Thursday, May 17, 2007

Nearer Home? The Northern Ridge and thereabouts...

December 17, 2006 dawned a grayish-blue.

The usual Delhi winter chill was accompanied by a rare and not-very-welcome companion, the rain. However, by about noon, the latter had disappeared and though the sun could still not peek through the curtain of clouds, one could feel it was hardly the kind of weather to stay home and continue to be cold. And so, a call was put through to the 'partner in crime and rhyme', Mr. Chandrashekhar Singh, him of the big-build and the marshmallow-heart. He was (as usual) open to the idea of roaming about; all it generally needs to convince him is something that will make him escape the rigours of a Civil Service aspirant's life. And so we decided to meet at the Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station, intending to walk through the personally-unexplored areas in and around the Delhi University North Campus, the phase in Delhi's history most recent to our times apart from Lutyens' New Delhi - the Ridge and adjoining areas.

First up, we met our Bengali-dada, the cigarette/aerated drinks/potato chips vendor outside the metro station, and stocked up our supplies. Then the journey commenced, walking through the parking lot towards the University Guest houses and the ridge beyond...


FLAGSTAFF TOWER

Funnily enough, I never attached any significance to this structure even when I saw it before, on numerous occasions - my earliest visits to the University for CCGI meetings, when I used to drive through the ridge (the road was still open to traffic then) to get to Stephen's.

Only after reading the previously mentioned historical books did I come to know that this was the place where the British infantry first observed the 'Mutineers' of 1857 entering Delhi, and raised the cry for defending Civil Lines and the British establishments beyond. Strategically located at the highest point of the Northern Ridge, it must have been the most important military building to the Brits, though to Chandru bhai, its barred windows and fortified look were enticing enough to elicit closer scrutiny, owing to his fascination for prisons and their historical inhabitants. Maybe he'll commission a prison as a tribute to Flagstaff when he's an IPS/IAS officer. For now, he contented himself by posing next to one of the barred windows...


On we walked through the narrow paths of the ridge, cigarettes in hand and discussing arbitrary topics - prominently the 'alternate' theory about the history of the Qutb Minar - that it was built by the ancient Indian scientist/astrologer/astronomer/mathematician Varahmihira circa 3rd century BC, under the rule of the Guptas. But that is a story for another day...

Meanwhile we continued to marvel at sites such as the QUDSIA BAGH MOSQUE, which in my guide-book was dated as being a 14th century construction. Looks the part, considering the ruinous state that the building is in... So much for the ASI...

Our next destination - HINDU RAO HOSPITAL, which is built on the site of William Fraser's old Gothic house, and there's an original 19th century wall that supposedly still stands there. Took us a long time to get there though, since we lost our way a bit. Only this route was probably more picturesque, leading through the lanes of Malkaganj and up a winding, hilly road to Hindu Rao Hospital, which emerges suddenly like one of those elevated churches in Mussoorie or Shimla. Imposing structure, although we couldn't find the famed old wall...

Adjacent to the Hospital on the main Ridge Road side is the ASOKAN PILLAR, brought to Delhi in the 13th century by Firoz Shah Tughlaq. It is said that this particular pillar had been near Ambala, and that Firoz got it wrapped in cotton bales and brought to Delhi intact, to erect near his favourite hunting lodge on the Ridge. The pillar is made of cream-coloured stone, with inscriptions in Brahmi. Although the first thing that strikes the eye is the sheer quantity of pigeon-poop that decorates the enclosure, thankfully the pillar itself has been left alone. Pigeons do have more brains than humans, it seems. (read: no SONU loves POOJA inscriptions)


MUTINY MEMORIAL

Moving on down the hill, we came to possibly the most striking structure on the Ridge - the Mutiny Memorial. A huge Gothic iron tower, built on an elevated platform, about 30 feet over ground level, and rising about 100 feet. Well, maybe my memory exaggerates the size a bit, but what cannot be doubted is the sheer impact this memorial has on the senses. Add to that the setting - it was sunset when we reached this place - and even the usually robust Chandru wanted to get out of there quickly. As for me, I was way ahead of him in trying to escape the terrifying complex.


Some controversy that this memorial can generate is due to the inscriptions on it. First, the 'mutineers/freedom fighters' are referred to as 'The Enemy'. Next, The Brits, no doubt in an attempt to exert the imperial will over the defeated mutineers, divided the casualties into three columns - Officers, Natives and Missing, listing the names of people, much like the later India Gate would carry the names of jawans and officers killed in World War I.

However the most ridiculous thing about the complex is a 1972 inscription by the Government of India, which offers an appalling apology - it says that 'the Enemy referred to on the memorial are in fact what the British called the brave men and women of the First War of Independence' etc or something to that effect. Why any such damage control is needed for British Imperialism is beyond me...

We reached Pulbangash Metro Station at the bottom of the hill, feeling a bit sad that our journey for the day had to come to an end here. But our experience shouts out to you - go and visit the Northern Ridge, folks. The monuments, the history and the vast expanse of green should all be enticing enough a sight for sore eyes such as Chandru's and mine...

6 comments:

Reeta Skeeter said...

interesting!

webaddict said...

too good mate!

Anonymous said...

racist.

do you like electricity, running water, cars, planes, tv's, etc.

Do you like being alive fed fat on the food the British bought, all your corn and potatoes and tea and chili peppers?

"why apologise for British imperialism?" Why don't you apologise for being a racist?

ρηοενιχ said...

@ anonymous

thanks for the wonderful words... u just learnt the word 'racist', didn't u, considering the fact that u don't even know its meaning?

u seem to have missed the whole point of the article, as is to be expected from someone of your apparent intelligence and linguistic skills...

all i said was - the government of india needn't issue an apology for the excesses committed by British imperialism... if it still isn't clear to ur IQ of -345, i suggest you drop the garb of anonymity, come out in the open, and i shall be happy to explain to u what i mean, though i expect it to be much like battering my head against a blank wall...

anubabs said...

Hey dude,

very nice write up. but why stop there, I see there are no more updates from u since 2007. Has the fire to explore the history of delhi got extinguished in the rigors of daily life?

I stumbled upon your blog while researching on the gothic tower I used to see everyday from the metro window while passing thru PulBangash. I always thought that it must be some forgotten church. but thanks to you, now I know more. One day maybe I'll get down at Pul Bangash and visit it.

Thanks Buddy.

Tarun said...

Hi,

I recently went to the 1857 memorial. From what i gather from your post, the memorial was built by the British and later dedicated to Indians by the govt? Do you know when was it bulit?