers over the neighbourhood. It also sports a Vshaped design — one arm stretches over 100m in length while the other is 50m long. The building is nearly intact, save for broken windows caused by stray cricket balls. The peace and quiet in the area invites school and college students who come here to study. Prashant, a 16-year-old commerce student mentions, “I come here at night and study under the light of the street lamps. It’s very serene.” No matter the time of day, you’ll find kids on the footpath with books in hand.
Head deeper east and you’ll gasp at the expanse of open space. Those accustomed to streets teeming with cars, motorcycles, pedestrians and hawkers may even feel agoraphobic. The first place you’ll arrive at is the Port Trust Road (Mahul Road). Large sheds, over a 100m in length, add character to the area.
If you take Mahul Road and head north, you can visit the Sewri mudflats — a marshy region by the sea. It’s famous in the winter when migratory flamingos flock to the area. The place is also excellent for getting an unbroken view of Elephanta Island and Uran. “My friends and I often come here late in the evenings and just sit and watch the sea. Few places are this secluded,” says event manager Raza Sheikh.
Mahul Road, which is owned by Mumbai Port Trust, is in excellent condition. You can follow the road to Chembur and get a glimpse of vast saltpans and Mumbai’s petroleum refineries and power plants. Or you can head south to Mazagaon and visit the picturesque Joseph Baptista Garden and Reservoir, built in 1880. “Everyone knows about Priyadarshini Park at Napean Sea Road, but I find this place far more beautiful. The air is cool and the garden is clean since you can’t bring food in. It’s a great place to take a morning jog,” says nearby resident Fabio Carvalho.
Finally, like Jai Hind College at Churchgate, The College of Advanced Maritime Studies and Research at Cotton Green, right off the coast, commands a beautiful view of the sea. “Only shippies probably know about this place, but the open area is excellent if you’re learning to drive. Just watch out for parked trucks,” says Shrini Ravindran.