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Posted at: May 18, 2019, 7:36 AM; last updated: May 18, 2019, 7:36 AM (IST)VICTIM OF NEGLECT

Gurugram’s forgotten past

More than 100-year-old monuments such as Badshahpur ‘baoli’, Kamran Sarai need govt attention, proper upkeep

Sumedha Sharma

Gurugram city is known for malls, high-rise buildings, condominiums, an envious network of expressways, underpasses, flyovers, automobile and cyber hubs, a private Metro network, global entertainment and shopping hubs and its very own corporate ecology. However, one thing is often amiss in the city's definition is a mention about its history and heritage. 

Residents only remember that far when automobile major  Maruti Suzuki set up a plant in Gurugram or when a realty boom started in early eighties. Hardly anybody remembers or talks about the city’s history and values be it the folklore of it being the abode of Guru Dronacharya during the Mahabharata era, or the land of nawabs of the sultanate or the Mughal era or a colonial cantonment. The state government changed its name from Gurgaon to Gurugram, lending credence to its Mahabharata connection. The earliest gazette records of Gurugram date back to 1910. Gurgaon district, till 1857, formed part of Delhi division of the north-western provinces of the Bengal presidency, according to information in the gazette. The city was known as the abode of the likes of Begum Samru, and nawabs of Pataudi, Badshahpur, and Farrukhnagar who left behind an array of monuments that have been lost to encroachments and official apathy.

In the nineteenth century, the British started building their bungalows in Gurgaon, the remnants of which can still be found in present-day Gurugram.  Ironically, the city may be just a few kilometres from Delhi (the hub of historical monuments of the country), it has failed to preserve, promote and value its own history and monuments.

Farrukhnagar Fort

The Farrukhnagar Fort known as Dilli Darwaza was established by Faujdar Khan in 1732 during the Mughal rule. Faujdar Khan was the first nawab of Farrukhnagar town, which flourished till the late 19th century and was abandoned during the British Raj in the early 20th century. The fort is one of the few monuments that have managed to stand the test of time and have a hope of revival. 

Built in an octagonal shape, the key attractions of the fort are Sheesh Mahal, Jama Masjid and the step-well. The Sheesh Mahal, as the name suggests, was a hall of mirror-inlay work which can no longer be seen today owing to massive depletion. However, at one time there were mirrors adorning wooden ceilings and the rear of Diwan-i-Aam. A courtyard with a water channel can be seen in the front of the fort. A memorial to the 1857 rebellion martyrs is built in the courtyard. Dark and dingy steps lead to the three floors of the fort, including the basement. Strategically placed air ducts highlight the architectural skills of the fort constructors. The fort was heading to meet the same fate as other historical buildings but INTACH took its charge and got it renovated in 2009. Now, it can be counted as a tourist destination.

Begum Samru’s palace

Though there is no documented proof, it is traditional knowledge and even the official website of the Haryana Tourism Department identifies the Deputy Commissioner's residence as Samru’s palace. Begum Samru, daughter of a Mughal nobleman, had saved Mughal ruler Shah Alam after which she was awarded the ‘jagir’ of Sardhana. She got married to European mercenary Walter Reinhardt and converted to Christianity and became Begum Sombre. She had a large private army and had employed many European officers on top posts. The ‘jagir’ of Jharsa-Badshahpur (part of modern Gurugram) was acquired by her husband from the French and after his death it passed onto her where she built a cantonment. It is said that apprehensive of Samru’s army, the British placed a battalion and a cantonment in the city. The queen built one of the grandest monuments (her palace) in the city. After ruling Jharsa-Badshahpur for 60 years, she died in 1839 and the palace went to the British, who made it the Deputy Commissioner’s residence.

Kaman Sarai

Dating back to 1825, it was one of the two ‘sarais’ built by the British. Probably, it got its name from R Cavendish, the first British Administrator of Gurgaon. All that remains of this 19th century structure is a grand gate with cusped arches. One of the many souvenirs of Gurugram’s forgotten history, the ‘sarai’ served as a resting place for travellers.

The structure now is a dilapidated piece that has been mostly overlooked, and has been heavily encroached upon from all sides. Originally called Cawn Sarai, the local dialect led it to be called Kaman Sarai.

