Exploring Spectacular Dehradun

By- Been There Doon That

A walk around the city's prominent institutions

Dehradun's buildings represent many different architectural styles. Thankfully, some of these still survive the age of concrete. A great way of experiencing these is taking this four-hour walk where one can also experience the heritage of oil exploration and military traditions of India. The walk covers the Rashtriya Indian Military College, the Indian Military Academy and the Forest Research Institution among other sites.

Rashtriya Indian Military College 

Earlier known as Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College, today known as Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC), is nestled in the verdant splendour of a vast campus. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward III, formally inaugurated RIMC on 13th March 1922. He was accompanied by Lord Reading, the Viceroy to India and his ADC Lord Mountbatten, who later became the Governor General.

This was the first college, opened for training Indian princes, who were commissioned to the British Indian Army for a maximum of two years. Long before this, the college existed as the Imperial Cadet College, started in 1901. The Imperial Cadet College was closed in 1914 on the outbreak of the First World War. During this time, the campus functioned as a Mechanical Transport Training School and a convalescent hospital.

A meandering road leads into the campus where various functions of the institute have been distributed within different buildings; each nestled within its own green surroundings. Exemplifying Tudor architectural style, these buildings were conceived by the then architect to the government. Exposed wooden trusses and rafters, two ways sloping roofs, with ventilators and their roofs projecting out, wooden doors and windows, with an arched colonnade running all along the ground floor of the building are the distinctive elements of these structures. Extensive use of wooden planks in flooring and false ceiling makes up for the interior ornamentation of the buildings. Emerging from the Thimayya Gate of the RIMC, we walk down the road past a golf course lined by stately camphor trees. The pathway is a walker’s delight and as we turn the corner, we arrive at the buildings of the Cambrian Hall School. Built by a British national in 1904, the property was bought by the Prime Minister of Nepal in 1947 and given to the Cambrian Trust in 1954.

The principal’s residence is a single storied structure with brick and mud infill walls with an entrance porch facing the northeast. A colonnaded porch stands at the entrance of the building. A colonnaded verandah running along three sides of the building has been blocked   off   in parts to accommodate spaces for dormitories and toilets. A combination of pointed, semicircular arches and segmented arches are used for spanning the openings.  The former is used for spanning the openings, while segmental arches span the window openings.

ONGC Headquarters

Further down the winding passage, we approach the headquarters of the oil exploration giant, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). The centerpiece of their campus is the Subir Raha Oil Museum. A crumbling old structure until a few years ago, referred to as the Tel Bhavan (oil building), this used to be the art-deco summer palace of the then king of the erstwhile Patiala state. Today, the museum stands as an example of sensitive restoration and reuse of heritage.

The building retains its art-deco elements and its spaces are creatively used to describe the history of oil exploration in the country. Interactive displays with ingenuous scientific experiments to perform are likely to keep the children interested and occupied for hours. A litchi orchard, also a relic of royalty, surrounds the building and reminds us of what life would have been for the royals in this verdant vale.

ONGC’s new, environment-friendly 'Green' building is also worth a visit. Plonked into the ground, rather than rising over it, this building has adequate sunlight and ventilation to save on fuel. On the exterior it appears like a large mound rising above the surface. Designed by celebrated architect Hafeez Contractor, it is unobtrusive and aesthetic. 

Forest Research Institute 

From the back gate of the new ONGC building, we walk south towards another campus that stands out as a masterpiece of our colonial architectural heritage, the Forest Research Institute (FRI). Earlier known as Imperial Forest Research Institute and Colleges, the building is set within an expansive campus. British architect CG Blomfield designed the building and it was constructed by Sardar Ranjit Singh, in  1906, as a reply to the Viceroy’s Palace (now Rashtrapati Bhawan) in New Delhi, by the foresters, who reasoned that since they controlled almost 75 per cent of the land assets of India (in those times 75 per cent of India was forest), they needed to have a building grander in scale than the viceroy's magnificent palace on Raisina Hill. Thus, the building was built and the campus shifted from Chandbagh, presently the site of The Doon School. The main building has been built on a raised brick plinth, about three feet high, and is approached through a colonnaded porch. Symmetrical in plan and facing southeast, the building consists of a central block with projections on the north and south faces. Attached to this, on the east and the west are two square blocks with internal courtyards. Each of these blocks has an arm projecting towards the south.

