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Memories of Daat Kali Mandir & The Doon Club

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By Kulbhushan Kain

It has been more than 55 years from the days of my growing up in Dehradun in the ‘60s. Changing landscapes, age and growth of the city make that a long time for some memories to vanish, and some to fade. But there are some that stay sharp, which even the avalanche of change has not been able to dim, submerge or bury.

The Daat Kali Mandir was and still is a major landmark of Dehradun. Everyone entering Doon from Delhi or Saharanpur, or leaving it had to pass by it. However, a new tunnel and the elevated highway has made it possible for travelers to now give it a skip.

It wasn’t like that during my growing up days.

It seems just like yesterday that I was walking with my dad to it. It was near our bungalow. It was early morning and dawn was struggling to break through. It was a daily ritual…

The Daat Kaali Mandir was the finishing point of my dad’s morning walk. Every day, he forced us to accompany him. I think, for him, the temple was a landmark for measuring distance, and a form of exercise. He seldom talked of the mandir in religious or ritualistic terms. In any case, he was not a temple going man.

Till a day dawned which changed my dad’s perception of the mandir.

One of our relatives, on his way back to Delhi, met with a severe accident just after he crossed the temple. Quickly, the grapevine circulated that he had been punished because he had not stopped to pay obeisance there. Thus began the tradition in our family of always stopping at the mandir whenever we passed it. Till date, most people who buy a new car take it to the mandir to seek Goddess Kali’s blessings. The ‘Vahan Durghatna Yantra’ is an instrument to shield it from accidents.

When I grew up, I was very keen to find out about the origins of the mandir. After much research, I found that the mandir was built on a land grant given by Balbhadra Chhetri to Sukhbir Gosain at Asarori on the Doon Valley side of the tunnel. It was during the times of the Gurkha rule of Dehradun and Balbhadra Chhetri was the military commander and administrator of Dehradun. The temple was built to safeguard the Gurkha troops who were quartered at the Mohand Pass. The fascinating fact of the temple was that it was built at the highest point on the hill and next to a fresh water well. It is seldom that one comes across such a phenomenon in geography. Wells are normally found at the base of hills or in the valleys. Sukhbir Gosain was allowed to clear the forest and establish a village in an area of one mile circumference around the temple. He was allowed to name this village Sukhbirpur and it became his property which was to be inherited by his descendants. His descendants built another temple across the tunnel. Some part of the credit must go to the legendary engineer, Sir Proby Cautley, who also built the Asarori Tunnel. According to legend, Goddess Kali came to Cautley in his dream and gave him an idol of herself and instructed him to build a temple there which was named Daat Kali Temple.

The other memory which hasn’t faded is of sometimes going to the Doon Club with my dad. I don’t think children were allowed, but my dad knew how to push his way through. He was fond of Club life and, those days, the Doon Club was the only club in Dehradun. It is one of the oldest Clubs in India, which was started in Colonel Young’s Bungalow on the main Rajpur Road, which was the Heritage Building of my school, St Joseph’s Academy. It was later shifted to where it now stands – opposite the Parade Ground. It was a White Man’s preserve and Indians were not allowed to be members in the beginning. But by the 1930s, Indianisation of, both, civil and military services had commenced. It so chanced that one Lt Col Kenneth Mason who was a member of the club, was asked by his friend, an Indian doctor, to put him up for the club membership. Mason agreed to propose the doctor’s name and got the ICS Superintendent of Doon to second him. Everything went well till the doctor committed the “faux pass” of clearing his throat, turning around and spitting on the floor! That put an end to the dream of the doctor becoming a member of the Doon Club!

Times change. In 1947, only a handful of Englishmen were left as members of the Club.

My father got easy access to it because he was physician to Sir Edmund Gibson (who lived in Ramgarh Estate), who was its President for two terms.
My dad loved going to the club because he loved a drink and played ‘Teen Patti’! Sometimes, he took me along. I would play hide and seek with a few other kids. It was great fun because it would be usually dark and sometimes someone would yell “bhoot” from around a corner!

I remember Doon Club as a typical British kind of Club – a bigger and more elaborate version of an old pub in England. Dimly lit, one could smell the amazing aroma – which was a mix of cigar smoke and alcohol! Old British type “burra sahibs” would enter it and pause at the door, while either the bar boys or the valets peeled off their overcoats and hung them on the pegs. But they always removed their top hats on their own. It used to be a very special place to be in during Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

One no longer needs to pass the Daat Mandir every time one goes to Delhi or Saharanpur. To get into Doon Club is probably more difficult these days than in the ‘60s.

But I will not forsake them. After all they are the few straws of a sinking Dehradun of my youth that I can clutch on to! I still walk every day and the whiff of cigars still fascinates me!

(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more
than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain@gmail.com)