Go island hopping with original inhabitants of Mumbai

Updated: Sep 08, 2019, 08:11 IST | Kasturi Gadge | Mumbai

Meet the original inhabitants of Mumbai with this tour to the Dharavi Island

Our lady of the sea church at Uttan. Pics/Swadesee
Our lady of the sea church at Uttan. Pics/Swadesee

Mogan Rodrigues (40) has lived in Uttan since his birth. On September 22, Rodrigues, an East Indian, will lead a group of city explorers through Dharavi Island, one of the last bastions of his community. Not to be confused with the neighbourhood in Sion, Dharavi Island is the one that comprises six villages in north-western Mumbai—Dongri, Uttan, Pali, Chowk, Gorai and Manori. It is also home to a large East Indian community.

Who are the East Indians?

The East Indians are considered the original residents of the city, with roots in the Isle of Bombay, Thana, Salsette and Bassein (present-day Vasai). Some of the earliest records of the East Indians date back to the 15th and 16th centuries when Portuguese missionaries converted members of local farming, fishing and salt-making communities to Roman Catholicism. Rodrigues, who’s also a licensed tourist guide with the Ministry of Tourism, is the local expert for Swadesee, a travel company organising the Dharavi Island walk.

Traditional East Indian meal (vegetarian)
Traditional East Indian meal (vegetarian)

Why you should learn about them

Mohit Bagadia who runs Swadesee explains that Dharavi Island is one of the few places in the city where the East Indian culture is thriving. “Women still drape the traditional lugra and locals still speak with a distinct East Indian dialect,” he says, “Yet, very few people outside the community seem to be aware of it.” According to Bagadia, most visitors to the island are day picnickers and almost no one stops to appreciate the local heritage. With walks like this one, Bagadia hopes to change some of it.

“(Plus) the area is also very scenic and the mangroves and forests of the area need to be protected urgently,” he says. It’s with this view that Bagadia is organising this heritage walk. “The mission of Swadesee is to bring attention to unexplored places with a rich heritage that requires conservation. We already had a tour about the Warli tribe and wanted to do something with the East Indians, the original inhabitants of the city who find little mention in modern Mumbai’s socio-cultural narrative.” he says.

Kulvem village, Gorai
Kulvem village, Gorai

What’s on the itinerary

The half-day tour will reveal how a community and its traditional ways of life continue to thrive within a metropolis. "We will journey through the dramatic landscape of the island, past beautiful beaches, sea-cliffs and dense forests. We will also visit medieval churches, picture-perfect villages and ancient ruins. We end the tour with a visit to a community-run museum and followed by a homemade meal at a beautiful old heritage villa that’ll include fugias (puffed dough balls) and vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries cooked in their famous bottle masala,” Bagadia says.

When: September 22; from 9.15 am to 2 pm
Meeting point: Bhayander Railway Station (West side)
Entry: Rs 1,890
To register: www.swadesee.com

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