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The Real Locations of Shantaram

Many of the locations from Gregory David Robert’s classic Indian underworld story Shantaram (2003) are real and still standing in Colaba, South Mumbai.

I went out to find the exact locations of Shantaram’s most iconic locations like Leopold’s, the slum Lin Baba lived in, the very first hotel he stayed at, and even where he made love to Karla.

Unfortunately, the Shantaram Apple TV series was mostly filmed in Australia and Thailand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s a horrible shame, but at least now you can see the real locations and visit them for yourself too!

I show the real locations from the Shantaram book in this video too.

The first place Lin stayed: the India Guest House

The outside of India Guest House from Shantaram in 2016
An old photo of the outside of the India Guest House (2016).

On Lin’s very first day in Mumbai, after meeting Prabaker, he stays here at the India Guest House with some other Canadian tourists.

Smoking, drinking, dancing, music, sexy business, no problem here,” Prabaker assured us, grinning happily and looking up momentarily from his task. “Everything is allow no problem here. Except the fighting. Fighting is not good manners at India Guest House.

“And dying,” Prabaker added, with a thoughtful wag of his round head. “Mr. Anand is not liking it, if the people are dying here.”

Shanataram (2003) by Gregory David Roberts
Location of the first hotel that Lin Baba stayed in in Shantaram. India Guest House.
Today the India Guest House is no more. It’s now the Hotel Colaba Grand / Abad Inn (2022).

Google Maps location: FabHotel Colaba Grand.

Where the book starts: the Colaba Causeway

The Colaba Causeway in South Mumbai. It’s the epicentre of Shantaram.

Near the India Guest House is the Colaba Causeway, which is the area’s main road, and this is where Karla saved Lin from being hit by a bus and where their relationship begins.

In the TV show, they show Lin nearly being hit by a taxi, but in the book, it’s a bus.

This area is called Colaba, it’s in South Mumbai, and it’s extremely important to the story because this is where most of Shantaram takes place.

Google Maps location: Colaba Causeway.

The infamous bar: Leopold’s Cafe

Leopold’s is a very underwhelming sight from the road.
The inside of Leopold's Bar from Shantaram. A large part of the book is set here.
The inside of Leopold’s Cafe from Shantaram. A large part of the book is set here. These days it’s just another over-rated cafe for foreign and domestic tourists.

Leopold’s, “the largest bar and restaurant in Colaba, and one of the largest in the city”, was famous as a den for illegal businesses that included traffic in drugs, currencies, passports, gold, and sex.

Leopold’s was an unofficial free zone, scrupulously ignored by the otherwise efficient officers of the Colaba police station, directly across the busy street.

Yet a peculiar dialectic applied to the relationships between upstairs and down, inside and outside the restaurant, and governed all of the business transacted there.

Indian prostitutes, garlanded with ropes of jasmine flowers and plumply wrapped in bejewelled saris, were prohibited downstairs, and only accompanied customers to the upstairs bar.

European prostitutes were only permitted to sit downstairs, attracting the interest of men who sat at other tables, or simply paused on the street outside.

Deals for drugs and other contraband were openly transacted at the tables, but the goods could only be exchanged outside the bar.

Shanataram (2003) by Gregory David Roberts.

In 2008, Leopold’s was a target in the Mumbai terror attacks. The bullet marks of which are still present at the cafe.

The bullet holes from the 2008 attack have been kept as reminders at Leopold’s.

Today, Leopold’s is just a typical tourist restaurant serving average food. It’s quite disappointing and not really a chilled-out place to hang.

Instead, if you want some authentic Irani Indian (Parsi) food like Lin talks about in the book. Go to Britannia & Co. Restaurant or SodaBottleOpenerWala for a classic Parsi cafe experience. Order Mutton Berry Palau and Saali Chicken – and then thank me in the comments.

Here’s an example of a Parsi cafe in Delhi. It closed down in 2022, though.

Google Maps location: Leopold Cafe.

The Police station where Lin was held

The Colaba Police Station.

Across the road from Leopold’s is the Colaba Police Station, where Lin was first detained before heading to his brutal stint in captivity at the nearby Arthur Road Prison.

I’ll never forget those chapters of the book where he describes what it’s like to be in an Indian jail.

The fourth room was known in the lock-up slang as the dukh mahal, or the abode of suffering, but many men preferred to use the name that the Colaba police had given the last cell in the row: the detection room.

When a new man entered the corridor for the first time, through the steel gate, he sometimes tried his luck in the first room. Every one of the fifteen men in that room, and not a few lackeys in the corridor, would rise up, shoving and threatening him away, shouting: Next room! Next room, bastard!

Driven along the corridor by the writhing, toiling press of bodies, the man might try to enter the second room. If no-one there knew him, whoever happened to be near the door would give him a clip, a smack in the mouth. Next room, motherf***er!

If the man, badly rattled by then, tried to enter the third room as he was pushed further along the corridor, the two or three men who sat or stood in the doorway of that room would punch and kick at him. Next room! Next room, sisterf***er!

When the new man found himself shoved all the way to the fourth room, the detection room, he would be greeted as an old and very welcome friend. Come in, friend! Come in, brother!

Those foolish enough to enter were beaten and stripped naked by the fifty or sixty men who crushed into that black and foetid room.

Their clothes were distributed according to a waiting list determined by a precise and perpetually adjusted pecking order. Their body cavities were thoroughly searched for jewellery, drugs, or money.

Shanataram (2003) by Gregory David Roberts.
The entrance to the Arthur Road Prison where Lin served.

