The London district of Mumbai

There are lot of things that I do not like about UK, the topmost reason definitely would be their employment opportunities for international students of course. But what definitely endears me more towards the country would be that every nook and cranny of UK has a distinct essence of history that seeps through the time-space continuum and makes it such a tourist hotpot. This is more specifically true for London.

Tucked away in the southern precinct of Mumbai, the first planned business district in India has a distinct London-like character that puts luxury at the forefront withing a distinct renaissance facade. Colonel J.A. Ballard, the man who co-founded Bombay Port Trust, envisioned the creation of this centre of business activity not just for Bombay, but for the entire India. He appointed George Wittet, a Scottish architect assisting the Consultant Architect of Bombay, to design the district. Between 1914 and 1918, during the tumultous period of World War I, Wittet devoted his time and energy to create the Edwardian Neoclassical facade of Ballard Estate over a span of 22 acres of reclaimed land using excavated rocks and soil from the creation of Alexandra docks.

Ballard Pier was the main passenger ship terminal of Alexandra Dock. Now called as Indira Dock, its earlier name was in the honour of Princess Alexandra, the youngest granddaughter of King George V and Queen Mary. During the British Raj, Ballard Pier used to have a railway station called “Mole” where British troops could catch trains straight to different parts of the country. INS Vikrant, the Indian Navy’s first aircraft carrier was parked at this pier before it was dismantled in 2014 after 71 years of use.

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The WWI Memorial located near the Darabshaw House comprises of a doric sandstone column, decorated with brass plaques on three sides, standing in silent homage to the role of the Bombay Port Trust during WW1 (1914 – 1918) and its employees who died whilst serving the allied forces.

Hamilton Studios, Bombay’s oldest photo studio, was the home for the official potraits of the Who’s Who of Bombay’s modern history: from British royalty to the lords and ladies of the Raj, to India’s founding industrialists to its Bollywood stars. It is said that Zeenat Aman’s career was launched from here. It so happened that her mom took her to the studio to get matrimonial portfolio when Ranjit (the owner in the 1950s) said the girl had making of a model, and recommended her for then Khatau calender and they say rest was history.

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Set up by Sir Victor Sassoon in 1928 as the official photographer of the Bombay Presidency, and bought over in the 1950s by Ranjit Madhavji.

The Prince of Wales Seamen’s Club dates back to 1837 when the Bombay Sailor Friends Association started at Dhobitalao. The current building was opened by H R H The Prince of Wales, on 20 November, 1921 with the aims “To provide for the accommodation, recreation, and general welfare of seafarers of all ranks and nationalities that are either in Port or transitioning through Mumbai.”

S Vallabhdas Road, a leafy avenue lined with imposing structures and equally important buildings – The Ballard Bunder (a small naval museum), Mumbai Port Trust Headquarters, New Customs House, and Mint House (residence of Mumbai Mint). The Bombay trust port, now Mumbai trust port, was responsible for building the historic port of the city and the Ballard Pier, thereby contributing immesnely in emergence of Bombay as commercial capital of India.

The Ballard Bunder, beside being a naval museum, also was the entrance to Ballard Pier mole station, a railway station from where central and western railway trains chugged all the way to N.W.F.P of Peshawar as well as Karachi and Calcutta before partition. Britishers would arrive in steamers from Britain and other parts of world on steamers and would hop on to the train from Ballard Pier railway station.

Standing at the Mint Road junction is the 40-ft high Mulji Jetha Fountain, an Indo-Saracenic monument designed by architect Frederick William Stevens and John Griffiths. The fountain is a memorial to Dharamsi Mulji, the only son of Ratansi Mulji, a self-made and philanthropic cotton-merchant, who died due to a disease in 1889.

After centuries of neglect, this drinking water fountain has been restored along with its old hydraulic system and masonry to its original state. In 2018, UNESCO awarded this restoration project with an ‘Honourable Mention’ at the Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

Located at the end of R Kamani Road, Construction House was built by the Walchand Group founded by industrialist Walchand Hirachand Doshi (1882 – 1953), who is known to have set up India’s first modern shipyard, aircraft factory and car factory, amongst others.

How close was I in bringing London district alive for you within the suburbs of Mumbai?

Disclaimer – Many of you will be confused with the copyright naming on the pictures for this post. “TwistedTop in FlipFlops” was the name with which I started this blog. After 5 years, when I decided to restart my writing, I changed my blog identity completely. In case, the pictures are not from my personal collection, I usually make the habit of attributing them to the right people.

This walk was curated and organised by Khaki Tours, a group of heritage evangelists from Mumbai. They offer a variety of experiences to city that is Mumbai – by foot, jeep, sail boat, bus ride and even e-victoria rides. I personally favour the walking tours, but novelty of each walk is something I will definitely recommend!


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Maharashtra

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