Not so far from the madding crowd

Take an unhurried walk around town and discover how Bangalore grew out of military cantonment to be the bustling megapolis it is today

Published - December 26, 2013 08:57 pm IST

St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral. Photo: K. Gopinathan

St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral. Photo: K. Gopinathan

You must have driven past these churches that serve as landmarks in the city and towns where businesses thrive and the traffic never stops. But you probably never stopped to take a second look. Maybe if the pace of life slowed down, one could stop and wonder how the Bangalore we know today grew out of a military cantonment.

That is exactly what we set out to do walking with Pushpa Achanta, one of the two founders of Unhurried.’ An Unhurried walk, Pushpa said was where we would walk at a relaxed pace and get to know things about the locality. We went through Cleveland Town, where churches and educational institutions were established more than a century ago.

St John’s Church was on a locality called the St John’s Hill and was an extension to the civil-military cantonment of the British. “In 1809, John Blakiston planned the Bangalore cantonment for civilians and junior officers,” said Pushpa. “This part is populated by people from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, which contributes to the rich linguistic diversity. Bangalore is probably the only city where cantonment and civil areas grew simultaneously.”

The map of Bangalore was redrawn several times during the rise and fall of rulers such as Haider Ali, Tipu Sultan, Kanteerva and the Wadiars. The British ruled through a Resident, an administrative representative of the Viceroy. The Resident lived on present-day Residency Road.

The “towns” in Bangalore such as Cleveland Town, Cox Town and Fraser town were the civil-military extensions. Roads such as Infantry Road were used by the infantry.

St John’s school was established before the church and it grew into a place for socialising. St John’s Church has a magnificent 100-year-old pipe organ. One of the four such organs in India, the electric blower was added only in 1969. The organ is now used only on special occasions.

Cane benches, stained glass paintings and plaques mentioning historical events adorn the church. A World War I memorial naming many English officers stands tall outside the protestant church.

We crossed over to St Franxis Xavier Cathedral. The granite structure stands on land donated by a French woman Zulime Watkins. It has beautiful stained glass paintings depicting Stations of the Cross. Corinthian pillars and domes inside the church add to the splendour of its architecture. As we walked further, old villas with monkey-top roofs and Mangalore tiles dotted the neighbourhood.

We walked past medical centres set up by missionaries and shops that were almost as old as the churches. Scoring a century wasn’t a big deal in this part of the city!

As we approached the final turn of our morning stroll reaching Coles Road, the contrast hit us- the quiet morning was replaced by the rush hour, honking vehicles, opening shops and the hustle-bustle that we associate with the city was all there. It wasn’t a disappointment, just that the city has much more to offer than buildings, offices and roads. The rich history, a culture is something that we share and more often not aware of.

We saw sun streaks inside the church, a neighbourhood where several faiths thrive — with churches, mosques and a Bahai meditation centre, old villas, schools and parks soaked in the calmness of the morning where one can listen to birds chirping. Sometimes, it takes a walk to understand what one is missing out on.

Unhurried walks are organised twice a month in Malleshwaram, Bangalore Pete, Cathedrals, Cubbon Park and other areas based on specific requests. Contact 9886685896.

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