Top Of The Morning To Ya, Guv’nor

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TOP OF THE MORNING TO YA, GUV’NOR

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY MILI SEMLANI

A peahen walked barely a stone’s throw away from me, strutting along the garden as if out for a morning walk. I wasn’t in a bird park or a sanctuary outside the concrete jungle. I was in Mumbai, where it’s seldom possible to see stars in the sky let alone peacocks.

I was at one of the city’s best kept secrets: Raj Bhavan, the official residence of the Governor of Maharashtra.

There has to be an extremely compelling reason for me to get out of bed at 5 a.m., and the chance to visit Raj Bhavan certainly qualifies as one. For a long time I’ve wondered what stood beyond the massive gates that had “Satyamev Jayate” on them. I was able to find out because the state government opened the gates to this secluded and massive property from September 2015 for ordinary citizens to experience a slice of State royalty. The seamless online registration process to request a visit gave me a good first impression about the excursion. Three date combinations, two friends and six conference calls later I earned the spot.

An orange full moon overlooking Haji Ali, empty streets, early morning calm and a sharp chill in the air made it the most magnificent start. We had to pass through intense security checks at wee hours of the morning, and the representative at Raj Bhavan greeted us warmly, quite defying the stereotype of government employees.

There has to be an extremely compelling reason for me to get out of bed at 5 a.m., and the chance to visit Raj Bhavan certainly qualifies as one.

After a detailed registration process that required us to give official ID proofs, we could see highlights of this 50-acre peninsula on the Arabian Sea.

The tour began on a historical note at the landmark spot where Maharashtra was officially formed. From here we could see the few heritage bungalows, Governor’s residence, Prime Minister’s and President’s residences and the banquet hall for official guests and dignitaries.

But this was just the warm up – the greatest lure of signing up for this tour is to witness the sunrise along the skyline of Mumbai.

Just in time for sunrise, the short walk culminated at the yoga temple. We quickly settled on to the colourful yoga mats laid out. Interestingly, this point is where the idea of the tour germinated in the first place. The space was specially carved for the reigning Governor and his yoga rituals. He realised during a morning yoga session that it was an ideal spot to watch the sunrise from and, wanting others to enjoy it, started this programme despite security concerns and reluctance from Mumbai Police.

The 20 minutes at the open-air yoga centre were the best 20 minutes of my day. Facing the emerging sun, as I watched the skyline of my favourite city and the spectrum of rainbow colours in the sky, I experienced a certain sense of euphoria. My mind felt an unusual calm that usually comes on my Himalayan treks. And slowly the full group was lost in the beauty of this sight.

We were allowed to wander around the property a little more than we’d expected. A small downhill slope took us to a Devi temple dedicated to Sri Gundi, the Sea Goddess worshipped by the fisher folk even before the Portuguese came to Mumbai. Every year on a full moon day in July, Raj Bhavan opens its gates to the public who visit this shrine as part of an annual jatra. Much to our surprise, the tour included some tea and biscuits, and the greater delight was sipping tea out of cups engraved with the national emblem at the official boundary of Mumbai.

The secret voyage wasn’t over just yet. We walked parallel to the skyline and the sun amidst lush greenery and special plantation projects undertaken by a former Governor’s wife to see an artificial beach (not operational now) at the edge of the other end of Raj Bhavan.

Just when I thought we were lost in this massive estate, our guide smoothly walked us back to the starting point for yet another stunning view of the sea and call of wild birds.

Perched atop a small hill, Raj Bhavan was built by the British and has been untouched since then. Renovations and restorations in due course have been undertaken without interfering with the original structures.

Raj Bhavan, Walkeshwar Road, Malabar Hill, Mumbai 400 037

 

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