IT IS a road that once played a crucial role in Indo-Arab trade and later the Portuguese used it to monopolise sea routes in the Arabian Sea. The humble Ghodbunder Road, the state highway 42 or as shops on the road refer to it, GB Road, that now connects Thane to the northern suburbs of Mumbai like Borivali, at one point acted as a bridge between distant cultures.
At present, the pothole-ridden road, dreaded by motorists and surrounded by housing societies, is a far cry from what was once a road flanked by lush green fields and a rich flora and fauna.
Thane-based historian Sadashiv Tetvilkar, who has authored 10 books including those on forts of Thane, talks about how Ghodbunder was called ‘Ghodegaon’.
“There were several empires that fought wars. Horses, especially strong ones, were a precious commodity in the backdrop of these wars. The Persian horses came from Arab countries and landed at the port (bunder) at the west end of this road. Hence, it initially came to be known as ‘Ghodegaon’ (horse village). It was around the time of Chhatrapati Shivaji in the later centuries that the road got named after the port, and was called Ghodbunder Road,” Tetvilkar told The Indian Express.
In fact, such was the premium on horses then that when traveller Marco Polo visited India, he wrote about how the kings ruling Thane had a pact with pirates that they should not attack any ships carrying horses. Tetvilkar adds, “After a point, only ships carrying horses were harboured at the port. Given the importance of the Ghodbunder port, several merchants had divided their ships into three parts, with the lowest sections being used to keep horses. Horses that would land at Ghodbunder would then be sent to Kalyan, Vasai, Naneghat among other places. It was the central point for trading horses.”
The Ghodbunder fort located at Ghodbunder village at the west end of the approximately 20 km road that links both the Eastern Express and the Western Express Highways came much later during the Portuguese period. After the Portuguese came to Thane in 1530, they constructed the Ghodbunder fort. The fort was ready in 1730 and the Portuguese, historians say, greatly benefited by it. “They would demand ships passing from the spot to pay Octroi. As a result of the Portuguese conquest of the coast, the Arab trade with India through this port almost stopped,” Tetvilkar said. The Marathas under Chimaji Appa later besieged the fort and took it from the Portuguese in 1737, he added. Horse trade at the port stopped soon after.
Locals say that till 1950, it was only a kuchcha road with residents of centuries old villages like Waghbil, Majhiwada, Patlipada, Ghodbunder, Kolshet and Kasarwadavli using bullock carts for transport. “The area also had considerable plants like cashew, mangoes that were brought in by the Portuguese. There were also snakes and scorpions. The area was rich in flora and fauna,” the historian adds.
Tetvilkar says that a pucca road was laid in 1950. “The Corporation was established in 1983 until when Thane only comprised of the railway station to the Castle Mill junction on the west end and Kalwa to the north end. However, later Ghodbunder road too was included in Thane and there were parcels of land ready for sale,” he says.
Mangala Kamble (48) residing near the Hiranandani Estate for 15 years, said, “Over the past decade there has been increased connectivity. While it is true the area has become crowded, we now have buses every minute and travel has become much better.”
Subrot Sikdar (30), a Mira Road resident who drives down the Ghodbunder road often, said, “Heavy vehicles use the Ghodbunder road. There are some sharp turns where the heavy vehicles cause a lot of traffic. Also, at the Mira Road end of the Ghodbunder road, a bridge is being constructed since a long time. As a result of that, they shut traffic on one side, at times for over 15 minutes, that leads to traffic jams.”