Home Feature Nashville Estate, Astley Hall … once upon a time

Nashville Estate, Astley Hall … once upon a time

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Odeon Cinema

By Kulbhushan Kain

Dehradun valley has a long history – mythological and verifiable. Legend has it that Lord Ram and Lakshman did penance in the valley after slaying Ravan. Ram performed his austerities at Rishikesh and Lakshman at Tapovan above Muni ki Reti near the Lakshman Jhoola. The hillock east of my house at Clement Town (Bharuwala) has a temple called “Lakshman Sidh” where Lakshman is said to have meditated. In the Mahabharat, the valley has a direct reference where Rishi Bharadwaj sired Drona. The area around Haridwar was called Bharadwaj and the valley where Drona was born was called “Droni Ghatee” (Droni Valley). The ceremonial gate of the present Indian Military Academy is named “Dron Dwar” after the great Guru.

The discovery of Ashokan edicts at Kalsi show that the area was quite prosperous. Huen Tsang in his travels in the 7th century AD called Kalsi, “Sudhanagara”. Guru Ram Rai, established his ‘Dera’ (camp) in the Doon Valley around 1676 and the town that grew around this ‘Dera’ has come to be known as ‘Dehradun’.

The Doon Valley has had its share of attacks. It was attacked by Mahmud GhaznaviTimur in 1398, Rohilla chieftain Najib-ud-Daulah in 1757 and Ghulam Kadir in 1785. The valley came under the Gurkha rule briefly in 1803 after the battle of Khurbura.

However, the contours of Dehradun as we know it now, started taking shape when the East India Company took over Dehradun from the Gurkhas in 1816 after the battle of Nalapani, and started developing it for economic and strategic purposes. If Guru Ram Rai can be called the founder of the old town of Dehradun, then the title of the founder of modern Dehradun can be pinned on the lapel of Mr FJ Shore (1799-1837). Frederick Shore was a civil servant and judge who worked for the East India Company. Long before his arrival in Doon, mismanagement of the economy, repeated seasons of crop failure, lawlessness, near absence of policing and roads and housing were the order of the day. When he left, there were 39 miles of roads, dacoity had been dealt a blow, crop yield had increased, and better policing had been introduced.

Another important development took place during and after Shore’s time. Dehradun was to develop into an important Army centre. It all started with the raising of the Sirmur Battalion by Frederick Young (The Sirmoor Rifles). Troop barracks came up around the area now occupied by the Forest Rangers’ College across from Convent and Jesus and Mary School. The open space in front of the Doon Club was called the Parade Ground (it still is). The place where the present Clock Tower stands was called “Lashkar” (Persian for Cantonment). The market next to it was and is still called “Paltan Bazaar”.

In 1874, the Dehradun Cantonment was shifted to its present site. A new road was made to connect the cantonments with Rajpur Road called the “Hathibarkala Road” – now called the “New Cantonment Road” on which is situated the Centrio Mall!

Dehradun started growing along the sides of the Saharanpur Road from the iron bridge on the Bindal in the south (just after the Niranjanpur Tea Estate and General Mahadev Singh Road as you come from Delhi) to the President’s Bodyguards lines in the north. The best houses were mostly owned by the Englishmen who were intending to make Dehradun their permanent home. Their houses were surrounded by acres of land hedged by wild roses.

Two such properties were typical of the Dehradun of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. One was an estate called “Nashville” (why it was so called I haven’t been able to find out). A road by that name exists till today. Those who love samosas would know that the much sought after samosas of “Panditji” are sold on this road!

But Nashville wasn’t like it is today. It was a 16 acre estate on which stood a solitary house. The boundaries of the estate were the Nashville Road on the north, the ravine in the west, Rajpur Road in the east, and to the south, the road between New Empire Cinema and Manda House (property which belonged to VP Singh, our country’s late Prime Minister). When I was a schoolboy, the property had already been fragmented and had become a business hub. Establishments like Lahore Jewellers, Perfection House, English Book Depot, Kwality, Odeon, Laurence Sports, Jugal Kishore, Lu Hong Kong, Milkmades, Central Stores, had taken its place. Most of them have disappeared and new and smaller establishments have made it into a bustling bazaar. You don’t get  space there to park even a two wheeler – my father would drive his car right up to the entrance of Perfection House or Lahore Jewellers!

Similar was the case of the Estate called Astley Hall which at one time was the property of a very interesting gentlemen from England called “Pahari Wilson”. No one seems to know his full name. He was called “Pahari” (hill man) because he lived most of his life in the Himalayas having made his home at Harsil, which is a village located on the banks of the Bhagirathi on the way to Gangotri. Lady Dufferin, wife of Viceroy Lord Dufferin, stayed at this bungalow in March 1887. She wrote, “It’s a very good house with one long room which runs right through it and which is divided by a curtain into dining room and drawing room. On either side of it are bedrooms and upstairs there are two good rooms.”

Astley Hall became the most famous landmark of Dehradun. It housed legendary shops and restaurants like Napoli, Jimmy’s Kitchen, RB Hamer, RK Watch Company, Standard Bakery, Art Home, Pratap Music House and many more. All save Pratap Music House have disappeared.

My father and mother would certainly get lost if they were to come back to life and visit Dehradun.

Yet, I continue to live in it even though I have a choice of living in any other town. Sometimes I wonder why I do that. Kaifi Azmi Saab’s lyrics keep haunting me:

“जाने क्या ढूँढती रहती हैं ये आँखें मुझमें
राख के ढेर में शोला है न चिंगारी है”.

My answer to that is simple. It’s not about shops and roads that have changed or friends who have disappeared. I have grown up here, my parents lived and died here, I still have the original bungalow built and sold to my Dad by Mr Lumsden. I think my soul will rest in peace here.

(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)