Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Nainital O, Nainital O ! - 1

In my last post I mentioned the creative genius of Band Master Ram Singh of the famed Ranikhet Regiment, who managed to get many popular Kumaoni folk songs into the permanent repertoire of the Indian army . He paid his own tribute to the pretty little town of Nainital by writing a song in Kumaoni about its proximity to the railhead at Kathgodam and consequent appeal for its upwardly mobile rural youth . The lovely bouncy song as I recall it, went :
Nainital O Nainital O
Ghoomi aayo raila Re
Aankhui maan kaajal chhau
Bulbuli maan tela O Nainital O !
( Ah Nainital , Oh Nainital ! I have travelled by a train my friends ! I have kohl in my eyes and my puffed hair is well oiled !)
It may come as a surprise to many, that the town of Nainital was initially a holy spot named after a temple to the goddess Naina devi . It had stood by itself for years, next to a picturesque lake in the Kumaon hills . The area villagers feared the goddess's wrath if they ever thought of encroaching on what they felt was divine property . They would not even consider riding a boat or trying to catch fish from the Goddess's own pond. It remained for the British to start all that.
In 1802 four officials of the East India Company Mr Gatt, Mr Moorcroft, Colonel Gardner and Captain Hershy, made a secret visit to Kumaon. They were trying to assess the commercial potential of the flora and flauna of the Himalayan region . During their trip, they also visited Nainital and were dazzled by the tranquil beauty of the place and its large lake where large Maahsir fish, much sought after anglers, swam . This, they reported held a vast potential as a suitable recreation ground for their personnel, exhausted after months spent in the dusty plains of north India. Their confidential note to the Company after their visit was forwarded to the bosses in London.
Legend has it that in 1840 when Mr Lexington was the area Commissioner, one Company official, Mr Barron terrorised the village chief ( Thokdar Nar Singh) by forcing him to ride a boat and then hanging him upside down in the middle of the lake. In return for saving his life Barron Sahib had the hapless Thokdar sign a legal deed that made the area over to the British for almost nothing . Then they set about building a township for their officers around the lake .
Some of the buildings that came up were : A church, Saint John in The Wilderness (1846), The Ramsay Hospital(1892), The Crosthwaite Hospital ( 1896), The Albion Hotel (1872), and The Naintal Club (1872).
In 1880 Nainital was decimated when after torrential rains a massive landslide demolished most of the buildings . The British felt this could have been averted had the drainage system been more scientifically planned . The local villagers said it was a punishment by the goddess for having polluted her area . Whatever it was, the damage it caused was considerable. Among the buildings that disappeared under the rubble, was the well known Victoria Hotel where the famous Corbett family then lived . The senior Corbett , father of James Corbett the great hunter turned conservationist, was one of those who died during the landslide.
Bit by bit Nainital was rebuilt with better drainage and a sluice gate (known locally as Daant or the cog) to let out excessive water from the lake after a heavy downpour. These still serve the town .
( Next- The New Nainital )  


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