Hill Stations during British India

I have often wondered about the presence of the odd colonial looking structures, random cottages, the presence of conifers at hill stations. Botanical gardens and lakes have always been a part of the tourist circuits of these hill stations. And I assumed it was always present, a part of their charm. Here and there I did hear about the forlorn structure that came up in 19th century and was the summer house of a colonel etc. But I didn’t give it much thought until one fine day I got my hands on a lovely Indian history book on the British India- ‘ The magic mountains: hill stations and the British raj‘.

colonial-structure in hill stations

All the lovely hill stations Shimla, Nainital,Mussorie, Ooty,Darjelling, Kodai,Ooty etc were inhabited by the British during the 19th century. So what was the need or role of these hill stations in the history of India? The author Dane Keith Kennedy quotes a couple of them.

Developing as sanitariums in British India:

The heat in the plains was not something easy on the British. They were used to the cold not this sweltry heat of the Indian subcontinent.  Hill stations located at 6000-7000 feet height provided this respite. So these stations were touted as the perfect place for recuperation and relaxation. Thus locations across the three presidencies were scouted for – the Himalayas, Nilgiris were targeted. Some of the early hill stations that came in to existence were Simla, Mussorie, Ooty.. Darjeeling though came a bit later due to it being a sensitive location. Reports were published, committees were formed to proclaim that health improved for Europeans sent here, the death rate significantly decreased.Malaria, dysentery, typhoid -the hills offered greater immunity to these.

As a getaway in British India:

This euphoria soon died out. With population increasing on the hills, the diseases of the plains caught up on the hills too. So now the stress was more on invalids who suffered from pressures of the job and needed a getaway. These stations were a means of escape, a vacation that afforded time to play and rejuvenate the mind and body. More importantly, it created a distance between the British and Indian subjects.

Initial Development of these hill stations in British history of India:

Creating a home away from home:

The hills reminded the initial inhabitants, the English of their wooded valleys, streams,lakes and mountain peaks.

British Raj-hill stations

Misty mornings in Darjeeling hills

Thus the experiments that began in the hills were related to growing of fruits, flowers and vegetables similar to their landscape. Roses, buttercups, dahlias,lilies flourished in the cool climate and so did British vegetables like cabbages, cauliflower and fruits like apples, pears, strawberries. Thus Nurseries and Botanical gardens were the places for experimentation for these crops. It was also a means of providing residents with seeds. Cash crops such as Tea, Coffee, Cinchona- the bark of which was used against malaria were also grown.

tea estates-Darjeeling

Tea estates of Darjeeling

So now you know. If you see a  botanical garden in a hill station like  in Ooty, Kodaikanal etc you know it was done to make the landscape more pleasing for its settlers.

Ahoy a lake too

Similarly lakes too were developed to mimic the English countryside. Some were natural while some were artificially built.

Lakes in hill stations-British India

Yeracud lake

The central element of hilly landscapes was a church. Post office, banks,malls, bazaars, long winding lanes, developed alongside. Mall Road, Promenade Road  and Cart lanes sound familiar?These were some of the lanes meant for pedestrians only, to window shop, to gossip, to saunter the hillside for its sheer pleasure.  And if you observe, most of these hill stations today still have these features though some of the ones I visited like Darjeeling, were overcrowded and like any other location suffered traffic jams during the peak seasons.

Soon the cutting began

The coming up of railways, the need for timber, development of tea estates and the wide spread notion that ‘diseases lurked in bushes and trees’ and needed to be cleared hastened the process of deforestation. However better sense prevailed in the mid century.

Nature teaches its lessons harshly. Landslides and erosion increased. Thus regulations, forest protection acts  started  appearing on the scene. The focus in certain hill stations like Ooty were to plant trees that were quick growers. This was when introduction of Australian species Eucalyptus, Cedar, Fir, Chestnut etc came in to the scene. Even today you see most of these conifer varieties.

conifers introduced by British

Thus the 200 pages book on  ‘The magic mountains: hill stations and the British raj’ explains a great deal on these critical aspects. It talks about how women and children were the major occupants in stations, then highlights a bit on the hill people originally living there like the Todas, Lepchas etc. It talks about how the stations served as places of amusement,picnics and pleasure mimicking the rules and etiquette of social life followed by England. For instance if a newcomer checked in to a hill station he was supposed to drop his card in the ‘not-at-home’ boxes. He did not have the privilege of announcing himself. The residents reserved the right on whom to include in their next invitations etc.All in all, the book provides a good perspective and introduces a slice of history of British India. Do read the book for more insights or check out our British Trails in the city.



