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The picnic outing has been recalled to life.

There’s a joke in the Bhonsle family that if they can find a carpet size of lush green, they’ve got to turn it into a picnic spot. “I grew up reading Enid Blyton. Be it The Five Find-Outers or The Faraway Tree series, I have continued the tradition of reading to my kids. With that, the concept of picnic has been ingrained in their childhood. We always have a picnic basket ready and a tent to pitch up. It is my elder son’s job to pack the finger foods, be it popcorn or biscuits, along with a drink,” shares 44-year-old Aditi Bhonsle.

In an era, where children spent hours twiddling on their gadgets or stay hooked on to a screen for entertainment, Bhonsle made a conscious effort to make her kids independent. “Children today show symptoms of borderline ADD (attention deficit disorders); always needing to be entertained, much to their parents’ dilemma,” she adds. But her kids are happy to sprawl on the green grass and weave a world around twigs and stones. From the Byculla Zoo to the Juhu and Girgaum Chowpatty beaches or even the park in their building, the options are many. “I never carry the usual board games along which makes them use their creativity and stay entertained. Be it London or Lonavla, picnicking is our family tradition!”

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Simpler Times
Sixty-year-old Dr Sanjiv Gandhi takes us back to the 70s and 80s and narrates tales of the time he spent with his “railing friends”. “The Five Gardens have these typical railings and my generation and many before them grew up there. Now they are misused, but back then, our days didn’t end without spending some time on the railings. And, there was an art to sit on them. Today, I can sit on it for an hour without discomfort. As kids, I remember we would take sandwiches along and chat away.

Cooking with Nature
For Chef Ambar Samtani, who spends most of his time inside the claustrophobic hot kitchens, every meeting with his friends from the industry means a picnic getaway where they jam over grills. “Almost every 20-25 days, we take off to the Yeoor Hills and set up a barbeque. Other times, I also go off to explore it on my own with a tent in tow. I like to move out and be close to nature. I have spent many years in London and many afternoons at Hyde Park with canned foods, salamis and chutney sandwiches. Now we make our own marinades, and sauces. We have a strict 'no social media and no phone rule' at such picnics. It is just us in the company of nature,” he adds.  

World Inspired
It was a picnic spent in Skansen, the open-air zoo and cultural space in Stockholm, Sweden, that made Independent lifestyle writer and bespoke tour guide Priya Pathiyan picnic-ready. “My husband and I carried some sandwiches (gurka, which is pickled cucumber, and cheese) and some pastries to a beautiful spot facing a stream and enjoyed them in the company of friendly colourful birds, a curious peacock and some greedy seagulls!”


Priya Pathiyan and her picnic basket, at Varsoli Beach

On her return, she added a picnic basket from Crawford Market and a lovely portable picnic mat for her frequent picnic outings. “About five years ago, we went to Varsoli beach in Alibag, a clean beach with not too many people. We packed some assorted sandwiches, a can of apple juice that we mixed with rum and a dash of cinnamon, and a bluetooth speaker to play our favourite soundtracks and catch the beautiful sun go down,” says Pathiyan, who fondly recalls her childhood days of visiting Sanjay Gandhi National Park with her family and reading Enid Blyton's Famous Five series. “Outdoor picnics are a lovely way to connect with nature, disconnect from all the gadgetry we surround ourselves with and find an oasis of peace in the midst of the city's chaos. I wish more public places offered things like trestle tables under trees that are commonplace abroad.”

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Re-live childhood memories
In 2017, freelance writer Moeena Halim got a surprise on her 33rd birthday. Her husband Shoaib Lokhandwala organised a picnic at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali, with 15-20 of her friends. “It's easy to reach and there's no other open place like the national park within the city. We knew finding a picnic spot to park ourselves for a mid-morning picnic wouldn't be difficult and that our friends could also easily make it there.” We grabbed some delicious puffs and patties from A-1 Bakery in Bandra, carried cold juices in ice boxes and packs of potato chips as munchies. There was a cake, of course, which had been delivered straight to the national park.


Moeena Halim, Shoaib Lohkhandwala and their friends at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park 

Lokhandwala, an executive producer, says he wanted Halim and their friends to relive their childhood memories of playing games such as bat-ball, volleyball and throw ball. “We complain about the lack of green spaces in the city. However, we don't really celebrate what the city really offers. I wanted everyone to detox from their phones, the loud blaring music and have a back-to-school feel to the get-together,” he explains.

While the city has become more congested, there are (see list) still some great outdoor spots for those longing to bring back the simple yet long lost charm of picnics to unwind over the weekends.

