Wandering Through Bombay–8: Fort, Colaba And The British Architecture

Few weeks back I took an early Sunday morning walk in the Fort and Colaba districts of South Bombay. And when I say early morning, I mean so early that even the local trains run vacant post Bombay Central station. Of course, who else but a loony like me would land at Churchgate at 5:30 AM on a Sunday morning.
So as per the map below, I started from Churchgate station, covering High Court and the clock tower while walking alongside the Oval Maiden I reached Mondegar where I had breakfast, then went to Gateway of India, returned back to Colaba Causeway and went to Leopold’s for beer and headed back to Elphinstone circle via Kala Ghoda, then through Flora Fountain I headed to St George’s Hospital to catch a glimpse of Fort wall and then to Victoria Terminus (VT) to head back home.

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The purpose of the walk was to cover South Bombay’s British Art Deco edifices of the great Victorian era. Those buildings reminiscent of the ages when the roads here were frequented by the British in Victoria carriages, the ages when Eros and Regal cinemas used to play the reels of latest British blockbusters unloaded from London and where competitive bets were passionately placed on the horses at the race course.
Sigh… I wish I was a part of something of the likes of Midnight in Paris, call it Midnight in Bombay, where by getting into a Victoria carriage at midnight from Town Hall steps one magically time travels to the Bombay of 1920s, away from the traffic and crowds of the modern day metropolis to the era of British sophistication.
If only that was real…


A rare sight, this above at 5:30 in the morning in the local train nearing Churchgate Station.


Again a rare sight, such traffic free roads outside of Churchgate station, goodness we have Sundays.
Also I’ve noticed this feature peculiar to Bombay, in various parts across the city one can see such tiled roads, rather than the usual tar ones, maybe this comes from the British too…


Eros Cinemas, one of the oldest cinema hall of Bombay built by the British, it plays Bollywood movies today where once in its days of glory it used to play British and American blockbusters.


Bombay High Court and Rajabai Clock tower as seen from across Oval Maiden.


There are many such buildings from the British era scattered around South Bombay, some like this one are non descript and uncared for, while many more are well known and well maintained, like David Sasoon library, Bombay police headquarters etc. Another thing worth noticing is that almost all of the current administrative buildings occupied by Maharashtra government are built by the British.


Serene stretch of road at Kala Ghoda.


Another movie hall built by the British, Regal cinema, which stands at a strategic location, at the mouth of Colaba Causeway and which today screens Bollywood movies.


Gateway of India. Bombay’s landmark. The monument built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to India, also saw the last British troops pass under its span in 1948 before leaving India and ending the British Raj. Today its Bombay’s most popular tourist spot where people from across the nation come, take photographs, make merry and litter the surroundings without realizing the significance of this monument. Barely a head is raised to read the inscription still clearly visible after more than a century.
The glimpse of this gateway was the first thing anyone visiting India by sea caught; the British troops, businessmen, adventurers who left their land for the lure of India were welcomed by this monument standing headstrong. Sadly its a forgotten monument today, of an era of the peak of British empire which ruled a third of the planet before coming to the state today of just an island with symbolic monarchy.
History is interesting, indeed.

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Near the navy docks, the painted walls. Such street art can be seen in the affluent areas of Bombay, specially Bandra.


Jehangir Art Gallery, I had been here in my early months in Bombay, the art collections here are truly amazing; the time when I was here, an exhibition of a group of Kashmiri artists was held. Apart from the modern art, there were some exceptional pieces of stone works. The cafe here, Samovar, is highly praised and is also mentioned in Suketu Mehta’s book Maximum City, though sadly I didn’t get a chance to eat there.

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Prince of Wales Museum, I went there thinking that it would show the history of Bombay, pictures of how it was in the British era contrasting it with today but I was disappointed. Though I didn’t find interesting what was in store, but those who are interested in anthropology would like it here. Apart from that there were various sections which displayed artefacts from various parts of the subcontinent which were insightful to take a look at.


Cafe Leopold, one of the victim of the 26/11 terrorist attack on Bombay. Back in January when I went there for the first time to satisfy my beef cravings, I was surprised to find that not many people knew about its whereabouts. While on foot looking for this seemingly elusive cafe, I asked many people and most of them hadn’t even heard the name, I asked even a cop referencing it as one of the location of 26/11 attacks, he too denied any knowledge of the cafe, which was strange. Anyway I found it, its located bit deeper into the Causeway.
Another reason I visited this cafe for the second time on the morning of this Sunday morning walk was to relive Shantaram, after having read the book. So a beer on a Sunday morning was my excuse to linger and experience Leopold of Shantaram. Leopold is described in Shantaram by one of the characters as:

“Oh, yes! Wonderful and lovely place it is, Leopold’s Beer Bar. Full of the most wonderful, lovely peoples, the very, very fine and lovely people. All kinds of foreigners you can find there, all making good business. Sexy business, and drugs business, and money business, and black-market business, and naughty pictures, and smuggler business, and passport business, and–”

Though the description is too far fetched but Leopold does look different after you’ve read Shantaram and you try to find the book’s characters – Lin, Karla, Modena, Didier, Ulla – in the people hanging out at the cafe.


And they actually sell copies of Shantaram at the cash counter.


Beer on a Sunday morning, anyone?

An interesting feature of this place is that they have still preserved the bullet marks on the glass window that this cafe incurred in the 26/11 siege. This surely draws more people to this cafe than the neighboring Mondegar, but can it be termed as tourism of victimization?


The now well barricaded Bombay Stock Exchange, where you’re not even allowed to click pictures from within the barricade. Catching me doing so, the guard made me delete that picture and asked me to click it from outside the barricade limit.


Afghan Church, Bombay’s oldest.


And she still stands tall today, overlooking the changes that have swiped her view in the last century.


The Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue, representative of the miniscule Jewish population of Bombay. Indeed, Bombay is the melting pot of various cultures from around the world.


Town Hall of the time of the British, now The Asiatic Society library. A first edition copy of Dante’s Inferno is inside the premises. Wonder, whether the Shiv Sena knows about it or not.


Ever wondered why the Fort district is called so? This is the answer, the last standing part of the wall of the Fort George – named in the honor of George III of England – that once stood here. The fort was demolished in mid 19th century, however this small, neglected part of the wall remains today near St George’s hospital.


BMC building, again built by the British and ironically, used today by ShivSena-BJP coalition that heads BMC.


This structure needs no introduction, Victoria Terminus (VT). This majestic building is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, and probably the only one that is still bustling and used by the people and is not overly protected unlike other heritage sites.

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