Wednesday, May 23, 2007

City By The Sea

A geographical history of Bombay (Mumbai) Mumbai originated from seven different islands that were joined together to create a single island called Mumbai ...

It took over a 150 years to join the original seven islands of Mumbai. These seven islands were lush green thickly wooded, and dotted with 22 hills, with the Arabian Sea washing through them at high tide.Mumbai or Greater Mumbai today encompasses 436 sq km. It has been a natural shipping and trading centre throughout its history and has grown in spite of lying in a seismically active zone. The original island of Mumbai was only 24 km long and 4 km wide from Dongri to Malabar Hill (at its broadest point) and the other six were Colaba, Old Woman's island, Mahim, Parel, Worli, Mazgaon. Though the list does not exhaust the number of islands that were merged into the modern city of Mumbai. In particular Salsette the large northern island, which remained under Portuguese control til 1739 is not counted among the seven.

A massive stone causeway across the Flats of the island of Bombay (low lying areas between Dongri and Malabar Hill, separated by Island of Worli), is the only proof of work that was probably done to join the islands before the arrival of the Portuguese. But, after the British arrived, the demand for land steadily increased, and by 1730; it was becoming impossible to accommodate the entire population of Mumbai inside the Fort. The sea was making inroads at Worli, Mahim and Mahalaxmi, which turned the ground between the islands into a swamp, making travel between Mumbai islands hazardous. Many commuters going to Fort by boat between the islands lost their lives whenever there was a storm during the monsoons.

The first major reclamation took place in 1708, to construct the causeway between Mahim and Sion. The second major reclamation took place in 1772, to stop the ingress of water and the consequent flooding of central Mumbai, and to connect Mahalaxmi and Worli. This is regarded as the oldest unauthorised construction that took place in Mumbai and the offender was the erstwhile Governor of Mumbai, William Hornby at a total expenditure Rs 1,00,000. The approval for the reclamation had been sought from the company of directors in England, Hornby did not expect a rejection and went ahead with the construction. The rejection arrived a year later, but, the causeway was complete and Hornby was sacked. This causeway was named Hornby Vellard, sealing the Great Breach (Breach Candy) between Dongri, Malabar hill and Worli. At the fortified Dongri hill, an esplanade and parade ground was cleared, from the walls of the Fort to the present day Crawford market.

The flat lands (from Mahalakshmi to Kamathipura, named after the Kamathi workers from Andhra Pradesh who settled here) were reclaimed only after the completion of construction at Breach Candy by Hornby in 1784. In 1803, Mumbai was connected to Salsette by a causeway from Sion. Colaba Causeway joined the island of Colaba to Mumbai in 1838, and Mahim and Bandra were connected by a causeway in 1845 at a total cost of Rs 1, 57, 000 donated entirely by Lady Avabai Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, wife of the first baronet Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy (the government refused to build these causeways).Colaba CausewayThe Thane and Colaba causeway were built during the tenure of Sir Robert Grant, the Governor of Mumbai. He was also responsible for the construction of a number of roads between Mumbai and the hinterland.

The Colaba Causeway was completed in 1838 joining Colaba, Old Woman's island and the H-shaped island of Mumbai together. Land prices shot up and Colaba became the centre of commerce. The Causeway was widened and strengthened in 1861 and again in 1863 (Cusrow Baug is built on the causeway). The horse drawn tramcars revolutionised transport in Colaba. The Prongs Lighthouse was constructed off the island in 1875 and in the same year the Sassoon Docks were built by David Sassoon on reclaimed land. The BB & CI (Bombay and Central India ) Railways established a terminus at Colaba. 90,000 sq. yards of land was reclaimed on the western shore of Colaba by the City Improvement Trust, though opposed by eminent citizens like Sir Pherozeshah Mehta the work was completed in 1905.

A seaside promenade (Cuffe Parade) was completed the next year and was named after T W Cuffe of the Trust. The next reclamation came in 1836, when the development of the Mumbai port had already begun. Major quarrying had already begun in 1870. The hills of Chinchpokli and Byculla were quarried and dumped into the sea, to fill the land near the railway line, the swamps and also the port to prevent the accumulation of stagnant water. The first railway line was laid down in 1855 from Bori Bunder to Thane.

