Saturday, 14 January 2012

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Army Heritage Museum: An eye opener to Shimla’s history


Hidden amidst huge pine trees, as you circle down from Kennedy House passing through Kumar House towards the Annadale Ground the sight of this huge open grass turf is something to be awed.  As you step inside the Ground, a guard posted there will politely guide you towards the Army Heritage Museum which is opened from April to October from 10am-2pm, 3pm-5pm and during winter from November to March from 10am-2pm, 3pm-4pm. The road leading towards the museum is decorative with 25 pounder artillery gun at the entrance, 40mm antiaircraft gun, 100 mm artillery field gun, manicured lawns and landscaped gardens. Inaugurated by former chief minister Virbhadra Singh on September 20, 2006 this museum has been dedicated to the citizens of Shimla by Lt Gen KS Jamwal, but quite sad that very few citizens actually know about this amazing museum.

The history of Annadale is associated with the British rule as from being a nondescript village, under the Viceroy, John Lawrence, Shimla was officially declared as the Summer Capital in 1864 of the British Empire, a status retained up to India’s Independence. Annadale since its inception in the 1930s has been a favourite place for picnic parties, fetes and fancy fairs, birthday balls, flower and dog shows, races, gymkhanas, polo and other tournaments hosted by the army. The race course dates back to 1840 and Sir Mortimer Durand inaugurated the first football tournament in 1888, which was later moved to Kolkata. 
 
Regular military activities have ensured upkeep of this place as its pristine glory amidst the sylvan surroundings is still immaculate. As you walk towards the main building huge stone planks with details of state heroes and their alma mater since 1947 can be seen. A historic note on Himachalis and their ancient linage dating back to the Aryans, who are renowned for their military valour, chivalry, traditions and politeness and were primarily recruited into the Dogra Regiment of the Indian Army stands tall. As one of the planks reads, “This Museum is about the Indian Army and its soldiers, their virtues, loyalty to comrades, fidelity to an oath, courage under stress, about their mind set and military thinking, passed down from generations for over 5000 years; about regiments and the intense regimental pride which they so passionately treasure, about Indian Captain of war and their contribution which make an Indian proud”.

As you step inside the main building you feel dwarfed by the humongous wall hung boards depicting the army as well as Indian history. Be it the army ethos, ancient military psychology, ancient military thinking, Mahabharta, Ramayana or the Chandragupta period, history of armies of medieval India or the first was of Independence it is all out there to be read and wowed at. It is just not a history lesson read out of books, it is like reliving it all over again. The experience is so thrilling that once you begin to read it you feel quite educated as well as entertained.

On entering the room as you walk to the left you can see a huge stone soldier dressed as a warrior and the types of helmets they wore. The wall right next to it is adorned with awards and accolades won over a period of time. Another left turn towards the next room you can see mannequins in uniforms worn during the British rule, a note on evolution of these uniforms, shoulder titles and cap badges of armoured corps. The following room towards the right takes you to the musical instruments played by the army band displayed immaculately. Walking straight ahead you can read about all the conservation efforts undertaken by the army and how Major General Thomas Hardwicke set the trend for collecting specimens of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, nests and in due course more than a dozen were named after him. He finally bequeathed his entire collection and paintings to the British Museum, London which became the first ever comprehensive display of Indian Natural History in the world in 1820.

The instinctive reverence and love for weapons will take you the next room where arms and ammunitions are kept. Each assault rifle or shotgun is clearly labeled for military and young enthusiasts who wish to enrich their knowledge about what was used during the pre-and post Independence era, though what’s missing are the exact dates. The wall is beautified with different kinds of axes used in action. The anti tank grenade launchers, pistols, rocket launchers, gun machine are all neatly stacked on the table with details about their city of origin. Next to this table an array of bows can be seen hanging from the wall which was used by the infantrymen made as per the length of a man. The shields, swords and knives dating during 1900’s can all be seen hung on the wall in all their shine and gleam. The armour embellished with priceless gems, gold and silver was significantly made as stress was laid on the fact that it was an essential element of war. The six horses driven carriage along with the cannon gun is a piece of art beautifully carved. 

