Make this Ganesh Chaturthi a memorable experience – book a tour to guide you through the maze.
“Many people want to see visarjan at Chowpatty but are intimidated by the idea. We try to provide a safe and fun way to see the immersion in a group and be part of the celebrations,” says Deepa Krishnan of Mumbai Magic. The tours start much before the beginning of the festival. A group of 26 students from Washington were taken to see the crafting of idols in the lanes of Parel in the first week of September.
On the first day of the festival when the idols are coming in, Mumbai Magic takes you around neighbourhood pandals to see the processions. Also thrown in is a visit to the flower markets, and sampling modaks, the quintessential festival sweet and Ganesha’s favourite. Guests also get a glimpse of eco-friendly celebrations at the Mayor’s Bungalow during private tours. “They have an immersion pond created for the festival to prevent the sea from getting polluted,” says Krishnan. “There are no large idols. Families come with their personal home idols. It is a great atmosphere. The true spirit of the festival can be seen.”
Mumbai Magic does individual private tours on all the days preceding immersion day. These are customised according to guests’ interests. Tour prices depend on number of people and itineraries.
Dr Coriné Herbst of Norkem Park, South Africa took a tour last year. “I honestly didn’t realise the scale of the festival,” she says. “In South Africa, we don’t really have many festivals; we lead a very different lifestyle. With Deepa, the first exciting part was the train trip – “Nothing could prepare me for that. We then arrived at the station; we emerged at a main which led us to the ocean. I remember walking all the way up; I had never seen so many people together in one area! The trucks with the floats were amazing!” Deepa explained that each family had their own idol and float and walked behind their truck to send the idol off into the ocean. If the float didn’t make it off the shoreline then it was a bad ‘omen’.” Corine’s high point was when a family decided to invite her onto their truck at the immersion. For more, click here or check out their Facebook page.
“We want to introduce guests to the festival through a variety of angles,” says Reality Tours marketing director Nick Hamilton, a French-American from Seattle, Washington. The company has made a name for itself due to their Dharavi Slum Tours. Their Ganesh Fest tour is based in the same area. Guests are shown the different ways the festival is celebrated in Dharavi by visiting the homes of families from various regions of India; they learn the history of the festival’s modern form with a visit to the society/chawl that Bal Gangadhar Tilak lived in.
Tilak is credited with starting the modern-day version of Ganesh fest celebrations when he devised the community-based, public celebrations as a way to circumvent a curfew imposed by the British. Included in the tour is a public pandal in Kumbharwada, the potter’s colony in Dharavi. “We start in Dharavi and visit a few homes and then we head south and visit the housing society responsible for the modern form of the celebration, to get some history. Finally we head to Chowpatty to witness the immersions,” says Hamilton. More, here and here.
Breakaway offers two tours – one that leads up to Ganesh Chaturthi, which takes guests through Lalbaug to experience the making of the idols, and the general air of excitement; the other is an experience of the festivities during the festival.
In the first tour, guests meet at a pre-decided venue and proceed to a Maharashtrian household which has brought the idol home for the festival, and are a part of the traditional aarti. After this, they hop over to the idolmakers’ quarters and round up the trip with a visit to the Sarvajanik Ganesh mandal to see decorations and attend evening aarti. The trip ends with a cup of tea and a snack.
The second tour is in the lanes of Lalbaug, where Lalbaugcha Raja (King of Lalbaug) resides – one of the biggest and among the oldest in the city. This tour is offered in association with Beyond Bombay. The lanes tell stories of erstwhile mill workers and tamasha artists, and are home to artisans who make Ganesh idols for the festival. Meandering through Ganesh shaalas where Ganpati idols sit at different levels of completion, guests learn about the science of making idols or ‘murtividyan’.
Guests get to walk through the popular Ganesh Galli, Masala Galli, Chiwda Galli and other gallis that dot this area. They also get to visit the shrine of a famous tamasha artist at Hanuman Theater, a space that was hub of entertainment as it hosted tamashas (a folk dance which was a great attraction for mill workers in the area). They get to experience the buzzing Lalbaug market, and the hub of Marathi films – Bharatmata cinema hall, and much more. Tea and some local snacks are a part of the tour. Costs depend on group size and chosen travel options. More, here.
The Maharashtra Tourism Board operates special Mumbai Ganeshotsav Darshan package tours in air-conditioned buses. These include four of the most important mandals – Lalbaugcha Raja, Mumbaicha Raja, Keshavji Naik Chaal Sarvajani Ganeshutsav Mandal (established in 1893 by Lokmanya Tilak) and Andhericha Raja. They also throw in a visit to Siddhivinayak Temple.
They also operate an Ashtavinayak Tour (Vinayak is another name for Ganesh) to eight (astha) naturally-formed sculpted stone statues housed in old temples where these statues were first found. The Ashta Vinayak temples are within the range of 20km to 110km of each other.
Their Ganesh Fest tour is fresh off the rocks – it was introduced this year. “We have registered many bookings particularly from foreign inbound travellers,” says director Wasim Shaikh. “We take the guests through various pandals, adjusting the timing to avoid long queues and cover the maximum during the given time.”
The tour includes a visit to a Maharashtrian family where guests can experience the customs and food like modak, shankar pali, rava ladoos, take part in the arti et al. The tour includes walks in the Khetwadi area where every lane has a pandal. Prices begin at Rs 3,500, including pick-up and drop from hotel/residence, a vehicle, lunch, services of professional English-speaking guides etc. The response has been huge, says Shaikh. “We plan to share this with most of our principal tour operators based in the UK, US, and France for next year.”