6

This Eid, enjoy more than just the food

A decade ago, Eid-ul-fitr did not mean much more than a day-off to me. After a couple of years in Mumbai, Eid and the month of Ramadan preceding it meant another excuse to feast! While the Muslims fast and practice abstinence in this month, most others take it as an excuse to do exactly the opposite of it. All of us have at some point made a trip to Mohammed Ali Road, some of us have been lucky to be invited for a home cooked iftaar. And those who are too lazy, have satiated themselves with iftaar special meals at Mughalai restaurant or even at Mc Donalds! (it seems Mc Donalds has an ‘iftaar-special Burger’).
The much-awaited Eid-ul-Fitr is here, for the muslims it is a time to celebrate as they count their blessings. The rest of us could take this as an opportunity to appreciate more than just the delicious food! The Dargahs and Mosques in Mumbai add baroque elements to the city’s landscape. Head to one of these to admire the architecture, to pray for barkat (prosperity) or just to get some sukoon (peace):

Haji Ali Dargah
One of Mumbai’s most recognised landmark. You have spotted it in a Bollywood film and admired it from a distance every time you visited South Bombay. Haji Ali Dargah situated in the middle of Arabian Sea, 500 yards from shoreline is popular among people of all religions and tourists from all over the world.

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The pathway leading to the Dargah is swarming with people on Eid somehow adds to the magnanimity. The structure consists of a slim minaret and the tomb of the Saint Haji Ali. Once you are inside, look out for the detailed mirror-work interspersed with 99 different names of Allah.
Address: Walk down from Mahalaxmi Station on Western Line

Jama Masjid, Kalbadevi
Literally translated, ‘Friday Mosque’. Situated near the bustling Crawford Market in South Bombay, Jama Masjid is the largest and oldest mosque in Mumbai. The current mosque was reconstructed in 1775 and since then there have been several additions to its structure, including a school that imparts free secular and religious education to Muslim youth.

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The structure is a quadrangular building encircled by a ring of terraced roofed and double storied buildings. The main eastern gate of the masjid leads to an ancient water-tank containing about ten feet of stagnant water, filled with gold and silver fish.
Getting there: Cab or a long walk from Charni Road Station on Western line

Minara Masjid
As Eid gets closer, it gets more and more difficult to navigate through food stalls, BMWs and LOT of people on gastronomic trips to Mohammed Ali road. What stands apart and almost overlooks the chaos in the Majestic Minara Masjid.

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The vertiginous green minarets are hard to miss, they add to the baroque architecture that can be seen along the entire stretch of road. To enjoy the architecture and feel the tranquility, one should skip the evening risk and go early morning instead.
Getting there: Walk down from Masjid Station on Central Line

Mahim Dargah
The oldest Dargah in Mumbai going back at least 350 years, this is the Dargah of the Secular Sufi Saint Makhdoom Ali Mahimi. Interestingly, the Dargah also houses the tombs of his mother, his maid servant and his pet goat. Architecturally, this is the only Dargah in Mumbai with 5 domes.

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Image Source

Apart from Eid, this Dargah attracts many visitors during 12-day festival in December every year to commemorate the Qazi. Lakhs of devotees throng the place to enjoy Sufi music, qawwali, religious poems, lectures and other such activities in conformity of Sharia laws.
Getting there: Walk down from Mahim Station on Western Line

The more I learn about Mumbai, the less I feel I know.

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7

Borivali National Park: Marvels of an urban jungle

Spread over 103 sq.km. Borivali National Park (also called, Sanjay Gandhi National Park) is the largest park in the world located within the city limits. Just to give a perspective, the Central Park in New York is 3.41 sq.km. There has been a lot said and written about Borivali National Park, but not enough. The park claims to have 2 million visitors annually which seems like a good number but its less than the number of visitors a 12000 sqft mall gets in Mumbai. While we love and hate many marvels of our city, lets not ignore one of the city’s biggest blessings. Come monsoons the joy doubles, the variegated flowers and hues of greens spread all over the park are so cheerful, you do not need to apply any #filters.

