Mumbaikars have a love-hate relationship with the Arabian Sea. There are times, driving past Marine Drive and Juhu Chowpatty or over the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, when they wish it was 10 shades bluer. The monsoon brings out its fury. After the terrorist attacks of 2008, it is seen as one of the most porous and unsafe coastlines.
But the sea is also a gift. Although proven to be the most polluted coastline in India, it maintains the city’s ecological balance—and it is still a tourist attraction for the thousands who visit the city every day. This, despite the failure of successive state governments to either restore or preserve it.
We asked Naresh Fernandes, editor, Time Out, Mumbai, who has researched and written extensively on Mumbai, to recommend five spots from where to enjoy the sea—five places you must experience if you live here or are visiting.
More than half-a-million people are estimated to have filled the streets of Dadar to pay their respects to Babasaheb Ambedkar as his body was carried in a flower-filled truck to the crematorium opposite Shivaji Park on 7 December 1956, the day after he died. In 1968, a stupa was built on the spot where Ambedkar had been cremated. The spot offers a serene view of the Arabian Sea, now punctuated by the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. The best time to visit the Chaityabhoomi is on 6 December, when tens of thousands of Dalits converge to pay tribute to Ambedkar. The enormous queues may be daunting but it’s worth the effort just to see the determination in their eyes.
This 375,000 sq. ft sprawl of lawns and walkways sits on top of the Bhandarwada Hill reservoir and offers a spectacular view of the eastern waterfront and the bay beyond. It’s named after Joseph Baptista, a barrister with a wonderfully pointed moustache who was a member of the Home Rule League. Kaka (uncle) Baptista was also one of the founders of the All India Trade Union Congress in 1920. The garden is perched right above Dockyard Road station and is within easy walking distance of the ancient village of Matharpakhady, where Baptista was born. To the east is Mumbai’s only Chinese temple.
Many people know Rangsharda on Bandra Reclamation because of the auditorium on the ground floor, which is the venue for events as varied as Konkani theatre and Bharatiya Janata Party meetings. But its best feature is probably Captain’s Bar—Westerlies, which stretches over the terrace on the third floor. It has great views of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and despite its proximity to the highway, you can barely hear the traffic. The kebabs are pretty good too.
Until recently, visiting the Sewri Fort was like walking into a peppermint factory. The Colgate factory is almost next door, and, until it stopped production a few months ago, the whole area was enveloped in the smell of toothpaste. In the cooler months, the fort—which underwent shoddy restoration a few months ago—is a great place to watch the flocks of flamingos that winter in the bay. The bastion was one of several fortifications built along the coast in the late 17th century. But as it turns out, it wasn’t an effective defence. On Valentine’s Day in 1689, Sidi Yakut of Janjira captured the bastion and then proceeded to take charge of the whole island. He ruled the city for 18 months before sailing home.
The sea-facing Vasai Fort, a 90-minute ride in a fast train from Churchgate, was ceded by Gujarat’s Bahadur Shah to the Portuguese in December 1534, and developed into an enormous complex of grand churches, monasteries and opulent residences of merchants and the fidalgos, or noblemen, who lived there. Though the mighty sea wall and the bastions still stand intact, most of the churches and palaces lie in ruins, many of them hidden behind giant, shimmering spiders’ webs. It’s a magical place to get lost in for a day.
Photographs by Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint