Stories of a concrete Jungle
Khaki Tours’ Urban Safari shows you the sights of the city and reveals its lost stories.
It is a few hours to twilight when we
meet Bharat Gothoskar, founder of Khaki Tours, on the iconic Asiatic Society steps. The building is a landmark easy to find, but that isn’t why Gothoskar insists on beginning his ‘urban safari’ covering 15 km around the Fort area here. Behind the colossal Town Hall building, within the compound, is a bungalow that was once home to Garcia de Orta, a Jewish physician. “That bungalow is the seed around which the modern metropolis of Mumbai has grown,” says Gothoskar. The region had seen civilization before this, with the Shilahara regime and its capital at Mahim, and the Sultans of Gujarat controlling the islands for a while, but the islands were a malarial, marshy lot when the Portuguese took over, which is why de Orta had been sent over from Goa. He spent several years in the city, and his manor still exists. No visitors are allowed though because it is now part of the Naval Dockyard. “When Catherine Braganza married Prince Charles of England and got Bombay as dowry, it was Garcia de Orta’s house where all the transactions took place,” reveals Gothoskar, heading towards the open-air jeep to begin our tour. “The other day, someone asked me the difference between Mumbai Darshan and what I do with Khaki Tours’ Urban Safari. I said Mumbai Darshan will take you to Colaba and point out Regal Cinema. I will take you to the same place and tell you how this is the first air-conditioned building in Asia, the first one to have underground parking and an elevator,” says Gothoskar. Here are a few other secrets that Gothoskar’s urban safaris across Mumbai and heritage walks can reveal about the city:
Did you know that Byculla has a 66-million-year-old solidified lava flow? Or that Dr BR Ambedkar got married here? That there is a Jewish school where classes are held in Marathi? That the wife of Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah is buried here?
Parel of the Past
Did you know that the history of Parel goes back 16 centuries? That the first darbar of a British royal in India was held here? That the area was hit quite badly by the great plague? That the area is home to a hill made of pillow lava?
The Old City
Did you know that there are British-era horse stables that still exist in South Mumbai? That opium trading was once a common activity in one of the city’s busiest business districts. That if you know where to look you’ll find a village tucked away in the city where the houses have a distinctly Portuguese style.