Ulsoor, Murphy Town, Knoxpet, Ulsoor Lake, Bangalore
Memories of the 'Old Bangalore',
and the houses that have fallen, those that are standing, and those awaiting
in silence for the dust to settle. Ulsoor takes you back into time, it
is the 'City Market' of the East in Bangalore. Ulsoor, Murphy Town and
Knoxpet are adjacent to each other and merge so much that it is not easy
to draw the boundaries.
Ulsoor or Halsoor (Ulsur, Halsur) as it was formerly known, is located at the Eastern side of Bangalore. As per the European population in the early 1900's it was a 'native suburb', and was (and is) thickly populated. It is said that Kempe Gowda founded Ulsoor, and tradition carries the story thus: The whole area was covered with forest, and Kempe Gowda came from Yelahankar chasing game, and was tired during the chase. He then rested under a tree, and in his sleep the god Somesvara (who was supposedly worshipped earlier by the Mandava Rishi at that very spot), appeared to Kempe Gowda in a dream and revealed to him the existance of a hidden treasure. Kempe Gowda is supposed to have dug up the treasure and built the Somesvara pagoda, and was said to use the services of a sculptor from Belur, a descendant of the famous Jakanachari, to decorate the walls with scenes from the marriage of Siva and Paravati. The gopura is very commanding in the Dravidian style of art. In the same area is also another famous temple dedicated to Subbaraya. Several wealthy residents of Tamil origin live and lived in this area. A Dispensary can still be seen on the main road leading to the Old Madras Road, and the junction of Cambridge Road and the Old Madras Road is the location of the Market. This area also is said to have a combined Post and Telegraph Office. I am not sure if the present Telegraph Exchange was part of the the old structure.
The Ulsoor Lake or Tank (once called the Ulsur Lake) lies to the North-West of Ulsoor. The lake is quite dangerous to swim in and there are many a European Soldier who has drowned in the same, perhaps caught in the weeds and lotus plants. J.W. Morris in the 'Guide to Bangalore and Mysore Directory 1905' describes the Ulsoor Lake saying that for some time the condition of the Lake was regarded as dangerous to public health because of the weed-choked and shallow waters. In 1901, the water level came very low, and the Lake was drained, and the weeds were removed before the monsoon. The whole operation of draining and rooting out the weeds took around 30 days. When full, the lake is about 125 acres; it's greatest depth was around 11' to 12' , with an average of 8' all around. earlier the water-works for supplying the European Troops were situated on the side of a rock adjoining, but with the introduction of piped water supply, this was disused. There was a Gymkhana which ran a Boat Club. You can still go for boat rides today on this lake and there are a few islands scattered around that you can picnic on ( I haven't had the guts fro such a venture, I prefer terra-firm). Since Bangalore is located away from rivers or seas, this lake was and still is somewhat a tourist attraction. There is also a small garden to the North-east of the Lake known as 'Kensington Park', and runs along Kensington Road. A swimming pool adjoins the Park. Fishing was licenced in the past, but I am not sure if the practice continues, although one can find a number of sticks with string attached along the western side of the Lake (one cannot imagine game-fishing with reel and tackle here). The Red Cross Home ( once St. Mary's Home ) is just opposite the Park and the once Royal Engineers, and Sappers and Miners were located at the Meeanee Lines adjacent to it. North of Ulsoor lies Murphy Town, and the Murphy Road is now part of the Old Madras Road, and meets with Kensington Road which goes southward to meet Mahatma Gandhi Road (formerly South Parade) at the Trinity Church junction. Just at the tapering south end of the lake on Kensington Road, one finds the Sikh Guruwada or Temple, and there are some large compounds that were part of some old bungalows, may be today there is some problem why it has not been occupied. Lots of old houses fight back this way, the 'spirit' seems to make some resistance!! Another is the property rates have taken a drastic fall in the city and there are hundreds of incomplete and unoccupied flats to backup the feeling. I always seem to get myself against the light and a 'flare' gets into my lens. I wonder if there is some relationship with the houses facing the sun all getting demolished before those against the rising sun!
