www.cntraveller.in | August 12, 2021
Despite the pandemic and lockdowns, every city has a place for readers to escape.
This weekend, Crossword Bookstores—Mumbai’s popular bookstore chain—announced that they would be shutting down the beloved Kemps Corner branch by the end of September. For many, the store brings back a host of memories—of book launches, events and quiet weekends spent in a corner thumbing through a book. Needless to say, bookstores have been suffering for years. With the onset of the pandemic, many have struggled to survive and stay afloat. But even as we say goodbye to a landmark, there are several local, independent bookstores across the country that have managed to stand the test of time and keep their doors open to readers. These little nooks have been around for years and weathered all sorts of challenges, all carefully hidden under the familiar, welcoming scent of books and reflective peace within the four walls. As we get back to stepping out of our homes and travelling, consider paying a visit to some of India's most-loved bookstores.
India’s iconic bookstores
Kitab Khana, Mumbai
Nestled along a peaceful lane in Mumbai’s Fort, Kitab Khana is the quiet haunt of book lovers in the city. Owned by husband-wife Samir and Amrita Somaiya, the store is housed in the Kala Ghoda art district, in what used to be Somaiya Bhavan—the family’s 150-year-old heritage property. The spacious ground floor is filled with bookshelves carrying everything from fiction and poetry to self-help and regional language books, while the mezzanine floor is dedicated to literary classics. A small café in a corner of the store serves hot tea and coffee, sandwiches, pasta and baked treats—the perfect pit-stop if you’re spending a Sunday exploring the area on foot. Over the ten years of its existence, the store has hosted events and readings with novelists like Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and even his Holiness the Dalai Lama. After weathering the lockdowns as well as a fire last December, the store reopened to Mumbai’s readers this March on its ten-year anniversary. Kitab Khana, 45, Ground Floor, Flora Fountain Somaiya Bhavan, 47, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort, Mumbai. Instagram.
This special library in Bhilar, near Mahabaleshwar, is part of a government initiative to make the region a cultural hub. In 2017, artists from across the country came together to design 25 locations in the region as reading spots and exhibition centres, creating a pustakanch gaav or “village of books”. There are now 19 libraries in the area, each dedicated to a specific genre and designed with murals, paintings and art. The next time you’re on your way for a hill-station getaway from Mumbai or Pune, make sure to fit in a pit-stop at this unique village, where you can truly lose yourself in books. Website.
Blossom Book House, Bengaluru
Blossom Book House, BengaluruPhoto: Instagram/@blossombookhouse
This three-storeyed book store on Church Street is a beautiful maze of towering bookshelves. A leisurely stroll along the narrow aisles will leave you dazed and mesmerized by the innumerable book titles, both new and pre-owned. Before opening the now iconic store, founder Mayi Gowda began his journey by selling old books on MG Road to fund his engineering course. In 2002, he opened Blossom Book House as a 200-square-feet space selling only secondhand books. Now, the 8,000sqft store is a Bengaluru favourite.
Blossom Book House, 84, 6, Church St, Ashok Nagar, Bengaluru. Instagram.
Bahrisons, New Delhi
A vintage picture of Bahrisons in Khan Market, New DelhiPhoto: Facebookemail@example.com
The Bahrisons story begins after the Partition in 1947. The store was established by Balraj Bahri Malhotra— the son of a refugee family in 1953—after they fled from their village in Malakwal near Lahore and crossed the border into independent India. At the time, Khan Market had been newly constructed, with shops being allotted to refugees so they could earn a livelihood. Over time, the humble shop’s clientele grew to include politicians, prime ministers, actors and ambassadors. Khan Market has since changed beyond measure, becoming Delhi’s upscale shopping district. But the family-run bookstore stands as a little piece of history in the area, home to several stories—within its books and its walls.
Bahrisons Booksellers Opp. Main Gate, Khan Market, New Delhi. Instagram.
