Immediately north of Colaba, Kala Ghoda (“Black Horse”) district is named after the large equestrian statue of King Edward VII that formerly stood on the crescent-shaped intersection of MG Road and Subhash Chowk. Flanked by Mumbai’s principal museum and art galleries, the neighbourhood has in recent years been relaunched as a “cultural enclave” – as much in an attempt to preserve its many historic buildings as to promote the contemporary visual arts that have thrived here since the 1950s. Fancy stainless-steel interpretative panels now punctuate the district’s walkways, and on Sundays in December and January, the Kala Ghoda Fair sees portrait artists, potters and mehendi painters plying their trade in the car park fronting the Jehangir Art Gallery.Read More
Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum
Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum
The Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, or Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya as it was renamed by the Shiv Sena, ranks among the city’s most distinctive Raj-era constructions. It stands rather grandly in its own gardens off MG Road, crowned by a massive white Mughal-style dome, under which one of India’s finest collections of paintings and sculpture is arrayed on three floors. The building was designed by George Wittet, of Gateway of India fame, and stands as the epitome of the hybrid Indo-Saracenic style – regarded in its day as an “educated” interpretation of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Gujarati architecture, mixing Islamic touches with typically English municipal brickwork.
The foreigners’ ticket price includes an audio tour, which you collect at the admissions kiosk inside, though you’ll probably find it does little to enhance your visit. The heat and humidity inside the building can also be a trial. For a break, the institutional tea-coffee kiosk in the ground-floor garden is a much less congenial option than the Café Samovar outside, but to exit the museum and re-enter (which you’re entitled to do) you’ll have to get your ticket stamped in the admissions lobby first. A number of galleries were closed for renovation at the time of writing, so certain exhibits might have moved around a bit by the time you read this.
The Key Gallery in the central hall of the ground floor provides a snapshot of the collection’s treasures, including the fifth-century AD stucco Buddhist figures unearthed by archeologist Henry Cousens in 1909. The main sculpture room on the ground floor displays other fourth- and fifth-century Buddhist artefacts, mostly from the former Greek colony of Gandhara. Important Hindu sculptures include a seventh-century Chalukyan bas-relief depicting Brahma seated on a lotus, and a sensuously carved torso of Mahisasuramardini, the goddess Durga, with tripod raised ready to skewer the demon buffalo.
The main attraction on the first floor has to be the museum’s famous collection of Indian painting. More fine medieval miniatures are housed in the recently inaugurated Karl & Meherbai Khandalavala Gallery, on the renovated east wing of this floor, along with priceless pieces of Ghandaran sculpture, Chola bronzes and some of the country’s finest surviving examples of medieval Gujarati woodcarving.
Indian coins are the subject of the House of Laxmi Gallery, also in the east wing, while the second floor showcases a vast array of Oriental ceramics and glassware. Finally, among the grizzly weapons and pieces of armour stored in a small side-gallery at the top of the building, look out for the cuirass, helmet and jade dagger which the museum only recently discovered belonged to no less than the Mughal emperor Akbar.
Around Oval Maidan
Around Oval Maidan
Northeast of Kala Ghoda stretches the breezy green Oval Maidan, where impromptu cricket matches are held almost every day. Some of the city’s finest Victorian piles flank the eastern side of the Maidan, offering a good taste of what travel writer Robert Byron described as the city’s “architectural Sodom” (adding, “Indian, Swiss chalet, French chateau, Giotto’s tower, Siena cathedral & St Peter’s are to be found altogether in almost every building”). Just north of here lies the characteristically ostentatious High Court, described in 1903 by Indian civil servant G.W. Forrest as “a massive pile whose main features have been brought from Venice, but all the beauty has vanished in transshipment”.
Across AS D’Mello Road from the High Court are two major buildings belonging to Mumbai University (established 1857), which were designed in England by Sir Gilbert Scott, architect of the Gothic extravaganza that is London’s St Pancras railway station. Funded by the Parsi philanthropist Cowasjee “Readymoney” Jehangir, the Convocation Hall greatly resembles a church. The library is topped by the 79.2-metre-high Rajabhai Clock Tower, which is said to have been modelled on Giotto’s campanile in Florence and which formerly chimed tunes such as Rule Britannia and Home Sweet Home.