Spotlight, the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai

  • By Megan Simpson

  • July 20, 2020

Spotlight, the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai

Have you ever visited a new town, state, or country, and become absolutely *enthralled* with a particular site within? Much like my day-trip to Canterbury during my year abroad in Europe, I often (consciously or not) look for quiet spots amongst the hustle and bustle to take in my surroundings. In my experience, locating this lil’ gem can be difficult—locals may have a *lot* of great suggestions. However, starting with recommendations from those who live in the area is such a great place to start. During a recent trip to India, my group of friends and I relied heavily on the suggestions of our lovely friend—born and raised in Mumbai. Of course, we were in Mumbai specifically for her wedding: she’d heavily prepared the majority of our itinerary anyway. One particularly warm day, my friends and I wandered onto Malabar Hill and came across a sprawling patch of greenery amongst the tall skyscrapers, office parks, and apartment buildings. We quickly learned that we were in the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai.

Our intention was to visit a museum or take a guided tour that day; however, instead, we spent a few hours leisurely wandering the gardens and the surrounding area. For a while, we weren’t in the fast-paced life of Mumbai—we were skipping around a secret (not-so-secret?) garden.

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History

The space, originally built in 1881 and re-imagined in 1921, sits atop a large hill in the southern part of Mumbai—the location offers spectacular views of the Arabian sea, particularly at sunset. Modern-day, you also take in the smattering of massive buildings surrounding the park.

To address the question; the site is called the Hanging Gardens, not because the greenery is suspended above visitor, but because the whole garden is built above the main reservoir of the area. Built by Ulhas Ghapokar, the beautiful space had a rather grim purpose. At the time of its construction, the city had functioning “Towers of Silence,” which are a Zoroastrian tradition for keeping “unclean” corpses away from the public. In accordance with the religion, dead bodies are conductors for demon spirits—in order to keep the demons away from the living, towers with wide rooftops were built around cities; bodies would be placed at the top, to be picked over by birds. Ghapokar constructed the Hanging Gardens in order to shield the underground reservoir from contamination.

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At the time of its creation, citizens of Mumbai (then Bombay) looked to a prominent political leader named Pherozeshah Mehta, also known as “The Lion of Bombay.” The Hanging Gardens was officially named Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens to honor the activist, lawyer, and eventual four-time president of Bombay Municipality. When looking down from the air, the path inside the park spells out “PMG” in cursive.

The Gardens Today

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Today, the gardens are a hot spot for tourists and locals alike—mainly for peaceful, quiet activities such as morning jogs and meditation. During our visit (in mid-January), my friends and I took advantage of the distinct absence of crowds, wandering around the space for about an hour. As we were there on a weekday (and during typical work hours), we only ran into about five other groups. This was the most open space we’d experienced in Mumbai so far—so, you can imagine, we took the opportunity to skip around and take unabashedly “touristy” photos. The park features a variety of expertly-manipulated topiaries and gorgeous flowers. Children can play inside the gardens’ “Boot House,” which—as the name suggests—is a large play structure made to look like a woman’s boot. In fact, we passed a group of elementary school students following their teacher through the park, and many pointed to the boot with excitement. Unfortunately, it seems the kids had to be somewhere, so their teacher ushered them along.

We walked and chatted about our experiences thus far in India, our enthusiasm about the next day’s wedding festivities, and the *abundance* of trellises we came across. I remember noting how many more benches/places to sit there were, in contrast to many American parks. Later, after doing some research and speaking with our local friends, it was clear that the gardens are a particularly popular for couples and families to gather together around dusk to watch the sunset and enjoy a picnic. Apparently, even close to its capacity, the space maintains its tranquil atmosphere. It was such a treat to visit.

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Have you been to the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai? What are some of your favorite peaceful spots in the world? Share with us on Instagram!

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