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Maharashtra

Travel

Afghan Church, Mumbai

The first time I heard about the Afghan Church was when I saw this picture on Ashwin’s Flickr stream, and on my recent visit to Mumbai, I went to check it out. The beautiful basalt and limestone church in Colaba is actually the Church of St John the Evangelist, but it is locally called the Afghan Church, because it was built in the memory of the soldiers of the British army, including members of many Indian regiments, who died in the First Afghan War fought against Afghanistan from 1839 to 1842. The church has a spire that is almost 200 feet high, because the government granted land for its construction on the condition that it must be the tallest structure in the area, and the spire must be visible clearly even to the ships at sea. The exquisite stained glass work on the windows depicting scenes from the Bible came all the way from England, and the tall pillars and imposing arches came from Iran.

 

The highlight of the church would definitely have to be the gorgeous shafts of light streaming in through the stained glass panels! I first went to the church on a weekday, but it was closed. They did let me walk around the grounds and take photos of the exterior, but I had to visit again on a Sunday to go inside.
Afghan Church, Colaba, Mumbai
Afghan Church, Colaba, Mumbai - Gothic details
Afghan Church, Colaba, MumbaiAfghan Church, Colaba, Mumbai Grooves for soldiers to rest their riflesAfghan Church, Colaba, Mumbai
Afghan Church, Colaba, Mumbai
Travel

Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai

I went to a synagogue for the first time during my recent stay in Mumbai. I was staying in Colaba, and the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in Kala Ghoda was only a short drive away.

 

The synagogue was built in 1884 by Jacob Sassoon, of the illustrious Sassoon family, in his father’s memory. The Sassoons came to India when Jacob Sassoon’s grandfather, David Sassoon, the treasurer of Baghdad in the early 19th century, fled here with his family to escape the persecution of Jews in Iraq under the Mamluk rulers. The family built several educational, charitable and religious institutions in Mumbai, of which I got to see the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room across the road from the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. You can read more here.

Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai

David Sassoon Library and Reading Room

The synagogue is a sky blue building that is somewhat plain on the outside, but exquisite on the inside, with stained glass windows, ornate pillars and beautiful chandeliers. The lower floor is the men’s gallery, and the upper one is for the women.

Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai
Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai
Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai
Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai
Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai
You are required to enter your details in a visitors’ register and buy a ticket if you want to take photos inside. The synagogue is closed on Saturdays.
Travel

Britannia and Company, Mumbai

While in Mumbai for an extended weekend recently, we had a Parsi meal at the iconic Britannia and Company Restaurant. We went to the Irani Cafe after driving around Colaba for a while to look at its gorgeous old buildings. There was quite a crowd waiting outside for a table to clear up, but luckily, we didn’t have to wait because a part of our group reached much earlier and did the waiting for us! The very quirky cafe is over 90 years old, and it shows in the old furniture, peeling paint and creaking stairs!
Britannia and Company, a Parsi restaurant in Mumbai

The 91 year old owner of Britannia, Mr Boman Kohinoor Irani comes around to every table to greet customers and to take orders. The cafe was started in 1923 by his father, who moved to India from Iran. The non-vegetarian members of our group had a lot more to choose from, but there were enough vegetarian options as well. We started with some Rose Raspberry Soda. Bright pink, fizzy and just sweet enough.

Raspberry Soda at Britannia and Company, a Parsi cafe in Mumbai

Rose Raspberry Soda

The Berry Pulao is Britannia’s most famous dish, and it was what I was most excited to try – a fragrant pulao topped with dried sweet and sour berries (I believe they are called barberries) brought all the way from Iran. It was amazing – totally worth the hype!

Berry Pulao at Britannia and Company, a Parsi cafe in Mumbai

Berry Pulao

There was Dhansak, and Sali Boti and this egg dish which I didn’t eat, and whose name I can’t remember!

Britannia and Company, a Parsi cafe in Mumbai

The egg dish whose name I cannot remember!

Rice and Dhansak at Britannia and Company, a Parsi cafe in Mumbai

Rice that came with the dhansak

For dessert, I figured, why choose between Caramel Custard and Mishti Doi, when I can just have both! Both were delicious.

Caramel Custard at Britannia and Company, a Parsi cafe in Mumbai

Caramel Custard

Mishti Doi at Britannia and Company, a Parsi cafe in Mumbai

Mishti Doi

The cafe is very very popular with both locals and tourists, so the whole world has probably been there already. But if you haven’t, put it on your must-do list the next time you go to Mumbai. The cafe is open only for lunch, does not accept debit/credit cards and is closed on Sundays.