A glimpse of Indian Colonial architecture

A tiger skin hangs majestically in the drawing room, the column at la Martiniere,Lucknow is a fitting tribute to the surrounding landscape, the card room of Faluknama Palace, Hyderabad gives you a glimpse of the British aristocracy … These were some of the displays at the ‘Shadow of the Raj’ exhibition by photographer Derry Moore who had captured some of the Colonial scenes in mid 1970’s. All set in monochromatic tones, the architectural scenes, the landscapes and the portraits succeeded in ushering you back to the colonial era. Derry Moore had mainly toured Calcutta, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Chennai, Mushirdabad,Mumbai and captured the British colonial scenes back then…

The exhibition prompted me to explore a bit about the colonial architecture in the country and here is what I found..

The ancient Indian scene:

The Indian architectural scene had been rich and diverse even before the arrival of the European powers be it Portuguese, French, Dutch or the English in the country . Just take a look at the ancient Indian architecture – Sanchi Stupa,Mahabodhi temple, cave temples ….

Sanchi Stupa

Photo Source

Or the medieval architecture that saw Mughal styled structures- Tajmahal, Fatehpur Sikiri to name a few.

Fatehpur Sikiri

Photo Source

The foreigners who arrived initially came with the sole intention of trade. So these European powers began building ware houses, offices, churches in the beginning. Their architecture styles especially churches predominately revolved around Roman, Gothic, French influences etc.

A church in Goa

Photo Source:

With the political dominance of English in the country there was a fusion of European architecture with Indian buildings. The initial structures were the barracks, residential buildings of the cantonments. There was a influence of local element too especially in the officers residences. The Bangla of Bengal was adapted to suit the tastes of the European officer and so it became the vast free standing Bungalows of today. 

Before the 1857 revolt the construction of colonial buildings depicted the imperial power of the English. The official structures be it the post office, police stations or administrative offices were modeled to showcase this aspect. Often they followed the European classic style or the Gothic style revealing the superiority of the buildings of the west.

Victoria Terminus

Photo Source

After the revolt the structures built were to showcase solidarity between the British and India. Thus European buildings now started adding Swadeshi elements. Thus the resultant style was often Indo- Saracenic found in most of the buildings in Chennai- Senate House, Courts, Post offices etc. Bombay however retained its Gothic style. Victoria Terminus is a fine example of this.



With the shifting of capital to Delhi in 1911, the British focus was to showcase the imperial strength of their empire. The planned city incorporated a fusion of styles- Mughal, Buddhist symbols… You can still see domes, arches,lotuses and symbols like Elephants in the buildings of the new capital. A glimpse of this type of building can be seen in many of the city’s strutures- prominent one being the Rastrapathi Bhavan.

Rastrapathi Bhavan

Photo Source

With the British leaving the country, these colonial structures remained in remembrance of their rule. Alongside these heritage structures mushroomed skyscrapers, apartments,corporate housing and the shiny glass and chrome buildings that we see today. Yet these yesteryear structures say many a tale of the days gone by. And these are the very stories that we explore in our British walks be it the Bungalow Walk or the Cathedral Walk in our city. Come join us to hear more of such interesting tales.






Celebrating Sankranti

Sankranti is coming and the streets of Malleshwaram especially the Sampige Road is glowing. There are tiny little golden boxes to be given as gifts to married mamis,white, yellow,pink sugar molds in various shapes and hues to gift to little brats, colorful little trinkets to sweet angels…

Yellu, bella,kobari[Sesame,Jaggery,dry coconut] are neatly stacked everywhere and for the ultra modern working women with very little time on her hands there are ready made packets of yellu-bella and nuts.

So no sweat and hassle, just arrange them in colorful trays and gift them away for people who come calling you. Don’t forget to add sugarcane, banana and sometimes the Ber[ Elachihannu in Kannada]. For more effect, utter the words ‘Yellu bella tindhu olle maathadi‘ and lo, you very much belong to the community.