Hexagonal domed towers have been placed above the north and south arms. A large dome was originally planned over the centre of the building but could never be completed. The columns and arch on the front porch are plastered and ornamented with mouldings. A colonnaded verandah runs along the front of the building with alternate openings spanned by flat arches and semi-circular arches. Flat arches span the corridor on the upper floor.

Brick domes span the connecting corridors at the ground floor. Brick bands on the lower floor have rain water pipes that form an integral part of the façade. The building is of exposed brick and is devoid of any ornamentation except on the capital of the columns and cornice lines running along the roofline. The drain pipes feature lion heads instead of the gargoyles common to Greco- Roman style, in which the building has been executed. The rooms as well as the corridor on upper floor have a wooden false ceiling. Iron trusses span the roof with pine veneers on the top. The entire structure is brick, lime and wood. 

The grand structure of the FRI houses a Forestry Museum and contains some interesting relics related to the history of forestry in India. What really adds to the allure of the campus are the arboretums or tree gardens that surround it. The Bamboosetum or Bamboo Garden with 120 varieties of this versatile grass, and the Botanical Garden featuring a mind-boggling variety of vegetation are a treasure trove for herbarium enthusiasts. A walk in these forests is highly recommended as the thick vegetation and the sounds of forest transport one to another world, and leads one to forget that the campus now stands in the middle of a city. The campus, also sometimes referred to as New Forest, is a treat for ornithologists and amateur bird watchers.

Indian Military Academy

From one institute into another, as the back gate of the FRI leads us into the Indian Military Academy. One needs permissions from the Army establishment to enter the area. But the effort is worth it once you enter the impressive cast iron gates, with flowerbeds and fences maintained with characteristic military precision. Also called Dormer Hall in the past, the Indian Military Academy, stands out for its exceptional history of producing defence officers of repute and also for the architectural elegance of its buildings. Designed in 1930, as the Railway Staff College, it was closed soon, owing to a financial crisis and the assets handed over to the Army in 1932. The Chetwode Hall, named after the then  Commander-in-Chief Sir Philip Chetwode, is a masterpiece of Greco-Roman architecture and happens to be the most significant building, architecturally and functionally, within the campus. It was designed as a memorial hall and has a 90-ft-high clock tower atop it. 

The Chetwode Hall also houses a War Museum with several memorabilia of the wars fought by the Indian Army. From Pakistan's General Niazi’s pistol, handed over to the Indian forces after the surrender of Bangladesh in 1971, to one of the seven ink-signed copies of the Constitution of India, the museum has a lot to offer. In the foyer is the redoubtable 'Antim Pag', the last step or threshold officers of the Indian Army crosses before they dedicate themselves to national service, immediately after the spectacular passing-out parade. The campus houses architectural marvels like the Nizam’s Pavilion, Kingsley and Collins’ Blocks, built in the Greco-Roman style. Roman architecture has, at times, adopted certain aspects of Ancient Greek architecture, creating a new style. 

Tapkeshwar Mahadev Temple 

From the temple of war to Shiva’s own cave, the Tapkeshwar Mahadev Temple. This natural cave temple is located in a valley between two hills. A stream of the Tons river, locally known as Tamasa, flows next to it. It is believed that the Pandavas (from the epic Mahabharata) stayed in this cave and worshipped the Shiva lingam (a representation of Lord Shiva) during their pilgrimage into the Himalayas.

It is said that shepherds discovered the Shiva lingam when they sought shelter in a cave and found droplets of milky water pouring from a stalactite, anointing it. Many believe that whenever catastrophes like wars, floods and earthquakes strike, the water stops dripping over the lingam as a warning sign. The cave temple is approached through a flight of steps leading down from the main road. The original site comprised only of the cave and an adjoining stream, located within a natural valley but at present a number of new structures have come up in the vicinity, marring the space. The exit leads to another smaller cave dedicated to Shiva and Parvati and with a circumambulatory path around it. Having obtained Lord Shiva’s blessings, we move towards the military quarters of Ghangora.  Situated on the Birpur Plateau, near the Tons river, and the village Ghangora covers a large area, with the military bungalows and the Officers’ Mess commanding the best views over Tons. Some of the finest sunsets can be enjoyed from here.

To enjoy the above walk, contact Been There Doon That

Mail mail@beentheredoonthat.org  

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