What comes to your mind when you think about the city of Mumbai? If you just pictured an image of the Gateway of India or the Marine Drive in your mind’s eye, then you’re not alone. These are the undisputable heritage symbols of the City of Dreams. Though they might be enough for the regular tourist, for a curious traveller, there is always that urge to go beyond the obvious.
At the end of the day, these are heritage sites that are worth exploring for their architectural beauty, historical significance, and cultural diversity. So, which ones are we talking about here?
Constructed in 1680 by the British as a watchtower to safeguard Mumbai’s coastline from pirates and invaders, Sewri Fort stands tall with its shape and black basalt stone structure. From its vantage point, one can enjoy views of both the Mumbai harbour and the serene mangrove forests of Sewri. Nature enthusiasts also flock to this fort as it serves as a home for thousands of migrating flamingos during winter—a delight for birdwatchers.
What better represents a place’s heritage than its lost museums? The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum holds the distinction of being Mumbai’s oldest museum since its establishment in 1855 under the name Victoria and Albert Museum. It serves as a captivating showcase of Mumbai’s history and culture through its exhibits featuring art, crafts, textiles, pottery, weapons, coins and maps. Notably the museum also houses a collection of clay models portraying the city’s communities and professions during the 19th century. Architecturally speaking, this museum is truly magnificent with its ‘renaissance revival’ design characterised by a roof adorned with columns and marble statues.
One of the best lesser-known heritage sites in Mumbai is sure the enchanting Banganga Tank, situated in the Malabar Hill area. This water tank is believed to have been constructed around 1127 AD by a minister of the Silhara dynasty. A fascinating legend tells us that Lord Rama shot an arrow into the ground at this spot to create a spring of water for his brother, Lakshmana. Surrounding the tank are temples, shrines and rest houses called dharmshalas that beautifully represent Mumbai’s diversity.
Can something established in 2009 be considered an important heritage landmark? Well, if you walk in to the Global Vipassana Pagoda – proudly labelled as the world’s largest stone dome constructed without any supporting pillars – you will say ‘Yes!’ vehemently! Today, this pagoda in north of Mumbai stands as a marvel of architecture dedicated to honouring Gautama Buddha and his teachings. Inside the pagoda lies a relic believed to be one of Buddha’s bones along with paintings and sculptures depicting significant moments from his life story. As an added benefit, visitors seeking tranquillity and enlightenment can participate in vipassana (insight) meditation practices offered here.
Another of the hidden heritage sites in Mumbai is the Kanheri Caves, located right within the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. They were crafted sometime between the 1st century BC and the 10th century AD, featuring over 100 chambers meticulously carved into a hill made of basalt. Inside these caves you will discover an array of sculptures, paintings, inscriptions and dome shaped structures called stupas that showcase the evolution of art and architecture across centuries. Moreover, these caves once served as both a university and monastery for monks and scholars.
The David Sassoon Library was founded in 1847 by David Sassoon—a merchant and philanthropist who played a significant role in Mumbai’s development. Housed within a Victorian Gothic building, with its tiled roof-stained glass windows and intricately designed railings—it truly is a sight to behold. The library boasts a collection of more than 40,000 books, including valuable manuscripts, maps and photographs. Additionally, the library organizes a range of events, exhibitions and workshops that're open to the public.
Now, that was a fascinating list of hidden heritage sites in Mumbai, wasn’t it? Sometimes, for the mind’s weary eye, it is a great thing to wander into these tranquil, less crowded spaces that once ruled the roost and played an important role in creating and preserving the city’s fabled history. Afterall, what is today a city of contrasts, where skyscrapers and slums coexist, was once a very different land where history and culture melted into one another, leaving behind remnants that ought to be cherished forever!
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