The Gateway of India was built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V.
The joy of a weekend outing, a short holiday or a vacation is only heightened by the joy of going with people you’re most at ease with. In my case, it’s my family.
For several years now, my wife and I have been frequently going to South Mumbai on weekends, from our home in the suburbs up north. That part of the city, once a bustling commercial hub, holds a special place and has an old-world charm that takes us into another time – one steeped as much in pleasant memories as in architectural wonders, historical landmarks, single-screen theatres, art galleries and cultural scenes. We have a natural affinity for the place seeing as we spent our early years living and working there.
The 1864-built Flora Fountain in the Fort business district.
The reason we gravitate towards South Mumbai, especially to the more vibrant areas of Churchgate, Flora Fountain and Colaba, is also because of the Arabian Sea-facing promenades, footpath booksellers and eclectic cuisines. It’s the kind of place where we have a good time even without doing anything in particular; sometimes just walking along the broad pavements talking about things and being content in each other’s company.
It was with these sentiments that my wife and I made yet another trip to the island city on a Sunday morning recently. Instead of taking a suburban train, as we usually did, we drove down, covering the roughly 28 km (17 mile) distance in about an hour. Unthinkable on most weekdays.
The Taj Hotel, short for The Taj Mahal Palace.
We reached Colaba around 11 a.m. and parked the car on Rampart Row at Kala Ghoda, or Black Horse, so named after a mounted statue of King Edward VII, the erstwhile Prince of Wales, that stood in the area. From there, we walked past heritage buildings including the iconic music store Rhythm House, now closed, and the 153-year-old David Sassoon Library and Reading Room, before taking a quick tour of the artworks and artefacts at Jehangir Art Gallery and the 1922-built City Museum. The tree-lined stretch between these two places serves as an art plaza for unknown but very talented artists whose paintings should adorn the walls of art galleries.
Our pleasure trips to the city are never complete without little gastronomic adventures, and South Mumbai has plenty to offer on the food trail. This time, we plucked a leaf from memory and ate at a place we’d been frequenting for over three decades – Delhi Darbar. The restaurant on Colaba Causeway is popular for Indian and Mughlai cuisine, but mostly biryanis. And so, in keeping with tradition, we’d butter chicken with nan and roti followed by chicken biryani. While the quantity was still good, we were a tad disappointed with the biryani which didn’t taste the way we remembered it. But would we go back? We probably would, for nostalgic reasons.
The Bowen Methodist Chuch stands behind The Taj Hotel at Colaba.
Lunch and dessert over, we cut across the shopping street on Causeway and went to the seafront. This part of Mumbai’s coast has century-old heritage landmarks overlooking each other – the arched Gateway of India monument and The Taj, a luxury hotel built in Indo-Gothic style. Being Sunday, the place was swarming with locals and tourists, selfie crowds, and photographers who captured memories for a price. With little room to stand, we’d to give up any thought of enjoying the sea air and beat a quick retreat.
By now, it was late afternoon, but we’d one more thing on our agenda – books. There’s always that. From Colaba, we drove to an enormous book exhibition near Churchgate Terminus and spent over an hour browsing rows of books, the length of bowling alleys, and buying a few. There were countless books – fiction and nonfiction, paperbacks and hardbacks – but unfortunately, I didn’t find the authors I was looking for, which was just as well since I already had a pile of unread books.
The annual book exhibition organised by Ashish Book Centre at Churchgate Terminus.