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With facelift for 4 stations on 110-yr-old Karnataka route, railways protects piece of history

South Western Railway has signed an MoU with INTACH to restore the Doddajala, Devanahalli, Avatihalli, and Nandi Halt stations, to preserve heritage of its Bengaluru division.

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Bengaluru: The old, decrepit Doddajala railway station building stands just metres away from National Highway 44. But a thick cover of trees and shrubbery makes it difficult to spot the building from the road.

With its gabled roof, set with Mangalore tiles, and large, circular windows — examples of architecture from another era — the building stands apart from the newer houses and shops surrounding it in Bengaluru’s Chikkajala village area, a lone relic of a colonial past.

Doddajala was the first railway station to be built along the Bengaluru-Chikkaballapur Light Railway Line, under the erstwhile Mysore government, in the early 1900s. Although still in use, the station building today clearly bears the ravages of time. Some of the granite stones covering the floors are broken and marks of seepage and peeling paint add to its fading grandeur.

The years of neglect are, however, all set to be wiped away, with the building about to get a facelift.

Under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the South Western Railway’s (SWR) Bengaluru Division with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH, an organisation involved in building heritage awareness and conservation), Doddajala, along with three other stations on the historic metre gauge line (Devanahalli, Avatihalli and Nandi Halt), will be restored and parts of the buildings will be turned into exhibition centres.

“The Mysore division has two rail museums, the Mysore rail museum, and a Malgudi museum. Hubli also has its own railway museum, which was inaugurated last year. When both these divisions of SWR have their own heritage items to showcase, then how could Bangalore have been left behind?” asked Jayant Ramachandran, Divisional Mechanical Engineer of SWR who is overseeing the project.

The idea was put into execution last year and the MoU with INTACH was signed about six months back, in February. Work began earlier this month.


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Conservation, not change 

Like Doddajala, the Avatihalli, Devanahalli, and Nandi Halt station buildings are idyllic, quaint structures that now show the wear and tear of years. On a visit last week, ThePrint found the Nandi Halt and Avatihalli station buildings taken over by squatters. The over-100-year-old structure at Devanahalli station looked all the more decrepit in comparison to the new station built on its premises a few years ago, which is being used in its stead.

All four station buildings comprise a hall, a small storage room, and a surrounding verandah. Nandi Halt is the biggest in area, set amid a field against the Nandi Hills and consisting of not one but three halls.

Swathy Subramanian, a conservation architect at INTACH, described the structures as a mix of colonial and vernacular architecture. “The materials used for construction, such as the Mangalore tiles, were locally sourced. Which is why you can spot some similarities between these and the old houses in the villages here,” she explained.

The Devanahalli railway station | Angana Chakrabarti | ThePrint
The Devanahalli railway station | Angana Chakrabarti | ThePrint

The focus is on structural consolidation, rather than change. “There are cracks in the structure and a problem of seepage because the tiles on the roof are broken. Some of the rafters are also in a bad condition because of the damp. Right now, we are focussing on restoring this,” said Subramanian.

INTACH is also recreating the old typology, so that the characteristics of the building can be preserved.

“Outside Doddajala station, we want to build a planter box with plants. There will be a signboard. All of this will be done in stone masonry because we thought we’ll use a similar material as the historical structure,” Subramanian said and added, “We have also proposed a pavement around the structure for everyone to see and experience the site.”

The entire project is expected to take 18 months to be completed and will cost Rs 1.75 crore, to be funded through corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes.


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A historic line

The Bengaluru-Chikkaballapur light railway, a narrow-gauge line of two-feet-six-inches, was sanctioned back in 1909 to connect Bengaluru and Bangarpet through Chikkaballapur, Sidlaghatta, Chintamani, Srinivaspur, and Kolar taluks

According to an administration report on railways in India published in 1918, “this railway is an enterprise by an Indian Company floated for the purpose under a guarantee from the Mysore Durbar of 4 per cent annum on the subscribed capital”.

“Despite the government guaranteeing an interest of four per cent on the capital cost, the private company promoted under the name of ‘Bangalore-Chikballapur Light Railway Company’ could not proceed with the construction work,” the Mysore State Gazetteer states. “The Government then undertook the construction of the line after entering into an agreement with the company.”

The Avatihalli railway station | Angana Chakrabarti | ThePrint
The Avatihalli railway station | Angana Chakrabarti | ThePrint

The line was inaugurated in 1915 and Mysore State Railway was in charge of the traffic,  which was handed over to Southern Railways after Independence. The route came under the South Western Railway in 2003.

“It was initially a narrow-gauge line, but converted to a broad gauge, 62-km stretch in 1998… the stations also have their own rich cultural heritage,” Ramachandran said.

Kusuma Hariprasad, Additional Divisional Railway Manager at SWR, said she’s hopeful that following the renovation work, the stations will be recognised as heritage sites by UNESCO. “This line is more than 110 years old and is still operational. We may approach UNESCO for the recognition,” she told ThePrint.

But for Ramachandran, what is of more importance is that the restoration and preservation of these stations “will be a recognition for the people of that area, because it will give them some identity and a sense of pride”.


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Heritage, with a dash of functionality

INTACH’s plans for restoration, according to its proposal to the SWR, include “minimal intervention”.

The plan is to change the old structure into exhibition halls that could be used for a variety of purposes including for cultural programmes and history panels, while ensuring that the stations remain functional and in use. In Doddajala, for example, INTACH plans to add a new ticketing counter that will resemble the old one.

“Last July, we gave a proposal to South Western Railway in Bangalore saying that we would restore Doddajala station, then they got back to us and by that time we were also thinking of doing the other stations,” Aravind Chandramohan, co-convenor of INTACH’s Bengaluru chapter, said.

The Nandi Halt railway station | Angana Chakrabarti | ThePrint
The Nandi Halt railway station | Angana Chakrabarti | ThePrint

While the old Avatihalli, Doddajali and Nandi Halt station buildings are still in use, and a new building has come up on the Devanahalli premises, trains have been infrequent in the past year-and-a-half because of Covid restrictions.

Commenting on the proposal, Ramachandran said, “It is a win-win situation for both INTACH, the railways and public because at every point we have mentioned that our core activity of transportation shouldn’t be hindered at any place… but it will be given a facelift.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


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