Girgaum: The forgotten heart of Mumbai

Girgaum: The forgotten heart of Mumbai

This tucked away locality is in danger of being neglected, so here are five reasons to love this beautiful, old part of Mumbai


Behind Chowpatty in South Mumbai, lies what many consider a city within a city -- Girgaum. Its name is derived from the Sanskrit words giri (hill) and grama (village) referring to its location at the foot of Malabar Hill.

Once a sparsely populated area filled with coconut plantations and forests of plantain, Girgaum started to populate in the mid-nineteenth century till it became a hub for immigrants moving into Mumbai from other parts of the country. Today the district is home to diverse communities like Marathi, Gujarati, Konkani and East Indians. Christians, Hindus, Parsis and Muslims all have their various places of worship here.

The painted walls of Khotachiwadi are a reminder of the area's colorful culture.Yet despite its cultural variety and its place in history as a formative part of Mumbai, this old and traditional part of the city is largely unknown. We want to change that, by describing just a few of its colorful characteristics and characters. 

1. Khotachiwadi: Heritage village

Khotachiwadi is a heritage village in Girgaum and home to a small community of East Indians. The street is named after the original owner, a Hindu Khot (lessee of land or farmer) who sold plots to various East Indian Christians. Originally converted by the Portuguese, East Indians moved to Girgaum bringing with them a unique culture, which adopted aspects of Portuguese customs, architecture and dress. The buildings and villas in the lane buttressed with Burma teak and wrought iron work remain the last surviving examples of 19th century domestic architecture. Other examples of Portuguese architecture can be seen in the red St Theresa Church on Girgaum road.

Visit the street during Christmas to get a full sense of the flavor here when houses are lit with bright stars, snowmen are perched on rooftops and there is even a local Santa Claus who walks the street giving sweets to children.

The prospect of new development threatens the old intimacy of Khotachiwadi.2. Bhojanalayas: Coastal eateries

Anant Ashram, an 80-year-old humble eatery or bhojanalaya, was once considered the best place to get Malwani, Maharashtrian and Gomantak food. Apparently you could not have considered yourself a Mumbaiker if you had not eaten there. It recently closed down because of family disputes but still does take-out orders.

Residents of Khotachiwadi, who have been eating there for generations, say the neighborhood will not be the same without it. 

The Samarth Bhojanalaya is famous for its inexpensive but incredible range of authentic Malwani and Marathi food. The place is quite small and seats only a dozen customers at a time. But tables turn quickly as food is served fast and people don’t come here to lounge or talk, they come to eat.

3. Thakurdwar: Gujarati central

Thakurdwar is a Gujarati neighborhood in Girgaum famous for its jewelers, farsan (snack) shops and vegetarian food. Today, this area is a fading reminder of Mumbai's rich history and the merchants and tradesman that helped shaped it. Walk down certain lanes in and around Thakurdwar and you will see shops that have existed for generations and restaurants that are over a century old. The Thakurdwar temple, built by the ascetic Atmaram Baba in 1838, still remains a famous place of worship for Gujaratis. 

4. Sweet shops and thaali restaurants

Girgaum is full of old eateries and restaurants frequented by families in Mumbai for generations. Although everyone has their own favorite place for misal and farsan here are three restaurants that encapsulate the variety of cuisine available in the area.

Panishkar: With its original branch in Dadar, locals of Girgaum consider Panshikar one of the best sweet shops in the area. It serves a wide variety of delicious Maharashtrian sweets. The adjoining restaurant also serves up some traditional Marathi dishes like farali missal, sabudana wada and kokam sharbat.

Ideal Mithai: This sweet shop is famous for its potato chiwda, which it calls Ideal Chiwda, and an assortment of Gujarati savoury snacks called farsan.

Golden Star Thali: This old thali place, in Girgaum-Chowpatty, serves authentic Gujarati and Rajasthani food made in ghee.

James FerreiraJames Ferreira works out of the studio he built in his ancestral home in Khotachiwadi.5. Fashion designer James Ferreira on the future of Girgaum

James Ferreira, a respected fashion designer and resident of Khotachiwadi, worries about the preservation of heritage sites in Girgaum. His family home, which doubles up as his studio, is perfectly preserved and beautifully embellished in an attempt to retain the aesthetic of the architecture.

For many years Ferreira has championed conservation efforts of the area by raising awareness about his neighborhood through local tours. Like many residents on this quaint street, he welcomes people’s interest in the area and opens his doors to the curious. There are others however who have, over time, sold their villas or broken them down to build skyscrapers.

Billy, a local musician, is determined to keep his old home intact and will not be bought out. His extraordinary little colorful home with birds and fishponds is a veritable menagerie and stands apart from other homes. Billy, like Ferreira, says he likes his old home the way it is and does not want to live in a "modern box".

Ferreira tells us, "Girgaum is the beginning of Bombay, the heart of the city. It was the town where the original inhabitants of the city lived, where the natives lived while the English stayed in apartments in Fort. In Girgaum you have all of Bombay’s communities. Khotachi is a Christian enclave, Kalpadevi is Gujarati, Nikadwari and Kandewadi are fully Maharashtrian. You can still see traces of the culture and life of the early immigrants but you also see decay. I hate to see the direction the city is going in, it breaks my heart. I love Bombay. That is why, I guess, I can truly hate it."

Raised in several cities across India, Tarini's constant search for new homes forms the basis of her desire to explore incessantly.
Read more about Tarini Awatramani