Heritage Retained – The Splendor of Byculla

South Bombay as many still call it has been one of the landmark areas of Mumbai. At a time when the city had not branched out in every direction to accommodate a huge population, there was only this one part of Bombay which was known to all and sundry. South Mumbai was the epitome of luxury, grace, class and upbringing before areas like Lokhandwala, Juhu Tara Road and Hill Road in Bandra were made famous by celebrities and the nuevo rich. It was here that well-heeled, wealthy industrialists made not just their mansions and abodes but also built their head offices. Beyond its well cobbled streets and roomy roads then were the factories and the karkhanas in which the menial toiled day and night to keep alive the industry of commerce which soon made then Bombay and now Mumbai the financial capital of the country. Long before there was Mumbai there was a Bombay and the Southern part of Bombay has long been and still continues to be coveted as the representative Jewel in the crown of the city that everyone desires a slice off.

view of byculla from baya victoria

Real Estate as well followed a similar keel with apartments and the very few bungalows within the city centre being priced at a premium within the imaginary confines of the South Mumbai region. One such neighbourhood within South Mumbai is Byculla. It is sandwiched between the busy streets of Forres Road to one side and en route to the middle part of Mumbai City via Dadar and beyond to the other, Byculla has an old world colonial feel to it. This, to its credit, it has still managed to maintain. The minute you enter this part of the city you are transported to days of the Raj where gardens dotted important buildings and modes of transport were available in plenty within the vicinity. Byculla is an important station on the Central line of Mumbai and is often considered to be the first entry point into South Mumbai if you are coming into the city via the suburbs.

On the historical front Byculla first came into being after a series of civic developments way back in the 18th century. It was built as an extension to Mazgaon which happened to be one of the original seven islands which formed the then city of Bombay. Byculla was initially low lying which meant it was susceptible to flooding every time the tide came in. The British wanted the area to be inhabitable and hence commissioned the Hornby Vellard project in 1784 to rectify this situation. In fact it is this excavation that actually combined all the seven islands of Bombay into one mainland. European settlers ensured that the area continued to see, civic and infrastructural growth with the construction of the Bellasis Road causeway in 1793 and the then very famous and patronised Byculla Club which opened in 1833.

As the first trains started chugging along the length and breadth of the country, so too did one across the heart of South Bombay with the Byculla Railway Terminus first coming into its own in the year of the great revolt and mutiny of 1857. With the onset of the railway chugging into its territory the area was soon to develop as a home to the many mills that dotted the Mumbai landscape at the time. The area was no longer just a residential haven, it was now a place of industry where cloth and fabric were being manufactured and transported not just within the country but also to far away England to be appreciated by the local populace over there.

Even today if one keeps a keen eye out for them, you can see the vague shapes and crumbling facades of a few mills peeping out at you from within small cul-de-sacs created by the towering sky scrapers that have taken their place in the Mumbai landscape. A couple of them are even known to be functioning although the time and age of extracting any produce from a mill have long come and gone. Mumbai is India’s foremost metro and it has a reputation to behold as a financial behemoth. It does not allow for the luxury of space that a mill land would need to be productive or the teams of people and labour needed to run a mill. Automation is the word of the hour as we collectively embark on a journey towards comprehensive digital transformation.

Byculla is today an upper-middle class enclave which is a true rendition of what Indian culture and heritage is all about. It is home today to people of different, faiths, beliefs and religions that amalgamate with each other during their social and cultural festivals and other such traditions. It has a fair population of historic landmarks as well and in fact has a couple of tourist attractions which are followed widely by eager eyed people visiting the splendour and energy of Mumbai city for the first time. It is home to the only zoo within the precincts of the city and what was first known as Victoria Garden or quite literally Rani Baug has now been christened Jija Mata Udyaan. The zoo is one such tourist location where thousands throng to, to witness the remnants of what can be called green cover, flora and fauna in the heart of the city. Another cultural landmark in the area is the Bhau Daji Lad Museum earlier also known as the Victoria and Albert Museum. Apart from housing invaluable artefacts, paintings and other such treasures which are a constant reminder about the days of glory that the area saw during the Raj, a delightful anecdote about this building is also that when it was built in 1871, it was an almost mirror replica of its namesake in London.

The vegetable market in Byculla has for the longest time been a wholesale market from where industrious cart vendors of fresh fruits and vegetables buy their wares and move door to door and from road o road to sell them to eager Mumbaikars. This was the first of its kind wholesale market in the city and was established way before the times and concept of APMC markets came into being. Byculla is also privy to several places of worship, including temples, mosques, fire temples and even a synagogue which arguably is probably one of its still most aesthetically brilliant edifices in the area. It has its fair share of hospitals and educational institutions as well, while also have incredible connectivity and access to both the central and the western lines that run through the heart of the city. It also has a major bus terminus and depot from where Mumbaikars take the local busses to ply to and fro to places of work and back.

view of byculla from baya victoria

Byculla has still managed to retain its colonial heritage and charm even as the city of Mumbai, like India, is moving towards a more modern look and feel in terms of its civic and real estate infrastructure. Townships, commercial complexes and business parks have all found their way into the area but that is to be expected. Much like the Europeans in the 18th century, real estate developers today also see merit in having a presence across one of the most cherished and culturally extravagant areas of South Mumbai. Owning an apartment in this area would not only be functionally very convenient and rewarding it would also be an experience, the likes of which are few and far available now even in the most celebrated part of the city.

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Written by The Baya Company