But Sankranti of yesteryear was slightly different. The preparations used to start very early in the month. The Kobari was put in the sun until crisp then cut in to tiny pieces. The Jaggery too was treated the same way. My mother’s hands were pink after this mammoth exercise of chopping these munchkins to tiny pieces. The nuts were roasted, the peels of groundnuts removed and finally all ended up in tiny plastic covers, nicely sealed with wax. That was the only task we were allowed to do. Yet we felt we belonged and were part of some great ritual. Some homes added an extra piece to the pack- sakkare achu or sugar candy molds. There would be squeals of delights in our home if we acquired a basket,star or an angel achu rather than a  boring square shaped one. And a brisk exchange and deals would happen between us if one of us got the boring ones like giving up control of the remote for an hour in exchange for a pink star.

Today things have changed but the fun element still exists. In Ahmedabad, the festival spirit is quite enthusiastic. After all the famous kite flying or should I say kite fight happens here. Plates of gachak, peanuts are kept on terrace. Kids and adults alike with colorful kites gather on the terrace. The hero or heroines are accompanied by the complete family -encouraging, supporting, swearing and generally distracting the kite flyer. Dheel,Khainch,lapet are some common words that get hurled as the sport continues in full gusto.

Wherever you celebrate, Sankranti ushers in goodness. After all it is just not a harvest festival. It signifies the sun making its journey northwards from Sagittarius to Capricorn. The days after the winter solstice of December 21 are going to be longer. So you celebrate for a great new year, for new beginnings and success. You prepare Pongal and offer it to the Sun, you eat sesame and jaggery to bring new energy and heat. And just like the prayer wheels of sikkim that revolve and disperse the chants to wind, you fly kites that soar high and take your message to the divinity above. Happy Sankranthi.

For a walk at the colorful Sampige Market join us on our Malleshwaram walks.


Of Forts and Defenses- a Photo Story

Kalasipalyam -a place busting with people, traffic, not to forget cows! Not an inch of space at this crowded site, yet bang in the middle there is silence. A silence that astonishes you, for you don’t expect to find it in this cacophony. Yet it is there, thanks to the strong stone fort 500 years or older standing here. You enter the fort, pass the huge wooden gate and lo- a sense of calm descends. The thick walls of the fort reflect the outside sound – only silence and an inherent sense of peace greets you inside.

From ancient times forts have been defensive structures protecting the city and its inhabitants. The kings used it to mark boundaries, protect treasury, royal family; the powerful zamindars used it for protecting their property … They served as excellent places to hide as well.  It was difficult to enter these premises- the surrounding moat, ditch or bush of thorns around fort making things tougher for such attacks.

There were different categories of forts. The one at Kalasipalyam and the interconnected fort for the old city or Pete was a city fortress surrounded by a moat and had thorny bushes all around it making the city invincible. It was a mud fort before transforming in to a stone fort, complete with bastions after Hyder Ali and later Tipu Sultan came in to power.

But not all forts were built like this. At Savandurga, Nandi hills,Shivganage outside the city –the forts were parvat durg or giri durgs.

The forts were located on high hills- the boulders, the rocky outcrop making things tougher.

Battlements, bastions, loop-holes were other strategies to make the fort invulnerable. Even today the walls, bastions and towers remain on the durg perhaps telling the stories of sieges and battles. A trek at Savandurg or Shivgange makes you aware of this. The slopes, the steep ascents, the bastions at regular intervals- makes you aware of the planning gone behind building such forts.

Srirangapatna –the harbour of Tipu was an excellent Nadi-Durga/Jal durg. The city was on an island surrounded on all sides by Kaveri.

And during monsoons when the river was in full, the fort would become impregnable. Natural and artificial defence strategies were effectively used here as well.

There were other fort types as well- dhanva durg, vana durg, nara durg etc. While dhanva durg was protected by desert, vana durg was surrounded by forests, nara durg by strong men etc.

The toppling of fort was not just victory to the enemies or the replenishment of supplies. It also meant breaking the morale of the enemy camp. The capture of Bangalore fort by the British was a blow to Tipu’s army. Most of the forts came in to the hands of the English after this decisive victory.

Today what remains of this oval fort that once protected the palace, armoury, treasury etc. is just two and a half bastions and a gateway. But it does its job- retelling history effectively.



CITY HERITAGE – or the lack of it?



Telugu Church Office, Richards Town

(Image Courtesy: Poornima Dasharathi)

Bengalureans are usually surprised when I say the city is very old, at least a thousand years old! Many continents and countries weren’t yet discovered when our city was a big bustling place!

