Vijayawada

A hill with history cries for attention

The light show presenting the beauty of the Stupa at Gandhi Hill in Vijayawada.

The light show presenting the beauty of the Stupa at Gandhi Hill in Vijayawada.

Gandhi Hill, which holds the distinction of being the first Gandhi memorial on a hillock in India, was once the most-preferred destination to relax and rejoice for the bygone generation.

All roads led to the hill when the city was sans shopping malls, multiplexes, cable television, mobiles and the Internet, and it was a soothing experience for many to watch the serenity of river Krishna on one side and the bustling concrete jungle on the other.

But, Gandhi Hill, which was developed to spread the messages of Mahatma Gandhi, lost its sheen owing to poor maintenance and paucity of funds.

The aesthetic beauty of the complex took a beating, and it earned the tag of a ‘place to be avoided’, as it became a haven for anti-social elements.

However, after a long spell of neglect and apathy, the hill is regaining its lost glory. It now wears a new look, with the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) and the Gandhi Hill Foundation taking a series of steps to make it a popular tourist destination.

In an effort to develop Gandhi Hill, a plea was made to the Central Tourism Board (CTB), seeking a grant of Rs. 5 crore for development works. “The CTB granted Rs. 3 crore and allotted Rs. 60 lakh as the first instalment in 2012 to the AP Tourism Department, which, in turn, handed over the execution of works to the APTDC. The corporation has taken up electrification of the hill, construction of compound walls and park and removal of unwanted trees,” says Mr. Durga Prasad, secretary of the foundation.

“We, the members of the foundation, spent Rs. 10 lakh from our pockets for the refurbishment of some of the dysfunctional projects,” he adds.

The history

Gandhi Memorial Foundation, with a view to setting up a permanent memorial for Mahatma Gandhi, had selected Vijayawada as one of the six places in the country.

The hill, which was then called Orr Hills, was selected, as it was centrally located and had an area of around 19 acres and was 500-ft tall.

In 1967, then Prime Minister Morarji Desai inaugurated the Gandhi Hill Society, and 10 years later, the society was converted into a trust, which was named Gandhi Hill Foundation. 

The foundation stone for the building was laid by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Sastri in 1964, and later, the building was inaugurated by senior Congress leader Nijalingappa.

The majestic 52-ft Stupa, designed by Nandalal Bose, was unveiled by then President Dr. Zakir Hussain in 1968.

The toy train, which is the USP of the hill even now, was presented by the Andhra Pradesh government 1969. A rail track was laid around the hill, and it was inaugurated by Ram Subhag Singh, then Minister for Railways.

“The train is the most-sought-after thing here. By hopping on it, one can see the city in its entirety. We got a new engine donated by Piaggio Ape Company recently. The track has also been overhauled for a smooth ride,” says supervisor Sk. Baig.

The foundation stone for the sound and light project was laid by then Vice-President V.V. Giri, in 1968. And, the programme was inaugurated by Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (Frontier Gandhi) in the year 1969. “It has not been not functioning for the past 20 years,” says Mr. Prasad.

The library, which was planned as a research centre for scholars on Gandhian studies, has been closed down and so is the planetarium, which was inaugurated by Vice-President G.S. Pathak in 1971. “Renovation works are on, and we need to update the apparatus,” Mr. Prasad adds.

An observatory, equipped with an astronomical telescope and astro-camera, was set up on the terrace of the library building, but it is also not functional.

Mr. Prasad says all the projects owe their existence to the untiring efforts of former Vijayawada Member of Parliament Dr. K.L. Rao, who was the president of the foundation.

Meanwhile, foundation chairman and MP Gokaraju Gangaraju deplored the apathetic attitude of the successive governments to the development of the historic spot.

“There is no second opinion that this national monument for the Father of the Nation is one of its kind in Andhra Pradesh, and it should be developed and maintained properly. It has not only educational value but also tourist potential,” feels Mr. Gangajau.

Gandhi Hill wears a festive look during Gandhi Jayanti, Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations, with children from more than 200 schools taking part in debates and quiz and essay writing competitions.

TRUE FACTS

Captain Charles Orr, who constructed the Krishna anicut in 1852, monitored the works from the hill

Jamnalal Bajaj Seva Trust donated telescope to the hill

New York-based Ford Foundation presented the telescope to the planetarium

There were plans to install a ropeway and a botanical garden at the hill


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Printable version | Sep 27, 2022 3:30:31 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Vijayawada/a-hill-with-history-cries-for-attention/article7957408.ece