History

Reviving Bavadis as water source

Amazing isn’t it? Vijayapura  is turning towards its 500 year old ancient open wells to overcome water scarcity in the city. Taj Bavadi, Chand Bavadi- the wells of Vijayapura that were hitherto mere tourist destinations and were mushy, filled with garbage are now fulfilling their original purposes- that of providing water to this water scarce city. The city requires a mammoth 65 million litres per day.

Bavadis, vaav, pushkaranis, keres were some of the ways that ancient India dealt with water shortage. The dry, arid climates of Gujarat and Rajasthan led to the creations of step wells or vaavs. Similarly the  frequency of droughts led to water harvesting schemes like bavadis in Bijapur. While some were built in the memory of the beloved, some were just constructed by the rulers to replenish water sources and as a cool retreat. For instance the Rani ki Vaav at Patan, a 11th century vaav was built by queen Udaymati in memory of her husband Bhimdev. The fine architectural works on the columns, walls of the well has earned it the UNESCO world heritage tag.

CC:Bernad Gagnon

Similarly the 1549 Chand bavadi in Bijapur was built by Ali Adil Shah for his queen Chand Bibi while the biggest well Taj bavadi , a 1620 structure was built in honour of Taj Sultana- wife of Ibrahim Adil Shah.  The city of Vijayapura boasted about 1030 wells in 1830 out of which 700 were stepless.

The astonishing thing about these wells is that it served as water sources even during the harsh summer  months.  While bore wells have to be dug very deep say 200 feet or more , the water in these bavadis can be found around 50-60 feet. Not only that the presence of wells significantly improves the ground water levels. A win- win situation all around if the wells are kept in good condition.

But with the advent of water pumps and pipes supplying water to the city the bavadis are also in a state of neglect. While the Chand bavadi has become a dump yard, the Taj bavadi has become a dhobi ghat cum a place to wash vessels. The Mukhari Masjid bavadi near to a temple sees devotees throwing flowers, coconuts , shells in the well.  However things are slowly changing. The Taj bavadi, Chand bavadi along with a couple of others are getting revived. Silt and garbage are getting cleared to hold water. When the bavadis are revived it is estimated that it can satisfy 5 million litres per day water requirement.

Finally the city is waking up to its ancient heritage and water wisdom. Hope our city with its 300 keres too soon follows suit.

–Usha

 

Unhurried walk with Nestaway

We had a gala time last Sunday with Nestaway. Some 27 walkers joined us  on a Sultan Tour to understand Tipu Sultan-King Of Mysore a bit. The half a day tour encompassed cycling and walking through some beautiful hidden places of Bangalore.

tipu-summer-palace

After a brief stop over at the Summer Palace where the participants came to know the life and times about  the ruler, his ingenious warfare methods like the beloved Tipu’s rockets ,they then headed out to Tipu’s armoury at Kalasipalyam.  Tipu built ten armouries during his time, most of them at Srirangapatna. The one in the city is more than 200 years old. Pity it is not in a great shape. “People were playing cards here. The yesteryear ammunition dump has now become a garbage dump with plastics, bottles all thrown around,” said Arman a Nestie.

PC: On a Pedal

The next pitstop was at Siddapura Nursery where the green thumb of everyone became visible. After a refreshing hob -nob at the nursery, some came back armed with saplings to tend them at home. We then cycled back to Lalbagh.

PC: On a Pedal

A two hour unhurried walk at Lalbagh gave the walkers a glimpse of the times of Hyder and Tipu and their passion for horticulture. The once 40 acre garden due to the interests of these rulers and the vision of the British superintendents who came after them has today blossomed in to a 240 acre park with more than 1858 species of plants. While there was a sense of awe standing beneath the majestic Silk Cotton Tree, and amazement looking at the 400+ old Kempegowda’s watch tower, there were sniggers while passing by Rain tree, when the walkers understood how it got the name.

The walk was fruitful. The participants from all over India- Jammu,Allahabad,Kanpur,Nagpur,Kerala,Hyderabad etc got a glimpse of the Bangalore past. Mavalli Kere made them recollect the existing lakes in the city. When they realized that Bangalore hosted 262 lakes in 1960 and now it had dwindled to 34 lakes there was a sense of loss. Why was it called Pensioner’s paradise? What led to the unplanned growth in the city? These were some interesting questions that popped up after this.

