On an empty street in a quiet by-lane, trees sway in the mild breeze shadowing an old man that rests on a bench below it. A grandma sheepishly knits on her balcony; a teenager reads a book by a window. A few women sit out on the porch gossiping, while the strums of a guitar and the strong aroma of fish fry engulf my senses. The world seems to be at rest. For a moment I forget that I am in Mumbai. That a perfect lazy afternoon like this can be found in a city that is always burgeoning with chaos and cacophony. Whose identity and cultural legacy seem to be crumbling under the weight of rapid urbanization and the influx of migrants. Here only a few places still retain their original charm, untouched by time. One of them being a tiny Portuguese village that obscurely remains hidden in Girgaon. A place that boasts of rich heritage and thousands of stories that shaped Mumbai – welcome to Khotachiwadi.
Here’s a guide to this quintessential rustic haven hidden in Mumbai.
A Tryst With Time
Named after Dadoba Waman Khot, a wealthy Pathare Prabhu man who leased out the land to a few people of the East Indian community, the city’s first original inhabitants, the village came into existence in the 1800’s. The East Indians are a Catholic community with major influences from the Portuguese which reflects in the culture and lifestyle of this Gaothan. Cobbled streets, pastel coloured bungalows with sloping roofs, cute balconies, rickety wooden doors, narrow external stairways made out of teak imported from Burma is what largely makes up the landscape of Khotachiwadi. Each house is vibrantly coloured, shadowed by swaying palm trees. The only thing that seems to be missing is perhaps the sound of the waves crashing at a distance. A lovely little chapel is situated right at the beginning of the village which is crucial to the community of Khotachiwadi. Begin here.
As you walk into Khotachiwadi, the tiny chapel lying towards the right side of the road is a hard landmark to miss. Painted in a lovely shade of red, it has an idol of crucified Christ. Outside, there is captivating graffiti of Mary who sits on a lotus holding baby Jesus. She is surrounded by flowers that grow on the Quercia tree. This chapel was built in the late 19th century as a gift to God for saving Khotachiwadi’s residents from the 1890’s plague that affected Bombay badly. Today, the chapel is visited by several people who sit on the bench outside, saying their prayers.
Lessons In Guitar & The Changing Times Of Khothachiwadi
When you hear a guitar strum, it’s time to get up and move beyond the chapel. You will find an enchanting blue house to your right with mosaic designs, a tiny fountain, plenty of flowers and a splendid little garden. Inside would be Willy Black giving guitar lessons, probably humming a Christmas carol. Having grown up in Khotachiwadi, Willy has a lot to say about his life here. From tales of his childhood running through the labyrinth of the village’s lanes to going carolling every Christmas. Talking about the heritage precincts being crushed for newer buildings, a conversation (and a jam session, if you are as skilled a musician as he is) with him is a must to truly understand the changing dynamics of Khotachiwadi.
Kothachiwadi’s Memory Museum at James Ferreira’s House
Hardly 50 metres away from Willy’s house is House Number 47G in Khotachiwadi, one of the most famous addresses in the area. Owned by fashion designer James Ferreira, the 200-year-old house sees a flurry of visitors on any day and has set the stage for fashion pop-ups, art and culinary events.
Ferreira owns a wide collection of memories, artefacts, knick-knacks and documents that exhibit the traditions and lifestyle of the East Indian community. Each individual piece is completely distinct from everything else but, by a stroke of magic, comes together like a beautiful puzzle. A tiny patio outside with wine-coloured walls offset the yellow-tiled floor and are tied together by lovely little elements like glass lamps, plates, pots and planters in every shape and size you can imagine. At the back of his house is a dimly lit study which has warm, rustic interiors. The shelves and the cupboards are stacked with old books and encyclopedias. Now, James Ferreira’s house is also a stunning bed and breakfast. Thus if you are too captivated by the space, you can rent it out for a short escape from the city (read more about it here).