Pagdandi Book Store Cafe, Pune
Pagdandi Book Store Cafe, PunePhoto: Instagram/@pagdandi
In Hindi, the word pagdandi stands for a narrow, rough road-one that may be ignored and overgrown with weeds. In Baner, Pune, this bookstore embraces every aspect of the word, giving a chance to an alternate lifestyle. From its inception in 2013 to last year, the establishment functioned as a library-cum-cafe that provided a space to build a community of readers. But after struggling through the lockdowns that came with the pandemic, founders Vishal and Neha Pipraiya converted it into a full-fledged bookstore to sustain business. Lesser-known treasures by indie publishers dot the shelves of the quaint establishment. And the cafe serves organic tea, biodiversity-friendly coffee and baked goods from a local bakery.
Pagdandi, Shop No. 6, Regent Plaza Mall, Baner - Pashan Link Rd, Baner, Pune. Instagram
Higginbothams Book Store, ChennaiPhoto: Instagram/@higginbothamsbookstore
On Chennai’s Mount Road, Higginbothams has stood tall and proud since 1844. Said to be the oldest bookstore in India, it was founded by Abel Joshua Higginbotham—an India-born Englishman. After an unsatisfying career as a seamen, Higginbotham became the manager of a bookstore in the basement of a Methodist chapel. He bought and ran the store for 60 years with his youngest son, before switching to the current Mount Road location. The bookshop is housed in a grand, colonial structure and still carries an old world charm with wooden furniture and tall stained-glass windows.
LIC Building, 116, Anna Salai, near Regional Passport Office, Chennai. Instagram
Gulshan Books, Srinagar
This serene bookstore offers you a deal like no other—a good book, piping hot coffee and a stunning view of Dal Lake. The only way to get to Gulshan bookstore in Srinagar is to get on a shikara-the region’s well-known wooden boats. Once you alight, you will find yourself in a cosy wooden store-cum-cafe with a wide selection of books to choose from. Founded by Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim post-Partition, the store’s original location was in Srinagar’s Chattabal area. Now, the store has expanded with branches in Leh, Residency Road in Srinagar as well as the Nehru Park island of Dal Lake.
Gulshan Books, Nehru Park, Dal Lake, Srinagar. Instagram
Rachna Books, Gangtok
Fiction Cafe at Rachna Books, GangtokPhoto: Instagram/@rachnabooks
Located in the picturesque Development Area of Gangtok, Rachna Books is a charming independent bookstore that has become something of a cultural landmark since its inception in 1979. Bookseller Raman Shresta—son of Rajiv Shankar Shresta who founded the store—is committed to offering a platform for lesser-known novelists rather than bestselling authors. The space has become a hub for events with writers, publishers and illustrators as well as music gigs and movie screenings. It is also home to Café Fiction—a book café where you can enjoy a hot cuppa with your favourite pick from the shelves-as well as a bed and breakfast called Bookman’s BnB—a three-room stay for anyone looking to escape among literature.
Rachna Books, Jeewan Theeng Marg, Upper Sichey, Development Area, Gangtok, Sikkim. Instagram.
Cambridge Book Depot, Mussoorie
At this bookstore—the oldest in Mussoorie—Sahitya Akademi Award winning author Ruskin Bond is a regular. Every Saturday, he sits outside the bookstore, meeting and interacting with readers and signing copies of his books for eager fans. The simple store was established by the late Laxman Das Arora in 1952 and has been a permanent fixture on Mussoorie’s Mall Road ever since. The store is now run by his son and houses everything from bestselling books to greeting cards and stationery supplies. Here, the books are stacked haphazardly in teetering piles and the aisles are narrow, so proceed with caution in the beautiful mess that you are sure to love.
Cambridge Book Depot, The Mall Rd, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand.
Oxford Bookstore, Kolkata
Oxford Bookstore, KolkataPhoto: dbimages / Alamy Stock Photo
Kolkata’s Park Street is known for its restaurants, bars and vibrant nightlife. Oxford Bookstore offers a quiet nook in the neighbourhood for those looking for a little escape. Established in 1921, the store hosts multiple literary festivals as well as events that pay homage to art, music and books. The sprawling space is also home to ChaBar-a hip, contemporary space for lovers of all things tea. Leaf through the pages of your favourite book as you sip on exotic blends, organic teas, herbal teas or the classic masala chai.
Oxford Bookstore, 17,Park Street, Oxford Book Store, Park Street Area, Taltala, Kolkata. Instagram.