Byculla soon became a fashionable place to live in, bungalows of the British and affluent Indians came up. The armoury was moved from the Bombay Castle to Mazgaon in 1760 and the docks were completed in 1790. It was in 1793, that William Hornby built Bellasis Road to join Mazgaon with Malabar Hill. This left Mazgaon landlocked with the reclamations of the docks, mills came up and became the work area for the next 30 years. The fumes from the mills drove the people out from Mazgaon and into Byculla. With the closure of the breach, Byculla came into great demand as a prosperous and an elegant suburb with grand British and Parsi homes with a church that eclipsed St Thomas's Cathedral in the Fort area. The Byculla Railway station was completed in 1857.

By 1862 the town become widespread and the constructions that took place began to give rise to the modern city of Mumbai. This became a regular feature in the succeeding years. The Fort walls were demolished and the tanks right up to Parel were filled. From 1870 to 1970, industrial and commercial development prospered, which increased the spate of reclamation that ended with the famous Backbay reclamation. The opening of the Suez in 1869 made the city prosperous, additional plans were made to reclaim more land for building roads and wharves. Mumbai began to attract fortune hunters and the population grew from 13,726 in 1780 to 644,405 in 1872 in less than a hundred years. By 1906 the population of Mumbai was 977, 822.

Backbay ReclamationMumbai recognised its potential as a centre of maritime commerce. Gerald Aungier, second Governor of Bombay, developed the harbour, docks and industrial base, especially for the Parsi, Jain, and Muslim merchants and manufacturers from Gujarat. Its growing cotton trade gained momentum with the American Civil War, which had stopped the American supplies of cotton to Europe, and increased further due to the opening of the Suez Canal.Mumbai's prosperity was seen in its impressive civic and commercial buildings that came up in the second half of the 19th century. Many still exist to give Mumbai its character as the repository of Victorian architecture. A blend of colourful bazaars, religious structures, and vernacular houses, crowded into narrow winding lanes, collectively display an incredible dynamism.

The first Backbay Reclamation Company (BRC) was formed in the 1860s with the express purpose to reclaim the whole of Backbay. With the end of the American Civil War in 1865, land prices fell. The government took over the narrow strip of land created by the BRC and gave it to the BB & CI Railways (Bombay Baroda and Central India) to construct a new line between Churchgate and Colaba. A proposal was made in 1917 to reclaim 607 hectares of land between Colaba and Backbay by a group of prominent citizens and a private company. The project was taken over by the Development Directorate who planned to reclaim 463 hectares and would have to relocate the Colaba terminus, which was moved to Bombay Central. Eventually, in the meantime, W R Davidge proposed a development of wide-open spaces into recreational spaces, residential and commercial areas. It would take them until 1945 and cost them a total of Rs 11 crores, to complete the project.

The Backbay Enquiry Committee spearheaded by K F Nariman found irregularities such as an inefficient dredging craft and a newly constructed sea-wall, which had already let slip 900,000 cubic yards of mud through it. Eventually 177 hectares was developed by 1929 of which 94 hectares was sold to the military for Rs 2.06 crores and 6 hectares was incorporated into the Marine Drive and its sea wall.Independence did not end the reclamation work but a third Backbay Reclamation was put into effect and yielded the acreage on which stand the high rises of Nariman Point and Cuffe Parade. East of the Naval Dockyards some land was reclaimed and work was done to the north too. Eventually, the Supreme Court injunction protecting the shoreline and access for fishermen has slowed down the work since 1970. And the Supreme Court has added more restriction in 1990s with the Coastal Regulatory Zones. The Backbay Reclamation Project symbolised a major shift in the spirit of the city from Victorian to an International city.

Sources Bombay - The Cities within by Rahul Mehrotra and Sharda Dwivedi; Introduction to India by Toby Sinclair and Marie D'souza and

Monday, May 21, 2007

Winner Takes all

It's heartening to know that your favourite TV stars are winning awards, certainly difficult for a 16 years old who puts in 18 hours daily work and studies part time. Talented, goodlooking, well mannered and everyone wish him luck. I watch this series on a historical figure - Prithviraj Chauhan on Star Plus channel - and its heartening to know he has this year won two awards - many more to him.
Read about him on

Friday, May 11, 2007

Our luxury bus stopped close to the wire bridge. Across lay Manikaran, the place famous for its hot water springs, a gurudwara, temple and a mosque, all of which lie in close proximity. The bridge crossed the span of one mountain to another with a gushing river that lay in between. It was not that cold here. It is boxed in at the bottom of a vast sheer-sided chasm. It is a damp, dark place and all the action revolves around the springs. It is also called Parvati Valley. It is a good spot for trout fishing too. Everyone took off towards his or her places of worship. We were intrigued to find that the hot springs rose in bubbles close to the shore of the river, with people bathing, drinking, collecting or trying to cook rice in the hot water.