Kanheri-Caves-Mumbai-MorningsKanheri Caves, 6 km from the park entrance are one of the main attractions. It’s easy for you to access them and easy for them to enchant you. To begin with the caves were chiseled out of volcanic rock, as early as 1st century BC! The beautiful carvings of Buddha, Pali inscriptions, and the play of light and shadows make for spectacular pictures. The many small chambers called viharas used to be the cells for monks and the deeper chambers known as Chaityas were used for congregational worship.  I like to visualise the life when the monks were still living in caves, meditating, praying, carrying on their daily errands. (I once had lunch with three extremely friendly monks in Cambodia and after that Monks seem so ‘normal’ in the sense that I can imagine them carrying on errands, before that I couldn’t have). Two very impressive caves right in the beginning are, cave #3 an arcade of ornately carved columns and cave #11 an enormous dining hall. Yes, all the caves are conveniently numbered. Visiting each cave can get tedious and repetitive since most are viharas. 

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So after feeding your history craze, heading up through short flights of stairs is a good idea. There is a small water collection tank atop, that was cut into the rock of the hill. I would recommend spending a lot of time plonked near the edge of a rock, soaking in the greens and enjoying the most unreal, concrete free views of Mumbai.

Hiking trails such as Shilonda, Nagla trails or log hut trails can get one addicted to Borivali National Park. On a regular Sunday morning in the hustling bustling Mumbai, could you just chance upon a spotted deer four meters ahead of you? Both you and the deer freeze momentarily and before you reach for your camera it disappears into the thicket. This happens often on such fairly secluded trails. A very small part of the national park is open for public, one can access the restricted areas with with official permission on the condition that you take a forest guard along. One should generally obtain a permit a couple of days in advance at the entry gate. Sometimes you get lucky though, three of us had not planned ahead and one of us was on his last day in Mumbai before he flew back to the US. Continue reading

10

There’s a jungle out there

My fascination with forests began with the adventures of man-cub Mowgli and Baloo, the bear from The Jungle book. I did not read the book till 3 years back, but the television show was my only incentive to wake up on Sunday mornings. Once upon a time.
Most of us, eighties-Indian-kids will still be able to sing along this intro song and will always remember Mowgli more fondly than any Tarzan boy.

Soon-after The secret forest, The enchanted wood, The magic faraway tree and all the escapades that brewed atop a treehouse followed. Enid Blyton fed my fascination and how! The Famous Five, helped me discover the joys of bicycle trips, picnics, lemonade, tiny cottages, camping in the countryside and many more adventures. The backdrop of their lives was so far away from my reality, but their enthusiasm and joys of outdoors is what I identified with. 

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It was only when I was 20 that I first visited a real forest, the Kanha National Park. I still remember, when our jeep crossed the gates at 6:15 am, the air smelt so green. At first, I was struck by the sky-scrapping trees form green castes and feisty squirrels searching for food under wispy moss. Eventually, after observing bird calls and paw marks, identifying the different deers and wild dogs and after listening to anecdotes from a forthcoming guide, I realised that it is indeed a jungle out there. A war scene, each day is a battle to hold territory, feed and protect families and everyday they combat to not become the feed.
But I did not have to imagine anymore, the next day a tenacious tigress successfully attacked a large bison. I was taken to witness the scene on an elephant back, as the spot was not accessible by a jeep. And there I saw a beautiful, ferocious mother panting under the shade of a tree while three young cubs enjoyed nibbling their meal.

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Clichéd but true, I visited South Africa and instantly fell in love with wild animals. It was Madagascar come alive! Monochromatic zebras, graceful giraffes, lazy ostrich, adorable lemurs (King Julien), friendly penguins, stubborn rhinos, the majestic lions, swift deers, handsome leopards. I will run out of adjective before I run out of the number of the amazing wildlings I encountered.
But the one experience that will stay vividly in my memory forever was at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve near Durban. I was silently jumping on my seat when I saw a herd of elephants of various sizes crossing the road right behind us! We must have been there for a good 5 mins, when the head of the family, the largest elephant who was leading them began to feel uncomfortable with our proximity to her family. 

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She started walking towards us. More thrilled then scared, we moved a little and parked ahead. A minute later, she approached us again, we moved slightly and as she stopped, we stopped. She played this game with us a couple of more times, and ultimately she was like, okay you’ve had your share of fun. She approached us aggressively enough to scare us into speeding the car, she stopped only when her family was out of our slight and then stood authoritatively in the middle of the road.

After these memorable wild encounters that I am so very proud of, hiking in Malibu Creeek State Park in Los Angeles was a pleasant surprise. A bright sunny day was spent swimming in a pond and having homemade sandwiches sitting on tree. I had not known National Parks to be safe places to enjoy hiking, climbing, swimming, picnicking, barbecuing, camping in manicured wilderness. In all but one Indian National Parks, visitors are not allowed to set foot on ground.