Style Frozen In Time - The Vintage ‘No Borders’ Shop
Think checkered skirts, fringe slippers, floral embroidered shirts, international prints, vintage pieces from Gucci, Dior and Kenzo hanging by suspended wooden branches in a lovely studio shop with a sloping wooden roof, colourful lamps, antique mirrors – the No Borders Shop’s old-world charm takes you back to the fashion world of yesteryears. Located above James Ferreira’s house, the store is conceptualized and designed by Kanika Karvinkop, a stylist working out of Mumbai and New York. As reported by Livemint, “All the vintage pieces are dated by decade—you can find anything from a 1970s Dior jacket to 1980s trousers by Christian Lacroix—and handwritten postcards hold little notes from younger designers. Karvinkop also stocks under-the-radar labels like Los Angeles-based Osei Duro, which works with Ghanaian artisans and textiles, and Knobbly Studio from Tel Aviv, which makes female-body-inspired handmade jewellery. Each selection is in keeping with Karvinkop’s learnings from the Indian market.” Though the pricing of these dresses may be a costly affair, we suggest you visit the No Borders Shop to feel the timelessness of fashion that it evokes through its stunning vintage designs and elegant ambience.
An Endless Stroll
Meandering through the labyrinthine lanes at Khothachiwadi can be confusing and captivating at the same time. Step out of Ferreira’s house and go in any direction you like. There has been an influx of outsiders in the village but some still chose to retain the charm of the old houses. A splendid example of this is the Shah house, painted in a bright shade of yellow with red borders, is a lively site of allure on a sunny afternoon. A little ahead at 47D lies the Caivalhos House whose door and frescoes seem to have a multicultural influence of Oriental, English and Portuguese designs. Another sight you must not miss is the Khanderao Block which was essentially a chawl that was built for the people who worked for the residents of Khotachiwadi. These are an extension of the Portuguese structures. Apparently, old residents still pay a rent of INR 250- INR 450 for their houses in Khotachiwadi.
You’re likely to see the first-ever headquarters of the Saraswat Bank that was established at Khotachiwadi while on your stroll. Do make it a point to interact with the various residents, all of multiple religions and backgrounds who dwell here in perfect harmony.
A place frozen in time comes with its fair share of ghost stories, one of which makes the rounds in Khotachiwadi as well. During a guided tour here, I was told that towards the end of one particular lane was the house of a dhobi (washerman) who would wash and iron clothes of fellow residents, every morning at 4 am. One unfortunate night as they were travelling to their ancestral village, they died in a bus accident and never returned. However, residents claim that their ghosts can still be seen outside their house ironing clothes at the crack of dawn. This lane lies towards the left of Ideal Wafers, which is the next stop.
Munching On The Ideal Wafers
It’s not just stories, culture and history that you get to feed on while in Khotachiwadi. Head to Ideal Wafers on Trail One of the village – a tiny shop that dwells in the campus of a lovely three-storey old Portuguese-style house. Being run by the Venkatesh family for the last 70 years, it offers wafers in various flavours from Tomato to Hot Garlic, and our favourite, Lime N Masala. For only 45 bucks, these crispy wafers are perfectly spiced and come in packets that you can take back for your friends as well.
Reading at the Open Free Library
A tiny open library suddenly appears as you step towards your right from Ideal Wafers. Being run by the Lions Club, reading here is free of cost. You will find a few old men reading newspapers and discussing current affairs. Though the library only has a few old Marathi books, English periodicals and travel guides, it is a great place to relax and catch your breath before the Sun sets.
Khotachiwadi - Then and Now
As the sky changes colours, Khotachiwadi comes alive in a soft purple glow. Children chase each other on bicycles, those napping step out of their homes, the village starts buzzing with activity, yet a certain sense of serenity remains.
One can see the high rise buildings at the far end and hear the hammering of new constructions that have begun. Soon, there may be a time when this lovely Portuguese village may lose itself to the hands of urbanisation. Khotachiwadi was given the status of a heritage precinct in 1995, but despite the active rallying of Ferreira and numerous other residents against urbanisation, newer buildings are still finding their way in. Only 27 old buildings out of 65 remains. Thus, make a trip out to this quaint place to explore the many beauties of Khotachiwadi while they still thrive. Afterall, perfect lazy afternoons don’t last forever.
Khotachiwadi is location in Girgaon, South Mumbai. The nearest station to it is Charni Road on the Western Line.
All photographs are taken by Rashi Arora for Homegrown.
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