So why do we think Bangalore isn’t old ? The answer is usually ‘the lack of heritage structures’.

Heritage Law

Many countries have a robust heritage law for both public & private buildings. These include

  • proper identification, planning and conservation of structures
  • interaction & encouragement to private owners through tax reliefs, higher property value and certain structural change restrictions.

I was also told that in some places in London, there’s a law that certain city views cannot be altered!

In the News

Two recent events by individuals or organisations have raised this fact.

One is a fellow heritage enthusiast, Udaya Kumar’s research on Inscription stones & his experiences of the process – the interaction with the locals and their pride when they came to know its significance.

The other is heritage building demolition inside Lalbagh by the Horticulture department as it was ‘beyond repair’ and heritage organisations & Individuals’ protest.

While this is just one known demolition compared to several others that have gone or will go unnoticed in & around the city.

Since the last decade, many public & private structures have gone down drastically. Here’s some statistics by INTACH (a heritage awareness organisation), Bangalore.

Those who do raise our voice for heritage awareness feign helplessness when our own heritage homes are demolished to create a plush suite of flats or worse still sold to be used as a commercial structure!

Problems & Solutions

So what is the solution? It’s a very complex answer. Here are some  points and observations through various discussions with travellers, experts, civic planners, fellow bangaloreans on problems & solutions to preserve heritage structures.

  • The government has to create awareness of heritage and preserving old buildings to the common man. For example, how old is ‘heritage’? Is a 100 year old building heritage while a 90 year old one is not?
  • It has to create a robust heritage bill – however ‘no government will to create one due to rising real estate prices in Urban cities’ is the opinion of many.
  • With public structures, money is not an issue as government funds are surplus. Usually it’s just ignorance or just flippant attitude to an ‘old building’.
  • Instead of tax reliefs and subsidizing the cost of maintaining a heritage home, most private ancestral home owners also have the burden of a huge property tax. Some preserve for the love of it while many demolish it for an easier to maintain home with modern facilities.

(I personally know many owners who complain that the walls ‘just give away’!)

  • Joint families going nuclear and shared ownership also results in division and demolition of properties.
  • The lure of real estate value for both middle class and upper class families is one of the biggest reasons for private buildings going down.

Awareness is the first step I feel. Awareness and the will to maintain goes a long way. Ours is an old city, an important city, let’s preserve it. That will be a real tribute to Kempegowda!



Unraveling the secrets of Srirangapatna – Photo Story

This weekend Unhurried had a fun bike trip with TVS group of Mysore.  The City trails event organized by Sona Motors, TVS and Autosense India, for their customers was a fun filled episode to unearth Srirangapatna’s history and and discover many of its untold stories. Unhurried along with On a Pedal  team went about organizing this in quite an innovative way.

Unlimited masti, fun quiz and a gripping treasure hunt followed by a sumptuous lunch were the highlights of the day. Here is an overview.

23 participants assembled at Sona Motors,Lakshmipuram around 10 in the morning. The event was flagged off at 10:30 by Rudra of TVS Motors.

The team on TVS vehicles reached Srirangapatna around 11. After a brief introduction to the city and its rich history, the participants were divided in to four teams.

A fun quiz session saw each team compete to get the maximum number of points. The team that won got a five minute lead for the treasure hunt and were given the clues first. The enthusiastic team breaking their clues headed off on their vehicles to their destination where the next clue awaited them.

After a gripping two hour hunt that saw teams zipping up past memorials, mausoleums, palaces and ruins the event ended at Hali Mane for a delicious lunch.

Here is a brief video.


Seven Must Have Experiences at Badami

The evening sun sets in. The last rays of sun hits the almond colored cliffs in front of me. And the sandstone turns golden. The view leaves me spellbound. And I forget the tiredness, the last eight hour journey has brought me. I have traveled 500 odd kilometers from Bangalore through traffics, highways and bumpy lanes to reach this lovely history rich city of Badami.

Badami was the capital of the early Chalukyan dynasty. This dynasty ruled most parts of Deccan Plateau and the areas around it between the sixth and eighth centuries.  Thus the city was an important historic center in South India then. Ancient cave temples, placid lakes, and ruins- the city is dotted with myriad attractions.  Here is a brief overview of some of them.

