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Shimla’s civic centre among world’s endangered monuments


Shimla : The century-old civic centre of Shimla, comprising imperial buildings that were once institutions of power when this hill town was the summer capital of British India, is among four Indian historical monuments that have been included in the endangered list by the World Monuments Fund (WMF).

The other Indian monuments are the 16th century Chiktan Castle and the 17th century Dechen Namgyal Monastery in Jammu and Kashmir and a palace in Uttar Pradesh.

The list – 2010 World Monument Watch – comprising 93 monuments worldwide has been compiled by the WMF, a non-profit organisation working to identify and preserve the world’s endangered cultural landmarks.

“Shimla’s civic centre, stretching from the neo-Gothic Christ Church to the Telegraph Office is a monument to the state’s apathy. Increased and unplanned development has caused considerable degradation to the town’s historic urban fabric,” says a report posted on the WMF website.

From the Christ Church – built in 1857 in a neo-Gothic style – to the Telegraph Office, the most famous half-km promenade also holds two heritage buildings, a neo-Tudor style public library that housed the health wing of the municipality and the 122-year-old Gaiety Theatre where Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling and legendary actor Prithviraj Kapoor had performed.

The WMF says the Chiktan Castle in Kargil, which was a royal residence for centuries, is in an advanced state of decay.

Built in the 16th century by Balti (Pakistani) craftsmen, the castle served as a royal residence for centuries.

It is composed of rammed earth and stone masonry with mud mortar. Following the designs of architect and carpenter Shinkhen Chandan, the castle used timber to support the ceilings of the structure as well as to frame the doors and windows.

The castle was attacked several times during its history, but was not abandoned until the late 19th century.

“Neglect and natural elements have left the castle in an advanced state of decay. Large portions of the outer walls have collapsed, partially due to the removal of stone in the mid 20th century for a local government hospital,” says the WMF.

Perched 4,270 metres above sea level, the 17th century Dechen Namgyal Monastery in Ladakh was built by King Sengge Namgyal.

The monastery is embellished with wall paintings and sculptures and it is still being used as a place of worship.

According to the WMF, due to inadequate repairs, lack of financial resources and limited preservation understanding, the monastery is in a deteriorated state.

Similarly, the royal palace in Uttar Pradesh’s Mahmudabad, founded in 1677 by Raja Mahmud Khan, is in shambles.

The palace is a leading example of Awadh palace architecture and served as an important administrative and residential complex for rulers of Mahmudabad throughout the Mughal period and subsequently during the British colonial era.

“Portions of the building have been unused for 50 years, and the combination of neglect, aging, and seismic damage further compounds these challenges,” says the WMF.

The WMF warns that if preventive measures are not taken to preserve them, they would soon be only in the yellowed pages of history books.