Saturday, October 04, 2008

Catching with the Clock Tower of Darjeeling

BY ROSHNI SUBBA for Explore Sikkim

In the year 1826 two British officers Campbell and Dr. Hooker came to Singalila area to search out the easiest excess to Tibet from India. On their tour to this region they halted for a night in old Gorkha Station at Ghoom Bhanjang. In the morning they saw the glamorous view of the full range of Kanchenjunga in wonderful colours during the time of sunrise. The climate of the place was cold much similar to that of their home town in England. The chilled climate of the area makes an impression upon them very much, so with great consideration of the two Britishers the hill station of Darjeeling was established. Building structures, road and rail network and bridges were constructed by the East India Company by the end of the 18th century where still to this day there are monuments in and around Darjeeling that have proudly and with pride stand the last ten decades. The Town Hall (also known as Capitol Hall) is on of the best example the British engineering works. Along with Capitol Hall the story of a clock which is still present at the top of this hall has its own significance.

In 1875, the original Town Hall was situated at the present Gymkhana club. The Hall used to open between 6 am to 6 pm in the evening. For a certain period of time the Darjeeling Municipality was situated at the secretariat building which is now known as the Employment Exchange. Later on it again shifted to the motor stand where the Food and Supply Office is presently situated. In the year 1879, a desire floated among all people concerning that the Darjeeling Municipality should have its own buildings. Therefore on 27th October, 1917 the foundation stone of the new Town hall (Capitol Hall) was laid by His Excellency Lord Ronaldshay on the site once occupied by the Rhododendron Villa on the Mackenzie Road, the main artery of the town. It was completed at the cost of about two lakh fifty thousand of rupees in the year 1921. For the complete construction of this Hall, the Maharaja of Coach Behar (Cooch Bihar) also contributed half amount. He contributed half the funds so that he would form a memorial to his father (Maharaja Sir Nipandra Bhup Badhur). He received help from his friends and the admirers of his late father for his efforts.

Mr. Morjan, the municipal engineer designed this building (Capitol Hall) along with the advice of Mr. Crouch, the Government Architect. The building was designed in such a way that 600 people could be easily accommodated. Rai Sahib Kharga Bahadur Chettri got the contract to construct this building, since he was a first class contractor of those days.

After the competition of the construction, the hall was declared open on 27th May, 1921 by Lord Ronaldshay. The west and south part of the buildings has the offices of the municipality and the clock stand 100 feet high. During those days ordinary people were not in the state to afford their own clock. So this clock was of great help to them as they used to watch the clock and work according to its time. In this case we can say that the clock tower was one of the landmarks in the town. While talking about this clock tower we cannot forget late Kancha Baje, one of the most prominent and the only person who used to repair this clock, after his death the clock also started loosing its glory. But somehow the clock continued to give its time but not the perfect time. Slowly with the passing of moment people also stopped to pass on the clock tower. The most unfortunate day for the people of Darjeeling was when the Darjeeling Municipality was burnt in the year 1996. Most of its parts were damaged, the town lost one part of its magnificence too as a clock tower also affected but immense thanks to the Rotary Club for their great effort in setting of this heritage clock once again.

With the tireless work of the Rotary Club, the clock stoke up again on the eve of our Independence Day in 2006. After renovation and repairing of the clock tower the old folks of the town started mesmerizing their bygone days. They recalled the days when they constantly use to refer the clock tower as they went about their daily life.

Mrs. Maya Rai, a 72 years old woman fondly recalls, “I always looked upon the clock tower, with stroke at every hour I used to know the time, since i did not had any knowledge about the watch but I was told about how would the day count on its strike”. Yes i am happy the revival of the clock is a momentous occasion for the people of Darjeeling, Rai added

Rotary Club has taken another step in this year too. This year on 15th Aug. Rotary Club has set up a clock in the head Post office which is also a Heritage building of Darjeeling. And it has also come to be known that the D.G.H.C is also planning to set up the same type of clock in Bhanu Bhawan too.

This article was first published in Explore Sikkim published from Singtam, Sikkim