Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Midnight Bicycle tour of Maximum City

Midnight Cycle said the Facebook event invite. Reality Tours and Travels  was organizing a midnight cycle ride around south Mumbai last Saturday (January 24, 2015). Mumbai at night always had a different feel, so I was very much excited about the event.  

The midnight tour started from Colaba at 12:30, We collected our cycles and were introduced to our guides, There were plenty of choices for cycles and we could choose which ever we wanted. When I was a kid I had a non-geared hero cycle, in memory of that I selected a non-geared one which I almost regretted later.  (Why almost? continue reading).

It was ironical that even before the first halt the friend who invited me for the tour dropped out saying he unable to continue cycling. With that mood downer we reached our first halt - Taj Hotel/Gateway of India. Both Taj hotel & Gateway of India is intimately connected with city's history. Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of British Royality to India where as Jamsedji Tata built the Taj Hotel as a taunt to the British after he was stopped from entering a white only hotel. Unfortunately how much this beautiful area has been a favourite for the citizens of the city so also it has been for the enemies of the state also.  

Our next halt was Asiatic Library where the group was introduced to each other and the guides. From here we went on to Flora Fountain, Oval Maidhan, Mumbai University, CST.  It was during this part I noticed a pair of ladies who would be calling out to check on each other as they cycled. I found it both funny and sweet, and I introduced myself to them, they were my unofficial partners for the rest of the trip.

The next halt was Crawford Market, seeing Mohammed Ali Road empty was a revelation. A place where usually you can't stand in peace, here I was cycling. Crawford Market, or as introduced by the guide,  the first mall in India, for it was was the first building in India to be lit up by electricity in 1882. Further after hearing details of Mangaldas Market, Zaveri Bazar and Mumba Devi temple we went on to the iconic Mumbai landmark - Marine Drive.

Marine Drive was our first long halt. We were given tea and snacks. Here I met Sid, an European who was teaching English in India, He has been roaming the world teaching English. I both respected and envied this guy, he's living my dream. Wish I could get the guts to quit my job and roam the world like him.

From Marine Drive we continued onwards to Chowpatty and then 
Banganga Tank
Ducks in Banganga Tank
on route to Malabar hill we stopped at Banganga Tank. I had never been to this place before though I had heard of it. It is said that Lord Ram had stopped at the spot in search of his kidnapped wife Sita. As the legend goes, overcome with fatigue and thirst, Rama had asked his brother Lakshmana to bring him some water. Laxman instantly shot an arrow into the ground, and water from Ganges gushed forth from the ground. Hence the place is called Banganga, the Ganga created on a baan (arrow). Next to the tank area  there is still an old Hindu cemetery consisting of samadhi of various Advaita gurus. Walking next to the dimly lit graves, surrounded by Banyan Tress in the quite of the night is a creepy experince.

Next came the difficult part of the journey, the climb to Hanging Gardens. It was here where I initially regretted that I had taken an non-geared cycle. But after making the entire climb without any stop, the sense of achievement I felt was unmatched.  At Hanging Gardens we had our next well deserved break, where we were fed samosas and bananas.

We had already completed half our trip, from Hanging Gardens we continued to Peddar Road, Antilia House and Haji Ali Dargah. Cycling at full speed in the middle of the road is an experince which can't be explained in words. 

At Haji Ali Dargah, I heard of the tale of the Dargah for the first time.  According to legend, once Haji Ali saw a poor woman crying on the road, holding an empty vessel. He asked her what the problem was, she sobbed that her husband would thrash her as she stumbled and accidentally spilled the oil she was carrying. He asked her to take him to the spot where she spilt the oil. There, he jabbed a finger into the soil and the oil gushed out. The overjoyed woman filled up the vessel and went home. Later, Haji Ali had a recurring and disturbing dream that he had injured Earth by his act. Full of remorse, he soon fell ill and directed his followers to cast the coffin carrying his body into the Arabian Sea. The casket carrying his body got stuck in the string of rocky islets just off the shore of Worli. Thus, the Dargah was constructed there.

Idli @ Worli Fort
The penultimate stop of our midnight tour was Worli Seaface. By then majority of the group was showing signs of fatigue, but I was so full of adrenaline that I just wanted to continue cycling. We then left our cycles near the entrance to Worli Koliwada, from where we walked to Worli Fort. Yet another place in Mumbai which I was visiting for the first time. Here while waiting for the sun rise we had our breakfast of idli and chai. Unfortunately the weather being hazy we were not able to see the sunrise properly. 

After reaching home, I could do nothing but spend the entire day in bed.Thank goodness it was Sunday. But I have to tell you, the trip was totally worth it. The cycling through empty streets, the conversations with people, seeing Mumbai in a new light and learning more about its history. It was joked in the group that it was the healthiest Saturday ever.

The trip cost Rs. 1500. I would really recommend the midnight cycle tour to every Mumbaikar.  Reality Tours and Travels gives 80% of its profits back to the community. The guides who come from improvised background are so knowledgeable, that on all stops I was learning something new about the city.

To sum up, its not that we have never been to majority of the above places. But trust me roaming Maximum City in night on a bicycle is something to be experienced.

Maximum City at Dawn


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