Monday, 29 June 2015

Sinhagad Fort, Pune

Known as “Kondana” in the old days, Sinhagad (also spelt Sinhgad), or “the lion’s fort” is one of the most popular weekend destinations from Pune. Located at around 30 km to the Southwest of Pune city, on a hill of the Bhuleshwar range of the Sahyadri Mountains, some 1300 metres above sea level, Sinhagad is a favourite with trekkers but may be reached via car as well. The Marathas have fought multiple battles from the 1640s to the early 1700s for control of this fort.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Holy Rosary Church: India's Only Submerged Church

I found out about the Holy Rosary Church, in the Shettihalli village of Hassan District, in the Indian state of Karnataka, from a photograph posted by my friend Ananya,on Facebook. A rudimentary Google search revealed some surprising facts. Remarkably, the Holy Rosary Church in Shettihalli is India’s only submerged church. Submerged by what, you may ask? By the waters of a dam’s reservoir, of course! An opportunity to visit the church finally emerged this year. I was going to Mysore, and I decided to take a day out, and drive over to Hassan.

It was the last weekend of May, and roasting hot in Karnataka. The monsoons would arrive by the following week, and common sense suggested that water in any river or reservoir would now be at its lowest level. I set off with my friend Sreyashi in a rented car at 6 am. The drive from Mysore to Shettihalli was about 130 km and took exactly 3 hours. The roads were in good shape for the most part, and even when they got a little patchy, they were far from the worst roads I have been on. Some distance inside the village, the car turned off the metalled road into a dirt track, and after clearing some bushes, I got my first sight of the Holy Rosary Church. To my relief, my guess was completely correct. The reservoir was all but bone dry, and the church was completely visible. Our car almost ran right into it!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Prinsep Ghat

Because Calcutta’s Prinsep Ghat now stands some distance away from the river Hooghly, many make the mistake of assuming that it never was a proper “ghat”, or quay. But in his Recollections of Calcutta For Over Half a Century, Montague Massey describes a set of steep stone steps from the ghat to the water and writes, “When it was low water…you had to be carried ashore by the dingheewallahs on an antiquated kind of wooden chair or board, as the mud between the river and ghat was more than ankle-deep”. Those steps are no doubt buried under the earth and the river has retreated towards Howrah over the years. Nevertheless, Prinsep Ghat on Strand Road, between the Water Gate and the St George's Gate of the Fort William, continues to be one of Calcutta’s best known colonial monuments.

The man, who has been honoured by this Palladian porch, was born on the 20th of August, 1799. James Prinsep was the 7th son of John Prinsep, a rich Indigo planter turned East India merchant. James initially studied architecture under the gifted but eccentric Augustus Pugin. But an eye infection made it impossible for him to pursue his studies. His father then secured the job of Assistant Assay Master in Calcutta, and James arrived in the city on 15th September, 1819, to work under the distinguished Sanskrit scholar, Dr. Horace Hayman Wilson. As his eyesight improved, James undertook several important architectural and engineering tasks alongside his job. He studied and illustrated Temple architecture, built a new mint in Benares (Varanasi) and in 1822 even produced an accurate map of the city. But he is best remembered for his translation of the rock edicts of Emperor Asoka, which were in the Pali script. His long hours of work would eventually take a toll on his health, and an unwell James was forced to return to England, where he died on the 22nd of April, 1840 of “softening of the brain”. Prinsep Ghat was built in Calcutta (Kolkata), in 1843 in his memory, and the money for the monument was collected through public subscription. The architect was Captain W. Fitzgerald.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Smaranika Tram Museum, Esplanade Tram Depot

The Calcutta Tramways Corporation, or CTC has come up with a unique initiative to showcase its 140 year heritage in the form of Smaranika (literally meaning memorabilia), a tram museum housed inside an actual tram, stationed at the Esplanade Tram Depot. Although tram services were introduced in Bombay (Mumbai), Madras (Chennai), Nashik, Delhi, Patna and Kanpur, Calcutta (Kolkata) remains the only city in India with an operational tram service. The first tram service in Calcutta (Kolkata) was on the 24th of February of 1873, with a horse drawn tram running between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat Street. Madras was the first city to have electric trams, in May of 1895, and the electric tram made its debut in Calcutta (Kolkata) 5 years later. The Smaranika tramcar, officially designated CTC-142, was built in 1938, and has been renovated and modified to accommodate a cafeteria in the 1st class compartment, and a tram museum in the rear, 2nd class compartment.

What is the difference between 1st and 2nd class you ask? 1st class has fans and more space to sit. 2nd class is missing the fans, has fewer seats, and therefore more space to accommodate standing passengers. But in its current avatar, the Smaranika tramcar is completely air conditioned; no class-divide! The cafeteria serves basic tea and coffee; don’t expect your fancy lattes and green teas here. Along with that there are soft drinks and various chips and crisps which are sold at MRP. It’s a great place for a long, relaxed Calcutta-style “adda” or chat and the staff tells me that on weekdays a place to sit may be difficult to find. I can imagine myself working in an office in Dalhousie Square, popping over at the end of a long day, perhaps with a little chess-set and a friend, and sitting here in air conditioned comfort, playing a game while discussing life, economics and family problems!

Monday, 1 June 2015

The Calcutta Collectorate and The Black Hole of Calcutta, Dalhousie Square

The Calcutta Collectorate Building on Clive Street (now Netaji Subhas Road), at the North Western corner of Dalhousie Square (now Binay Badal Dinesh Bagh or BBD Bagh), is one of the many unfortunate victims of Calcutta’s (Kolkata) unplanned and uncontrolled green drive. Large trees have been planted at random along the pavements of many of the city’s streets, which completely blocks of the view of the architectural marvels behind them.

When the English bought the villages of Kalikata, Sutanuti and Gobindapur from Sabarna Roychowdhury in 1698, and established their factory here, they also had to take over the tasks of tax collection and policing. For this task, a European collector or zamindar was appointed who would have a native as his deputy. During the tenure of John Zephaniah Holwell, the “black zamindar” was the notorious Gobindram Mitter (or Gobindaram Mitra) who was famously rich and, legend says, the first native in the town to have a horse carriage. Gobindram Mitter was the man who built Chitpur’s famous “Black Pagoda”, a “nava ratna” or nine turreted temple that was so huge, it was used as a navigational aid by ships on the Hooghly. It was knocked down by a cyclone in 1820, and its ruins can still be seen.