There’s something about buses — a feeling of empowerment, of being on top of things, of having a bird’s eye view of the other inhabitants of the roads — cars, taxis, autos, tempos, cyclists, people.
If you really think about it, every bus has a personality. Like the robust 4 limited that slices through the centre of the city. The voyeuristic 69 that goes through the red light area of Falkland Road. The lazy 212 that ends its journey before it’s even started (Shivaji Park to Bandra reclamation) or the shy 220 that sticks to quiet by lanes (Bandra to Khar) as if afraid to come out in the open, or the posh 108 that hugs the Queen’s necklace and mostly sticks to things rich and elegant.
Route 56 is the one I pick. Even though it has the unique distinction of being the only bus route that hugs four seafronts (Versova, Juhu Chowpatty, Carter Road and Worli sea face), it is laidback, with just a modicum of wanderlust, and no illusions of being special. First of all, it’s full of people who are not in a hurry to go anywhere, unlike those typical ‘office routes’ replete with aggressive shoving and pushing and people spilling over. No one on route 56 is really up for the long haul, so they keep hopping on and off. Someone is headed to Arogyanidhi in Juhu, another wants to go to Amitabh Bachchan’s house. Others are headed for Juhu beach or Khar Danda or Carter Road. Perhaps they, like me, are in it just for the ride?
I glean that it’s also a sought-after route on every conductor’s wish list, when, at the Yari Road depot, I overhear a conversation between an aspiring Route 56 conductor and three ladies waiting for the bus to take off. “Why don’t we see you on our bus?” one asks. “I’d like to, but they won’t give it to me any more,” he bemoans.
As the bus leaves the Yari Road depot, you are greeted by the waft of the fishermen’s cove before it turns to hug the first sea front of Versova. You also realise you have Akshay Kumar and Shilpa Shetty for company. No, they haven’t rekindled their affair, least of all on a BEST bus, but they are on loop on the in-flight entertainment television, gyrating to Chura ke dil mera from Main Khiladi Tu Anari.
As you settle into a comfortable gaze, you enter the swanky Seven Bungalows bus depot, its newly acquired poshness thanks to the soon-to-start metro network five feet away. You think this is going to be one linear J P Road ride when the bus turns into Four Bungalows market. Depending on which side of the bus you’re seated, you can get a whiff of fish or flowers. Soon you are on a darshan of Prateeksha’s security (which is all that is on view at Amitabh Bachchan’s residence) as you navigate Juhu. A pit stop at Juhu church and Juhu market, and you’re ready for the beach again. In contrast to the now-you-sea-it-now-you-don’t at Versova thanks to the sea-facing high rises, here, the beach is in full view, as are the assortment of legitimate stalls that remain.
Next, Juhu Tara Road of super posh boutiques and shady hotels. Then on to Linking Road as the bus turns at the Airport garden stop. But 56 hates mainstream; it soon turns into Khar Danda, and goes deep into the fishing village, stopping to smell the roses at the famous Khar cemetery before entering Carter Road, the land of the rich, famous and noisy. Here’s a different kind of sea, almost manicured, thanks to the promenades and pedigreed dogs.
Enter Mahim causeway, down LJ Road, then skirt the Siddhivinayak temple at Prabhadevi — and the bus finally enters Adarsh Nagar in Worli to reach its destination. It’s journey’s end in a litttle over 100 minutes.
Should you still be unsatiated, you can take a sea-link taxi ride to the other end to complete your marine expedition.
A little over ten years old, Route 56 is one of contrasts. For every Khar Danda, there’s a Carter Road, for every Juhu market, there’s a Juhu beach, for every Four Bungalows there’s a Versova, and for every Adarsh Nagar, there’s a Worli sea face. For every bit of land, there is a bit of sea.