Mumbai Diaries: Exploring Colaba and Fort

When you think of Mumbai, you think of traffic jams and teeming slums, of roads chock-a-block with people, of sultry humidity and general chaos. You think of Bollywood and industrial tycoons, of the super rich living alongside the poor, of a city that never sleeps. But if you thought that this is all there is to Mumbai, you’d be wrong.


A graceful arched window of a Church in Colaba, Mumbai, India

There’s a softer, gentler side to the city as well – tree-lined roads, mansions and apartment buildings that speak of old money, and a blend of Gothic, Victorian, Art Deco and Indo-Saracenic (a blend of Islamic and Hindu architectural styles) architecture. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Fort and Colaba area in South Mumbai.

Gateway of India, Mumbai, India

Gateway of India, Mumbai, India

We started our exploration of this area from the Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel after a hearty brunch at Le Pain Quotiden. Built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary, the Gateway of India is a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Many elements of the arch and the design of the windows are derived from Islamic architecture, while the pillars are reminiscent of Hindu temple design. We were lucky to find the area relatively less crowded, which gave us a lot of time to take pictures and generally explore the place.


The iconic Taj Hotel at Mumbai, adjacent to the Gateway of India

From there, we started walking along the lane behind the Taj, with our necks craned upwards looking for interesting window and architectural details. The road is tree-lined and quiet, the buildings are old and regal, and for a while, you can almost forget that you’re in Mumbai – it could be any old European city.


An old, elegant window perched above a busy, bustling street in Mumbai

We traversed a path through Colaba, Colaba Causeway and Fort that day, with no real fixed agenda. We were just a couple of walkers, roaming around the area and exclaiming over the architecture. Why we were in architecture overdrive is still a bit of a mystery to me, but that day all we had eyes for were windows and doorways and turrets and spires. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of those old, elegant buildings with the bustling metropolis that had grown around it – but the memories I took away were of an older, more genteel Mumbai than I remembered from my stay there 10 years ago.


An old colonial building that now houses a cool junk jewelery store – Aquamarine. Mumbai, India

Of course, being girls, our trip couldn’t be complete without some shopping now, could it? There’s no better place to pick up cheap nick-knacks than at Colaba Causeway (in that area, at least). You’ll find some excellent junk jewellery, footwear and leather goods at prices that will delight your pocket. If you are on the look out for something more exclusive, make your way to Aquamarine at Colaba, which stocks some really cool (though pricey) junk jewellery.

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  1. Wow, you totally summed up everything I thought I knew about Mumbai (until now) in your opening paragraph. I blame Slumdog Millionaire and the Amazing Race for the ignorance that had been embedded in my head so deeply. The photos in this post are absolutely stunning. Thank you for sharing them!

    • You’re not alone in this perception of Mumbai. What Slumdog Millionaire portrayed is a very gritty and real look at the underbelly of Mumbai. Those slums and those conditions do exist – not only in Mumbai but in most large Indian cities. I’m sure they exist almost everywhere in the world. But most people end up equating Mumbai with slums, with crime and mafia. Yet, most Mumbaikars could spend their entire lives in the city without crossing paths with goons or mafioso elements. What a lot of people don’t know (or don’t think about) is that Mumbai wasn’t always “slum city”, that under those slums and that pollution there are clues to a glorious past. Those clues were what we set out to discover that day. If you like, you can read my thoughts on Slumdog Millionaire here:

  2. I’m so glad you focused on the architecture in this first post. Whenever I travel somewhere new i have to browse through at least one neighborhood to look through their houses. Although I often keep to the US States, regionally they are so different from one another. Those are gorgeous buildings filled with a lot of history, one thing the US lacks compared to so many other countries.


  3. Wow! LOVE your photography of Mumbai!! So elegant. Thanks for sharing with us that there’s a softer, gentler side to the city. I didn’t know all of those things about the city until reading this! Thanks 🙂

    • It is a great city to visit, and you can combine it with visits to various other Indian cities as well – they all have a different character, culture and architectural style that makes it fascinating to travel across the country.

  4. It is a refreshing post about a city all but lost to the worst facets of humanity, including terrorism. You have retrieved a face of Mumbai that is better acknowledged for the daily grime and the grind, a couple of bourses and a very fake Bollywood aura. One thinks more of the stampedes at the local junctions than dreamy walks. Having said that, I have myself experienced the charm circa 2005 when I was possessed by photographic ambitions.

    • Thank you Umashamkar, glad you enjoyed the post, and that I was able to convey how much I loved this gentler side of Mumbai! I hope, reading this post, people get inspired to look at the city with a fresh set of eyes. 🙂

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