The unquenchable demand for private spaces in Mumbai and the city's legendary entrepreneurial spirit have combined to turn mangroves in Navi Mumbai into lovers' secret chambers.
Early on Friday evening, the Vashi police busted eight to ten make-shift shelters set deep inside the mangrove jungle abutting Mini Chowpatty, a popular hangout of Navi Mumbai, that were being rented out to couples in search of a few moments of privacy.
The rates charged were reasonable - Rs 100 per hour with a mosquito coil free, because swarms for mosquitoes often joined frisky partners in the frenzy.
These shelters were located 10 to 15 metres deep into the mangroves just off Mini Chowpatty's popular jogging track with narrow, tunnel-like paths leading to the sex pads.
Surrounded by mangroves and some clumsily collected foliage from all sides, the 10 feet-by-10 feet bald patches had thermocol blocks covered by flex posters as beds.
You could be jogging and inside there in the mangroves it could be the Italian PM with all his bunga bunga girls and would not see a thing.
The unusual activity - couples disappearing into the mangroves and a tout collecting money - however caught this reporter's attention early on Friday evening.
A little investigation, a walk around the mangroves and a conversation with the tout revealed the racket and also a couple startled by the intrusion.
When the matter was reported to Senior Inspector, Vashi, Raosaheb Sardesai, he sent a raiding party to the spot and rounded up five couples. The tout, however, managed to slip away.
Mini Chowpatty is popular with residents of Vashi, Nerul, Belapur and Ghansoli nodes.
People from all walks of life frequent the creek-front to relax in its gardens, jog or enjoy a speed boat/pedal boat ride.
That this leisure spot was turned into a sleazy make-out joint by touts taking advantage of young couples’ need for privacy has come as a shock to the residents of the area.
People also questioned how these love shacks were allowed to be constructed in the first phase. “This clearly involves hacking of mangroves and then dumping debris to level the ground.
Where were the cops and the municipal authorities when all this was being done,” said a resident of Vashi who did not wish to be identified.