Kala Ghoda – What’s Special About This Little Corner Of South Bombay

There’s a distinct advantage to growing up in South Bombay. And no, I don’t refer to the feeling of being coddled by the sea on either side. This is not about the magnificent edifice of The Gateway of India that stands sentry into the neighbourhood. Or the presence of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel that never lets you forget the imposing grandeur of the city. I refer to the fact that people living in South Bombay are constantly reminded of the fact that Bombay was once a glorious city. Here, you can still spot signs of a city made up of sweeping boulevards, seaside promenades, grand hotels, grassy maidans, and historic monuments. Even today, this southernmost tip of the bumble-jumble of the city carries an air of nostalgic magnificence about it. 

Where is Kala Ghoda? 

As you make your way through South Bombay – from the organised ranks of Navy Nagar to the bustle of Colaba market and shopping crescent of Colaba Causeway, you reach a small swathe of city. One that changes drastically in terms of architecture and open spaces. 

The buildings around you seem larger than life. The arches of Elphinstone College and David Sassoon Library line your path as you make your way from the Art Deco Regal Cinema to Bombay University. Flanked on one end by the vast Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, as it is now known, this cultural and educational hub extends to the Mumbai High Courts and the Oval Maidan on the other. Welcome to Kala Ghoda. Welcome to the neighbourhood of the Black Horse. 

Why Kala Ghoda?

Kala Ghoda was named after a statue of King Edward VII. The statue captured him atop a large horse, in full military attire, with a sword hanging by his side. Gifted by the wealthy Sassoon family to the city in 1879, this equestrian ode to royalty was originally placed at the junction of several roads. The bronze horse was later polished to a dull black sheen (hence the name, ‘kala ghoda’), and Bertie (as the King was colloquially known as) continued to lord it over this little corner of his kingdom for years. 

Fast forward to several years post-independence and the general consensus was that the statue was an unpleasant reminder of the city’s colonial past. It was summarily uprooted and re-installed in the leafy environs of the Bombay Zoo, where it stands today. 

For the longest time, Kala Ghoda had no horse, but the name had stuck. It was as recent as 2017 when citizens and local cultural groups reinstated a new sculpture. Now located in a parking lot in the neighbourhood’s epicentre, it featured a riderless horse. A black stallion stands strong over the cafes, art galleries, and educational institutes around. 

Spend a day with me at Kala Ghoda, and let’s fall in love with this quirky little neighbourhood together. 

Let’s explore

Regal Cinema 

We start our escapade at the Regal Cinema. While the charm may have faded over the years, single-screen theatres are fighting for a foothold in the city. Slick multiplexes, offering five to six movies at a time, woo you with reclining seats and five-star menus. However, for a child in the 80s like me, nothing can beat the excitement of watching the curtains part with a messy chicken mayo roll in one hand and an orange ice candy in the other. Regal still screens Bollywood and Hollywood blockbusters, and the wide arc of the balcony seats and the velvet-draped stage never fails to impress. 

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya 

The erstwhile Prince of Wales Museum opened to the public in 1922. Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, the building stands tall amidst manicured gardens. With over fifty thousand exhibits that include art collections, porcelain, jewellery, and even a natural history section, you can spend hours within its cool marble interiors. Open daily between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm (daily except for a few public holidays), there are different ticket prices for locals, tourists, children, senior citizens and defence personnel. If you plan to carry a tripod or a video camera, extra charges apply, so go prepared. My favourite section is hands down, the hall dedicated to the Indus Valley Civilization. With artefacts from the time, and dioramas depicting daily life in Harappa and Mohenjodaro, you can quickly get sucked into another realm altogether.  

The Art Precinct 

The Jehangir Art Gallery and the NGMA (National Gallery of Modern Art) are the two largest art galleries in Kala Ghoda. The Jehangir Art Gallery opened in 1952 thanks to the patronage of Sir Cowasji Jehangir. Over the years, it has hosted countless art exhibitions and displayed the works of legends such as M.F. Husain and S. H. Raza. Entry is free, and the galleries are open daily from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm. Jehangir was a regular hangout when we were in college, though I do miss the time when Samovar, the arty cafeteria at Jehangir, used to be our adda. Where a glass of cool kala khatta and a plate of the delectable aloo paratha was just the sustenance you needed before you returned to David Sassoon Library and hit the books once again. 

