Hidden under the shadows of a concrete jungle in Girgaum is Khotachi Wadi, a piquant, life-size maze, lined with beautiful Portuguese-style bungalows that Dhara Vora discovered while on a walk through this remnant from the original city that prospered under the Portuguese rule
“It was the Portuguese who arrived in the city before the British, to trade black gold or pepper, and they also came with the black book, the Bible,” said Sancia Sequeira, our expert guide through Khotachi Wadi, an area that was declared as a heritage precinct by the government in 1995. Mirroring its European Heritage Days, Alliance Française has organised heritage walks across different areas of the city, one of which was the Khotachi Wadi walk.
Standing inside St Teresa’s Church, commonly known as Girgaum Church, our minds wavered back to the time when this area was a flourishing commercial centre under the rule of the Portuguese and as Sequeira pointed out that the British part of the city was developed in the later half of the 19th century. The term Girgaum comes from the term Giri (or hill, which is the Malabar Hill) and village.
Like this church, which is home to memorials dating back to 1872, the area of Khotachi Wadi in the neighbourhood too houses symbols of the city's Portuguese past. The locality gets its name from Dadoba Waman Khot, a land revenue officer from the Pathare Prabhu community, who was a reformer in the neighbourhood.
The bungalows (the number has dropped from 65 to 17, says Sequeira) are made from Burma teakwood and are characterised by verandahs and wooden lattice works.
We spotted Portuguese-influenced surnames such as Ferreira on nameplates. There were a few traces of Art Deco architecture as well — on window grills and columns in the area — a sign of constructions that emerged in the early 20th century, possibly. As the 20-plus group moved along, several old-time residents invited us to view into their 14-feet-high-ceiling homes, which aided in keeping their homes remarkably cooler.
But tall, concrete buildings that lurked in the background overshadowed these beautiful structures throughout our walk. The sheer number left us wondering whether this slice of history had any chance of survival in the immediate future. Your guess is as good as ours.
To sign up Log on to bombay.afindia.org for heritage walks around the city