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Mumbai-based chef Rajat Mendhi, who goes by the name Incurable Cook, was visiting a friend in Bandra early this year when the jackfruit tree in his backyard stirred a nostalgic memory of outdoor picnics. This led him to introduce Bombay Picnics in March 2019. “A picnic is a state of mind. I wanted to create an outdoor gathering of good food, fun times and happy people,” The concept is a picnic-style gathering that offers one a seat at a table for 10-12 along with copious amount of good food and fun. 


Glimpses from Rajat Mendhi's first picnic under the banner of Bombay Picnics.

Picnics, he agrees, is all about nostalgia. “I remember growing up in Bandra, and going to school picnics across the city. Once a year, when I’d visit my grandparents in Jamshedpur, my outdoorsy uncles (mamas) would pack us in Matador vans and take us to Jubilee Park, which was one-third the size of the city. The car was fitted with a fire stove and I remember gorging on aloo bhajis and garam puris,” says Mendhi, a Le Cordon Bleu chef who now attempts to find his own contemporary take on food. “I try to serve food that is inspired by memories,” he adds. At a recent event, he turned the puri into a puff pastry and served it with Bengali-style shaada aloo tempered with mustard oil, chillies, kalonji and garnished with wasabi peas for the punch. 

For the picnic-craving soul, here’s a list of 13 best picnic spots in Mumbai to get your inspiration active: 


Vasai Fort
The Portuguese fort is also called Fort Bassein and comes under the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). The nearest station is Vasai.
Where:
Killa Rd, Police Colony, Vasai West, Vasai-Virar, Palghar
Timing: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm

Yeoor Hills
The Thane end of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, it is the perfect spot to set up a tent by Upvan Lake.
Where: Near Upvan Lake, Thane
Timing 7:00 am to 6:00 pm

Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Hire a bike on Sundays, hike up to Kanheri caves, go bird-watching and spread a picnic in the parks. There’s plenty to do here.
Where:  Borivali East
Timing: 7:30 am to 5:30 pm

Varsoli beach, Alibag
Around 3 kilometers from Alibag, this is a pristine beach that has plenty of space to spread out picnic mats and also indulge in water sports activities.
Where:
Catamaran from Gateway of India to Mandwa jetty, then drive to Varsoli Beach, close to Alibag town
Timing: Till midnight

Pushpa Narsee Park, Juhu
Every Sunday, the Juhu Farmer’s Organic Market led by SHARAN, a health awareness non-profit organisation, is set up at the park. It offers cooking classes, free trials and vegan goodies. Take your bike or hula hoop, and spend the day in good health.
Where: Pushpa Narsee Park, JVPD Scheme, Juhu
Timing:
11:00 am to 1:00 pm

Marve Beach
The area also has a Portuguese church. Ferry rides every 5-10 minutes from here to Manori beach.
Where: Malad
Timing:
closes at midnight

Aksa Beach
Take your cricket kit, frisbee and football along. It is important to be careful of high tide during monsoons.
Where: Aksa Village, Malad West
Timing: 12:00 noon to 12:00 midnight

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Gorai Beach
The beach is close to Global Vipassana Pagoda as well as the villages of Uttan and Uran. The Gorai beach is calm, though the water is unfit for swimming. Set up your picnic spot and enjoy the breeze with the backdrop of a setting sun.
Where: Bhayender
Timing: Accessible all through the day

Five Gardens
In the middle of traffic and chaos of the city, find some green and enjoy the world go by.
Where: Lady Jehangir Road, Dadar (E), near Dadar Parsi Colony 
Timing: 7:30 am to 10:00 pm

Hanging Garden
While this garden does not allow food, it boasts of an envious view of South Mumbai.
Where: Ridge Rd, Simla Nagar, Malabar Hill
Timing: 5:00 am to 9:00 pm

Central Park
With lots of space to set up a picnic around the lake and a open-air amphitheater, regulars suggest not to go on Sunday evenings when the park is most crowded.
Where: Kharghar, Navi Mumbai
Timing: 5:00 am to 9:00 am; 4:00 pm to 8:30 pm

Cross Maidan
In 2012, the dumping ground was turned back into its glory with lush green grass, a modern installation and the space was venue for Kala Ghoda Festival. Cross Maidan, Azad Maidan, Oval Maidan and the Cooperage once formed part of the vast open space outside the Fort, known as the Esplanade.
Where: Mahatma Gandhi Road, New Marine Lines, Marine Lines
Timing: 5:00 am to 10:00 pm 

Oval Maidan 
Best known for budding cricketers and football enthusiasts, this garden can be a great picnic spot as long as you are away from the crease. 
Where: 140, Maharishik Karve Marg, Mantralaya, Churchgate
Timing: 6:00 am to 10:30 pm

Featured image: Shutterstock.com

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