As I step down from the ferry, happy to get away from the overwhelming stench of dead fish, I am quite surprised by the eerie silence that replaces the cacophonous chaos of Mumbai. A region located on the Dharavi Bet, Manori, has unparalleled wilderness, colourful houses, and sparsely populated streets — starkly different from the concrete mayhem I was a part of merely ten minutes away.
Not to be confused with the slum dwellings of the same name, the Dharavi island is a group of six villages – Dongri, Uttan, Gorai, Chowk, Pali, and Manori. But more interestingly, it’s home to the city’s original inhabitants – the slowly vanishing East Indian community. Converted to Roman Catholicism by the Portuguese in the 16th century, the East Indians were initially referred to as ‘native Christians’ but with the takeover of the East India Company, these native Christians found the need to differentiate themselves from other Christian migrants in the city. And so, they began calling themselves the original East Indians.
Even today, the Portuguese culture is visible in the numerous churches that dot the Dharavi island and their unique Marathi dialect that makes use of Portuguese words. But, alas, this multi-cultural legacy is slowly dying as many East Indians have moved to other parts of Mumbai and the world – leaving behind ancestral homes, churches, and unique traditions that were too burdensome to carry along.
Nevertheless, the East Indian community and its culture have thrived since the very inception of Bombay, and continues to silently do so even today. Whether it’s through the unique flavours of its cuisine or museums that house life-sized depictions of the community’s traditional occupations like fishing, the Dharavi island is home to Mumbai’s oldest inhabitants, and our Homegrown guide is your way to explore that.
How To Get There
Despite being well-connected by road, most people prefer the ten-minute ferry ride from Marve beach’s ferry point in Malad to the serene coast of Manori. Take a rickshaw from Malad or Borivali station and hop onto the next ferry — they’re more frequent than you’d imagine since a considerable number of Manori’s residents regularly commute to other parts of the city for work. Expect a strong stench of dead fish, many two-wheelers, and do carry a water container in case the heat gets to you. Alternatively, there are also buses that ply from Malad and Goregaon.
I. Kaka Bapista East Indian Museum
Where: Manori-Gorai Rd, Puttupatti, Manori
From artefacts donated by East Indian families to life-sized depictions of the community’s traditional occupations, the East Indian Museum is a treasure trove for anyone willing to dive into the slowly vanishing culture of the city.
Liquor cups, cooking pots, ancient texts, clothing traditions and more are housed in a secluded earthy family home. The museum was an initiative spearheaded by Alphi D’souza — the president of the Association of the East Indians — and is presently the only museum in Mumbai to be dedicated to the East Indian community. The museum is often visited by school children and other members of the community. The entry here is free.
Look out for an entire section dedicated to the East Indian cuisine and the ‘Christy Puran’ on display – the East Indian holy book.
Time: 9.30 am to 12.30 pm, 3.30 pm to 5.30 pm.
II. Ruby Aunty’s Kitchen
Where: Due to trouble with the local police officers, Ruby aunty’s kitchen doesn’t exactly have a board with an address. However, just ask any rickshaw driver in Manori and they’ll help you navigate your way.
Undoubtedly the most famous home chef in the area, Ruby Aunty’s kitchen is Manori’s best-kept secret. A quaint little tumbledown home, hidden behind one of Manori’s many colourful houses, that has a unique old-world charm to it. Ruby aunty started her kitchen two decades ago with the aim of fetching some extra income. From fish curry to chicken vindaloo, her food is made with a lot of love and her secret bottled masala – which she also sells at INR 1,200 per kilo. Other dishes include Sorpotel, Fugais etc.
However, you may need to call a couple of hours in advance if you’re planning on stopping here for lunch. In case of larger group orders, Ruby aunty needs to be informed 24 hours in advance.
Cost: INR 500 for two people
III. Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Church
Where: Marve Road, Malad West, Manori
Following a hearty meal with Ruby Aunty, we’d recommend lounging by the Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Church or ‘Mata Church’ — one of the many Portuguese churches that dot the winding streets of Manori. The unimpressive exterior of this gigantic church is in stark contrast to the beautiful glass paintings that adorn the walls inside. With a trampoline right opposite the church and children running around in merriment, spending an afternoon here is nothing but joy as you indulge in playful conversation with little children of the community.
Perhaps if it wasn’t for the characteristic exterior staircases, eye-catching colours, and Portuguese influences, one wouldn’t even stop to notice the narrow bylanes of Kulvem village in Gorai. Home to some of the oldest East Indian families of the island, Kulvem is for anyone who isn’t apprehensive about striking a conversation with total strangers and being lured into the traditional charm of the place. The residents here are friendly and kind and most likely to invite you in for a cup of coffee before letting you wander around. The Kulvem beach too is nearby and must be visited for the stunning sunset and the abundant silence it has to offer.
V. Stella Aunty’s Dhaba
Where: Ahead of Gorai road. We’d suggest asking one of the rickshaw drivers to drop you there.
A go-to place for delicious seafood prepared with Stella aunty’s (or ‘maushi’ or ‘bai’, as locals call her) secret bottle masala recipe that comprises 64 ingredients, this decrepit dhaba is located pretty much in the middle of nowhere and has been around for years, ever since Stella aunty decided to give up her previous job at a nearby restaurant.
Her menu includes a range of East Indian dishes like fried pomfret, fish curry, and East Indian chicken curry. We’d recommend her Kolambi preparation (prawns) for its burnt crispiness and crumb-like texture. The rice handbread — a flatbread made out of rice, water, and salt — is her speciality and pairs perfectly with her Gowthi chicken. Her vegetarian dishes are limited to mixed veg and dal.
Cost: INR 400 for two people.
Timings: 7.30 am - 8 pm, all seven days a week
VI. Joan’s Garden Cafe
Where: On Uttan Naka, opposite the Uttan police station.
