The Golden Glows
3 awesome places to be in Mumbai at sunset
– Guest Post By Sherpa Sachin Jain – Host to the Picturesque Bandra Heritage Walk
North-South is a perfect orientation for an island city to have, sunset-wise. So it is no surprise that the Greater Mumbai metropolitan area offers an interesting mix of westward-facing beaches, promenades, forts and jetties to see Surya say his eveningly Tata OK Bye to this heaving and steaming 440-square-kilometer megalopolis. Sunset and not sunrise in particular because the city’s Eastern seaboard, home to its Naval docks since the days of the East India Company, are inaccessible to the common man. Even Bombay Castle, that fateful first edifice, lurks somewhere behind the Asiatic Central library, frustratingly out of bounds. However, opportunities to contemplate the sunrise over the Thane creek that separates Mumbai from mainland India, are present: the Wall by the Gateway of India, the flamingo-famous Sewri mudflats and the fish-basket cacophony of Sassoon Dock are three examples. Nevertheless, this piece focusses on the sunset also because of Bombay’s moniker as a city that never sleeps. She slips into her silky kimono just as the hitherto oppressive ball of fire lowers itself tranquilly into the saffron squiggles of the Arabian sea. Note that I have excluded some spectacular hotel rooftop bars that afford splendid vistas of the city and the sunset, in order to restrict the trio of locations to public spaces where anyone could go.
What does make a sunset spectacular? The actual view of the sunset, the vantage point from which it is seen, and the potential to catch the phenomenon down to the moment the last bit of remaining arc descends below the horizon – the latter may preclude non-seaboard locales like Borivali National Park and Powai Lake, which, though exquisite at this hour, seldom proffer an unobscured view from ground level. The architecture that frames the phenomenon brings character and spontaneity: glass and chrome facades ablaze in angular rays caught at a particular moment and angle; silhouettes of skyscrapers or iconic structures; glimpses of golden rays filtered through mangroves, the huge orange bindi crossed by a beautiful V-shaped flock of birds on their way home, an aeroplane approaching in the distance. The ambience: the sounds, the people who inhabit that place at that hour, the mood the particular concatenation of sound, smell and sight evokes, creates a poignant je ne sais quoi – somewhere in that border world between light and dark, between night and day, amid the kitsch bedding and Polaroid ramblings: we take a pause to contemplate this eternal ritual, reminding us of our significance (or insignificance) as human beings, the universality of our rhythms and cycles despite our (17 million-strong) protestations of Mumbaikar individuality, and the ephemeral nature of beauty itself.
Keeping in mind these factors, I have chosen three diverse locales. Some (maybe silly) advice: before embarking on a sunset odyssey, search for “Mumbai sunset time” on the internet, and plan to show up at your locale 30 minutes ahead of that time, in order to have a leisurely stroll, take in the mahaul and find yourself a great spot to contemplate cross-legged on a parapet. Never underestimate how long it takes to get around in Mumbai, so better early than twilit! An interesting tidbit: if the sun sets at 6:48pm in Mumbai, it had set at 5:24pm in Itanagar, capital of India’s easternmost province, Arunachal Pradesh. Trivia-dharma fulfilled, let’s now bring out the medals podium:
#3 Gorai jetty
Getting there and away: From Borivali train station (West side), BEST bus 294 or 247for (3.8km distance, Rs. 12) to Gorai ‘khāḍi’ (15min).
No fancy benches or promenades here; what you have is a slippery tide-soaked jetty poking into the dark tidal zone. Cries of home-bound birds, desultory conversations of fisherfolk returning with their catch, and the spluttering engines of tyre-bound local ferries plying across the Gorai creek (called khāḍi in Marathi) are the only sounds you’ll hear. The rickety yet hardy boats release rainbow-swirls of oil onto the placid waters and puffs of adulterated kerosene fumes into the air. Look around: power transmission line towers stand dutifully in the middle of the creek, gingerly wading like giant memsahibs daintily stranded in a twice-daily monsoonal flash-flood. Look closely around your feet at the mudflats and concrete, absolutely teeming with crabs and the minutest of ocean fauna, scurrying in and out of millions of tiny holes drilled at a uniform distance. Around you, the mangroves darken, and the trilling crickets get progressively conspiratorial. But the pièce de resistance is the Vipassana Global Pagoda up ahead in the distance across the creek. Rising majestically, shining golden, then in silhouette against the setting sun. You may be lucky and capture its spire actually bisecting the sun’s sphere at the correct angle of descent. Consider taking the ferry, then following the signs to the pagoda, and enjoying the sunset from there as well.
