Located in the suburbs of Mumbai is a 65 million year old monolith monument called Gilbert Hill.
Gilbert Hill is as old as ‘The Age of the Reptiles’ dating 65 million years. It is made up of black basalt rock columns that were a result of molten lava that got squeezed from the Earth’s clefts. Gilbert Hill is often compared to the Devils Tower in Wyoming and the Devils Postpile National Monument in Eastern California. This also translates that these 3 monuments are the only one of a kind in the world.
In India, Gilbert Hill was granted a National Park status in the year 1952. More recently, efforts from Environmentalists and Geologists resulted in making Gilbert Hill a Grade II Heritage structure. Of course, nothing much has been done about all this and on the contrary, the hill is eroding and the area surrounding it has been nibbled by builders and slum dwellers over the years.
Growing up in Mumbai, many a times I gazed at Gilbert hill in awe while traveling on the JVPD road. I was told by many that the location is not safe, it is not accessible, it is encroached by buildings and slums, etc, etc; But there was always some part in me that wanted to see this crumbling geological monument.
On a Sunday morning, we (that would be my neighbor and I) decided to visit Gilbert Hill. We were amazed to learn of the fact that the hill is located so close to Andheri train station (who would have thought?). As we kept approaching the hill, the roads got narrower and then bumpy and finally we were riding on unpaved roads (kachcha rasta). When we reached the location, Gilbert Hill looked stunning and as if undeterred by the damage that it’s neighboring buildings and slums were causing to it.
Buildings have been erected barely 12 meters away from Gilbert Hill. It did not seem as if builders paid any heed to stay orders on construction as many more buildings were half way through their construction work. Large amount of debris from these construction works lay at one side of the hill; and the number of slums surrounding the plot is beyond counting skills.
We tried to find the entrance to climb the hill and reach the Gaondevi Durgamata temple atop when we were informed by a local that the entrance is a separate route, altogether. So, we clicked a few camera shots and headed on our route to reach the entrance gate from where we could climb Gilbert hill.
Climbing the steps to Gaondevi temple was a bit underwhelming, as we were expecting more steps to climb. Roads, although not in good shape, but are present leading you almost half way to the hill. This leaves you with very little steps to climb.
Once atop, the view is amazing. The expanse of Mumbai suburbs can be seen in a 360 degree view. Buildings, clustered slums, green open grounds, clear blue sky and a sunrise or sunset view (depending on the time of your visit) is what you can expect, positively.
The temple is beautifully maintained unlike the Hill on which the temple stands. Gaondevi temple is closed between 12 and 4, so try to make this either a sunrise trip or a sunset visit.
We started at 7 am and wrapped our trip in less than 2 hours, reaching back home by 9:30 am.
There are 2 routes to reach Gilbert Hill:
One route is to reach the bottom of the hill; and the other route is the entrance gate for Gaondevi temple atop Gilbert hill. The entrance for Gaondevi temple is much more accessible compared to the route to reach the bottom of Gilbert hill. Both routes, however, can be reached from Andheri station. Once you reach NADCO shopping center on the Andheri S.V. Road, you take the turn just opposite NADCO to go uphill. Keep going straight and take the second right which will lead you to the stairway entrance to climb Gilbert hill. Another landmark for this route is the Andheri Jamatkhana (A place of gathering and worship for the Muslims).
To reach the Bottom of the hill, you need to come back to the junction from where you took a right and drive further down (8 to 10 min).
Is it Recommended?
Visiting Gilbert Hill needs strong will. Accessing this place can be tricky as well. But once you make it here, the feeling is that of an accomplishment to reach a place so grungy, unrefined and less accessible. Note: This is not a tourist spot in any sense, be it location or maintenance. So, Gilbert Hill may not go down well with some visitors.
Gilbert Hill is also not prepared for tourists from far off places. Mumbaikars and experimental travelers, however, should try to check this place out. Although, there are Government plans to make this a Tourist Spot, it is unlikely that this will happen anytime soon. On the contrary, if you do not visit this place sooner, the hill is eroding and getting smaller in size until one day when there would be barely any remains of this monolith to claim its existence.
Tips for you:
- Cars are NOT recommended for this visit. The roads are extremely narrow with potholes and there are some climbs as well. A 2 wheeler would be just fine or local transport like autorickshaw is good. The location can also be reached walking from Andheri station in no more than half an hour.
- Do not hesitate or shy away from asking for directions if the route gets confusing. We asked nearly 5 people on our journey. They were all friendly and politely guided us.
- When asking for directions bear in mind that there are 2 different routes: one, to reach the Bottom of the Hill and the other for climbing the hill and accessing Gaondevi temple. So if you want to reach the Bottom of the hill, you ask for Gilbert Hill directions; but if you want to climb the hill and reach the temple you ask for the route to Gaondevi Temple.
- If you use online maps for locating Gilbert Hill, better to type Gaondevi Temple. The location is the same, but entrance to Gaondevi Temple is from where you climb Gilbert Hill.