While legends Sachin Tendulkar and Dilip Vengsarkar are set to play host to the royal couple at Oval Maidan, Banganga revamp speeds up so the ‘rani’ can walk the steps in heels
A major portion of restoration currently on to fix the steps that skirt the holy Banganga tank in Walkeshwar, dating back to 1792, may wrap up by Saturday to allow a woman to walk them effortlessly in heels.
Kate Middleton bats during the countdown to the 2015 World Cup at Latimer Square, in Christchurch, New Zealand, in April 2014. Pics/Getty Images
Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge — say the excited locals for whom the tank carries waters from the Ganga, according to legend — will not be inconvenienced when she visits the historic site on April 10 with husband Prince William.
Renovation work on at Banganga tank steps earlier this year
The royal couple’s Mumbai visit is part of a four-day India tour that includes a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra, and Assam’s Kaziranga National Park.
Kate and William at an event in the UK last year
The restoration, undertaken by the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Maharashtra, began this January, with black basalt stone arriving from Kolhapur to replace broken portions. While work was meant to wrap up by the end of summer, Will-Kat’s visit has sent the workforce in overdrive. Shantilal Thidke, supervisor on site, says, “The northern and southern steps will be ready by Friday since the craftsmen have been working tirelessly from 9 am to 6 pm every day. All the extra material and debris will be taken away before the royals arrive. We will resume restoration work after they’ve left.” The couple is expected to enter from the north side and exit from the south. Ramesh Mukteshwar, contractor, says at least one flight of stairs on the north and south sides have to be ready top to bottom.
Oval Trust member Nayana Kathpalia hopes the visit will put Oval Maidan on the global map. File pic
Resident Ujwala Pandit thinks the manic deadline is warranted, considering, “the Rani will wear high heels and the steps are steep.” She’s also concerned how William, usually seen on official visits in a suit, will brave the Mumbai summer. “Perhaps he should pick something less formal that day,” she suggests.
Often used for religious ceremonies, the waters of the tank are infamous for being not-so-sparkling, but Vasant Bhosle, one of the staffers in charge of sanitation here, says they haven’t received any special instruction to clean up. “We will do what we do every day. It’s nice that the two [Will-Kat] will see the waters of the Ganga that flow here.”
Since the couple is likely to step close to the bath area for a closer look at the mysterious water source, cracks close to the basin are being filled up and moss removed. A fresh water spring, believed to be an offshoot of the Ganga, replenishes the tank that’s part of a temple complex built by the Silhara dynasty that ruled Bombay from the 9th to the 13th century.
Rocky Crasto (70), known in the neighbourhood as Saviour of Banganga, has worked tirelessly for the tank’s upkeep. Although he won’t meet the couple due to an out-of-town commitment, he remembers the time he showed Chelsea Clinton around in 2000. “As a young child, I collected coins from the British era that were thrown into the tank during pujas. Had I been in town, I would have shown the royal couple my collection,” he says.
Among the non-profits that the British High Commission selected to collaborate with for the visit, is Anaxi Shah’s Society Moved to Instil Love with Empathy (SMILE), which has worked with women and children from Walkeshwar since 1997.
Praveen Kanvinde, trustee of the GSB Trust that looks after the upkeep of the tank, says, “The tank is one of the oldest spots in Mumbai and Prince William is known to love history. I’m not sure he has heard of Banganga. We will share the legends with them.”
And then, time for sport
At Churchgate’s Oval Maidan, Dilip Vengsarkar’s pitch is being prepared for a cricket match that will be played between participating NGOs as William and Kate watch. Nayana Kathpalia, core member of the Oval Trust that worked on the restoration and maintenance of the maidan, says, “We’ve heard Sachin Tendulkar will be here too. It’s good to know they chose Oval. Many around the world follow William and Kate, and this is the perfect opportunity for Oval to be on the global map.”
Former India cricketer, Dilip Vengsarkar will be playing host to the royal couple while trainees of his academy play a match. Will we see some of his trademark wristy elegance? The cricketer laughs, “It will be an exciting time.”
Bina Lashkari is co-founder of Door Step School, an NGO founded by Rajani Paranjpe that works towards improving literacy among marginalised sections. Lashkari says that 25 of the NGO's children will be at the Oval to meet the couple. “Five will play in Mr Vengsarkar’s team and the remaining will be at our NGO tent where we will create a classroom atmosphere and explain our work to William and Kate,” she says.
Nitish Kumar, head of communications and strategic initiatives at Childline India, has 20 kids rehabilitated by the NGO to meet the royals. “They will be raising funds for us later in that day, and that makes us very happy. We are pleased that the British High Commission selected Childline.”
>> William and Kate fly overnight from the UK on Saturday on a scheduled flight, arriving in Mumbai the next morning
>> On arrival, lay a wreath at a memorial inside the Taj Palace Hotel and meet members of the staff who helped protect guests during the 26/11 terror attacks.
>> Visit Oval Maidan to watch a cricket match and meet representatives and beneficiaries of Magic Bus, Door Step School and Childline.
>> Head to Banganga Tank to meet children from SMILE and residents of the area.
>> Celebrate with prominent city personalities, including Bollywood stars and businessmen, attend a dinner gala hosted by the British High Commission in partnership with the British Asian Trust, of which the Prince of Wales is founder and president.