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Well Of Death

Unlike Corinne, who has spent her early years in different parts of India, courtesy the Indian Army, I have always lived in one city, viz. Mumbai. And I grew up in a quaint suburb, just on the outskirts of Greater Bombay, as the city was earlier referred to.

Ranwar Village - Heritage under threat *The suburb was and is called Bandra. Of course, the Bandra of my youth no longer exists except in some sepia photographs in old albums. No, I am not referring to music albums…..

Today, Bandra has merged into the city. And all the old beautiful cottages that dotted the landscape have disappeared to make way for high rise buildings. I guess it is the price of progress.

One of the highlights of any year for Bandraites, especially those who had lived there for generations, was the Bandra Feast and the accompanying Fair. The Bandra Feast is a religious occasion and is celebrated in a Basilica on a hill overlooking the sea, and referred to locally as the Mount and still attracts crowds from all religions.  The Bandra Fair,  on the other hand, was eight days of fun, music, dancing and eating.

I deliberately use the past tense because the Fair as I remember it no longer takes place. Something masquerading as a fair is still held on a road leading down from the Mount, with apartment blocks on both sides.

In the days I am reminiscing about, there were open plots of land on either side of this very same road and stalls were set up in these plots. And one of these plots had something we schoolboys looked forward to visiting and that was the Well of Death.

The Well of Death was literally a well constructed of wooden planks with a viewing gallery along the circumference at the top. You bought a ticket and climbed up to the gallery from where you could look down into the well.

At the bottom of the well were parked three or four well oiled motorbikes, brilliantly painted. Remember, these were days when Mr. Munjal was still manufacturing only Hero cycles and had not yet tied up with Honda Motors to set up Hero Honda Ltd. And those were the days when I did not even own a bicycle. Actually, I think I was still engaged in raising capital to buy one.

So our eyes used to light up to see those bikes parked there in all their glory. As the gallery filled up, all eyes would focus on a door in the wall of the well. And abruptly, the door would open and three or four young men in tightly fitting clothes with dazzling jackets would enter, in single file. Sometimes, they would be accompanied by a young lady, dressed identically.

And without much ado, they would proceed to mount the bikes, kick start the engines and then increase the revs to a crescendo, till all other sounds were drowned out. Oh, what a thrill is was for us youngsters craning our necks to get a view of the daredevils below.

Once the crowd had been mesmerized, one of the riders would slowly roll his bike forward towards the base of the well that was slightly sloped or curved. And he would ride around the base, gaining speed with each successive lap.

And then, suddenly, without any warning, he would angle the bike upward and ride round the vertical walls of the well. In quick succession, another rider would roll his bike and after repeating the preliminary maneuvers,  join the first rider, but  traverse in the opposite direction. Our hearts used to be in our mouths anticipating a collision.

After the first pair had returned to earth, (pun intended) another pair would perform similar acrobatics on their bikes. And as a finale, all the four rides would be riding along the walls, each shooting off in a different direction and scaring us no end.

Whilst we boys would have liked to go to the shows on a daily basis, our financial position was usually quite unstable!  So we could afford to take in one or at the most two shows a year. As we grew older, I guess we just outgrew the thrill of the Well of Death. But the memories of those swashbuckling daredevils will always remain with me.

Corinne tells me that even today, in fairs in other parts of India such shows are held with lots of modern trappings, like music and lighting. Maybe I will one day revisit a Well of Death, if I get an opportunity. And hopefully the thrill will still be there.

Today we’re on W of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.


This post first appeared on From7Eight


Image Credits: Flickr


  1. Meera Meera April 29, 2013

    I agree. I HATE visiting Bandra on the days of the fair, though I do try to visit Mary on one of those days. Bandra just gets congested and driving through it to get to the Basilica is akin to a well of death these days! But the real Well of Death? Just wait for the next Apollo or Gemini circus to come to Bandra and you can watch it in your backyard!


    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 29, 2013

      But who asked you to visit the Basilica during the feast week? Do you think you get special indulgences? In fact, there will be too may petitions. Give Mary a break. The best time to visit is on any of the other days of the year.
      Well of Death at the Apollo or Gemini circus!!! Heard of something called the ball of death. Is that what you are referring to?

  2. Susan Deborah Susan Deborah April 28, 2013

    Jose, you have the knack of bringing alive a spectacle and this is the first time I’m reading of something like this. Not for the faint-hearted, I presume.

    Everything looks so perfect in memories.

    Joy always,

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 28, 2013

      Don’t worry, I will let you in on a secret. They apply Feviquick to the tyres. 😉

  3. Linda Linda April 27, 2013

    This look like such an interesting place to visit! Thanks for sharing, Jose.

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 28, 2013

      Thanks for visiting our blog. Yes, it would interesting to take in a performance.

  4. Amy Amy April 27, 2013

    Wow, Jose, this does look like a thrilling thing to watch!! I know it would make me dizzy to be there watching it. It’s a shame that they don’t have it any more.

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 28, 2013

      It is thrilling and I don’t remember feeling dizzy. You don’t find it any more in the big city where I live but I understand that in other parts of India it is an integral part of a fair.

  5. Katie S Katie S April 27, 2013

    What an impressive feat – and I love how you describe it. I could picture it as if I were there.

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 28, 2013

      Thanks for visiting and the kudos. Yes, it is an impressive feat.

  6. Sulekha Sulekha April 26, 2013

    I have seen these dare devils perform live. It is thrilling and scary at the same time.

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      Yes, thrilling and scary. Especially when the riders travel in opposite directions. Reminds me of the air show I once attended in Kharagpur.

