Gilbert Hill In Andheri Is Over 65 Millions Years Old



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Gilbert Hill is an ancient structure with breathtaking views and a temple that sits atop it.

At the foot of the vertiginous stairway glued to Gilbert Hill, I smile at – and pass – the old lady in the nine-yard sari. Halfway up the 180 steps I’m clinging onto the rail for support, and she has overtaken me. This hill is high, but I’m not mighty.

At 200ft, it isn’t much of a topographical giant. Rajabai Tower dwarfs it by 80ft. Antilia is over two-and-a-half times taller. Malabar Hill, its seaside cousin, is just a few metres shorter. What it lacks in height it makes up for in history – Gilbert Hill is over 65 million years old.

Older than Mumbai, India, the Himalayas and mankind, Gilbert Hill is named after the geologist who coined the term that describes it: laccolith. Formed by the overflow of molten lava from the innards of Mesozoic earth, it is a single block of black basalt. To my untrained eye, it looks like an upturned bucket. As sweat pours into my eyebrows and my heart thuds in my ears, I don’t ponder over any of this until I reach the plateau on its summit. Friedman was right – the world is flat.

There are no maddening pigeons up here; Gilbert Hill is where eagles dare.

Thirty-seven years ago, my then 13-year-old father stood where I stand. He and a bunch of his class-eight friends spent most of their lunch hour and a part of the next period exploring the irresistible mountain in their school’s backyard (and earned two sound thwacks and a firing for their intrepidity). I wonder what he saw. The Gaondevi Durgamata temple on top, existed even then. So did the green acres of Juhu grassland. But the 16-storey building next door, its mosaic-tiled terrace just a smidge lower, is new. So is the silver worm of the Metro, here again, gone again between buildings as it slides along the sinuous curve between Andheri and Azad Nagar.

I stroll along the garden path around the temple where a potbellied priest secures the folds of his saffron dhoti and waddles after delighted children shaking flowers off his champa tree. He lives up here. What a view he has!

The unruffled sea resembles a shaggy teal carpet hung up to dry on the clothesline of the western horizon; a vantage point to watch monsoon clouds loom over the land. The palm-fronds of Madh pose alluringly, so near yet so far. In the north-west glitters the model-town of Lokhandwala. To the north, construction cranes fish for FSI off the concrete mountains of Oshiwara.

A young couple use their index fingers to trace the trajectory of planes taking off the runway, past the ATC tower, over the highway and into the blue. Three Air India aircraft sit stabled in hangars, awaiting their turn. The north-east is blanketed by the doomed forests of Aarey Milk Colony. The south is impassive, as are the present-day workhouses of Worli, poking and prodding the skyline.

Twelve angry parakeets perch atop an electric cable sloping down to slums and squawk about the state of the nation. An entrepreneurial woman feeds, perhaps breeds, white doves on her roof. There are no maddening pigeons up here; Gilbert Hill is where eagles dare. The wind buffets a young ’un this way and that, sometimes backwards too.

The unruffled sea resembles a shaggy teal carpet hung up to dry on the clothesline of the western horizon; a vantage point to watch monsoon clouds loom over the land.

A deliriously happy kid points out familiar landmarks to his family: “Iskooool!” “Matrooo!” “Beeeech!” Broods of children swing away in a park below like so many Lilliputians in Legoland. A bossy daughter gives her mum tips for the perfect selfie. For many people, this is the highest accessible spot in the city.

Are those copper-pods and gulmohars in full bloom, or has someone sprinkled yellow and red confetti all over the suburbs? I try locating my building in the distance – faint pink with a red streak down its side. There it is! I wave at memories of evenings spent atop the water-tank, wondering about the big rock yonder. Gilbert Hill is just a fifteen-minute walk from my home, but this is my first time here.

Only when I leave via a different path do I see its western face, glowing golden in the twilight sun – worn, weathered and wrinkled like a centenarian’s visage, but unbroken still. And only when I leave it behind do I understand what it really is; like a lighthouse in Scotland, like the Grey Havens of Middle-Earth – a Watchtower over the Western Sea.

Gilbert Hill, Sagar City, Andheri (w), Mumbai 400 047.

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