Legend has that Shiva and Parvati loved Manikaran so much that they chose to stay here for over a thousand years - until the day Parvati lost one of the gems she wore on her ear ring. Shiva searched high and low for the gem, but to no avail. The furious God opened His third eye, which would lead to the destruction of the Earth. Fearing the worst, the Gods requested Shesh Nag to search for the lost piece of jewellery. The Nag (snake) hissed and hissed, creating bubbles and hot water in the river, which threw up many precious stones including the one which Parvati lost. Legend has it that the bubbles sometimes reached and became waves 15 feet high.

Ram Temple
Since then, the water here boils and spews sulphur gas close to the shore. The water of Manikiran is used by people of all faiths for general and religious purposes. The temple has created a kund, which is used by the pilgrims coming to the Ram temple to cook rice and dal. The temple is carved in pale gray stone. There are several other temples in Manikaran, but the temple of Lord Ram has an image, which was from Ayodhya and brought by the Raja of Kullu. It has since disappeared. On one of the stones of this ancient temple, its entire history is written, but the script is not readable. During festivals, the devatas or lords of the temples in Manikaran pay regular visits here. They are carried in ceremonious processions to the Ram temple on auspicious days.

Guru Nanak Devji Gurudwara
We passed the temple to reach the Gurudwara, a two-storeyed building. After praying, we went for lunch. I found the food quite different from other Gurudwaras, with two dishes which have always been my favourite. It was a combination of dahi kadi (curd gravy), meethe chawal (sweet rice), palak (spinach) and roti (Indian bread). You may find this combination an odd one, but it was very well cooked.This Gurudwara is open to all and is highly venerated by the Sikhs. Guru Nanak visited this place with Mardana, and he is said to have performed many miracles here. This is mentioned in the autobiography of Bhai Mardana. One of the hot water baths is within the Gurudwara, while the other two are privately-owned. Some of these hot springs have been tested to contain a high dose of Uranium and radioactive minerals.

You can take the HPDC bus/luxury bus; taxies can be hired. There are all types of hotels, where you can stay and cafes where you can eat.t is 45 km from Kullu. The nearest airport is at Bhuntar in Kullu. In winter, the temperatures become quite low and heavy woollens are required. In summer, cottons are recommended. The nearest railheads are at Chandigarh, Shimla and Jogindernagar.Manali is also close by, and there is a lot to see and do in Manali, including adventure sports.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rajmahal in Jaipur

