A Sunday morning heritage walk down Avenue Road organised by INTACH made me feel lost amidst a sea of humans, canines, bovines, motors, vegetables, fruits, baskets, text books, magazines, clothes and what not. Phew! It was quite an experience dodging past obstacles and sometimes failing to on what I would say is the most crowded road I have ever walked through in my life. In spite of being a Bangalorean, I have never been to this part of the city. And I am sure, every first timer on this road will go through the same gamut of feelings (a strange mixture of fear and excitement) that I went through. And at certain places you have to mind your head too. There were lots of things swinging in the air – cycles, stoves, brooms, plastic ware, bananas. An occasional caressing from sarees, dupattas, stoles, lungis in front of the cloth stores was soothing and had a momentary therapeutic effect. And there was someone tapping me on my back every now and then nudging me to buy lemons, guavas or peanuts. In response, I kept shaking my head hurriedly as if to say “no” lest I lose track of the walking leads and fellow walkers.
Architect Vijay Narnapatti took us walkers to every nook and cranny of Avenue Road to share various facets of the architecture here, some of them remnants from the British Raaj. On many parts of the road, the existence of old buildings alongside contemporary ones drew maximum interest. A lot of commercial complexes here are a fusion of the old and new styles where part of the building is more than 100 years old and the extended building a more recent construction.
The walk started around 10 am at the courtyard of the erstwhile Mysore Bank building (now called the SBI building after the merger of all sister banks with the SBI). The picture of the colonial Mysore Bank building with its contemporary version made for a study in contrast.
Most of the buildings that were built during the colonial era on Avenue Road do not exist anymore or have been given a makeover and/or extension. Maintenance of the remaining heritage buildings here leave much to be desired. A stone’s throw away from the Mysore Bank building is the temple at Yelahanka Gate Police station estimated to be about 500 years old. What we see today is not the original structure. Only the sanctum sanctorum or ‘garba griha’ is original and is home to the presiding deity of the temple who is also the guardian deity of the Yelahanka Gate of the ‘pete’ or fort area. Those days it was a practice to have a shrine near the gate of the fort and the deity who was worshipped here was largely believed to be the supreme protector of the people who lived within the precincts of the fort.
A visit to the red colonial building of the Centralised Admission Cell turned out to be a painful reminder of the lost glory of what was once a beautiful building. Unlike the exterior of the building which was fairly neat and well maintained, the interiors were dark, dingy and crying for attention. There was a spooky feel as we ascended and descended the stairs. A toy teddy hanging high on top of a rain tree added to the spooky element prevailing at that moment. The atmosphere soon took a humorous turn when someone among the walkers asked the walk lead why most colonial buildings were painted red. Pat came a reply from someone, “To conceal the paan stains”. Guffaws followed. Well, the actual reason was that red paints were a global rage during those times. Another prominent characteristic of those times were high roofs.
After a few trips in and around some of the buildings we landed at the age-old Rice Memorial Church. The church was originally built in mud in 1834 but was later razed twice and re-built, once in 1849 because the building was small and next in 1917 because the building was no longer found safe and a threat to the lives of people. The church is named after Reverend Benjamin Holt Rice, the longest serving Pastor of the church. Rev Rice served the church from 1837 till 1887. Our visit to this church was special this being the centenary year.
The interiors of the church are lit by a series of spectacular chandeliers accentuating the neatly arranged wooden furniture and large colonial style windows. The red edifice is a picture of elegance and stands out amidst all the hullabaloo on Avenue Road.
Like the Rice Memorial Church, the Chinthalapalli Venkatamuniah Setty’s Free Boarding Hostel and Choultry, is another example of good maintenance. Set up in 3 December 1911, the building belongs to the family of mill owners who also own the Karur Vysya Bank. Currently, it is a hostel for students of the Arya Vysya community. The walls of the multi-storeyed building are adorned with family photos and here and there you can find antiques that could have possibly been in the building from the early 20th century. On a decorative parapet of the terrace is carved the Ganda Beranda, the emblem of the Mysore royal dynasty. The interiors are extremely well-maintained and the construction style the colonial kind.
The Mohan Building which has stood tall since 1909 and today sadly lies in shambles was our next stop. Currently unoccupied, the building was once a flourishing lodge. A key box, notice boards and room numbers stand as reminders to those good old days. A theatre group performed at the building just a few days back to draw awareness to the building’s heritage value. Sadly, the building whose architecture is a mixture of various styles has been bought by a construction group and may in all probability be razed to make way for a contemporary structure.
The many ‘petes’ around Avenue Road bear the names of businesses that have been thriving there. Balepet is famous for its bangle shops (‘bale’ translates to bangles in Kannada); Akkipet is known for its rice shops (‘akki’ translates to rice); likewise Kurubapet is known for its sheep business; Nagarthpet for its jewellery business; Tigalurupet for its gardeners; Upparpet for its salt business; Kumbarpet for its potters; and Cottonpet for its cotton business and so on.
After a stroll through Raja Market, the walk ended with a trip to the 400-year-old dargah of Hazrat Manik Mastaan Baba who was a labourer who turned into a spiritual leader.