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When in doubt, head east

There’s more to Mumbai than you know. We scour the east and pick out some of its best-kept secrets.

entertainment Updated: Jan 17, 2011 16:26 IST
Nikhil Hemrajani

There still exists a Bombay that’s distinct from today’s Mumbai. Some of you may have sauntered down the languorous streets of Ballard Estate. No cars honk there still, and the sidewalks are as wide as today’s suburban roads. On a cool winter afternoon, some even might have taken the adventurous walk down Navi Nagar, the farthest and mostly Armed-Forces-owned outpost of Southern Mumbai. A Presbyterian 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.

Grand architecture

Take the Cotton Exchange for instance. You may not have even heard of it. But it’s been around since 1844. It’s located Joseph Baptist Gardenjust 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, three to four storeys tall and with large windows and high ceilings, it towers over the neighbourhood. It also sports a Vshaped design — one arm stretches over a 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 quiet and peaceful." No matter the time of day, you’ll find kids on the footpath with books in their hands.

Making inroads
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 bordering the sea. It’s famous in the winter months 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, park our bikes and just sit and watch the sea. Few places are this secluded,” says manager Raza Sheikh. Mahul Road, which is owned and maintained by Mumbai Port Trust, is in excellent condition. You can follow the road all the way to Chembur and get a passing glimpse of vast saltpans and Mumbai’s petroleum refineries and power plants. Driving around at night in this area is truly a surreal experience. 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 Napeansea 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 or an evening walk,” says nearby resident Fabio Carvalho.

Finally, like Jaihind 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.

Places you don’t know about on the harbour line

* The Cotton Exchange is a hallmark of British-era Bombay. Built in 1844, it’s remained well concealed in Cotton Green.

* The saltpan region at Mahul Road, Wadala is a great place to take photos and pull the throttle of your car or motorcycle.

* Head to the Sewri mudflats if you’ve had your fill of the western coast line. Industrial plants mark the horizon at Trombay and Uran, adding the surreal twist.

* The Joseph Baptista Garden at Mazagaon is a beautiful and calm place to take an evening walk.

* If you want to learn driving, check out the open area outside the College of Advanced Maritime Studies at Cotton Green.