When the wheels of time turned, empires rose and fell. With the end of kings and kingdoms, the new generation of the royal families adapted to change, instead of remaining glued to the solemnity of past glory. They have moved on. Look at Raj Mahal Palace, and feel it for yourself. Many former palaces have been successfully turned into hotels after the government abolished privy purses of the royal families. Hotels have proved a successful venture, saving many of the imposing royal structures from sale and destruction. One such palace-turned hotel is the Raj Mahal Palace Heritage hotel, near Jaipur. Smaller than the Rambagh Palace, it holds its own. It was on a short three-day trip when I got the opportunity to stay at Raj Mahal. Now a Taj property, it has maintained its grandeur even after the additions of modern facilities.
History of Raj Mahal, Jaipur
Raj Mahal was originally known as Ranawatji-ka-Bagh and it was home to HH Sawai Bhawani Singh. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, builder of the Pink City of Jaipur, also built this Bagh (named Maji-ka-bagh) and a palace here for his favourite queen Maharani Chandra Kumar Ranawatji (daughter of Maharana of Udaipur) in 1729.The birth of a son -- Madho Singh -- after 20 years of marriage in 1728 fuelled a power struggle within the family, leading to many palace intrigues. Finally, this forced Maharani Chandra to permanently shift here. The throne was denied to Madho Singh again in 1743 and his elder brother Ishwar Singh was installed after the death of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. Madho Singh finally ascended the throne after Ishwar Singh killed himself in 1750. But his mother continued to live here, which is still known by its second name - Maji-ka-Bagh. In 1821, this palace was converted into the official residence of the Resident Political Officer of the Agent General of Rajputana. The year 1821 also saw cricket being played for the first time on its lawns. The British government had started tightening its grip on the state administration. After this, a prolonged spell of insignificance followed for Raj Mahal, when it became a mere guest house. Only when the last Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II moved back from Rambagh palace to Raj Mahal did it regain its lost glory. The palace was converted into the royal residence and renamed Raj Mahal. In 1958, Rambagh was converted to a hotel and the Maharaja moved into Raj Mahal making it the official residence of the king. Many additions and alterations later, Raj Mahal was fit to be occupied by the royal family.
The Raj Mahal Hotel in Jaipur
It was in 1980 that Raj Mahal was converted to a deluxe hotel when the royal family moved out to live in other palaces. Today it is classified as a Heritage hotel. The original building forms the southern line of the present group and faces the Shahan Chabutra and an imposing gateway of the Amber Palace. Within its high walls, it covers an area approximately 10 acres and has 23 rooms that depict the royal history, and are well-furnished. The imposing gateway sports an old-fashioned fort doorway with a canon looming above. The path opens up to the huge lawns, which are provided for functions and ceremonies. When I was there, two weddings and a music performance was held in the lawns. The hotel has been divided into three categories with two royal suites (Maharaja and Maharani suites), three suites, eight superior rooms and ten standard rooms.My room had a picture of Maharani Gayatri Devi on the back wall. Though I had reached at night, I remember feeling intrigued and switched on every light in the room to get the feel of the place. Beautifully laid out, it had a settee near one of the windows, and a sofa and table close to the fireplace. There was also a TV and tiny fridge to contend with. But what I liked most was the writing room, which had a small table and chair with letter pads, envelopes and pen lying on the table away from a window which overlooked the same lawns that held the first cricket match in Jaipur. A beautiful site, I would open the curtains everyday early in the morning to see the peacock walk in the lawns, hear birds sing and breathe the fresh and cool air that blew across. With its authentic royal furniture and looks, Taj has maintained the feel of the palace in its original state with modern amenities.A poolside restaurant and a lush green garden sit-out are ideal for those who would like to enjoy their tea, breakfast etc. out in the open under the azure skies. Food can also be had at the restaurant inside which is quaint and quiet, with mirrors on both sides, the Maharaja’s painting on the right above the fireplace and a fantastic 200-year-old chandelier hanging from the ceiling. There is also an in-house library bar with rosewood panelling, which stocks a wide range of beverages, conference and healthcare facilities. Just outside this bar lined across the corridor are the polo pictures of the Maharajas of Jaipur. The east wing rooms and the billiard room were added at different times and have a modern feel to it. Climb the stairs to the top-most level and walk onto the terrace, and an eagle's eyeview greets you. You can see the entire complex from end to end. You come away from Raj Mahal with the feeling that it was a truly royal experience. I would love to go back some day. This palace was also witness to lavish receptions and hectic political meetings with historical figures like Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, Lady Diana, Prince Charles and Lord Mountbatten attending them.
Jaipur Factfile
The nearest airport is Jaipur, 11 km away. The railway station is 3 km away. It is located on the Sardar Patel Marg.
Places to visit in Jaipur:Amber Fort and Palace, City Palace and Hawa Mahal, Raj Mandir, Rambagh Palace, Jal Mahal. Experience the desert on a jeep safari, get a camel ride. You can also book for a private taxi from the reception to take you sightseeing.
Things to buy: JaipurBlock printed clothes, camel skin accessories, wooden toys and puppets, kundan jewellery, blue pottery, silver jewellery and cotton fabrics of all types.

