The Queen of the Hills is all set to lose a rich part of her architectural heritage dating back to 1897, with a modern structure coming up in its place. Expressing resentment and demanding that the heritage be preserved, a cross section of Darjeeling society has written to West Bengal Governor MK Narayanan and chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
As part of the Mall Beautification Project under the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), the Brabourne Park (at present known as JB Thapa Park,) located on the Chowrasta in Darjeeling, West Bengal, is being taken apart to be replaced by a 300 Capacity Open Air Theater (OAT.) Pegged at Rs 3.24 Crores (structure works of the OAT,) the OAT will be completed within April 2013. Dismantling has already begun with Excavators pressed into service.
In a letter to the West Bengal Governor and the Chief Minister, concerned citizens of Darjeeling have written “We would beseech you, to stop this destruction, even at this stage, and rebuild the Park to its old heritage status. Even at this juncture it can be done.”
“The Brabourne Pak more than 160 years old is the architectural heritage face of Darjeeling. It’s a landmark like the Victoria Memorial (older than the Victoria Memorial which was built in 1921.) People visit Darjeeling to enjoy the peace and see the colonial heritage structures. They don’t come to Darjeeling to see modern structures which are aplenty in the metros. A heritage premise should not be disturbed” stated Nayan Subba, historian.
“Every inch of the park is steeped in history. The land was gifted to the Darjeeling Municipality by the Maharaja of Cooch Behar in 1897 specifically for a Children's Park. The Park was named after Lord Brabourne, the then Governor of Bengal” stated Robin Jha, businessman.
A resting place (Hawa Ghar) with a unique dome shaped Newari (a Nepali form of architecture with Hindu-Tibetan influence) is of particular importance. “At this spot there used to be a Chorten (Stupa) containing the mortal remains of Dorjee- believed to be the founder of Darjeeling. There was a major row when the British had dismantled it. It was shifted to the present Mahakal temple premises. In 1964 eminent craftsman Bekh Raj Sakya was commissioned to built this unique resting place” stated Subba.
The family members of Late Sakya are spending sleepless nights at the thought of this masterpiece being dismantled. “My grandfather is the only Nepali to have received the National Craftsman Award. In 1966 he had received this award from the then President Dr. Radhakrishnan. This masterpiece can never be replaced. We hope that good sense prevails.” stated Pushpa Raj Sakya.
“We fail to understand the reason for building an Open Air Theater. We have two good establishments within the town area- namely the Shrubbery in Birch Hill (OAT) and the Gorkha Ranga Manch with 3 centrally heated Halls. However we do not have a Children’s Park in the town area except for a small Red Cross Park” stated Noreen Dunne, Educationist.
The letter states “Imagine the outcry in Kolkata if one wanted to build an open-air theater in the esteemed Victoria Memorial. The lack of this outcry in Darjeeling for a smaller heritage site, Brabourne Park, although 115 years, does not justify such a sacrilege to the legacy of the Hills. Not to mention, the trees that are being bull-dozed indiscriminately, in violation of Supreme Court directives” stated the letter.
Incidentally in 2005 under the guidance of DGHC Administrator Subash Ghising, a musical fountain was installed at the Brabourne park. The park was modified to accommodate the fountain, with galleries and tin sheets as boundary walls put up, thus loosing the old world charm. In 2010 with Ghising being ousted, the galleries were dismantled and tin sheets removed with Bimal Gurung installing a martyr’s column in the Park.