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Seven Mumbai secrets revealed

Think you know your city? Think again. From unexplained phenomena to a Taj Mahal replica rising out of a crumbling, old neighbourhood and a private dining room overlooking Gateway of India, seven secrets just came out of Mumbai's closet.

mumbai Updated: Jul 14, 2012 00:36 IST

Think you know your city? Think again. From unexplained phenomena to a Taj Mahal replica rising out of a crumbling, old neighbourhood and a private dining room overlooking Gateway of India, seven secrets just came out of Mumbai's closet.

Mazagaon's Taj Mahal
Shabby shops on either side, goats on the street in front and a gorgeous gleaming marble mausoleum inside. Hasanabad, Mazagaon’s pride and joy, is perhaps Mumbai’s least touristy structure. Three domes rise over the top, intricately crafted minarets flank the corners and snow-white marble stairs lead to the many arches holding up the vaulted ceilings on the front porch. Inside rests the body of Aga Khan I, imam of the Nizari Ismaili sect of Shia Muslims. The structure was built in 1884, but even today the sight takes your breath away.

Powai’s gravity hill
Drive out of Hiranandani Complex, pass the Powai lake on your right, and keep following the road until you get on to a one-way flyover. Put your car in neutral as you descend the slope and prepare to be amazed. Your car won’t slide forward, as it should. It will actually move backward. Uphill. For several lengths. What sorcery is this? Don’t blame the gods. It’s an optical illusion. The downhill slope is actually an uphill one because the ground beneath is on an incline too. So a car left out of gear only looks like it’s going back up.

Mumbai’s highest point
To get to the top in Mumbai, sometimes all you have to do is climb. The plateau atop the 1,595-foot Jambulmal hill inside Sanjay Gandhi National Park marks the highest point in the city, way higher than those hard-won penthouses. The winding road to the top is dotted with evergreen trees and bamboo thickets. Brown-cheeked fulvettas, white-rumped shamas and Malabar whistling thrushes fly by. And, at the top, the reward includes strong breezes and a fantastic view that takes in Gorai and the airport in the same panorama. But you can’t just get there and start climbing. The hill is in a restricted section of the park that also houses the Kanheri Hills air force station, so you will need permission before you enter.

Colaba’s hush-hush rendezvous
Ask nicely and the good people of the Taj Mahal Palace at Apollo Bunder will give you a dinner so private no one will even know you’re there. Their cosy Casablanca Room, just off their top-floor restaurant Souk, seats two, overlooks the sea, and offers a lovely view of the Gateway of India. The room is the setting for what they call the Chef’s Table: customised nine-course Middle-Eastern menu, glassware and crockery from the House of Versace, candle light and lots of romance. Many hopeful husbands have popped the question here — or at least we think they have. It’s a room so
hidden, it’s hard to tell.

Fort’s secret society
There is a good reason you’ve never seen anyone go in or out of that building opposite Sterling cinema. The structure houses Freemason Hall, Mumbai headquarters of a secret society set up 250 years ago, which still has a following today. One does not simply enter Freemason Hall; a tiny flap opens up at the door so that a guard can check the credentials of every visitor and grant them permission to enter. Inside, according to several descriptions, is the Temple of the Freemasons, with each lodge or sub-sect having its own temple within the premises. Secret handshakes help one Mason identify a brother, membership is closed to women and much of the activities revolve around charity. No, they’re not in there invoking Lucifer or confounding Robert Langdon.

Mumbai locals' light fantastic
Pay attention the next time you take the train. The lights flicker for a fraction of a second at four points on the Western Railway line. You’ll experience this at Andheri, Vile Parle, Elphinstone Road and Charni Road, just as your compartment passes under the east-west bridges overhead. Why? The bridges are too low, and since the trains run on 25,000kv of electricity, it’s too risky to have power running underneath. Of course, it’s too expensive, and complicated, to rebuild these bridges entirely, so the WR takes a shortcut — it just suspends power.

Jogeshwari’s private ecosystem
Even when it’s scorching in Mumbai, a cool breeze runs through the classrooms of the Ismail Yusuf college in Jogeshwari (East). The campus was set up in 1924, making it the fourth-oldest college in the city. It’s also one of the leafiest. Some 54 acres of land are home to banyan groves, gulmohar forests, brooks, ponds, wild shrubs and a charming cottage that is the principal’s residence. Over 40 species of flora have been identified, including the timber-yielding sheesham, ornamental kesri and medicinal amrut-vel. It’s a bird-spotter’s and butterfly-lover’s paradise and looks its best during the monsoon. If you walk past the tall boundary walls and have a look, that is.