Attar, the fragrance from India

During ancient times when people wanted to freshen or liven up their rooms or wanted a soft lingering fragrance around them, they collected fresh sweet-smelling flowers in a basket and kept them in rooms, bathed in them or wore them in their hair or on their shoulder with a pin. Even now, some people keep dried flowers in cupboards and spices like kali mirchi, lavang etc tied in a small packet, to give clothes a fragrance of their own. Even barks of trees and leaves are placed in cupboards.
The art of extracting oil to create perfumes was acquired later. These attars are in great demand today, extracted from various oils and mixed with others to get wonderful smelling non alcohol-based perfumes. They come in sprays, roll-ons, or just dab-ons and are priced between Rs 50 to 10,000 for a mere 10 gm attar bottle.
Attar is a Persian word meaning fragrance, or essence, and is used to describe both the manufacture and application of these oils. Perfume describes a range of products that contain alcohol, heavily diluted with synthetic additives.
Attars are derived from plant extracts and have a range of rich scents. Although attars are simply individual oils, others may be composed of careful blends of various oils, resins and concentrates (two or more) and placed in a natural base oil.
Attar was first produced by the great Persian physician Hakim Ibn Sena (Avicenna in English). He was regarded as the greatest physician of his times, and used these for medicinal purposes. Attars include some individual essential oils, suitable for fragrance such as sandalwood, amber and patchouli. Sandalwood is both - an attar (used for its smell) and an essential oil. Attars can be blends of multiple oils, sometimes as many as 30 or 40 are blended together (a secret that many Attar-making families hold dear).
Traditional attars of India are rarely found in their pure form today. Often, they are adulterated with synthetic chemicals or more of the base oil to give it a distinct smell. Often, they are stretched with liquid paraffin and other substances. In the traditional process, various flowers, roots, herbs, spices, etc are hydro-distilled in copper vessels into a receiving vessel containing sandalwood oil.
A certain proportion of flowers or other aromatic plants are put into a copper vessel containing water, sealed and heated. Their aromatic vapours rise through bamboo pipes and pass into another copper vessel containing sandalwood oil, sitting below the larger distilling one.
Sandalwood oil is the base with which each extracted oil has to be mixed to give a distinct smell and whiff. These vapours condense, and after days of distillation, the water and oil separate, allowing most of the aromatic molecules to become adsorbed into the sandalwood oil.
The water is decanted and added back to the distilling vessel for the next day’s distillation. The process, in the case of flowers like rose, jasmin, kewda, raat rani (night queen), is repeated for a minimum of 15 days until the sandalwood becomes totally saturated with the perfume of that particular flower. The process for making heena and amber is much more sophisticated and requires numerous other steps and as many as 60 natural ingredients go into their production, which takes months.
Great care is taken in maintaining the proper heat and pressure, so that the floral material suspended in water does not burn. As the proper pressure is reached, the flowers begin to release their aromatic chemicals and these pass along with the steam into the receiving copper vessel. As it gets warm, the water is changed in the water bath, since it is critical that it should stay cool for condensation to occur.
After four hours when the condensed material and sandalwood have filled the receiver, a new one is fixed and the process continues for another four hours. At the end of it, the process is stopped for the day and the two receivers are allowed to cool overnight before the oil and water. Once this occurs, the water is siphoned off and added to the cauldron for the distillation to take place.
The most expensive attar is rooh gulab, which said to have been discovered by Noorjehan, wife of Emperor Jehangir of the Mughal era. The story goes that she went for a morning bath and was delighted with the fragrance of the oily layer on the water which had been left overnight to cool. When distilled, it turned out to be rose attar. Old texts mention that the floral group primarily used for attar manufacture was rose, bela, jasmine, champa, molesari and tuberose, along with roots like vetiver and ginger. Sandal, cinnamon and aloe bark were also used. Heavy odours like musk, myrrh and ambergris, were also used with khus. Sandalwood oil forms the base as, during distillation, the original smell of sandalwood vanishes and the oil captures the fragrance of the flower.
Uses of attars
Place one drop of essential oil on a tissue and inhale (to ensure that you do not have a reaction to the oil.)
Use the steam inhalation and use up to 10 drops of oil. You can use a diffuser or lamp scent ring.
Add a few drops of oil to your laundry wash, drain, vacuum bag filter, or on a tissue for placement in your drawers.
You can add up to 20 drops to almond oil for a massage. Keep away from sensitive areas. (Do not apply essential oils to the skin without first diluting them).
Add them to your bath water and come out smelling lovely.
These oils can be used to make home-made lotions, facial toners, shampoos, perfumes, soaps, shower gels, and other natural products.
These essential oils come in very small bottles, commonly sold in 5ml, 10ml and 15ml sizes. The more expensive oils are common in sizes starting at 2ml and 1 dram sizes.
Although essential oils do not become rancid, they can deteriorate and lose their therapeutic benefit over time. Oils such as the citrus oils will oxidize and begin to lose their aroma and therapeutic properties. Some oils such as patchouli and sandalwood improve with the passage of time.
Avoid deterioration and protect the aromatic and therapeutic properties of your oils by keeping them in amber or cobalt blue bottles. Dark glass helps to keep out sunlight which can hasten deterioration. Essential oils should also be stored in a cool, dark place.
Some of the well known perfumers available in India are from Nemat Enterprises, AA Attarwala and Habib International.