Britannia and Company, Mumbai

Kate and William who’ve never been to Britannia!

Travel

Karla Caves, Lonavala

The first thing Ashwin said when we read the ASI signboard at the entrance of the Karla Caves was “Whoa, this is the oldest monument I’ve EVER been in”. Me too*, I realized, in awe! Located just off the Pune-Mumbai highway near Lonavala, these rock-cut Buddhist shrines in the Sahyadri hills were built in two phases: one from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD, and the second from the 5th to 10th centuries AD. There are more than fifty groups of rock-cut temples in Western India, many of them in the Sahyadri Hills – this is believed to be because the volcanic rock in these parts is composed of alternating layers of hard and soft rock, making it relatively easier to cut and carve. The rock is also moisture resistant, and provides shelter from the heavy rains the region receives.

 

Most of the caves at Karla were built during the Hinayana phase of Buddhism, except a few that were built later during the Mahayana phase. The main cave houses India’s largest Hinayana Chaitya Gruha or prayer hall. At its entrance, is this huge 15m high pillar:

Karla Caves, Lonavala

The 15m high pillar had a pair that doesn’t exist anymore

Karla Caves, Lonavala

Wooden screen above the entrance to the prayer hall

The entrance to the cave is profusely decorated with carved animal and human symbols depicting different phases from Lord Buddha’s life. But He himself is not depicted in a human form anywhere in this cave – this is typical of Buddhist monuments from the Hinayana period.

Karla Caves, Lonavala

Carvings at the entrance to the Chaitya

Karla Caves, Lonavala

The Chaitya has a series of carved pillars leading to a rather plain stupa in the center. Check out the wooden umbrella arches that have survived the ravages of time with no signs of decay:

Karla Caves, Lonavala

Carved pillars leading to a plain dome-shaped stupa in the middle

Karla Caves, Lonavala

Carved pillars leading to the stupa

The cave complex also has viharas or dwelling places for monks that were also used to accommodate travelling traders, since the caves are located close to an important ancient trade route.

Karla Caves, Lonavala

A cave that was used as a dwelling place for monks and travelers

Karla Caves, Lonavala

Carvings on the walls of the monastery

And finally, this, is the killer view of the hills the monks must have had from the monastery 🙂

Karla Caves, Lonavala

A thousand shades of blue

The Karla Caves are very popular with tourists, so you might find the place quite crowded. The 20 minute climb from the parking area to the caves is full of shops selling snacks, refreshments and cheap souvenirs. There are more rock-cut temples nearby at Bhaja and Bedsa too, but we couldn’t fit those into our schedule. Which is cool, because it gives us a reason to visit again 🙂
Travel

Lohagarh Fort, Lonavala

The Sahyadri hills around Lonavala are dotted with strategically located fortresses and the imposing Lohagarh Fort (translating to Iron Fort) is one of them. It is said to have been used by pretty much every dynasty that ruled over the Vidarbha and Maratha regions – right from the Satavahanas to the Marathas. It was captured by Chhatrapati Shivaji in the 17th century, and again by the British in the 19th century.
 
The climb begins at the base of the hill, where there are a few very basic shops selling refreshments. If you’ve forgotten to bring something to drink, this is pretty much your last chance to fix that – there’s nothing after this point. There are steps all the way to the top of the fort, so the climb is fairly easy, except in stretches where the steps are no more than slippery moss covered blocks of stone.
 
We were lucky to be there on a sunshiny day with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds, so at many points on the way up, we were treated to spectacular views of the lush green countryside.
 
On the way up the hill, you pass three layers of fortification through four huge gates, all of them very well-preserved. The top of the fort is quite empty – a Shiva temple, a Dargah, a well and a tank are about all you’ll see. This was a fort used purely for military purposes.
 
The place was almost empty, and there was only one more group of tourists, besides us. I read after we got home that we’d missed seeing a scorpion-shaped extension to the fort called the Vinchu-Kata – I wish I’d done my homework before going. No complaints, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the climb and the sensational views 🙂

Lohagarh Fort

This pic, taken about halfway into the climb, shows how the fort blends into the hill!

Lohagarh Fort

The imposing gates of the fort are still intact.

Lohagarh Fort

The barren top of the fort

Views from the fort. The hill you see on the top left of the following image is the neighboring Visapur Fort. Since the Visapur Fort is taller, British troops bombarded the Lohagarh Fort from there, forcing the Marathas out.