Heritage always turns me on, but more than pristinely renovated heritage structures that are essentially inactive, it is particularly exciting to see heritage in use. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to walk into Gaiety Theatre in Shimla and see it buzzing with a group of local artists hard at work. We wandered through the small intimate space watching a range of artworks being created in front of our very eyes.
Gaiety Theatre was first opened in 1887, in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year. It was designed as part of the Town Hall complex and was the hub of cultural activity in the city during colonial times. Designed by the well known English architect Henry Irwin, it is a Gothic building and can seat over 300 people. I learnt from another blogger’s post that this is one of six remaining special Gothic theatres in the World! Known for excellent acoustics, the recent renovation of the building is tastefully done and keeps intact the originally designed screen.
The art event we came across was being held in one of the side halls and later in the evening we were happy to see a buzzing crowd outside the hall, awaiting the inauguration of the public exhibition of the artworks. The Shimla Summer Festival was just concluding, which hosted several performances in the theatre.
It’s turned out to be a spiritual sort if day, or at least a day of visiting places of worship or belief- Bhakra Dam, Naina Devi temple and the Anandpur Sahib Gurudwara Keshgarh Sahib.
Our first stop and one that took most of our day was the Bhakra Dam, a monument to modernity, a temple that celebrates Indian independence and progress. The dam is a hydro electric power project that powers much of north India. It also supplies water for irrigation to a large area, enabling to a large extent India’s green revolution. It’s impressive certainly and the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, but the scale is so large both of the structure and the landscape, that it’s a bit hard to take in. There is considerable security. ‘No photography, no parking’ proclaim several large signs and security personnel are pretty sharp about stopping people from clicking and generally putting the fear of God in visitors.
We walked past the dam and peered down to see a mountain of silt and garbage on the other side. All feelings of national pride came instantly crashing down. Irritated, we asked the security boys about this. The garbage is what the river brings in with it and it gets caught on this side of the dam. There is no sophisticated machine to dredge or clean this stuff. ‘By boat, by hand’ the security guy informed us!
Even on the boat ride onto the vast stupefying waters of the Gobind Sagar Lake, I counted an array of alien objects- plastic bottles of course, slippers, medicines intact in their plastic sheath, condom, etc even though it was largely clean. I sat there and thought about how people dump all manner of rubbish into the streams and rivers that flow by and how the lake and the dam have to deal with all that trash.
We also talked about the dam being a manifestation of how man has interfered with nature. We spoke of the complexity of issues rehabilitation of villages drowned in dam projects. Of course, back then when this dam was built people whose village was drowned considered it a sacrifice to the ‘temple of modern India’ or so my mum tells me from her memories of the time. We also spoke of how that very flat enormous lake actually filled a deep gorge and we were floating around on the top of something that went way down!
More about the other two sites later (with pics) and here are some clandestine clicks of the dam and surrounds.