The Asiatic Library was built in the 19th century in a pristine neo-classical style, with stones apparently imported from England. It boasts a distinctive and imposing set of thirty steps, which lead to a Greek portico. The building is visually different from the heavier Gothic and Romanesque architecture mostly seen in heritage buildings built during the period. A high-ceilinged space can be found within, where readers can browse through the library’s reference section. Further in is a dramatic wrought-iron spiral staircase and marble statues of personages who contributed to the society. The library was built as a town hall for the walled city the British resided in, and also houses a museum.
A vast complex of over a hundred caves, Kanheri dates from the second to the ninth century AD, and was a center for Buddhist worship. The caves are carved from basalt, and part of the experience of visiting them is the long and winding trails of steps that connect the caves. As opposed to Elephant Island, these caves have a grandeur that impresses with austerity rather than decoration. Most of the caves are quiet viharas intended for living and studying, and some are cisterns for water storage. The larger caves, known as chaityas, are for congregational worship and contain ornate sculptural carvings. They house Buddhist stupas, and the weighty pillars that typically line the cave sides form a long central path.
Ranwar is a heritage village with written records from the early 1700s, though the village may have existed before then. Like the rest of Bandra, the suburb in which it is located, Ranwar was populated by Catholics, and continues to have largely Christian residents. Now fortressed by nondescript concrete structures, it nevertheless remains a quiet restful place to catch a glimpse into the world of old Bombay. Bungalows with sunlit verandas and gabled roofs covered in red Mangalorean tiles can be found along winding Veronica Street. They are also distinct in the white grillwork of their balconies and external staircases, and short square curtains tied back in the windows. It is said that in the old days villages houses stood open, and today you might still find someone relaxing in a veranda and ready for a chat.
Bassein Fort is located in Vasai, technically beyond the city, but it is only a few hours away and worth a day’s expedition. The Portuguese built it in the 16th century but fell to the Marathas in the 17th. The fort contained a large citadel, with several churches and water tanks, storehouses, an armory, and fields for vegetables. Several of the structures are still partially standing. Still visible are the remains of noble architecture, walls and decorative arches, stalwart columns and other decorative motifs. Many of the structures are now overgrown with vegetation, making it a pleasant place to wander through.
By Deborah Rosario