KALA GHODA-The Dark Horse of Mumbai
The crescent-shaped Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda area is a little north of Colaba. It extends from the Wellington Fountain to Mumbai University and is surrounded by the Oval Maidan. It is somewhat like an open-air museum. The translation of its name is Black Horse, which relates to the bronze equestrian statue that was located here in the age of colonialism. This area is included in the Fort district. In the 18th century, the British constructed a fort and walls to defend themselves. Kala Ghoda was particularly known for the libraries and colleges that existed here. However, this ended in the latter part of the 1980s. In most recent times, Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda is popularly known as the hub for culture, credited in the main to the art gala held here yearly called the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. Of late, the area has also been changed into a district for fashion and design (like Soho or Chelsea) since the heritage buildings were restored and boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and cafés have been open.
What’s the best way to experience all that is Kala Ghoda? Take a self-guided walk and explore the place. It is considered an architectural haven because of its array of architectural designs: Art Deco, Indo-Saracenic, Gothic, and Victorian. Begin your walk close to the Jehangir Art Gallery that was founded in 1952. It has four halls exhibiting modern art. Sip on a cup of coffee at Samovar Café inside the gallery. You can also purchase lovely art from the street artists who ply their trade on the gallery’s sidewalks. Rampart Row is located on the opposite side of the Jehangir Art Gallery. It is a heritage building that was renovated and opened in 2005. At this site are various restaurants, cafes, and specialty stores. Famous restaurants like Copper Chimney are here, as well as your ordinary gelato shops.
Stroll along the small, paved pathways that will take you past the once famed music store called the Rhythm House (recently closed). Gaze at the strikingly beautiful street art displayed on the walls. The old-world vibe is definitely present with small cafés filling the streets. Continue your leisurely walk and soon, you will reach the Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue painted in a powder blue color. This place of worship was constructed in 1884 by Jacob Sassoon. He built it as a memorial to his father. These days, it is a place where Mumbai’s Jewish community congregate. On the lovely interior are Burmese teak and extravagant pillars, white marble, and stained glass windows.
Across the road is the Army and Navy building sporting a neo-classical exterior from 1897. This was formerly a navy store opened by some British military officers selling items to satisfy the needs of soldiers, officers, and their families. The building was restored and is now owned by the Tatas. It has a Westside store and also an art gallery in its lobby.
As you continue your self-guided walk, you will pass the Esplanade Mansion. This building was completed in 1869 and is India’s oldest surviving east iron building. The structure was created in England, transported to India, and built between 1867and 1869. At one point, it was called Watson’s Hotel. In its glorious days, it had five stories with rooms built around an open-air skylight. Mohammed Ali Jinnah played pool at this hotel and famous writer Mark Twain also stayed here. In 1896, the Brothers Lumiere displayed their new innovation, cinematography, to an audience of only Europeans.
In the past, during the times of the British Raj, this hotel was very popular with the visiting dignitaries. British waitresses were employed in its ballroom and restaurant. According to the locals, the hotel’s demise came after Indian industrialist Jamset ji Tata was refused entry. Scorned yet inspired, he built Mumbai’s iconic Taj Mahal Palace that outshined all rivals! The Watson hotel was shut down in the 1960s and the once star of hotels became office space for lawyers and others. These days, it is listed as one of the World’s Endangered Monuments by the New York-based World Monuments Fund (WMF).
On the other side of the road from the Jehangir Art Gallery is the David Sassoon Library. This three-storied Gothic-style building was constructed in 1870 in honor of a famous Baghdadi Jewish philanthropist of that era. It was built by his son, Albert Sassoon. This Libray is made of yellow Malad stone and is accessorized with Minton tiles imported from Britain. It accommodates thousands of avid readers. The steeple s on the tower makes it look less like a library and more like a church. Initially, it was a resource center for some young mechanics who were employed by the Royal Mint and Government Dockyard. They decided to establish an association to advance knowledge and learning. Now, several students converge here to do research on various subjects or a bit of reading.
The Victorian Gothic Elphinstone College is not far away from the library. It is a nineteenth-century establishment that has produced some prominent postgraduates. Trubshaw, the architect, designed this building, and it was finished by John Adams in 1888. The building was constructed with golden basalt and Porbandar limestone. Its steeples, corridors, and balconies make it one of the most magnificent buildings in Mumbai. In 2004, UNESCO bestowed on Elphinstone College the Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation. This was in the category of the best-restored heritage buildings.
The round building now homes to the Museum of Modern Art is another beauty. It stands erect on one side of the Kala Ghoda area. George Wittet designed this hall. After being abandoned for a while, it was renovated sometime during the mid-1990s.
The Prince of Wales Museum (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya) is your final attraction on your walk around Kala Ghoda. This museum was hacked out of grey basalt and with Moorish domes was specially designed as a museum. In 1905, work started on this building and the Prince of Wales laid the very first stone. It was built with an Indo-Saracenic architectural style—a mix of Moorish, Victorian towers, and Islamic domes. On this final stop take the time to look at the ancient relics unearthed from the Indus Valley: Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, weaponry, stuffed animals, and miniature paintings.
The expansive Oval Maidan is a good place to stop on your way back from the Kala Ghoda area. There, you get to enjoy watching a game of impromptu cricket matches being played on the grounds with huge palm trees and Raj-era buildings in the background. In this area of Mumbai, time seems to remain still.
How to Reach
Kala Ghoda is located two km from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal railway station and 22 km away from Mumbai airport. Buses and taxis are available.
Where to EAT
La Folie Patisserie 16, Commerce House, Rope Walk Lane, Kala Ghoda. A tiny dessert bar by chef Sanjana Patel. La Folie has plated desserts like Rouge Velour or Pabana—tropical passion fruit and mango stuffed in light coconut mousse!
Trishna Saibaba Road, Kala Ghoda. For a seafood meal, head to Trishna. Taste its deep-fried prawn koliwada and garlic butter crab. Vegetarians can order the mushroom kadai.
Where to SHOP
Sabyasachi, Ador House, 6K Dubash Marg, Kala Ghoda,
Don’t miss a peek into this store by celebrity designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee. The palatial rooms, chandeliers, and vintage furniture here create the ambiance of a royal palace. Choose from richly embroidered saris and skirts, shoes and jewelry.
Chumbak Store No. 141, Ground Floor. Sassoon Building, MG Road Rope Walk Lane, Grant Road, Kala Ghoda – For quirky ceramic mugs flower vases, cushion covers, and stationery.