The road from Hanging Gardens to Kemps Corner may not be long, but it is filled with picturesque skyline views, greenery, and quiet.
If you’re going to be pernickety, I’ll admit Ridge Road begins at Teen Batti. And all right, its official moniker is BG Kher Road, named after the first chief minister of the erstwhile Bombay State. But the matchless, captivating, germane part of the road originates where Hanging Gardens and Kamla Nehru Park end, whence it goes on to hew a sheltered groove down the flank of Malabar Hill. And with the vista it offers, this, my favourite road in the city, should rightly be called Sunset Boulevard.
Let us assume you have magically materialised at its re-assigned origin. On your right is a viewing platform, skirted by a wrought iron fence that was once as green as the hillside arboretum before you. The roots of these trees are at sea level, their canopies meet your eyes. Views are dictated by these wilful branches: panoramic in summer, a jigsaw in the rains. And what a view! You can almost picture the Art Deco sweep of Marine Drive, without the glassy towers of Nariman Point beyond. A young man, on a stone seat that looks like a tombstone, is sketching.
Once you too have drunk your fill of the skyline, skip down the zigzagging steps to Babulnath, if you will. Or vroom down the one-way road in one of the passing ritzy cars. Or careen down the hillside on a bicycle, hands-free, legs-off, wheeeeeeeeeing out to whichever god you feel closest to, this high up in Mumbai.
But you’ll miss the couples smoking on the katta. Or dogs being exercised by walkers: one itsy pooch has a particularly fetching tail, crimson booties, and a come-hither look. Golden leaflets wouldn’t float down and settle in your hair. And why would you deprive yourself of a vantage vista of Girgaum Chowpatty, its little people straight out of an old black-and-white photograph? From here, it is possible to romanticise Mumbai.
On one side, Ridge Road is at par with the Mangalore-tiled roofs of Khareghat Parsi Colony. On the other, a low wall of boulders and stone is interrupted by an arch, now boarded up. Beyond are trees of every description: withered old trunks with shaggy brown heads and verdant, sturdy adults that form an impenetrable second wall. A streetlight glows through foliage. Had Mumbai a royal dynasty, this is where they would bury their kings. Which is appropriate, because hidden from nosy commoner eyes is Doongerwadi – the Parsi Towers of Silence.
All is quiet, still, and untouched. I spy a sloping, stepped walkway and a locked, dilapidated guardroom onto which a tree has collapsed. A forecourt and a circular garden. A peacock but no vultures. And the houses of the khandias or bearers. And a manicured green patch maintained by who else but the Tatas. And a sinuous, shadowy, ancient road that that glides down a ridge into the lights and sounds and everydayness of Kemps Corner.
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