THE Tower of Silence, The Hanging Gardens, the enigmatic Parsi population. It may sound like a Game of Thrones episode but is in fact a snapshot of what you’ll encounter if you find yourself wandering on Malabar Hill in south Mumbai.
It’s easy to catch a cab to the end of Chowpatty Beach and easier still to get lost climbing up the steep hill in the cool, foliage laden streets, crammed with Daimlers and designer dogs. The city’s poshest suburb, though, is also among its most fascinating.
A former home to the British expat population during the colonial years, the hillock now plays host to the super wealthy and the majority of India’s dwindling Parsi-Iranian Zoroastrians who count amongst their number the industrialist Ratan Tata and the late singer, Freddy Mercury.
A notoriously private lot, Malabar Hill plays host to their most famous and macabre burial site as well as some other, slightly hidden gems you should hopefully stumble upon.
Tower of Silence
Notwithstanding a bit of illegal abseiling, you definitely won’t bump into this sacred burial house, shrouded by 54 acres of forest land (no mean feat retaining that real estate in this area of town) .
Part of the mystery is just imagining the ritual of the deceased, washed then laid out in the sun on concrete platforms waiting for vultures to swoop down to devour all their flesh. Remarkably quick and impressively sanitary by all accounts.
Ensconced in secrecy, this ancient tradition is under threat due to a demise in the local vulture population who are being poisoned by the modern drugs in the corpses they have preyed on for centuries.
Hanging Gardens of Mumbai
Babylon it isn’t but if you’re after a pleasant and relatively cool place to wander in the midday heat the Hanging Gardens are just the ticket.
Built in 1880, the gardens are famous for animal-shaped topiary, their legendary views of Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach and a decidedly odd tourist attraction called the ‘Boot House’ which is either based on a common nursery rhyme or just an artistic interpretation of Mumbai overcrowding.
Kamla Nehru Park
Named after the wife of India’s first prime minister, this pleasant park has an abundance of greenery, some great places for sunset views of the city, the odd peacock and, for those of pensionable age, special areas out of bounds to all but senior citizens.
But perhaps the best feature of the park is its view of an entirely different landmark — the controversially opulent Antilia House.
From Kamala Nehru Park you have an excellent view of Antilia, the 27-storey skyscraper home of Indian business tycoon Mukesh Ambani. Worth over US$1 billion, it tops the list of the world’s most expensive residences.
It decadently houses Mr Ambani, his wife and two daughters. And six levels of underground parking. And 3 helipads. And 600 staff. Named after a mythical island in the Atlantic Ocean it is certainly fathoms away from the financial reality even of the monied Malabar Hill Mumbaikars.