Note: These are sensitive areas, so don’t dare try to enter for sightseeing.

Google Maps locations: Colaba Police Station and Arthur Road Jail.

His first walk with Karla along Mumbai’s seawall from Gateway of India to Radio Club Hotel

The entire Colaba area in Mumbai is a popular tourist trail with the Gateway of India and the Taj Palace Hotel just behind Leopold’s.

The majestic Gateway of India.
The Taj Hotel overlooks the Gateway of India.

Karla and Lin’s first walk together was along this sea wall from the famous Gateway of India to the Radio Club Hotel.

This section of the Mumbai seawall begins at the Gateway of India and ends at the Radio Club Hotel.

Google Maps locations: Gateway of India, the Taj Palace Hotel, and the Radio Club Hotel.

Sassoon Dock

Entrace to Sassoon Dock.
Entrance to Sasson Dock.

Lin used to come to the Sassoon Dock area to eat. This dock was once a hub for smuggling, but that ended after the 2008 terrorists entered Mumbai through this port.

The slum where Lin lived and built his clinic: Cuffe Parade

There are many entrances to the Cuffe Parade slum. It’s very easy to get lost in there. My wife came with me.

This is probably the most important location in the story, the Cuffe Parade slum. Lin lived and started his clinic here. Although, today, it’s nothing like it was in the eighties.

These days there are permanent concrete buildings, and Lin’s house and clinic are long gone.

You can visit here, but I’d take a local because no one there speaks English, it’s like a maze, and it’s not very clean. You won’t be able to find Lin’s actual house there, we asked a few people, and they knew nothing about Shantaram.

This is what Lin’s house (right side where the cycle is) and clinic (left behind women in orange) look like now. They’ve been built over.
This very insightful interview with CNN Talk Asia will give you even more information about Gregory David Robert’s time in Mumbai.

Google Maps location: J-Walk Fitness Gym (the entrance is near here).

Haji Ali

The Haji Ali Tomb.

Here’s what Gregory David Roberts has to say about his experience at Haji Ali:

Interviewer: So what does the Haji Ali Shrine mean to you?

Well, it’s a place of peace, a place of solitude, a place where people from all over the city make their journey to try to find some sense of forgiveness for the things they’ve done in the past.

But it also happened to be a place where gangsters in Bombay, if they knew that they were going to make a confrontation with another gang, a war, that might end in them losing their lives, we would go there, we would wash first and bathe.

We would then make this journey across to Haji Ali. To do the same.

We would ask that we be prepared for what may come, and then we’d walk back along that path and think only about the future, and have cut the tie with the past.

Gregory David Roberts, CNN Talk Asia.
Pilgrims crossing the water to visit Haji Ali tomb.

Google Maps location: Haji Ali Dargah.

Karla & Lin made love on the roof of the Air India Building

The Air India building on Mumbai’s Marine Drive. In the book, Karla and Lin make love on the rooftop.

Or did they? Gregory David Roberts confirmed that all characters were types of people he knew but were fictional. However, some experiences in the story are real, and others are informed by his experiences.

The towering Air India building from street level. Google Maps location: Air India building.

None of the characters are real. I’m thrilled that people would think she’s real. Shantaram is about the exile experience. Every character is an exile. There’s only one character who was born in Bombay, everyone else came to the city washed up on the shores and trying to regroup themselves and find out who they are again.

Gregory David Roberts in YouTube video Shantaram – Is Karla Real?.
Gregory David Roberts explains that Karla, and the other characters, aren’t real.

If you want more of Gregory David Roberts and Shantaram, read this detailed interview that came out with the release of the sequel to Shantaram, The Mountain Shadow.

If you know of other locations from Shantaram, please leave them in the comments, and I’ll add them to this post.

By Karl Rock

Karl Rock, is a Hindi speaking Kiwi ex-pat who take viewers behind the scenes of incredible India and its neighbours. He has visited every state and union territory in India, and its culturally similar neighbours – Pakistan and Bangladesh, and aims to make others fall in love with India and the subcontinent.

15 replies on “The Real Locations of Shantaram”

Hi, the hotel where the Nigerians are staying, and subsequently attacked by Lin and friends, is the Hotel Windsor in Melbourne CBD – lovely place. The stair case is very distinctive as are the rooms and corridors.

Exactly the blog post I was looking for – thanks, Karl! I got to spend a day in Mumbai 10 years ago with my dad, who used to visit it a fair bit when he was a similar age to Shantaram’s Lin back in the 70s. We spent most of the day in Colaba as well including knocking back a few beers in Leopold’s after taking tea at the Taj (as one does of course). I used to work for Dishoom here in London which is inpired and modelled on Mumbai’s Irani cafes. I didn’t know anything about the cafes when I visited, so I’m really hoping to visit again and go to some of the famous ones. My sis was lucky enough to meet the late Mr Kohinoor on her visit to Britannia a few years ago.

Thanks for your lovely comment, Hari. You will love Britannia. It’s not the same as before, but it’s still great. There’s also SodaBottleWalaOpener which is a commercialised copy in Delhi & Gurugram, but their food is very very good too. Enjoy.

I love that name (SodaBottleWalaOpener). Cheers for the reccy! I’ll be sure to check it out the next time I’m in the Capital Area.

Karl, are you familiar with the location of Standing Babas that was mentioned in the book? Searching for this while in Bombay and am not having any luck.

Also, the location of the slave market?

Thanks for any replies!

I’ll be spending a few days in Mumbai Dec 11, 2023 and intend on visiting Leopold’s bar for my imaginary role in the novel 💃

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