After this action packed tour, we reached VV Puram Chat Street to fill ourselves. The yummy masala dosa,the spicy curd kodubale and sinfully wicked Gulkand ice cream more than made up for our tiredness.

If you would like to join in the fun then why not book a city walk with us?

–Usha

Mangalore styled Houses- Heritage that refuses to fade

All around me are skyscrapers. But I have hopes. I turn left and find myself on a narrow cobbled street with laterite stone bricked hedges and bougainvillea blooms. I walk down the street, find myself on a dead end and turn left again. More apartments, huge bungalows with manicured lawns greet me but I plunge on. Another dead end and lo just to my right I finally see it- a Mangalore tiled house nestled among coconut trees complete with a verandah, tiled roof and the red oxide flooring. The house is dilapidated, the clay tiles are broken, doors are in shambles but the house or what is left of it is still beautiful. The Tulsi in front of the home is thriving – no doubt some passerby continues to water this holy plant everyday.

 

Mangalore tiled roof 20071228

The house eerily  reminds me of my grandpa’s home now in the hands of a stranger who has plans to convert the place in to a seven storied apartment. Grandpa’s home was a delight surrounded by Jackfruit,Mango and Coconut trees and two wells. There was a spacious veranda- a pillared gallery with grilled windows and sit-outs  that opened out to them. I remember counting stars at night, swinging my legs out of these sit-outs.

The verandah led to a living room that had multiple doors. Each door led to a different room-bed room, storage but not the god’s room.The devarakone or the god’s room was at the center of the living room ,huge with miniature paintings of various gods and goddesses. There were various wooden boxes where my grandfather kept small deities and the sacred saligramas. Each morning the gods would be taken out of their boxes for the pooja and dutifully kept back -intact once the pooja would be over.

The kitchen  was huge, the ceiling above made of wood with plenty of storage space to stock food items . I remember the storage room above the ceiling. It was always noisy at night, squeaking, perhaps due to mice foraging for food . So there was no question of sneaking in to the kitchen for Jaggery or milk powder at nights. Who wanted a mouse accidentally falling down on their heads ?

The wooden panels, the clay tiles,  the verandah, grilled windows,laterite bricks, the lime plaster finish – these features kept the house refreshingly cool. It was a delight to sleep on the cold red oxide floors. They were cool to touch and provided the perfect setting for the afternoon slumber. The Mangalore tiles overhead kept the sun out. If there was a slit, we kids knew about it immediately. The dark rooms would be lit with a small shaft of light pouring in from these broken tiles.

Structures like these are slowly disappearing from Mangalore giving way to multi storied apartments. But Mangalore still has some of these- the government colleges, schools and libraries.  They don’t scream for attention like the skyscrapers but they can be found in nooks and corners still. Go near them and you will be lured by their old world charm and simplicity. For a few seconds at least you will leave behind the rush life and embrace the slowness that only a clay tiled home can offer.

–Usha

Lake to a stadium- Sampangi Lake’s journey

The sports stadium near Cubbon Park, Hudson Circle entrance is named as Kanteerava. Kanteerava was a soldier who challenged the greatest of wrestlers in the city of Mahamallapuram -Rajaraja Chola and defeated him. I admired this story and was rather proud of it as well- a common solider defeating a royal wrestler and Bangalore stadium remembering the deed and naming a sports stadium after him.

sampangi

Things however changed when I went to the Kanteerava Stadium Walk organized by Neralu with walk guide Hita Unnikrishnan. I learnt that the stadium was once a 35 acre beautiful lake boasting of trees, open spaces. It was a source of water for the British Cantonment of Bangalore and for the Pete(old city)residents of the city during the colonial period. The story of how a splendid lake that supported different communities- fishermen, brick-makers,horticulturists,agriculturist transformed in to a stadium is an unfortunate one.

Prior to 1870 the lake had Ragi and paddy fields, the north and south spaces boasted of gardens. Kalyanis(tanks) were all around the lake, full of water as they were continuously recharged from Sampangi kere. The lake was protected as both cantonment and pete were dependent on it. The water channels from the lake fed Miller tanks that fulfilled the water requirements of  cantonment. The lake had religious significance too for pete residents. The Vanhikula Kshatriya community of pete used the lake during their famous 9 day karaga festival. The lake deposits were used in the creation of the holy pot Karaga.

