A little town near Mysore
I remember from a long time ago, I was on a bus to Mysore, and this beautiful idyllic place passed by my eyes. It was a deep color of green, and the air smelt sweet. The early morning sunshine played with the gentle waves of the paddy fields. There was a river passing by it, not once but twice (it was a river island, you see), and I thought, oh my, this is so beautiful.
I would pass by that place many times over the course of next few years, seeing that idyllic scenery progressively dulling out in front of my eyes. There were more people, more noise, more pollution ...
That place is called Srirangapatna.
Srirangapatna (aka Shrirangapattana, or Seringapatam) is a small town some hundred kilometers from Bangalore. You only need to travel this hundred kilometers through a busy highway to come face to face with history that dates back many centuries.
I was going to be on a tour, named "Srirangapatna Parichay" (or "Getting to know Srirangapatna"), that was being conducted by Intach, or the "Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage", which is an NGO looking at preserving the cultural heritage of India. So, early Sunday morning 6:15 am I was in front of the Town Hall at Hudson Circle. The taxi driver was unsure of the road, got lost a bit, but reached finally, after asking helpful people on road (one thing you are sure to find in India). Here I met up with some fellow passengers : a varied crowd, but among them, a sprinkling of architects, and someone whom I have met before! Small world, as they say.
6:30 am or so we left in our comfortable minibus. The first stop was after an hour at Kadambam, a roadside restaurant. "Good Iyengar food", the little board on the wall proclaimed. A delicious Idly-Vada breakfast, some Madras Coffee over conversation, and we were on our way again.
In the bus, they held a lottery to help people get to know each other. The lottery paired me up with Varna, who turned out to be a young Harvard-educated architect now running her own business, and teaching at RV School of Architecture. I was surely in very lofty company.
There was some quiz on board the bus about Tipu Sultan and Srirangapatna in general. Mansoor, an architect who was sitting next to me, seemed to know a large number of the answers. As for me, I knew about Tipu Sultan, but my knowledge was sketchy, to say the least. It was interesting to hear about history from our tour coordinators, Meera Iyer and Poornima Dasharathi.
Finally, around 10:00 am we reached Srirangapatna. It was sunny and warm. I could not recognize the image I had of Srirangapatna from some twenty years back. Places change, I guess. We drove down to the fort wall area where there was an Obelisk, erected by the Mysore government in 1907, commemorating the British soldiers who died during the war between the British and Tipu Sultan in 1799. You can see the area where the British soldiers crossed the river Cauvery and entered the fortified town of Srirangapatna through a breach in the fort wall. Like many times in Indian history, this was a story of betrayal. Tipu Sultan was betrayed by one his own men, Meer Sadiq, who passed on valuable information to the British, and led them into the fort.
The fort wall was high, overlooking the Cauvery river, and the nearby bridges reflected on the gentle waters. It was serene. It was difficult to imagine the bloodshed, the madness that this place has seen unravel years ago.
Next stop was Tipu's Armory near the railway station. There was some construction nearby, and the whole area appeared to be in disrepair. Apparently, the armory itself is scheduled to be moved to make room for some other building. Not clear to me how to move a largely underground building! The armory, though uninteresting from outside, was a photographer's delight once inside. The light came in from the skylights and bathed the interior with a nice, soft, diffused light. The arches added to the visual appeal of the place. While most of the party waited outside, I took some time to take in a few pictures of the armory. I could almost visualize what I could do with the fantastic light in this place. I need to go back there sometime again.
On to Colonel Bailey's Dungeon. Apparently, Colonel Bailey of the British army was imprisoned here by Tipu Sultan, and hence the name. It looked a bit like the armory I have already seen, underground but more spacious, and also open to one side. Beautiful arches inside the space, and an old cannon lying inside made for great photography. There was a hole in the ceiling, quite interestingly. Apparently, during the British invasion of Srirangapatnam, a cannon pierced the ceiling and fell into the dungeon.
We moved on to see the Water Gate, where the battle for Srirangapatna took place. It's really a gate through the wall of the fort that leads to the waters nearby. Close to it is the place where Tipu's body was found after the battle. Getting back onto the bus, we visited Tipu's palace, which was in ruins. There is not all that much left of the palace. For some strange reason, once could not go inside. So, we had to be content with peering over the fence and listening to the stories of the looting the occurred after the British took over Srirangapatna. The saying goes that the British soldiers looted the place in a violent free-for-all fashion. Once they were done, there was nothing left of the palace, or of the immensely valuable stuff in there. Heard a story of a British soldier who got three jewel-encrusted bangles as bounty, and could sell each for some 13000 pounds or so at that time!
Close to Tipu's palace is the Nineth century Ranganathaswamy Temple. It's not quite an architectural marvel, but it is ancient, and thereby lies its importance. The place was packed with pilgrims and tourists, and filled with shops selling trinkets outside. A short walk into the nearby Narasimha Swamy temple was interesting. The existence of the temples are perhaps ample evidence of the religious tolerance of Tipu Sultan.
It was about time for lunch by the banks of the serene Cauvery river at the Hotel Mayura River View. The river was serene and calm, and one could spend hours just sitting by its banks. One nearly forgot the hustle and bustle of Bangalore here. We moved on to see the Jumma Masjid, and then the Dariya Daulat palace. Jumma Masjid was representative of the typical architecture of mosques of that period. Arches, minarets, and domes everywhere, and intricate patterns carved on the walls. Dariya Daulat, which was one of Tipu's palaces, was rather modest in comparison to other palaces I have known. It has a beautiful garden alongside, and is popular with tourists because it is just off the main highway. We spent time admiring the collection of wall paintings in the palace, and sitting by river Cauvery that flows by it.
It was time to go back to Bangalore. Unlike in the morning, this time it was not an easy ride. With the farmers' strike and the resultant closure of the highway, we counted hours till the road opened again, and a long day of travel finally ended. It was not the beginning of my memories of Srirangapatna, and I know it will not be the end.