With the iconic Christ Church and clock tower in Shimla in for restoration, hopes are up that time will be right again. But what about the other towers in the region?
Ludhiana: Icon in name, yet in a shambles
Constructed by the British in 1906 to mark the silver jubilee of Queen Victoria’s coronation, the clock tower or ‘ghanta ghar’ here is in dire straits. The clock shows incorrect time, the building has cracks, pigeons have made it their home, and the stairs are out of bounds. On its ground floor is the office of Punjab tourism department, whose brochure cites it as an “icon” of Ludhiana. The district administration’s website too features the tower prominently.
A least 35 visitors a month make enquiries if they can climb the stairs, but return disappointed. The small stairs and a broken wooden plank above the first floor make climbing to the second floor a risky affair. This is why the municipal corporation has banned the entry.
Inaugurated on October 18, 1906, by Sir Charles Montgomery, the then lieutenant governor of Punjab, and Diwan Tek Chand, the then deputy commissioner of Ludhiana, the tower was renamed Bhagwan Mahavir Clock Tower by former Punjab CM Giani Zail Singh, who later became President.
The British-era clock that had to be wound manually was replaced two decades ago with electronic ones on the four sides. The original is lying as scrap on the first floor. Even a board displaying names of those who donated for it is gathering dust. A constant stink and plants populate its insides. On the walls outside, illegal hoardings are put up.
When contacted, mayor Harcharan Singh Gohalwaria said, “We will get the clock repaired and take adequate steps to repair the wooden planks of the stairs too.” No official could say when the last repair was done.
Shimla: Funds in, plan being worked out
The 162-year-old Christ Church in the heart of Shimla, on the Ridge, is one of the most photographed monuments of the town. Yet, it has fallen into neglect for years. The clock on it stopped working two decades ago.
Asian Development Bank (ADB) has allotted Rs 5.9 crore for restoration of the church, which was built in 1844 by Colnel JT Boleau, under the aegis of Anglican Society of Shimla. The clock was donated by Colonel Dumbleton in 1860. No one seems sure when the last restoration effort was carried out. Mustaq, a priest at the church, told HT, “All these years we did not have money to restore the church. But the government has been kind now.”
But the tourism department is not so sure as to how the work will be done. In a couple of weeks, tenders will be called. “Repairing clocks and chimes requires specialisation, and we have few companies still undertaking the repair of such old clocks,” said the joint director for tourism, Manoj Sharma. He could not come up with specifics as to which companies were available. “It’s for the contractor to ensure the clock starts ticking and the chimes jingle,” he said.
“There is vegetation inside that hampers the clock. Work needs to be done properly,” he added.
Hoshiarpur: Like a forgotten Urdu couplet
There is an inscription that appears to be in the Persian script, but you cannot see what it says. All people can tell is that it’s an Urdu couplet by a man called Balak Ram Mattu, but no one could be found who could remember the words. It’s on a pillar of a clock tower built in the form of a gate of Hoshiarpur, the city founded in 1846.
There is no clarity either on when the tower came up — some say the 1890s, and others say 1936. Today, shopkeepers stack their wares against it; vendors have encroached the space under it; and municipal authorities say they have lost the records. Yet, the clock worked until about five years ago, say locals. Older residents recall how the chime from the structure, located in the heart of the city, could be heard to a kilometre and more. Originally it had to be wound manually but some years ago it was replaced with an electronic device. Since it stopped working, the MC has not earmarked any funds for its renovation.
Mayor Shiv Sood said that since the metal ladder which was part of the original structure was demolished “long back” for construction of the city police station, “maintenance became tough”. “We are unable to find the file carrying its details,” he said.
It’s a monument the city identifies with. But the authorities appear not bothered at all,” said SS Chana, a city resident.
Amritsar: Hall Gate clock in ‘bura haal’
Gandhi Gate — or Hall Gate, as it was called before Independence and is still popular as — has a clock that was installed in 1876, but has lying defunct, in the latest, for the past two years.
It was named after the then deputy commissioner CH Hall, and the clock was designed by John Gordon, the then executive engineer in Amritsar. Though the gate is on a route to Walled City and Golden temple, no attention has been paid to keep the clock ticking.
Parveen Sehgal, who runs a newspaper circulation agency in the area, said, “I haven’t seen the clock work in the past couple of years; it hardly does.” MC commisioner Sonali Giri said she would gather details.
Faridkot: A pigeon house that’s painted every year
Victoria Memorial Clock Tower here stands ignored and isolated amidst the chaos of a market. The glory it once commanded is lost, and it gets attention only from pigeons that have made it their home. It doesn’t work since the 1970s, say locals.
