Self-possessions are always undermined and other’s possessions seem better, this proverb best suits our thoughts when it comes to heritage in our own city of Kolkata. The name might have changed from Calcutta to Kolkata but it’s the heritage that speaks volumes. I have been doing heritage photography and blogging for some time now but never had ever gone through my own city’s heritage, probably it might be ignorance or may be a bit of laziness on my part to go for a walking tour around the city.
Thanks to an initiative by Calcutta Times Passions Club I got a wonderful opportunity to go for a European Heritage Photo Walk around the city on a bright and beautiful Saturday morning. Being late November there was definitely a chill in the morning air and that added to the nostalgia.
We were asked to meet up in front of the iconic Great Eastern Hotel which now is rechristened as The Lalit Great Eastern is a landmark in itself. Once being the capital of British India the city was also a nerve centre for the entire British region in the continent, this mean that this city was also the de facto Head Quarter of Burma, Hong Kong, Malaya etc. There were stalwarts like Mark Twain, Nikolai Bulganin etc. who had spent their nights here during a state visit and two particular incident which my father has reconfirmed was that of Nikita Khrushchev & Elizabeth II he was a young boy at that time and went along with my grandfather to see them being driven around in an open car.
We were welcomed by the representatives of Walks of Calcutta and Calcutta Times Passions Club and after a quick group photo set off for the day. As predicted we were first told about the Great Eastern Hotel and on the way to the next destination was shown the significance of the huge thick pillars which act as dividers were actually placed for tying up horse and other animals during the earlier times.
We then move to Currency Building, built in 1833 this building first housed the Reserve Bank thus it got its name. However initially it was called Agra Bank and the Office of Issue and Exchange of Government Currency. Reserve Bank used to operate in this building till 1937. The huge arches and the beautiful green tiles on the wall reflect the grandeur it once stood. There is also a huge metal vault inside the building which is a must see.
Just opposite to Currency Building we will find the Dalhousie Square Post Office, this was once known as Dead Letter Post Office since during the Great War this post office was the centre of all activity. It was important to inform the near and dear ones about the fate of their relatives who had gone to the war and often letters could not be delivered to their intended recipients so post office workers took the initiative to locate the rightful owners of the letter from this office.
A few meters from here is the famous landmark the St. Andrews Church, with a cock on top of its steeple this was always a mystery to me. Finally I had the full story, St. Johns Church was the most important church at that time in Calcutta and the Bishop objected to building the tall steeple for St. Andrews Church as he wanted St. Johns Church to be the tallest. The pastor Rev. Bryce did not heed to the warning and still built the tall steeple and put a cock on top of it to cow over the Bishop.
Just next to St. Andrews Church is another landmark Writers Building, once being the office of the writers for the East India Company the name stuck on till date. This iconic building was designed by Thomas Lyon in the year 1777 but has gone through several up gradations over the years and what we see now is an amalgamation of all that. On the top we can clearly see statues of Greek god and goddesses Zeus, Hermes, Athena and Demeter depicting the different departments within the government; at the centre we have the statue of Minerva.
Next was the large water body right in the middle of Dalhousie Square which is known as Lal Dighi, initially this was just a big pond but the visiting British officers converted this to a large reservoir to store sweet water for the long summers in the year 1709
Just opposite to this is the GPO or the General Post Office, was constructed in the year 1868 and served as the central post office for the British East India. Its large magnificent dome and long white columns is an architectural marvel.
Next to this is the Royal Insurance Buildings and the Hong Kong House, there is also a small Reserve Bank of India building in this street which was earlier Alliance Bank of Simla. Reserve Bank shifted to the larger building in Dalhousie Square when this office became too small for its operations.
A little ahead is the iconic St. John’s Church which was once the cathedral of the city before St. Pauls Cathedral. Built in the year 1787 and James Agg was its chief architecture. This church has quite a few important land mark and artefacts. The Last Supper by Johann Zoffany, Memorial of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, Job Charnock’s Mausoleum, replica of Black Hole of Calcutta Monument, Second Rohilla War Monument etc.
After this we proceed towards Calcutta High Court, established in the year 1862 this has the distinction of being the oldest High Court in India. Modelled like the Cloth Hall, Ypres of Belgium this has a neo Gothic style architecture.
Just before this we had a detour towards Town Hall, built in Roman Doric style in the year 1813 by the architect Col. John Garstin. This was built to host social gatherings of the British expatriates and their families.
Just opposite to this is the West Bengal Legislative Assembly – Bidhan Sabha and a few yards away is another icon of the city; Eden Gardens Stadium.
The walking tour ended here but not my curiosity, will soon put up another blog detailing each of the buildings mentioned in this blog and other subsequent important landmarks in this young city.
To read the full article click here – Calcutta Times – Times of India – 24 Nov 2015