After 1896 the Hesarghatta reserviour started supplying water to the cantonment and so the dependency of the lake ceased. Things slowly started changing.  The wetlands started getting used for institutions, playgrounds etc. A brewery had already come up in the area where once lush paddy fields thrived. The British were interested in maintaining the aesthetics of the lake. So any kind of digging, pits, excavation without the government approval was not allowed. They also drained a part of lake and used it as polo grounds.

On the other hand horticulturists,landowners  depended on the waters petitioned to the government of Mysore saying that they were not getting enough water as the water channels were either closed or diverted. They wanted to deepen the channels. Due to a slew of buildings not to mention a brewery in the lake vicinity, the British Civil and Military Station were opposed to this. The discussions continued, yet at the end of 1935 the hitherto 35 acre lake had become a small tank. I assume that the tank was not fully closed and let out because the Karaga festival still needed the lake.

By 1949 the lake had transformed in to an indoor stadium. The farms and kalyanis had given way to slums and layouts. Many of the communities migrated- Hita showed us a cattle rearing community still existing near the lake vicinity.There is only one dried up kalyani now- it is now being used for martial arts training.

If I close my eyes I can sense how this traffic filled streets and the stadium might have looked way back in 1900 with a lake on one side, cubbon park at the other end. Full of open spaces, trees it would have been a micro ecosystem by itself. Sigh… I can only hear the noise of development now. Guess good things do not always last.

–Usha

 

References:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Sampangi-Lake-From-a-thriving-lake-to-sports-arena-today/articleshow/51677090.cms

 

 

The Summer Residence of Tipu Sultan

I touch the teak wood and I am in awe. I am whisked 200 years back because that was when this teak wood became a part of this summer palace. Sometime in 1781-1791, the foundation stone would have been placed,next would have been the stone walls, the wood pillars, beams, the intricate brackets supporting the beams, the decorative arches- what forethought would have gone in designing this ‘Abode of Happiness’ for Tipu Sultan, the then ruler of Mysore kingdom.

Tipu Sultan’s father Hyder Ali started this summer palace in 1781.After his death, his son took over and by 1791 the palace got built. Today more than 200 years later, only a fraction of the palace survives. But what remains, is enough to show you the magnificence of the old palace.

tipu-palace

From outside when I look I imagine that it was one single storey. But as I look closer at the Indo-Islamic structure I gather that it is two storeyed. The misconception resulted because of the teak pillars that stretched out from ground to the first floor giving it the appearance of a single tiered building.

The ground floor houses the museum of Tipu Sultan today. You learn plenty of things here. For instance you may have known that Tipu was an able administrator, was proficient in several languages and boosted the economic prosperity in the State. Yet you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that he was the pioneer of early rockets. The early rockets during the Tipu era  had a bamboo/wood pole with an iron cylinder containing the explosives and a rocket man used to light it. The rocket would shoot up or travel horizontally, light up the ammunition, scatter horses and were a menace to the British. These rockets caused heavy casualties in the British army during the Polilur war which Tipu won.

After Tipu’s death in 1799 in the final British-Mysore war, the British took care to take these Mysore rockets along with them. They were studied, improved upon and were used in the wars against Napoleon.

tipu-summer-palace

From the ground floor there are stone steps to take you upstairs to the cantilever balconies and the Zenana quarters. Tipu apparently held his durbar here and the rooms above(Zenana quarters) were for the ladies to tune in to the court proceedings. The beautiful floral motifs on the ceiling and on the walls makes you realize how splendid the palace would have looked with teak-wood pillars, wooden banisters and pigmented motifs covering the bare walls and ceilings.

The tour of this palace takes you a mere 40-50 minutes. Located on Albert Victor Road it is open on all days. Combine the visit with the nearby Tipu’s armory and the old fort.

–Usha

Bengal Muslin- Cloth that fits inside a small bamboo

Soft as silk, soft to touch and wear, so delicate that you felt light wearing it and so gracious that it was fit for the Kings and Emperors. When daughter of Aurangzeb wore it she was criticized for wearing a transparent dress although she was clothed in seven layers of the material. Can you take a guess as to what I am talking about? It is the famed Bengal Muslin, cotton but not just cotton-sheer fine cotton.