  7. suranga suranga April 26, 2013

    I actually remember the Bandra you describe and the overall ethos. Everything has changed today and become commercialised. I have seen this “Well of death” in fairs in Pune, where I grew up 50 years ago, and you have so well described the whole excitement ! Lovely write up !

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      Thanks for visiting and commenting, Suranga. Anyone who is familiar with Bandra of as recently as three decades ago will identify with what I have described. Since then, things have changed beyond recognition. For better or worse, I really don’t know!

  8. Cathy Graham Cathy Graham April 26, 2013

    I enjoyed reading your memories of your childhood and recollections of the Well of Death, Jose. For a young boy, it must have been thrilling to watch. Can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like that here in Canada.

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      Yes, it was a thrill to watch the spectacle. Corinne asked me to write on W and what immediately came to mind was the Well of Death. Initially, I thought it would be difficult to describe put my memories into words. But once I got down to typing, it was easy. Guess the memories were etched in the sub-conscious.

  9. Winnie Winnie April 26, 2013

    I have never heard of the Wall of Death, but it looks like something a lot of young children (and adults) would love to see. I had to smile when I read about the changes (progress?) of your town from your youth. I live in NYC and so many changes here too. My folks to take all 6 of us to the Irish Festival in Coney Island each year and we would listen to music, see dancing etc. I decided to go again as an adult and found they moved the festival from the location to make the ball field for the Brooklyn Cyclones (baseball) to play. They moved it to a spot that was smaller and crowded and I had to be bused over. Mad me sad, as I won’t go back. But, the hubby loves ball and says the field is GREAT for ball lovers.. Progress for some I guess.

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      Actually, the town has merged into the big city of Mumbai. I sometimes wonder whether we are really better off with all this ‘progress’. For me, at least, progress is happening at such a pace that many are getting left behind. Its like running on a treadmill. You just have to keep going faster to stay on the belt.

  10. Meena Menon Meena Menon April 26, 2013

    something like this would be a part of circus tht came visiting….

  11. G Angela G Angela April 26, 2013

    Very interesting post Jose, nice to hear about bandra and the its fair, you have described it so well, i was getting images of a circus, I saw at Gymkhana grounds in Secunderabad, as a child. It was so much fun to see girls doing gymnastics, and the joker entertaining the crowd. The most frightening show was the one with the motor bike, where I saw guys riding in a globe like ring exactly the way you shared. Now my daughter does not understand what circus is, because we do not see them now. Thanks for sharing !

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      I used to love going to the circus, Janet. Now I wouldn’t dream to doing so, after being educated about how the animals are treated cruel in the circus. But the gymnasts were simply amazing. Particularly, the trapeze artistes.

  12. Suzy Suzy April 26, 2013

    What an interesting story – you had me riveted right to the very last word. I remember these daredevil rides at the circus – but not quite the well of death – more like a ball of death.

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      Ball of Death. That’s interesting. Been to the circus a few times, when I was young. But never saw a Ball of Death. Must have come later.

  13. sridevi sridevi April 26, 2013

    Aahhh! I have witnessed this feat many times and every time I think how do they manage it every time to come out of it alive . I would literally have my heart in my mouth 🙂 But I had see them without any lights and music . Thanks for this lovely piece of nostalgia and Bandra fair seems so much like an endless carnival 🙂

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      Yes, it was one endless carnival. The old time Bandraites used to go to the fair every day, for eight days. I remember my friend’s dad, who worked in the railways and was posted out of the city, used to take leave so that he could go to the fair everyday.

      • sridevi sridevi April 26, 2013

        Sorry for so many typos and grammatical mistakes 🙁

  14. Ruchira Ruchira April 26, 2013

    such things scare me actually !
    I have always wondered how it would feel to stay in a cottage by the sea ..

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      I’d prefer a cottage up in the hill, but I am sure that Corrine would love to stay by the sea.

  15. Afshan Afshan April 26, 2013

    I always had my heart in mouth when ever I saw wall of death during my school days. Corinne is right. Even today in small towns in fairs I guess this stunt happens. I just used to applaud loud and always got scared watching them. The name also adds the eerie to the adventure 🙂
    Good day

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      Yes, it was scary. Never knew when these guys would come unstuck. But I cannot recall hearing of an accident during a performance.

  16. janu janu April 26, 2013

    A very vivid images you have woven here Jose. I have never witnessed a well of death except on TV. It must have been a thrilling experience. 🙂

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      Watching a performance on TV cannot replace the thrill of a live display of courage.

  17. Shilpa Garg Shilpa Garg April 26, 2013

    Oh my god! This is pure nostalgia! We were in Kota then and there was this Kota Dusherra Mela which was organised every year. A pretty famous fair in those times (Don’t know how it is now!) and it was in this fair that I saw the Well of Death for the first time… it sure was a scary and an exhilarating experience. And then there was no looking back. Every year, the visit to the fair was not complete without having a look at the Well if Death!!

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      Scary and exhilarating are the right words to describe the experience. In the days I am referring to, the stars were quite aloof. Now I am sure that they must be mingling with the crowd, like the Kalaripayattu artistes in Kumily.

  18. Kajal Kajal April 26, 2013

    I’ve heard of wells of death all my life, never got a chance to see one, though

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      I believe, like every thing else, the well of death too has evolved. Lots of razmataz. But in its essence it is still requires a dare devil to make it a success.

      • Kajal Kajal April 28, 2013

        Ya, maybe some day, I might get a chance. 🙂

        • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 28, 2013

          Get a chance to do what? Watch the dare devils or ride the bike in the well?;)

  19. Joyce Joyce April 26, 2013

    This sounds amazing! I would love to see the dare devils on bike.

    • José Rodrigues José Rodrigues Post author | April 26, 2013

      It really amazing. Almost like the tyres have been coated with some sticky stuff.

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