Visiting a Historic, and Hidden, Area of Mumbai

Khotachiwadi, a historic area of Mumbai, is like Platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter series: invisible to all but those who know exactly where it is or are determined to find it. The narrow lane leading into the wadi, or hamlet, does nothing to inspire confidence and, like Harry and his friends, you need to take a leap of faith and enter.

Inside, visitors are well-rewarded: Khotachiwadi is a colorful, quiet and quirky world, a maze of crumbling 19th-century bungalows and chawls (communal living quarters typical in Mumbai) painted in bright colors, with latticed windows, overhanging balconies and winding wooden staircases. Walking through the area gives you a glimpse into old Goa, or even a forgotten part of Portugal.

Or closer to home, Khotachiwadi is a throwback to the times when Mumbai was only a collection of small villages.

One of the most attractive homes inside Khotachiwadi, very close to the main gate, belongs to the Felizardos, originally from Goa. Stop by the house to admire the stunning mosaic floor and chat with young Willy Felizardo about his adopted city. Or drop into designer James Pereira’s beautifully preserved home just across the lane; Mr. Pereira himself is a storehouse of information about the Khotachiwadi community.

The wadi is believed to have sprung up around 1840, developed by Dadoba Waman Khot from the Pathare Prabhu community (a group of strict Hindu Brahmins) who sold plots of land to the growing group of East Indian Christians. It was declared a Mumbai Heritage Precinct in 1995 as part of a serious conservation effort across the city.

Khotachiwadi, though, sits on prime land in one of the most expensive areas of Mumbai, and property developers have been eyeing it for many years now. Residents are slowly giving up the struggle to maintain their homes, anachronisms in the age of steel and concrete.

So the time to visit Khotachiwadi is now; as it is, only 28 of the original 65 bungalows inside the gated colony have survived. The best time to go is around Christmas when the houses are lit up and authentic East Indian home cooking is on offer. The group Bombay Heritage Walks (91-22-2369-0992; www.bombayheritagewalks.com) conducts walking tours inside Khotachiwadi.

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Read online about Khotachiwadi here – my first piece for the New York Times travel blog…

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