  1. Cave temples of Badami

Dated between the sixth and seventh centuries the four free standing rock cut temples are a revelation. The exquisite carvings, the designs, icons, reliefs and the artwork on the stone columns, ceilings, halls and inner sanctum deep inside the caves transports you in to a different world. The first cave temple is the oldest built around 543 AD and is dedicated to Hindu God Shiva. The second and third cave temple is dedicated to Hindu God Vishnu. The last cave is of Jainism faith and it has the figures of prominent Tirthankara (saviours) of Jains.

Note: One of the key attractions in Cave-1 is the dancing figure of Shiva with 18 hands. The figure displays around 81 dance forms with the help of these 18 hands. While there take a look at the pillars too. There are around 83 types of jewellery designs carved on them. Various incarnations of God Vishnu, amorous couples, different costumes and hairstyles like Korean and Mongolian- the scenes in cave-2 and cave-3 depict the daily lives of the people then.


  1. Archaeological museum:

Celestial gods, hero stones, narrative stone panels depicting mythological stories, pre historic exhibits-the archaeological museum is a gold mine of information about the history of Indian architecture and Badami.

Note: One of the key attraction here is the figure of goddess of fertility called Lajja Gauri (Nude Goddess) .Carved out of grey sandstone she is shown in the birth giving posture. Traditionally the fertility goddess was worshipped by women aspiring to become mothers.

  1. Bouldering:

Badami is a haven for rock climbers. The fissured rocks, the soaring vertical cliffs, the horizontal cracks provide a challenging bouldering experience. There are various routes graded 4a-8b+ suitable for both amateurs and professionals alike.  There are more than 100 bolted routes in this area.

Note: Beware of the heat. Badami is hot throughout the year. December-February months are slightly cooler though and can be a good time to rock climb early mornings.

  1. Trekking to Badami fort:

The hill opposite to the Badami cave temples holds a number of ruins, shrines and fort.  The climb is steep through stone carved steps and is full of delights. As you trapeze over the narrow winding path you see copper coated volcanic rocks towering around you. The stone fort, the observation posts, the dome like structures to store arms, the temple ruins –the one hour climb can be a novel experience.

Note: The view from the top is simply amazing and a popular haunt of photographers. The artificial green lake below, the vertical rock cliffs across with  its rock cut cave temples, the lone stone watch towers atop, waterfalls from the cliffs during the rainy months-all make for inspiring photographic shoots.


  1. Taste the protein bar of Badami -the Karadant:

Karadant translates to fried edible gum in local dialect- Kannada. Similar to protein bars the Karadant sweet is high in amino acids, omega fatty acids and antioxidants. Prepared with either sugar or jaggery, the chewy textured sweet is full of cashew nuts, dry grapes, dates, peanut etc. Jaggery comes from either of these two villages -Amingad and Gokak. So the sweet is labelled either Amingad Karadant or Gokak Karadant depending on from where the jaggery came and the sweet was manufactured.

Note: Most of the sweet shops and small outlets near temple complexes store these sweets. They are a bit pricey, a 200 gram of this sweet costs more than 100 Rupees, but are worth every bit. If you are nut allergic keep away from these sweets.

  1. An enriching experience at Badami farms:

Sunflower, sugarcane, millet, cotton-these are some of the crops that the farmers of Badami grow.  Harvest season sees a flurry of activities here.  Reaping crop, threshing, winnowing, tilling of the land to grow seeds and sowing are some activities you can witness. The black soil, the harvest in front of you, the grins of the farm ladies as they welcome visitors can turn out to be an enriching experience.

Note: October is the harvesting season for Corn. So a drive towards Badami can be colourful with not only the harvesting activity in full swing but also for its dashes of colours. The yellows of Sunflower, the orange hues of Marigold and the clear white cotton blooms amidst the golden corn can be a beautiful spectacle.

  1. Visit the heritage sites Pattadakal and Aihole:

While Pattadakal is 22 kilometers from Badami and Aihole is around 36 kilometers both are worthwhile destinations for sightseeing. Pattadakal, a world heritage center was the place for coronation ceremonies of Chalukyan kings. Aihole was an architectural and educational center with more than 125 temples within 3-5 kilometer radius of the village. Aihole has some interesting prehistoric sites too at the Meguti hillock.

Note: Don’t forget to savour the corn bread with a dash of rich legumes or eggplant curry accompanied with cold yogurt in pots. The simple fare served by villagers here is actually very delicious and healthy. The corn after all comes from the nearby farms.