Located in the heart of Uttan, one of the most commercial villages of Dharavi island, Joan’s Garden Cafe isn’t as much a cafe as it is a home kitchen serving scrumptious East Indian cuisine.
Try their sorpotel – a spicy pork curry of Portuguese origin. Their fish curry with rice is probably the most homely, comfort food on the menu – along with their flatbreads to go with it, in case you’re not big on rice. Even if East Indian fare isn’t your thing, you can always pick something from the regular seafood menu. At Joan’s, there’s something for everyone.
Cost: INR 70 onwards
VII. Swirty’s Bakery and East Indian Food
Where: Mudan pakadi, near Gorai Police station, Gorai village.
One of the very few bakeries in the area, Swirty’s quaint interiors and friendly owners are worth dropping by for just a quick chat and some cookies for your trip back home. From baked goods to fresh cream cakes, Swirty’s menu is endless with an extra section for just East Indian cuisine as that’s what wins the most hearts, always.
Contact: 9820281557 / 9833505059
VIII. Bhatebandar Mata Velankani Church
Where: Dongri, Uttan, Mira Bhayandar.
A sea-facing church with its regal blue walls and steps that lead you to a picturesque hillock, the Velankani church in Uttan is a mesmerising experience. Often a rendezvous spot for the locals for when they wish to unwind by the sea breeze after a long day of work, this church is one of the biggest, most well-maintained churches in the region. At the bottom of the church, near the sea, you’ll find the East Indian fishing community scurrying about. Fishing is the main occupation of the subsets of the East Indian community.
IX. Dharavi Fort in Chowk
Located on a steep hill, the ruins of Dharavi fort, also known as Uttan fort, in the village of Chowk is a beautiful destination for trekkers. Overlooking the magnificent ocean, with the Uttan lighthouse and the towering church on the opposite side, this fort has an interesting history that dates back to 1837 when Bajirao Peshwa accidentally stumbled across an idol of the Dharavi Goddess. According to the locals, this is also why the area is called ‘Dharavi Island’.
X. Church Of Our Lady Of The Sea
Where: Dongri, Uttan, Mira Bhayandar.
With its pastel-coloured walls and corrugated rooftop, Our Lady Of The Sea church is located in the heart of Uttan, surrounded by houses that are as vibrant as the church itself. The vast open area right outside the church has, for very long, served as a meeting spot for the East Indian community. A marvel of Portuguese architecture, this church stands out because of its purple and mauve coloured exteriors that tower against the evening blue skies. Just like the East Indians of the region, this church too has witnessed time pass by.
XI. A Conversation With Mogan Rodrigues
One of the few people who are at the forefront of preserving the last bits of the East Indian culture, Mogan Rodrigues is a resident of Uttan village and has been actively conducting tours and educating people about the dying culture. Referring to the community as “one of the last remaining bastions,” Mogan’s doors are always open for anyone who wishes to indulge in a breezy conversation about the East Indian culture and everything it has to offer. So if you go around knocking on a few houses and strike gold, nothing like it. If not, you can always get in touch with him in advance and schedule a meeting for when you’re visiting the area.
Where To Stay
Where: Opposite Domonica Resort, Manori Gorai Rd., Malad, Marve (W)
A walk down the quiet streets of Manori is bound to lead you the bright red gates of Craig Villa Holiday Home. With a vibrant colour palette of green, orange, and blue, the AC and non-AC bungalows are almost 80 years old. Today, they function as holiday homes for tourists who come in search of some peace and quiet. With abundant greenery within the premises, Craig Villa is always cool and seldom affected by Mumbai’s humid weather.
Each house comes with a hammock and a pet dog casually relaxing under at the entrance steps of the bungalow. There’s an in-house kitchen for all your meals, although they need to be paid for separately. A 7-8 minute walk from the beach, guests who wish to stay here need to call in advance and book a room.
INR 1,500 onwards
Contact: 8828787532 / 7045626350
XIII. Domonica Holiday Homes
Where: Manori, Malad
The second-oldest resort in Manori, Domonica Holiday Homes is a group of holiday bungalows, one of which is a 70-year-old ancestral home, run by Saveena and Dean Pereira — couple of the oldest East Indians in the area. Different from the yellow and orange houses of Domonica Beach Resort (that is right next door), Domonica Holiday Homes is the only resort in Manori that has cabin accommodation, along with several other deluxe rooms. They also have a package for visitors who only wish to stay at Manori from morning to evening only.
Named after Dean Pereira’s grandparents, the resort is a 2-minute walk from the Manori beach where the golden sand shores are always undisturbed, visited only by a couple of hawkers and dogs. Even if you don’t plan on staying here, we’d recommend dropping by for a quick glass of Tang and some conversation with the warm-hearted couple.
INR 3,000 for overnight stay in a twin occupancy room (excluding food). INR 4,250 for a lock cabin (including food). INR 650 for the day package (min. 15 people).
Contact: 9821808100 / 022 28452280
XIV. Mendonza House
Among the many picturesque Portuguese-influenced homes of Kulvam is the century-old Mendonza House — a huge mustard coloured bungalow with a spacious rooftop, a meditation area, and Brownie (the owner’s dog) staring right at you with his googly eyes. The caretakers of the house, Clayton Gonsalves (who is half East-Indian and half-Goan) and his family of three, are known for serving the best toddy in the area and are more than proud of it.
This place is located right at the beach, allowing you to step out and absorb the beauty of the ocean first thing in the morning. A place that’s pretty off-the-grid, it cannot be booked online. However, you can call Clayton to check for availability. The house has 3 bedrooms with twin beds and a bathroom in each.
Cost: INR 2,000 for the room
Contact: 9167574618 / 7039854500
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