The Knesset Eliyahoo Jewish Synagogue

As you meander through the maze of tiny streets that radiate from the iconic statue, you notice a blue building that stands out from the rest. Once a pale Wedgewood blue, a striking indigo with white trimmings, has recently been painted. This is the Knesset Eliyahoo Jewish Synagogue. It was built in 1884 by the wealthy Sassoon family (yes, them again) to cater to the Baghdadi Jews who resided in Mumbai at the time. Today, the number of Jewish families has dwindled, and the synagogue has thrown open its door to all visitors. You may tour this Neo-Classical haven and worship as well. For security purposes, a photo ID is necessary for entry, and a fee applies if you carry a camera. Word of caution, though: there are a lot of stairs within the premises, so this does not make an easy destination if you are physically challenged.

Where to eat

The bylanes of Kala Ghoda are a veritable treasure trove for a foodie like me. There’s Trishna – a Mumbai institution known for its delicious seafood. Go there for a weekend lunch and order a plate of prawn koliwada and a pitcher of cold beer. Perfection! If you are ready to splurge, the butter garlic crab at Trisha are the stuff of legends. 

Kala Ghoda Cafe

Just opposite Trishna is the quaint foyer of Kala Ghoda Cafe. White washed walls and wooden cafe furniture beckon you to feast on a menu filled with healthy treats and not-so-healthy Parsi delicacies. If it’s a hot day, get a chilled glass of lemon espresso and sip it slowly while you eavesdrop on the delightful conversations around you. 


Americano is one of my all-time favourite restaurants in the city. Albeit one for a special occasion. Start off your meal with a plate of corn ‘ribs’. These strips of sweetcorn dusted with a BBQ rub and lime make the taste buds dance.  Move on to the Americano Roast Chicken Meal served with sourdough stuffing and salsa verde, and top of your gorgeous meal with handmade pistachio gelato. Chef’s kiss! Americano is open for weekend lunch and dinner and only Wednesday to Friday. Reservations are notoriously hard to come by, so plan ahead. 

Fab Cafe 

If you visit the Fab India store (and you definitely should), make a pit stop at their charming in-house Fab Cafe. Serving various healthy snacks and mini-meals, it’s a lovely spot for a quick meet-up with friends or just a place to rest your shopping-weary feet and refresh with their vegan cold coffee and a plate of ‘no-guilt golgappas.’ Fab Cafe is open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm daily and makes an excellent breakfast spot. 

Apart from these regular haunts, there are cafes such as Sequel for organic meals and drinks, Punjab Grill for North Indian crowd pleasers, Rue de Liban for a Lebanese / Mediterranean fix and La Folie for exquisite chocolates and pastries. 

What to shop for

There was a time when no designer worth his or her salt would open a boutique anywhere except in a five-star hotel. However, all that’s changed with the gradual gentrification of Kala Ghoda and its surroundings. Today, bridal boutiques, custom-made shirt stores, pret collections, and trendy designer studios have made the neighbourhood their home. Don’t forget to pop into Westside next to the David Sassoon Library. Shopping in this well-lit, spacious department store is always a pleasure. With three floors and a Starbucks outlet within, you can make a hefty dent in your credit card with their trendy and affordable designs. PS: Snag the beautiful handcrafted wooden trays or beaten metal candle stands from the Homeware section. They make fabulous gifts. 

Kala Ghoda, to me, though, will always meant Rhythm House – the coolest music store in Mumbai. Well, once upon a time, at least. I remember hours spent at Rhythm House sifting through piles and piles of records (which later became racks of CDs). When we visited with my parents, there were listening booths where you could try out the record you wanted to purchase. As a child, I used to tap along knowledgeably as my father unhurriedly listened to his chosen stack of LPs. As a college student, a visit to South Bombay always included a visit to Rhythm House. Closed for a few years now, the facade and signage still remain. But I have heard rumblings about a re-opening. Wishful thinking it may be, but I wait eagerly nonetheless.

The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival

Come the first week of February, the Kala Ghoda precinct bursts into a happy array of colours and sounds. What began in 1999 as an event to celebrate art and culture is now a mammoth 9-day extravaganza. This year, 2023, marks the post-pandemic return of the Festival. The committee is gearing up to entertain, educate, and feed over 1.5 lakh visitors with art exhibitions, theatre and dance performances, panel discussions, street installations and food stalls. Mark the 4th to the 12th of February, 2023, in your calendars, and welcome back the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival with the appreciation it deserves. 

This was a commissioned piece but all views expressed are my own

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