#2 Bandra Fort & Bandstand
Getting there and away: From Bandra train station (West side), take BEST bus 211 down Hill Road to the last stop Land’s End, 20 minutes, Rs. 12)
Clamber atop the Bandra Fort. To your left, the curvy, sleek Bandra-Worli sea-link, completed in the year 2010, with cars starting to turn on their headlights as they purr by. In the rains, the belligerent tides crash against the bridge’s pylons, in a seasonal game of dare. Around you, the ruins of the ramparts of Castilla de Aguada, the Portuguese-built fort from 1505, heralding the beginning of the European history of Bombay. Shining on this incongruous juxtaposition across 505 years: the sun, melting into the sea Arabian sea, tiny ships on the horizon barely visible, a temporary oil rig of Bombay High somewhere in the distance. Hold onto the fort ramparts, and crane your neck (with deference to the unambiguous “Danger, do not jump” sign on the wall), to see fisherfolk mending nets down below, the black rocks awash in the golden glow. Catch the foliage-filtered spectacle of sunset atop this Forte de Bandora, discreetly gliding past privacy-starved lovers (now dissuaded by terse signs mandating ‘decent behavior’). Stop to smell the fragrant lotuses in the well-maintained ponds, and take any of the labyrinth of stone steps past the Jaane tu ya jaane na stone amphitheater. Saunter down to Bandstand, and face the gawker’s eternal quandary: Shahrukh /Rekha / Salman’s house or ‘o pôr do sol’? Keep toodling down Bandstand, immortalized in countless Hindi film songs right from Kisi Ki Muskurahaton (Anari, 1959) and chomp on a butta (charcoal-roasted, lemon and chilly-spiced ear of corn). Befriend one of the collared, eternally tranquil canines resting on the staggered, curving benches, and get sentimental listening to strains of Kenny G playing from a grilled-up jukebox installed on the promenade by enterprising local residents. Metal sculptures of Raj Kapoor, and a half-hearted Star & Handprints Walk of Fame didn’t have the same luck – they’ve been removed. Finish your walk at another gem of Picturesque Bandra, St. Andrew’s Church, celebrating its 400th year and vying with the Taj Mahal for pre-eminence in antiquity.
#1 Nariman Point & Marine Drive
Getting there and away: From Churchgate train station (West side), walk 100m(3min) to Marine Drive, then turn left for the 1km seaside walk (15min) to NCPA, Nariman Point.
Art deco buildings sweep along the Queen’s necklace in an arc, the shimmering streetlights gracefully curve to either side. Cars race between traffic lights on Marine Drive, eager to make it back home before rush hour truly (ha!) begins. Look around you: Fitbit-toting locals counting strides, kitted-out expats striding purposefully with Sennheiser headphones, tourists from every Indian province in gorgeous colourful garb chatting excitedly, an office-goer staring at the ocean, catching a breather between the schizophrenia of the day’s office politics and the upcoming drama at home, both familial and TV; lovers intoxicated on nothing more than the fresh cool breeze, unmindful of the lathi-toting immigrant watchman’s doleful, envious eye; selfie-obsessed college kids munching chana-jor-garam, imbibing chai (and surely, ecological bad karma) from styrofoam cups… Marine Drive is as much an anthropological expedition as it is a venue for a gorgeous the sunset. During the summers, the sun moves duly northward and sets behind the governor’s house on the protruding end of the claw-shaped Backbay Reclamation, giving the buildings an alluring silhouette; at other times it is visible till it goes down into the water. Lay on the katta (parapet) with your head on a towel, or simply dangle your feet down toward the tetrapods, as iconic as the art deco buildings themselves (but mind your cellphone!). Like indolent, post-prandial sea-lions reclining on the Pacific coasts, tetrapods, these 6,500 concrete bulwarks, made by the French ‘Laboratoire Dauphinois d’Hydraulique’ and imported in 1958, allow Mumbaikars to temporarily suspend their disbelief about how impossibly low-lying and ephemeral their expensive, reclaimed (un)real estate is. It’s poignant to remember that till a mere 4 centuries ago this was all sea, just water, almost 150 meters into the ocean from the Esplanade of Bombay Island of yore, from the British Fortress That Once Was, with all the land in between cleared out and guns pointed at potential seafaring invaders in the waters. Walk down to the end of the promenade, to NCPA apartments, where, the hapless horses driving the lit-up, plastic-flower-festooned Victoria buggies take a breather. At its very tip, symbolizing the unceasing quest for lucre and acquisition that define the city, the promenade too extends out a cement finger, pointing accusingly at the ocean, demanding from it more land. Look up at the pink streaks in the clouds, the neon-signs beginning to flicker on above the skyscrapers… and get ready to welcome the night.
Of course, with just 3 places on my list, I have left out at least a dozen other close contenders for the medal podium – and I can totally understand leaving out a few among them may be sacrilege to their fans: the pearl-like Haji Ali mosque and its low-tide submerged approach road, as seen from Hornby Vellard Road; the bracing, expansive (and expensive) Worli sea-face and the Bandra-Worli sea-link, playing on the setting sun like a harp; the serene, Buddhist-themed, stupa-adorned Chaityabhumi in Dadar West; the ever-popular, coconut-fronded, lip-smacking street-food-paradise of Juhu beach (or the less crowded but beautiful beaches of Versova, Manori, Madh, Marve and Gorai, all within the Greater Mumbai city limits); cutesie Jogger’s Park with its legions of circumambulating joggeratti; Carter Road with canoodling couples, homes of Bollywood legends, amphitheaters hosting B-Boppers to hula-hoopers, and surprisingly dense mangroves along the coast.
So what’s your favourite Mumbai sunset spot and why? Do share in the comments section!
Introducing Sherpa Sachin Jain, our very own Spanish conquistador and Sherpa extraordinaire (he speaks French, Hindi, and Marathi too!). Sherpa Sachin has wowed many a companion with his wit, charm, and serious knowledge (MA in Indian philosophy – no kidding) on the ins and outs of the maze that is Bandra. True to character, he conducts two slick experiences titled “La pintoresca Bandra“ (Picturesque Bandra for the rest of us) and ”Mumbai Magnifique” ( Even we know that means magnificent Mumbai).