The tower was built by Raja Balbir Singh of the then Faridkot royal estate in 1902 in memory of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) of England. It was built over a 115 feet high platform. Most of it vanished due to rise in the road level. The tower has four clock faces. The design was inspired from French architecture. The facades are decorated with motifs. The clock installed in the tower was manufactured by Joyce, Whitchurch, Salop, UK and supplied by Anglo-Swiss Watch Company, Calcutta. The clock machine takes its power from falling weights once a week. This is controlled by an oscillating mechanism. The bell installed on the fourth storey bears the name of Taylor Loughboro. It used to gong every hour. Each dial can be illuminated by placing a source of light behind it.
Pramod Kansal, 57, owner of a chemist shop opposite the tower, said it was once known for its technology: “It was part of daily life as rarely anybody used to have a watch.” The administration paints it during Baba Farid Mela in September every year. Kansal said the clock is defunct since the late ’70s. Harpreet Sandhu, 32, said he has never seen the clock functioning and it is merely a landmark for them.
The base of the tower has a room open on all four sides and until 2007 the public relations department kept newspapers and magazines in it. It was a hangout for the residents, but now broken benches and chairs are all it houses.
Lalit Gupta, member of Maharwal Khewaji Trust, which manages the properties of the erstwhile king of Faridkot, said they have given the custody of the tower to the administration. Deputy commissioner MS Jaggi said, “It is a private property but we look after it as it is a historical monument. The administration paints and repairs it annually.” He added that the administration was trying to find “someone who can repair the clock”. “We have asked a Ludhiana-based dealer to arrange spare parts.”
Kapurthala: Cousin of the Big Ben
It is 115 years old, and a cousin, in essence, of London’s Big Ben. The clock made by Benson London on the clock tower here was got installed by Maharaja Jagatjit Singh in the heart of the then princely state of Kapurthala, and it gongs every hour.
Like the one at the London tower, the clock here bears a plate saying, ‘Clockmaker to HRH (His Royal Highness) The Prince of Wales’. It was ordered from London in 1893 by the maharaja and eventually installed in 1901. It is now located on the premises of Government Senior Secondary School (Girls) near the local bus stand, and was repaired most recently by experts from ITC company in May 2015, after it remained non-functional since 2007.
The tower has stairs that take you to the four-face clock that are set in wooden frames. A massive bell is installed inside the tower. A guard appointed by the city administration keeps watch at all hours. Jai Parkash, who has been on the job since 2001, said the clock functions after rolling its key every five days.
An unconfirmed story is that the clock stopped chiming in 1949 when Maharaja Jagatjit died. It remained ignored for decades by the state government and was repaired only after it got heritage status in 2001. It stopped working again in 2007 after which the administration took eight years to repair it.
Bhiwani, Sirsa: Ones that stood once
A clock tower in the heart of Bhiwani was demolished during Emergency by the government of Bansi Lal in Haryana. The structure — built in the 1890s, some say — had a ‘dharamshala’ (inn) too.
In its place is now a market, most of it owned by the family of Ramnij Das, who owned the tower. Ramnij’s forefathers were given the title Rai Bahadur by the British. The place is still called Ghanta Ghar (‘hour house’) Chowk. People attribute the demolition to many reasons. “After Bhiwani became a district in 1972, the government started building a hospital in front of the tower. They planned to upgrade it later, for which land was taken,” activist Sampoorn Singh told HT. And, before formalities were done, the government initiated demolition. Sources attributed it to political rivalry between Ramnij and Bansi.
Ramnij was jailed in Emergency and, once released, filed a case against it. Then CM Banarsi Das Gupta gave the land back to Ramnij, saying the government did not need it anymore. Ramnij and his family chose to establish a market over rebuilding the tower. “It is a busy area. Rebuilding the tower would have meant traffic trouble,” said Ramnij’s son, Titu, known as Titu Ghanta Ghar Wala.
A similar tale is told by Sirsa residents. Ravinder Puri, co-author of ‘Pracheen aur Adhunik Sirsa’ (Ancient and Modern Sirsa), said, “A rich family constructed a clock tower on the south-west side of Sirsa.” But no one could be found who knows when it was built. Some put it close to 1837 when Sirsa was built as such. Local journalist Surender Bhatia said, “It stood in the middle of four markets... It is not clear exactly when it was demolished, like other such towers, during the Emergency (1975-77).” The idea was to make crossings more spacious.
(By Harshraj Singh, Gaurav Bisht, Aseem Bassi, Harpreet Kaur, Amit R Joshi, Jatinder Mahal, Hardik Anand, Bhaskar Mukherjee and Richa Sharma)