Tucked away in a tiny corner of Mazgaon, we will find what is left of Mumbai’s very own Chinatown, complete with the Kwan Tai Shek Chinese temple and cemetery.
Mazgaon isn’t a typical tourist spot, but it’s small China Town makes it so. Located a few metres away from the busy Dockyard Road train station, it is difficult to imagine that this area was once a thriving Chinese neighbourhood and community. Though nothing to rival Calcutta’s famous Chinatown, the one here in Mazgaon once had thousands of Chinese families, largely traders, up until the 1960s.
With the 1962 Sino-Indian war, most of the community left Mumbai having faced discrimination and persecution, with many being viewed as traitors. The old caretaker who opened the temple for us told us that there are now fewer than 3,000 Chinese people left in the area, many of them old and more at home in India. We had interrupted his afternoon nap, and he was little less than welcoming and after much discussion and hand gesturing he finally opened the temple for us.
On the second floor of a two story building, there are no large dragons or obvious Chinese figurines that might mark this as a temple, except for some Chinese inscriptions on the door and building front. One enters through a simple yet elegant red and gold door on the ground floor and as you climb up to the second floor you are greeted by wise words of Confucius and other saints along the walls.
The temple itself is also simple, with the alter, a large table with artifacts, markings on the walls and scriptures all in red and gold. It was a striking difference to the blueness of the mosque we had seen earlier. The temple is more of a shrine dedicated to an army general and is an important place of worship during the Moon festival and Chinese New Year.
Outside the temple, we don’t see any other members of the community to speak to and it is a little disappointing, though all the houses and buildings have ethnic Chinese names on the doors giving the street a sense of distinction. Perhaps it was the heat of the afternoon, but the little street seemed rather forlorn as we left, as though waiting to open itself up to more curious visitors and travelers. Head here anytime you like, but don’t make it too late – the surly caretaker might not be too happy with that.
Photos courtesy: reDiscovery Project