Haveli Mahalwala

Popularly known as Mahalwala, it is the largest ‘haveli’ in Gurugram. The two-storey picturesque ‘haveli’ is adorned with alcoves and arches and is reminiscent of the Mughal and Rajput architectures. Five families live in different portions of the ‘haveli’ on rent that varies from Rs 70 to Rs 500 depending on the space being occupied.

John Hall

FL Bryne, a British ICS officer, was posted as Deputy Commissioner in Gurgaon and his second son, John Goble Bryne, died at an early age. The grand hall was built in his son’s memory. It was later renamed as Agricultural Hall and is being used for holding meetings and functions.

Church of Epiphany

The church celebrated 150 years of its existence in 2017 and is one of the best preserved colonial structures in Gurugram. Tucked in a corner of the quiet Civil Lines, the church has a strong resemblance to parish churches in rural England. According to inscriptions, it was consecrated in 1866 by the Bishop of Calcutta for a handful of British officers then serving in the district.

No documented history

Most of the monuments in Gurugram and also in other parts of south Haryana suffer due to a lack of documented history. There is hardly any information beyond what is mentioned in the gazetteer. 

Government apathy

The preservation of heritage and historical monuments was probably never Haryana’s priority. The Department of Archaeology and Museums was established in 1969 in the form of a cell under the control of the Education Department. It became an independent department in 1972 with a small staff and a meagre budget. By that time encroachments had already taken a toll on most of the monuments. The department continues to be one of the lowest on the priority list, and struggles with a shortage of staff and budget. Haryana till date has no scientific or planned initiative to revive the lost heritage and preserve the available heritage to develop tourism opportunities.

Poor visitors’ experience

Despite its strategic position, tourism in Gurugram sadly is all about new age marvels. No monument has properly been converted into a tourist spot or promoted as one, leading to poor visitors’ experience. The lack of facilities deters first-time visitors and spreads negative publicity instead. No incentives are being provided to preserve or promote heritage.

Badshahpur ‘baoli’ now a sewage dumpsite

Badshahpur village once had a fort built on 17 acres that has been lost to massive encroachments. All that exists today is a crumbled wall and a decrepit bastion. However, a slice of history remains in the form of a step-well (baoli).

The 114-year-old step-well in the periphery of the busy Sohna road draws attention towards the city’s lost as well as depleting heritage. The step-well hit headlines in 2017 when a proposal to fill it up with sand and earth to construct a road was mooted and conservationists and a group of architecture students from Sushant School of Architecture raised the alarm. The plan was stayed and the state government promised to revive and restore the historical step-well. However, not much has been done.

Having wilted under the weight of trash and sewage discharged from neighbouring villages, the area can easily be mistaken for an open dumping site and not identified with an over 110-year-old historical monument. Mounds of sand surround the ‘baoli’, which till January this year faced the prospect of being filled up with earth and sand to build a road. Though timely intervention ensured the ‘baoli’ was not destroyed, there is little clarity over its future. 

According to an inscription on the step-well, it was constructed by Lala Mohanlal in 1905. His family was the key custodian of the step-well that was built as a charity till the government acquired it in 2012 for a compensation of Rs 16 lakh.

The step-well is used as a discharge ground for trash and sewage from neighbouring villages. Mounds of sand surrounding it and encroachments present a poor picture.

French memorial

The memorial testifies the golden period of Begum Samru’s rule. It is situated in Mohyal Colony in Sector 40, Gurugram, and dates back to the 19th century. The 200-year-old memorial is dedicated to Jean Etienne, a French soldier, who served in Begum Samru’s army. Damaged by human meddling and natural wear and tear over the years, one has to strain one’s eyes to decipher the almost faded inscriptions on the memorial. The epitaph mentions the date of Etienne’s death as Sunday, June 5, 1821. Etienne served Begum Samru for 35 years until his death at the age of 75.

“He served Begum Sombre for thirty-five years, was a common soldier and an honest man (sic),” reads the epitaph on the memorial.

Heritage awareness programme in schools

The Department of Archaeology and Museums is planning to include more archaeological sites and monuments under the state protection. We have identified several monuments in Gurugram and some of them are already in the process of being included. We are working on their landscaping and beautification. We are also planning to arrange a heritage awareness programme at the school level. Main problems are due to a lack of regular technical staff but we are trying to do our job. — Banani Bhattacharyya, Deputy Director, Department of Archaeology and Museums

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