Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Currency Building: A Sunday Morning Adventure

In 1833, a handsome, three-storied building came up on the Eastern side of Dalhousie Square. It was built to serve as the headquarters of the Agra Bank, which went into liquidation in 1900. The British Indian government occupied a large portion of the building for it’s currency department in 1868, and that is how it came to be known as the Currency Building.

Built of brick and lime, in Italian style, it had a roof that was arched on an iron joist. That roof unfortunately has collapsed, thanks to decades of neglect. However, the Archaeological Survey of India has possession of the building at present, and is doing a great job of restoration. The officer on the spot informed us that the roof would soon be repaired, once funding was secured. You can see the dilapidated condition of the building in this government photograph, and the original state in this photograph from the1870’s. While people are allowed to enter the building, free of charge, we (me and my friend Amartya) had to have some unique photograph, and hence embarked on a very dangerous adventure. While entrance to the building is from the front, we sneaked in through the rear entrance, which was unguarded. A few laborers stared at us, but did not attempt to challenge us in any way. The plan was to get on the roof, which we thought would give us a good view over Laal Dighi. But access to the roof could only be obtained by climbing the world’s most dangerous spiral staircase.

It was tall. It was old. It was rusty. And it shuddered with every step. I don’t think I have vertigo, but looking down from that staircase, seeing nothing below, was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. My fear was compounded by the fact that there was no such thing as a half landing, so once you get on, you keep climbing till you reach the roof. Getting on to the roof is a fairly frightening experience as well, since the staircase is held in place by one, single, rusty bolt, which fastens it not to the building, but the parapet. But the view we got from the top was well worth the risk.

The expression on the faces of the policemen stationed to guard the building, when we walked into the hall was worth a million dollars. They were completely flabbergasted, as the only proper way into the building was through the main gate, which they guarded. How did two boys come trotting into the hall? Where did they materialize from? We just continued walking around like we owned the place. I do not recommend what we did for anyone else, but you can get some fairly spectacular shots from the hall itself.

Be warned, the overzealous guards can stop you from shooting with DSLR cameras, which makes absolutely no sense, since ASI rules prohibit only video cameras. Be prepared to argue, or get your photos done quickly when he isn’t looking.

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