Monsoon in Mumbai

Indian continent experiences a number of weathers. Even there are vast differences in the weather along the length and breadth of India. Unlike Europe, the weather changes are rapid and during the year one can experience biting cold and searing heat at one place. This is particularly true in the Northern plains.

The weather along the sea coast remains humid and moderate. During summers, the humidity and heat becomes unbearable.  In Bombay, everyone prays the rain gods for being benign and lash the city with rains to cool the heat and bring succor to people, animals and trees. The hot summer months climax to monsoons in the end of June.  First place which comes to mind is the otherwise serene Marine Drive. marinedrive

It is the favorite of tourists all round the year particularly in the evening with lights like necklace in the Malabar hill. It is beset by the sound and fury of a monsoon high tide. Tides beat against tetrapods and embankment in beautiful patterns. Then there is picturesque Gateway of India looking hazy in the mist of water and boats standing near the Gateway with rain beating the sea water.

gateway

If you are an outsider, then you will be intimidated by the rains and rains can harass. The rains usually are accompanied by strong winds which throw your umbrella heltor skeltor. If you happen to be at a railway station, you will see the sea of umbrellas jostling each other. Clothes are drenched with water.

Worli Seaface faces straight across the Arabian Sea, with no land between it and Oman. Rows of bungalows and expensive apartments overlook the sea. In the late afternoons, this is a place for daydreamers. The sun is coming down and the day looks as if it is just beginning, as people take their evening walks and rendezvous with friends. There are amusement rides for children, streetside eateries for teenagers, and benches for seniors. During the monsoon the most coveted seat is the one right next to the statue of the Common Man the creation of famous cartoonist R K Laxman.

Haji Ali is the popular dargah constructed in memory of the Muslim saint Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. The dargah is connected to land by a narrow causeway. Even in the day, the path is submerged in the water during high tide. So in the rains, the journey becomes a project to be attempted with care.

hajiali

The Mumbai monsoon is an experience, but monsoon weather is often unpredictable. What begins as a mild rain may suddenly turn into a heavy downpour. Then it is no longer safe to be near the sea. The tide is strong enough to pull a person into the sea and away from the shore. During the worst weather, a hot, sweet cutting chai and crunchy, salty, home-made bhajias complete the monsoon experience. They are best enjoyed in one’s own home.

During last few years, however, due to building activities, the drainage system has come under a severe pressure. There is flooding, water logging and train disruptions due to submerging of tracks. Life for poor becomes very difficult. With a large population living in the shanties along the train tracks, there are hardly any civic amenities. In fact, during 2005 monsoons, flooded the city, paralyzing it and warning the greedy builders to stop poaching the natural networks of sea drainage.

mumbai_deluge

We were living in a place called Panvel when the 2005 flood strike the Mumbai and Panvel. Panvel is on the way to Pune and Goa from Mumbai. It is in the Konkan region and every year experiences strong rains. Near by Panvel is a dam which overflowed and its gates were opened causing a flash flood in Panvel and near by areas. We are witness to the harrowing experience people underwent. The experience is described in Floods in Panvel.

Janjira Island Fort

Murud is a beach 165 kilometers away from Mumbai. You go to Alibaugh which is also a beach town situated on the Arabian Sea and is halfway between Mumbai and Murud. The scenery of Konkan region is breathtaking after you leave the Alibaug for Murud. There are coconut palm and areca groves on the way. Sea is everywhere blue and green. Road runs parallel to sea coast. There are small hillocks on the way. On holidays lots of people visit the beaches here. There are boats available which takes you to the fort. One has to be very careful though while alighting at the landing because the boat rocks with waves and stairs are slippery.

murud-janjira-2428_m Janjira-Fort_12561 Janjira_Fort_bastions Janjira

From the beach, lapped by the waves is the fort called Janjira fort. It is situated on a rock of oval shape. Janjira is one of the strongest marine forts of India. The name is derived from Arabic word Zazira which means island. It is most strategically situated fort. The fort is approached by sailboats from Rajapuri jetty.  The main gate of the fort faces Rajapuri on the shore and can be seen only when one is quite close to it.  It has a small postern gate towards the open sea for escape.  The fort has 19 rounded bastions, still intact. There are many canons of native and European make rusting on the bastions.