Bengal Muslin

Bengal Muslin

What happened to Bengal Muslin:

A story of treachery, the disappearance of Bengal Muslin from the popular scene of textiles is tragic.Originating in Dhaka, Bangladesh it was not only exported to the Arab world but also grew popular in the western countries especially in the 18th century. Bengal produced wide variety of muslin from plain to thick,striped or fine. The soil, the temperature, the waters of Bengal rivers and not to mention the weavers of Bengal all contributed to the fine quality of Muslin it produced. So where did this delicate hand spun fabric disappear?

Until 1757, there was no monopoly of any company on the trade scene of Dhaka. There were European traders exporting the products out, the weavers earned handsomely and the competition among the traders only made things better for the weavers and families. But after 1757, the East India Company took over. The policies, laws, combined with the industrial revolution and the import duty exercised on the Indian textiles did not make things easier for the weaving community. They became dependent on the Company.The flooding of factory produced muslin did not help either. In 1825 the factories closed and the weavers were rendered out of work. The British textiles had dominated the markets!

The future:

Today realizing that most old things are gold- some enterprises are working with Bengal farmers and weavers to produce this fine gold. One of them is an organization called the Mahatma Gandhi Gramudyog Seva Sansthan(MGGSS). Established in 2010 it is trying to revive Muslin,Khadi, hand looms and to promote desi varieties of cotton that have lower eco footprint compared to the foreign varieties of cotton. Their recent exhibition at Ants Cafe showcased some of the collections like soft stoles, kurtis, plain fabric, dupatta, dhotis, sarees etc.

“We have been able to bring Bengal Muslin of a quality up to 500 counts. We are researching to produce yarn counts of more,” said Rubi Rakshit, one of the representatives of the MGGSS passionately. The increase in counts is a depiction of how fine the garment is !

One of their challenges has been to create awareness about hand looms and thereby increase the demand of these traditional crafts. Only then there is profit for farmers, weavers,dyers,spinners etc- all through the production chain.

So as a city dweller the maximum that you can do is to visit such exhibitions and sales, understand a bit more about this rich heritage and choose to support such enterprises.  And spread the message further.

To know more about this project check out Arup Rubi Rakshit page.

References:

The Song of the Shirt-Jeremy Seabrook

 

 

 

Exploring Cantonment with Kids

 

Cantonment

A tale of two cities in Bangalore,” says Aryan in our walks. The 10 year old kid was surprised to find two different cultures existing in the city-one the old pette and the other, towns of Cantonment.

Away from the buzz and traffic of the city we took school kids to Richards town, Cleveland Town and Frazer town and here is what we learnt from them.

Fraser Town

 

How do you have photographs of Mr.Frazer,” asks Ankita after she sees a couple of mobile pictures of him. I say, from the net and she is not impressed. She was in truth trying to find out who had photographed Frazer and were there cameras back then?

There were barrage of other interesting questions too.

Hazi Ismail Sait who did so much for the community, what business was he in? Why did he care so much about the education about girls? Krumbiegel  has contributed so much for the city. How is he remembered? Are there any roads,statues or establishment at least named after him?

These kids aged between 10-12 sure could think was what I thought, listening to their flurry of questions.

Why are British statues still here?,” a somber Anurag asks and adds quite politely, “We should remove them“. He is not impressed with Queen Victoria’s haughty statue inside Cubbon Park.

Cantonment Bungalow

 

Seeing the different Bungalows in the walk, the would-be investors wanted to know its present cost.  And they started with the initial price of 10 crores going on till 100!

“Are there any ghosts from British era?,” asked one smart alec. I had to invent some. Peter Colaco’s book came in handy as well. The headless beauty and faceless man stories flowed from my tongue.

It pays to walk with kids. They are always eager to learn more, especially if it is stories. And history is very easily conveyed through stories. The importance of heritage is also communicated.

“The fort that existed should not have been dismantled madam. I wish there were some laws to protect heritage in our city,” says Kiran seriously. I convey to him gently that Bengaluru has not yet got the heritage tag. For these innocent questions and more, I love going on walk with these smarty-pants.

Check out our school programs page if you are interested in sending your kids to an educational tour with us.

Disclaimer: The names of the kids have been changed to protect identity.

Usha