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By then, I had not discovered Borivali National Park (Sanjay Gandhi National Park) sitting within the city limits of Mumbai. Surprisingly in my first two years in Mumbai nobody ever brought it up. Why did it never come up in the weekend-getaway planning? Why when Mumbaikars are constantly looking at ways to escape the hustle-bustle? When an entire day here costs less money than a fancy cocktail. When every person in a relationship with another person or their work is always craving some me-time. When thousands of city-dwellers are so badly “looking for peace” that they pay institutes and gurus more fee than they can afford. When most of us are always complaining about lack of time and money to pursue travel and adventure.
Have we explored our backyard yet?
Coming up next, my chronicles at Borivali National Park.

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Related: Sewri: the pink nomads | Bandstand: Bollywood dreams | Juhu beach: Morning person

14

Mumbai beats the heat in isshtyle

Sweating wakes people up before their alarm ticks in summer mornings. Doesn’t matter which soap you use or which powder you empty on your melting body, you don’t get transported to a waterfall or showered with ice cubes unlike the advertisements show. C’est la vie! Here is how an average Mumbaikar takes on summer mornings

Step one: Step out – The umbrella make a style statement

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Step two: Before jumping on a local train – Hydrate

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Step three: After surviving the commute – take a victory shower

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Step four: Block the office air con – feel like you’re reborn

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Step five: Break for chai-sutta – whine about the heat
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11

Juhu beach is a morning person

Juhu beach is probably the most famous beach of Mumbai. Infamous for many accusations such as being a filthy dumpyard or worse. Accusations don’t not perturb him though, the greying has come from a lot of experience. He has seen many love stories start and end. He has lived more Ganesh Visarjans than anyone can claim. He has amazed wandering tourists and locals. He has enjoyed monkey dances and cotton candies. He has supported passionate games of beach cricket and football. He has fed  infinite pigeons. He has embraced swimming floats, fishing boats and a gigantic ship! He has smiled for glorious photographs and accepted ridiculing headlines.

Juhu beach must be my most frequented place in the city and our love does not fade.

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But i agree, at 7pm of any evening it is indeed difficult to walk on the beach without stepping on litter. Catch-up with Juhu beach when he is at his best – at the break of dawn! You may spot one of these 100 relentless workers who start their work of cleaning OUR mess at 6am every morning.

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A clean, glistening, cheerful Juhu beach welcomes the suburban morning walkers. If the sun dancing on the waves does not light up your face, the freshest breeze in Mumbai will. A good run, an easy stroll , some yoga stretches, people-watching, a frisbee catch, the fresh nariyal pani (coconut water), an adorable dog, an even adorable oldie – one of these or all of them will make your smile from inside 🙂 Continue reading

4

Demythifying morning people

Unfortunately, morning people are not only endangered they are the rare going-to-be-extinct-species whom everyone abhors (think about how many organisations are protecting the other endangered species of the world!). There are no striking statistics or passionate speeches I can share to change our reputation. But believe me, we are nice harmless human beings who love their coffee, a big breakfast and are NOT chirpy early morning (the definition of early morning being subjective :P)

So, I just tried a meme (my first) to highlight what morning people definitely are not!

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Good morning! *yawn*

 

 

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5

Getting shit done in the morning

I mean literally. Getting shit done in the morning is a challenge for almost half the population of India. You thought you had the worst life?

After you watch this superbly crafted video on the morning story of many Mumbaikars, you may stop complaining about your morning.

Of the estimated billion people who defecate in the open, more than half reside in India. The woefully insufficient progress in sanitation makes India an outlier even among developing countries. And at the current rate of progress India will only achieve the sanitation target (sanitation Millennium Development Goal) in 2054.

Under these circumstances, United Nations Children’s Fund’ launched an unexpected Poo2Loo campaign led by Mr Poo, a turd (yes, literally again). Campaign page: https://www.poo2loo.com In a silly, surreal video Mr Poo chases a man down until the community constructs a giant bright, giant toilet to flush public defecation. The punny campaign has a mobile games called ‘toilet trek’ and many other such weird games are being played in city malls. The campaign may get social media success by getting half a million online pledges and somewhat making a taboo subject accessible. However, there is no evidence of it having made much of a real difference so far. I do doubt the efficacy of such an initiative. I want to be wrong.

And for all those thinking nastily about the ill-mannered people who do defecate in public, given a choice they too would like to to do it with dignity. No?