Presently the fort is in very bad state, all in the ruins. But in its heyday had all necessary facilities, e.g., palaces, quarters for officers, mosque. It was built by Siddis, who came to India from Africa and served many rulers here. They are master sea people. They rose to power by dint of hard work. The fort’s residents were Siddis, Marathi, Koli  and people of many other communities. Siddis were very generous towards their populace.

Although it is surrounded from all sides by the briny sea, there was a big fresh water tank which provided the residents with fresh drinking water.

Originally the fort was small wooden structure built by a Koli chief in the late 15th century. It was captured by Pir Khan, a general of Nizamshah of Ahmednagar.  Later the fort was strengthened by Malik Ambar, the Abyssinian Siddi regent of Ahmednagar kings.  From then onward Siddis became independent, owing allegiance to Adilshah and the Mughals as dictated by the times.  Despite their repeated attempts, the Portuguese, the British and the Marathas failed to subdue the Siddi power.  Shivaji’s all attempts to capture Janjira fort failed due to one reason or the other.  When Sambhaji also failed, he built another island fort, known as Kansa or Padmadurg, just 9kms north of Janjira.  The Janjira state came to an end after 1947.  The palace of the Nawabs of Janjira at Murud is still in good shape.

Some more memories of Ratnagiri

Although now I have gone far away from Panvel from where Ratnagiri was not far, the memories never die. Many times I have been to Goa where my son was studying, Ratnagiri was on the way and train halted there for sufficient time. I read about the city and particularly about the King of Burma Thibaw Minh who was confined to this place by the British after he lost the to battle to them and Burma was annexed to British empire. I don’t know how they thought to bring him and his family at such a distance away from his home. He was not old and his whole life was spent in Ratnagiri in a palace called Thibaw Palace. He was very much respected by the local people. Since his palace is located at a lofty place, he would sit with his binoculars and watch the Arabian sea and boats coming and going to the various landings. Area being the coastal, the main occupation of people was and is fishing. They waited for the fishing boats coming home. The king would announce the arrival of the boats as he was able to spot them through his binocular and people would then make for the landings.

English: Thibaw Palace, Residence of Burmese K...
English: Thibaw Palace, Residence of Burmese King exiled in Ratnagiri (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also it was the habit of the King to visit the Bhagwati temple which was located on another hill. Only for this activity he went out. All this information excited me to visit the place and see for myself. So once we decided to visit the place while returning from Goa. This has been described in another entry. From here we went to see the Ganapati Pule which is religious place as well as a beautiful beach. In fact whole area possesses breathtaking beauty. There is blue Arabian sea and coconut groves. There are cashew trees growing in the wild and the world famous Alphonso mango tree orchards. Here are some beautiful pictures.

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English: Alphonso mango tree in a dense cultiv...
English: Alphonso mango tree in a dense cultivation orchard at Kotawade, Ratnagiri distirict, Maharashtra state, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Visit to Kashid Beach

The coast of India adjoining the Arabian Sea looks on the maps like a moth eaten book page. All along the coast are numerous beaches. The region possess extraordinary physical beauty. There are small hills with very beautiful summits of varied shapes. Some look like a plateau while others like the sharp dagger like cliffs. Around Mumbai there are many good beaches. Farther you go away from the metropolis, the better are beaches.

One such beach is Kashid beach which is 110 kilometers away from Panvel, 160 kilometers from Mumbai and 35 kilometers from Alibaug which itself has many beaches around it. On the way are beautiful rivers, woods and idyllic life. There are coconut and betel-nut palms. Bamboo also grows all around. Other bushes and trees, the names of which I am ignorant about grow all around.

