Mumbai is the cultural capital of India. A melting pot of cultures and languages, Mumbai is home to people not just from different states of India but also from various countries around the world. But, amidst all the hustle and bustle of this never-sleeping, and ever-growing city, it often happens that the native culture and communities of Mumbai are silently tucked away. The small native villages are locally known as ‘gaothans’ and ‘koliwadas’. They are home to the East-Indians and Kolis. The name East Indian has no geographical implications but links this community to the British East India Company that ruled over colonial India. Kolis are to the native fishing community of Mumbai. A walk along the narrow lanes of these neighborhoods will transport you back to colonial India. Both, the architecture and food of these areas are unique. Even though you can see the heavy influences of colonial taste, you cannot miss their native identity. The houses are picturesque and the food is packed with strong flavors. Below is the list of a few such neighborhoods that stand representative of the native culture and community of Mumbai city. It will be difficult to cover all of the neighborhoods described below in a day. So depending on how much time you have, you can choose either one or two of these areas to experience what it must have been like to live in this major Indian city before it became the sprawling metropolis that you see today.
Khotachiwadi & Matharpacady
Colonial Houses of Khotachiwadi Image Credit: urbzoo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0
It is believed that the native communities in these areas settled here centuries ago. Some records date back to the 17th century. Khotachiwadi is located in the Girgaum area of Mumbai City District. The narrow lanes of this neighborhood offer a peek into the city of yesteryears. You could stroll around the area on your own taking in all the gaothan
air or you can sign-up for a Heritage walk. You can check out designer James Ferreira’s house which showcases artifacts for this native culture. Matharpacady is another such area that is located close to Khotachiwadi in the Mazagaon area.
How to get there:
Nearest Railway station – Charni Road on the Western Line of Mumbai Railway From Charni Road, Khotachiwadi is about 10 minutes away, so you can either take a cab/taxi or walk the distance. Landmark: Theresa Church in Girgaum
Bandra-Worli Sealink as seen from Worli Fort Image Credit: Rudolph.A.furtado / Wikimedia Commons / CC-SA-1.0
Worli is one of the original seven islands that form Mumbai. As the name suggests Worli koliwada
is home to the native fishing community of Kolis. Walking through the crowded lanes of the koliwada you can witness first-hand the culture of coastal Mumbai. At the edge of the koliwada
stands the Worli fort. Built by the British in 1675, this fort offers a taste of the past and future of the city. Standing here you can see the community which is part of the roots of Mumbai and at the same time, you can see the rising Mumbai skyline. The fort offers stunning views of the Mumbai sea-face and Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Worli koliwada
is dotted with a bustling market and numerous stalls selling food items that are local favorites. The must-haves include fish fry and rice hand-breads called roti. Stalls also sell Mumbai residents’ go-to snacks such as chaat, wada pav, and samosa.
Seafood at Worli Kolidwada Image Credit: Rudolph.A.Furtado / Wikimedia Commons / CC-SA-1.0
How to get there
Nearest Railway station – Dadar on the Western Line of Mumbai Railway From Dadar, you can take a cab/taxi or a local bus to Worli Koliwada Worli is conveniently located and easily accessible by road from major railway stations, Mumbai Airport, and tourist hotspots around the city via cabs/taxis.
Bandra is one of the go-to destinations for locals and tourists for shopping and eating out. But, not many wander beyond the main roads that are lined with shops and restaurants. Hidden in the quiet back lanes are numerous small neighborhoods dating back to Colonial India. These include Chimbai, Chuim, Pali, and Ranwar. Once you walk past the modern apartment buildings and enter these areas you will be charmed by the Portuguese styled villas reminding you of colonial India. Ranwar itself is about 400 years old. The streets of Ranwar are marked with plague crosses from the Bombay Epidemic of the late 19th century. Another special thing about Ranwar is the art on the walls of these heritage houses that is a part of the Celebrate Bandra Art Festival and Bollywood Art Project.
How to get there
Nearest Railway station: Bandra on the Western Line of Mumbai Railway You can either walk from Bandra station towards Hill Road or take a private cab/taxi or an auto-rickshaw. From Hill Road make your way down Chapel Road. Hill Road, Bandra is easily accessible by road from other major areas, Mumbai Airport, and tourist hotspots around the city. Landmark: St. Peter’s Church.
East-Indian Museum, Manori
Located in the northern suburbs, Manori looks and feels like the countryside of the bustling Mumbai city. But what makes it more special is that the only East-Indian Museum is located here. The East-Indian Museum exhibits the cultural artifacts of this community. Run by the community itself, it is located inside Theresa Villa which is one of the heritage properties in this area. You can explore the surrounding neighborhood and watch the sunset at Manori beach relishing the local snacks.
How to get there:
Nearest railway station: Malad on the Western Line of Mumbai Railway. From Malad (West) you can take an auto-rickshaw or bus to Madh/Marve. From there you need to take a ferry to the Manori Jetty. Malad is well connected by road from other major areas, Mumbai Airport, and tourist hotspots around the city. These neighborhoods are slowing fading giving way to urbanization. Heritage walks are conducted in some of these neighborhoods with an attempt to bring to familiarize the residents and tourists with the historical culture and traditions of these areas. Rafique Baghdadi is one such enthusiast who leads walks in south Mumbai. You can contact him on 9967808108 or [email protected]
Vibrant houses of Khotachiwadi Image Credit: Thebrowniris / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0
These hidden gems should definitely be on top of the list of things to do in Mumbai, India. They are off-beat, take you away from the over-crowded tourist attractions, and help you breathe in the history and culture of this beautiful Indian city.