Walking out into the main room after taking a full circle you are enlightened with a chronology of military events dating 2000 BC up to October 2002. Chiefs of Indian Army during the pre-Independence era starting January 1748 with Major Stringer Lawrence to General Sir Rob Lockhart  till November 30, 1945 are listed on a huge board along with the names of chiefs post-Independence dating August 15, 1947, General Sir Rob Lockhart till date as General VK Singh who took over in April 1, 2010. In a glass cupboard on one end, you can see the Field Marshal’s Baton and various kinds of ‘khukuri’s’ (Nepalese knives) and a miniature statue of Maharana Pratap on his horse.  Once out of the main hall there is another room full of army combat badges which are given to personnel, an area prohibited from photography. But just standing in the room it had an awe inspiring effect, a feeling what it means to be a soldier is suddenly instilled.

The surrounding environment park is equally amazing with at least 40 different kinds of cactuses planted in the green house, the clean manicured lawns, models of dears and bears around the park and iron-made ‘machans’ add further interest to the place.

Behind the main building as you walk around the green house you can see the awesome, pristine Annadale Ground where army personnel can be seen playing golf. Turn right and you walk into the room full of honours and awards, “This section of the museum is dedicated to those valorous men and women to whom we are beholden”, as the writing on the wall states. The next room outlines the landmarks of Shimla starting from 1813 up to 2006. The walls have old photograph of Shimla and miniature models of some famous heritage buildings such as the Viceregal Lodge, now known as the Indian Institute of Advance Studies, the Gorton Castle now the AG Office, Ellerslie or the present Secretariat, the Bishop Cotton School and many more. Photographs of horse driven carriages, the Shimla Kalka toy train, old images of The Mall, Old Post Office, Scandal Point and Lakkar Bazar will all carry you back to the 1900’s Shimla.

The Conference Hall on the other end of the Museum will give you a feeling of what it’s like being in a commanding position. Displayed history of infantry regiments will equally enrich you. Moving out you can see the walls decorated with the badges of armoured corps, which traces its origin in the Indian Cavalry as some of the older regiments were formed in 1773. The twelve armoured regiments that were apportioned to the Indian Army in 1947 have grown to the present strength of 60 regiments, whose badges are now mounted on the walls. 

The Army Heritage Museum is a treasure house of culture and history but unfortunately the army authorities/personnel in charge are reluctant to share dates and exact reasons that have made our history so rich and important. It would have been much better if the army authorities were to engage professionals to give a guided tour of the entire Annadale complex and the museum which is being perfectly maintained by them. But despite this fact a walk around the complex is fun, entertaining and very educative.

 










Also published in TOI





Thursday, 5 January 2012

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Hatkoti Temple: Simplistic yet mesmerizing

Equally famous by both names, the Hatkoti Temple or the Hateshwari Temple, a winding downhill drive of about 30 kms from Kharapatthar will take you to this ancient temple built during the Gupta period in Nagara style, with a pagoda type structure during the seventh century. This temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga, in the form of Mahishasurmardini, also known as Mata Hateshwari. With her eight arms she is seen riding a lion as she pierces the heart of the Mahisha demon, whose human form emerges from the severed neck of the buffalo. According to the style followed in the hills, the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) is naturally dark but the idol of the goddess is elegantly cast in bronze, which emits a soft, unearthly glow. A walk inside the temple will make you gaze at the intricate architectural designs depicted on the walls. On both sides of the idol one can see Bhrami scripture, which has yet to be deciphered and no one knows what it means.
 
Along the River Pabbar, the easiest way to reach this temple from Shimla is via Theog, Chailla, Kotkhai, Kharapatthar, taking approximately five hours covering a distance of almost 104 kilometers. One can always stop mid-way to enjoy the beauty of the hills but once the downhill journey starts you can hear the river flowing below and the beautiful temple complex in full view to capture your breath.