We visited the beach. There were so many visitors. On the beach sand is very clean and white. The waves were gentle and sun shimmered on the waters and water looked like  mercury. At other places where waves were absent, the water was beautiful green. There were horse rides as well horse drawn carts for joy rides. There were joy boats.

We took some pictures and these are shown here.

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Goa and Ratnagiri

If you go to Goa from Mumbai,  you have to cross Ratnagiri. It is big historical town located on the coast of Arabian sea. The area still is not polluted because there are few industries. The area which is full of craggy hills and beautiful beaches is an treat to eyes. Arabian sea on the west coast of India is adjoined by the hilly area which is full of forests and rare birds and animals. At a distance of 25 kilometers from Ratnagiri is a place called Ganapatipule which has a historic Ganesha temple. There is a beautiful beach in front of the temple.

Beach with its blue waters is a favorite place for tourists. In the evenings, there is great crowd of bathers who also witness the setting Sun and watch the coppery Sun diving into the sea. The road from Ratnagiri to Ganapatipule crosses hills and winds like a snake. There are trees of Kaju (cashew nuts) growing in abundance. Coconuts trees adorn the coast. Most of the people in the area are fisher folks. The sea when you look from the lofty heights looks like a heavenly place.

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Ganapatipule & Ratnagiri

Ratnagiri as everyone who loves mangoes knows is famous for fabled Alfonso mangoes.It is the coastal district of Maharashtra in India. At the time of our recent visit in January, the trees were in full bloom and the fruits will be ready by March end and April. The tree though does not give any impression that it yields such delicious fruits, it seems very modest.There are hundreds of varieties of the mango on India. This mango is not the original inhabitant of India. It was brought here by Goa’s Portuguese governor .

The Alphonso Mango is named after Afonso de Albuquerque. This was an exquisite and expensive variety of mango, that he used to bring on his journeys to Goa. The locals took to calling it Aphoos in Konkani and in Maharashtra the pronunciation got further transformed to Hapoos. This variety then was taken to the Konkan region of Maharashtra and other parts of India.

Ratnagiri has beautiful sea coast dotted with rich coconut trees, mangoes and cashew nut. Fishing is the main occupation of people here. When you enter the city from jetty side, the streets reek of fish smell. The fish is spread over large area for drying. You can see the big storage houses for the fish with special trucks standing outside them for taking the fish to ports for export.

In Ratnagiri, we went to see the Ratangarh fort which is built atop a hill and very tortuous road leads up to the entrance of the fort. There is temple inside the fort. It is called Bhagwati temple. Outside the temple gate is a bust of the great sea commander Kanoji Angre who ruled the Indian ocean and the British were so frustrated by him that they labeled him a pirate. The people in the coastal Maharashtra think otherwise and he is held in great esteem. From the ramparts of the fort, one could see the blue Arabian sea sprawled over a vast area and there is a jetty in which small ships were being loaded with cement. This is the same temple where the exiles Burmese king Thibaw Minh used to come and pray with his family.

From there, we went to visit the Thebaw palace where the exiled king was confined by the British along with his wife and daughters. My interest to see the place had arisen after reading the “Glass Palace” novel written by Amitava Ghosh. The story of the king occupies many chapters in this book. That how the British had their eyes on the vast teak forests and crude oil in the Burma and when they failed to convince the king into agreeing for the exploitation, on some pretext or the other defeated the king and arrested him and his family. That how they were shipped to Madras and then finally to Ratnagiri, thousands of miles away from their country.

The palace is now a museum containing art pieces from around the Ratnagiri and other districts of Maharashtra. There is only one room in the first floor building where king’s effects like his bed, a few photographs, and few other objects are kept. The area around the building is now completely filled with houses. In the novel, the time period  is is way back in the past, the area around was vacant and the king used to sit in the first floor verandah and watch the Arabian sea with binoculars. The people of the area respected the gentle king very much and depended on him for the information about the arrival of fishing boats into the jetty. He was also the first to announce the arrival of monsoons in the area with the clouds coming from the sea. I felt that people does not give this place much thought. May be it is not on their visit schedule. In fact, there is not much to see in the city. Surroundings are most beautiful.