Coming from M.G. Road (South Parade) along Dickenson Road (opposite where Webb's Garage used to be, or next to St. Joseph's B.H. School, playgrounds always referred to as 'Webbs Grounds' to all the school boys, the other one was 'New Field' which is the present location of the St. Joseph's I.H. School), if you go left, you are on Cubbon Road, if you turn right you are on Ulsoor Road. This road crosses Kensington Road and leads you into Ulsoor. On Ulsoor Road there are a few great bungalows that take you back into time. I had gone around on Ganesha Festival and met a few owners who were preserving their old homes. One of them was Vijay Kumar at No.6, whose house below also appeared in 'City Beautiful'
On the same side of the road is another splended house known at No.10 called the 'Windsor Castle', owned by Harish Devadoss whose father was the gardian of my school classmate P.K. Salim now at Cannonore, Kerela. This house was once owned by the Hill family.
There are two cross roads from Ulsoor Road that leads to the Lake which have one or two old bungalows. One is Aga Abbas Road and the other Haudin Road. It was on Haudin Road that I had a chance to photograph Dr. Fernandez's house.
The neighbouring house belonged to the 'Thambia' family, and I met Thambia .J., who also happens to be an Old Boy of St. Joseph's B.H. School, and we shared many a past recollection about the old masters and teachers over a greatful cup of tea. There did not seem to be any house left on this road to photograph.
The parallel road was Aga Abbas Road, and I did find one house that still left it's stamp at the gate, as if in defiance stand the two front poach posts!! This must have been a really glorious bungalow in it's time, the rest of the building has been demolished and even the foundations dug up. Other buildings have been modified, and Mrs.'E' did not wish her beautiful house to be photographed for this memory page. I did see one more house that looked unique on this road, and hopefully will get it before the builders do!
Going along Ulsoor Road, crossing Kensington Road towards Ulsoor, one comes across the house of the Mani family, beautifully kept. The family I understand deal in animal and bird food.
Passing this house you now enter Ulsoor. (You can also enter Ulsoor from the Old Madras Road, and the by-lane that crosses in front of the Sikh Temple going down into the area). What greets you is at the corner a beautiful small Protestant Church.
Then you come to the heart of the place. There used to be a square as remains of a clock-tower stand muted in the confusion of the bustle of humanity, time really stands still in this place, even the clock seems to left the tower! You will now find yourself pushed back into time as much of Ulsoor is still retained in old buildings, it's like a 'Twilight Zone' appearing once the midst starts clearing!. You will experience the real market atmosphere, in one of the photographs you can even see the door-to-door moving market on wheels or pushcarts. One cute cottage caught my attention as it had the British Coat-of-arms on the frontage, as as I was trying to get a shot of it, my bike and I slid into the drain, thank God I had some front brakes and managed to salvage some pride, hence I did not get a good shot of it as I scampered away out of pure embarrasment. One can notice a distinct archticture or design common amoung the houses with pillars in clusters or two or three. There are so many lanes and by-lanes that one can keep going around and get totally confused. This area can remind one of Narayan Pallai and Jeweller Streets which lie North of Commercial Street. A few of the photographs that I have taken on the morning of Ganesh Festival on 25th August 1998 is collated for you to try and picture Ulsoor. Actually this is my first trip to this area and I will have to do one more round to photograph the famous temples in the area. The Dispensary and some of the really old buildings are located on the main road that leads to the Old Madras Road and also to Indiranagar. When it rains, Ulsoor is a mini extension of Ulsoor Lake, as it is low lying area, and the drainage is still not updated, you could be in for surprises as I was on one occasion when I rode through the streets, the stench of the waters and muck will cling to your shoes and your nostrils for days. I can recall that once when we were children we had gone for a picinic to St. Michael's Home and we thought that we were going really out of the city and we travelled by bus to 'out-station'; today, looking back in amusement, the Home is situated just beyond Ulsoor, and now very much part of Bangalore City!
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