Fiona Fernandez: The ballad of Ballard Estate

Published: Dec 18, 2017, 06:13 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Get lost in a part of Bombay that's a treat for those yearning for an easy Sunday morning stroll, with generous doses of heritage in slow-mo

There's something magical each time we enter the leafy, picture postcard streets of Ballard Estate. Envisioned and executed to plan as a business sub-precinct to offset the congestion of neighbouring Fort by our erstwhile colonial rulers, the area is every bit the opposite if you happen to be in these parts on a Sunday morning.

Port Trust Memoria
Port Trust Memorial

The urge to re-explore this quaint planned district after years was such that it managed to yank this suburbanite out of her languid morning routine and head to SoBo. Leaving the buzz (even at 8.30 am) of Fort behind us, we made our way into the wide, tree-lined roads and pedestrian-friendly pavements; an area where you can find names like Wittet Road and Wakefield building. It is dotted with a streetscape of uniform yet distinctly outstanding architecture.

Only bird calls and the odd shout from cricket-playing youth (yes, it's a full house here by 10 am) echo around us as the branches of grandfatherly-old trees created a wooded canopy, allowing sunshine to play out a pretty neat light show. No honking cars, no speeding bikes, and no crowds.

Since we entered from the Mint Road end, the towering Port Trust Memorial was the first to catch the eye. This somewhat forgotten city landmark was built to commemorate the role of India during the 'Great War' (World War I). It stands close to the Bombay harbour, from where shiploads of troops and supplies were sent to fortify resources on the warfront. Today, the faded crest and lettering on its pedestal reflect its slow fadeout, that of a silent reminder, belying the pomp with which it might have been erected all those decades ago.

Ahead, Café Britannia's sepia-tinted signboard is calling out to us. Alas, it's shuttered today, so we must forego our cravings for a Berry Pulao brunch. We look around, and there are others like us, who've decided to stroll around this gorgeous slice of little Britain in tiny groups. In another corner, a TV commercial is being filmed, uninterrupted.

Despite the tribute to European renaissance architecture, each building has a unique façade and entrance, making us halt to gaze at the precision and design that collectively wrote a new chapter for a progressive city in the early 1900s. This piece of land was converted from a sea-flooded foreshore that was extracted as a result of the spoils obtained from constructing Alexandria Dock. Built across 22 acres, its remarkable transformation as Bombay's first planned district is thanks to George Wittet – the genius who also designed Gateway of India and Prince of Wales (today's CSMVS) Museum.

We spot other nuggets along the way - Hamilton Studios, Neville House, Scindia Steam Navigation building, Kaiser-e-Hind building, Vakils House (creator of those one-time popular greeting cards) as well as New Customs House. There's also the British Steam Navigation building which was one of the last to be built by another great architect, FW Stevens.

Towards the CST end of the estate, we cannot miss the Grand Hotel. The one-time preferred stay for the rich and powerful, it's another forgotten footnote. Occupying an impressive corner façade, it doesn't quite do justice to the pages of history it would have possibly witnessed in the past. By now, the sun has shifted from being pleasant to merciless. It's nearing 11 am, and the city is chasing time. So must we. So long, Ballard.

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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