Ganapatipule is famous for beach and Ganesh temple. From Ratnagiri the place is about 25 kilometers from Ratnagiri and most of the time the road runs along side the sea coast and there are troughs and peaks all along the way. From my experience, it seems to be an odd combination because two mutually diverse activities are juxtaposed. I saw the liquor shop just outside the temple. Most people from cities like Bombay and Pune come here for enjoyment and to unwind. Temple visit is a bonus. The beach is very beautiful although sand is deceptive because it slips from under your feet. The MTDC cottages are just adjacent and rooms are good. Food though is just average. There is nothing else to see. It is a beautiful sight at the sunset when the sun becomes a progressively reddish colored disk and slowly and slowly it is going down and down to sink in the Arabian sea.

Here are some pictures of breathtaking beauty of the place.

Bombay Duck is not a duck!!

Guess what is Bombay duck?  Any normal person will think that it must be a duck living in the water bodies around Bombay. There is a surprise.

In fact Bombay duck or Bummalo is a fish belonging to lizardfish family. In the areas around Mumbai and Konkan, this fish is found in plenty in the Arabian sea and savored by the population.

The fish is often dried and salted before it is consumed. Generally it is consumed in the fried and curry forms. After drying, the odour of the fish is extremely powerful, and it must consequently be transported in air-tight containers.

Origin of its name as Bombay duck is not certain. Actually, according to one story, the fish was transported in the Bombay Dak train. Dak here means Bombay Mail. Its odour is so strong that Britishers began calling it Bombay Dak which became spoiled to Bombay Duck.

Drying on a wire
Drying on a wire

According to local Bangladeshi stories, the term Bombay duck called “Shootkie” by Bangladeshis was first coined by Robert Clive, after tasting a piece during his conquest of Bengal, it is told that he referenced the pungent smell to that of the news papers and mail which would come in to the cantonments from Bombay. The term was later popularized amongst the British public by its appearance in Indian restaurants (which are in fact, mostly Bangladeshi owned) across the country.

Despite the rather unpleasant odour of the fish, it is often considered to be a delicacy by connoisseurs of Indian cuisine. If freshly caught, it is sometimes eaten fried in a batter; and in its dried form, it is commonly eaten in a curry. It is also prepared as a pickle. The bones of the fish are soft and easily chewable.

Packed
Packed

Its body bones are very fragile and break on slight twist. So, special care is taken while preparing the dish.

Though the fish is mostly caught in Arabian Sea, small quantities are caught in Bay of Bengal. In Bengal it is called bamaloh or loita. In Gujarati it is called bumla & in Marathi it is called Bombil.

Once I was attending training on sea safety at Coast Guards office situated near Mallet Ferry Wharf in Bombay (near Docks). Extensive fish catch in trawlers is unloaded here and distributed to Bombay. There I saw boats upon boats on which this fish was drying on the lines. It seemed that buntings are waving on the boats. I also saw how the baskets of fish were tossed from boats and caught up by the men on the wharf platform. This job was so much perfected by the fishermen. There were quintessential fisherwomen with massive backs and one end of saris tucking between them. For two or three days whenever there was a break from training I used to visit the wharf. There was a great hustle and bustle there which subsided only in the noon. There were fishes lying on the bridge road to wharf. Urchins wandering there were collecting them and I can safely say they had bags full of them.

Dry Preparation
Dry Preparation

On the other end of the wharf, there is ferry station which is called “Bhaucha Dhakka”. From this station you can catch a ferry to go to Ali Baug, Uran etc.

Below are two pictures of Ferry wharf.

Boats with Catch
Boats with Catch
Passengers at Ferry Station
Passengers at Ferry Station