At Hatkoti, two other small mountain streams Bishkalti and Raanvti join the Pabbar and locals believe that the color of the Bishkalti is somewhat grayish as the stream oozes poison. With the convergence of the three water streams Hatkoti has now became a famous pilgrimage. The local priest says, “This is a very sacred place and immensely revered by the locals and orchardists as whenever the first lot of apples is plucked people always stop here to pay their respect and make offerings to the deity. An interesting thing about the Devi’s idol is that you can see the expression changing, at times it is filled with anger or at times she has a smiling face, which signifies some kind of a change in nature”.



A small temple, on the right side of the main complex, is dedicated to Lord Shiva with an outstanding octagonal roof and a bunch of shrines with ‘shikharas’. Legend has it that once Gods fought a battle at this spot. Built with stone walls and a wooden roof, this temple also has images of other gods and goddesses. The pagoda style small structures on the right side of the Lord Shiva’s temple, built in stone are dedicated to local gods. The fa├žade of the Shiva Temple is exceptionally marvelous. New additions include a ‘yagyashala’ with a huge ‘hawan kund’ in the centre, a storehouse for grains, a ‘satsang bhawan’ and a rest house for travelers.  


 
The ambiance of the temple complex is quite calm and serene and once inside it just relaxes your senses. There are a number of historic monuments as you walk inside, you can see the five stones or the ‘deols’ which as the priest suggests may be regarded as the five pandavas as they are of different sizes, the first being the largest and the last being the smallest. The two lions on each side of the temple, coins studded door and a huge vessel tide with chains, each have a story to narrate. The priest adds, “Many people who come here make a wish and as a mark, hammer coins on to the door of the main sanctum so that they are fulfilled. The iron-made lions which perhaps the goddess rode or the most interesting story making rounds till date is that of this huge vessel outside the temple door. There were two such vessels on each side of the entrance, but one somehow rolled into the river one day. However, there is no date or proof to authenticate it. After that the second vessel was chained and it is tied to the feet of the goddess”. 


The ambiance of the temple complex is quite calm and serene and once inside it just relaxes your senses. There are a number of historic monuments as you walk inside, you can see the five stones or the ‘deols’ which as the priest suggests may be regarded as the five pandavas as they are of different sizes, the first being the largest and the last being the smallest. The two lions on each side of the temple, coins studded door and a huge vessel tide with chains, each have a story to narrate. The priest adds, “Many people who come here make a wish and as a mark, hammer coins on to the door of the main sanctum so that they are fulfilled. The iron-made lions which perhaps the goddess rode or the most interesting story making rounds till date is that of this huge vessel outside the temple door. There were two such vessels on each side of the entrance, but one somehow rolled into the river one day. However, there is no date or proof to authenticate it. After that the second vessel was chained and it is tied to the feet of the goddess”.




 
It is during the local fairs in April and November that sees this temple booming with tourists and locals who come to celebrate in full spirit and regale. Karan Sood and friends, budding doctors from Chandigarh say, “This place is just majestic and the whole backdrop with huge mountains on one side and river on the other are amazing. It feels that we have been re-energized and sitting on the riverbed with our feet in the water was awesome. We are taking some great memories of this place with us and hope to return someday again with our families and friends. It is a perfect picnic spot”. Vikram Mehta and his wife on a honeymoon trip from Delhi say, “It has been a wonderful journey for us. The calm and serene atmosphere has completely enriched us and the beauty and location of this temple is just mesmerizing”. Locals add, “This place is so sacred that anyone who comes here to make a wish always comes back again when it is fulfilled. The effect this place has on people is just amazing and the beliefs in which they live in are so strong that they only feel and have positive vibes”.
Whether on a spiritual journey or a leisure trip, this place is bound to entice you, if not for its surroundings then definitely for its history and architectural beauty. En route to Rohru or any other small town, a visit is must to this temple.