MaximumCityMadam was back in town and it was her birthday. What did she want to do? Visit Sassoon Docks to take photos and 'take in the atmosphere' of course!
An early morning visit to Mumbai's oldest docks - at the south end of Colaba Causeway - is certainly not for the faint hearted. But if you can overcome the smell that hits you far before you even reach the main entrance, you will be impressed by the frenzied activity of the Koli fishermen and women that lies beyond.
The Sassoon Dock was built in 1875 by Albert Abdullah David Sassoon - son of the Baghdadi Jew David Sassoon who himself was responsible for building the historic Sassoon Library in Colaba. The Sassoons were traders of cotton and the dock was originally used to unload this valuable commodity. However, after the decline of the Indian cotton industry, fishing became the main activity there. Since then, the docks have employed thousands from the Koli fishing community - the most ancient residents of the original Mumbai islands. (The same folk that we have previously photographed when we visited Worli Fishing Village).
Although the fishing boats return to the docks at 5am, the activity continues all day. We got there at about 9.15am by which time the men were making repairs to their nets and busily trading fish in a covered area beside the sea. The main fish that you see in the big plastic tubs and crates are pomfret, mackerel, rawas (Indian salmon), kingfish and bombil. It's absolute mayhem as the fish are dragged from the boats to the side of the dock and carted around by porters on long handcarts as other men and women crowd around to negotiate their trades. You have to be very careful where you step - MCM slipped on a squid which had fallen off a cart - thankfully she did not fall over into a fetid puddle (sorry MCM, but that was an amusing banana-skin moment!).
The Koli fisherwomen - brightly dressed in traditional costume, process, pack and freeze the fish before sending it off to destinations across Maharashtra. The women are an extremely grumpy bunch and don't allow you to take their photos - aggressively putting up their hands when you try to interact with them. In fact, although you are welcome to have a look around, you are not allowed to take photographs at all unless you have permission from the Mumbai Port Trust. Thankfully for us MCM brought a friend whose maid's husband is a big cheese at the docks. We arranged to meet up with him and he proudly gave us a tour of the area. We were allowed to take photos - but mostly of the men as we'd given up with the women by then. I can't blame them really - they were after all breaking their backs at work whilst we were spying on them with our lenses.
|Grumpy Koli Fisherwomen
After two hours of touring the docks and viewing the incessant but interesting activity, we were ready to go off for breakfast. When we got back in the car, our driver Peter was so disgusted by the smell that he sprayed each of us with his bottle of aftershave!
Note: if you wish to visit Sassoon Docks, I recommend that you wear closed shoes with a good grip as there is a lot of fishy water on the ground (and the usual Mumbai detritus). The area nearest to the sea is guarded and you will be told to put your camera away unless you have permission from the Port Trust. I have not been able to locate any specific tours to Sassoon Docks.
|Koli fisherwomen buying coriander for themselves
|New nets being woven
|Above and below - nets being repaired. Feet are used to hook the netting
|We were told that this is 20 lakh Rs of net! (£20,000/$30,000)
|This bag of fish represents what is left over for the fishermen and their families to eat - the good stuff is sold at market.
|The fishing boats can be out to sea one month at a time
|Water supplies for the boats.
|Cacophony of sights, sounds and ...smells!
|Trading of today's catch
|Love the hat!
|Ice being crushed prior to distributing for the packing of the fish
|Impromptu fish sale
|Mackerel - as fresh as you like
|A Koli fisherwoman mid-trade
|No digital scales here!
|Fish being carried out to waiting trucks which will then take the supplies all over Maharashtra and perhaps beyond.
|Truck driver prepares to leave