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The Urban Column-II

Updated: May 2

No matter how far you travel, the diamonds are still at home. Moving from the lush green urbane areas of Fatehgunj explored last time, this time the column brings to you the common man’s lifeline and prominent nodal stop in to the Banyan city. It was once a ‘long narrow lane with trees growing here and there, and goats grazing.’ We are talking about the lane that joined the Baroda Bombay and Central India Railways (BBCIR) now called the Western Railways located at the eastern end of Sayajigunj extending all the way to Chhani village. Today it is a street with remnants of the past that one could easily miss if they do not intend to see. Like all transit routes, this approximately 1.1-kilometer stretch, from the northern edge of the western railways front entrance to the underpass of the Pandya bridge is one of the busiest roads in the city and yet it offers an idea or two for the dreamer to imagine the place as it once was. Bound on its western edge by the Western Railway lines and the Bhuki Nala (a Vishwamitri Tributary) on its eastern side, the Old Chhani road seems to have lost its old-world charm, a time when the Railways played an important role beginning in the late 19th century to transport both goods and people to and from the city as well as play a vital role in its economy. The creek in its heyday must have also been the place to go for its lush environs providing for shade and respite from the busy road, although there exists no evidence of this.

Fun Fact: The Railway cavernous shed was a brick and stucco building with tiled roof home to the royal saloons, with a rail track that led directly to Laxmi Vilas Palace for goods and jewelry as well as the royal family- From Once Upon a Time… there was Baroda.

Now named as the Padmashri Dr. V C Patel Marg, the street houses an interesting mix of buildings and uses. Once chockablock with shops on either side, trees hugging buildings and service lines like nobody’s business, the cleanup in the area has bought about a change in the architectural atmosphere with mimicked organic and humongous apes. With lack of shaded pit stops in the urban fabric, life still continues on at junctions hitherto unknown to the passing eye. The notion of historic areas in such complex and crowded settings is almost unbelievable, thus providing for the inner explorer to search for means of respite from the external daily grinds and stand or wander within. Begin with the Damaji Rao Dharamshala, a lodge first used by the BBCI staff and then converted to provide respite for the travelers after the railway merger, which seems to be in line as its counterparts in the city, to soon lose its sheen to the multi storey giant abutting it. Adjacent to this is a prominent South Indian temple replete with figurines and temple rituals. The presence of several book stalls and popular farsan marts including Jagdish indicates the importance of food and a good read for any traveler. Between the temple and the Rustom House, a wonderful 1980’s art deco house is the Sanjiv Hospital- set up by surgeons and physicians, Dr. T. B. Patel & Dr. Munshi as a TB sanatorium 150 years back under Sayaji Rao Gaekwad’s rule. In the 60’s, this old heritage building formally known as Contractor’s Bungalow appealed to Dr. V. C. Patel who had come from the United Kingdom looking to start a surgical hospital and found this to be the most suitable place to do so. Till this date the place serves the underprivileged and has further added medical services in a new building in the compound. The other eclectic places include the Punjab TMT steel factory, a cold storage, a lumber yard and also the Executive Engineer’s Court. However, the primary transit nature of the street is once again evident on the northern part of this road with various road travel agencies, hidden railway official bungalows with Gaekwad insignia amidst chawls, and the Officer’s Railway colony at this end. Between these and the factories, stands the Gaekwad Maharaja Salon, a private waiting room and platform for the Gaekwad family, which was once an opulent structure with stately facilities for the royal families and their guests. The charm of such places mostly lies in its opulence seen in the recreational efforts it provides. Till recently there stood the Natraj Theater, a single screen theater- replaced by the multi screen at the Bus stand, trees that gave respite from the scorching sun, traded for wide roads, hawkers for formalized shops- the list would continue. Squinch an eye and walk on the road, a different sight can be seen, one beyond the white walls and non-existent creek- a street with lush green trees, pedestrian pathways and restored buildings. Replete with modern amenities and large plazas but filled with curiosities akin.

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