Monday, 25 January 2021

Dak or Travel Bungalows of colonial India - They need to be preserved for posterity

A Dak Bungalow in Himachal Pradesh. team-bhp.com

Dag Bungalow near Gaya, UP. tribuneindia.com

During the early colonial era  under the English company and later under the direct  British administration, London   the government officials had built Dak Bungalows or Dak Houses (commonly also known as Travel Houses) in the plains and in the hilly places across the Indian subcontinent, so that the officials, on  assignment moving from one place to another, could stay there comfortably. It was a sort of temporary respite for them for their long journey and work under the tough weather conditions. Besides such resting places in remote areas gave them protection against wild beast and dreaded mosquito problems. Such  Dak Bungalows  close to the access road  were meant for temporary stay and rest. They were first built in the early 1840s,serving as staging posts for the dak, the imperial mail service
Gov-Gen of India between 1836 and 1842.en.wikipedia.org
  

Above image: George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland, GCB (25 August 1784 -1 January 1849). The first high-ranking English administrator who introduced Dak or Travel Bungalows  in India during the East India company rule that lasted till 1857-58).  He was thrice First Lord of the Admiralty and who  also served as Governor-General of India between 1836 and 1842.........................

 Dak Bungalows took shape following a decree by Lord Auckland,  an English Whig politician and colonial administrator. Travel Bungalows were built at an interval of  at least 12-15 miles from each other  and the chosen locations were  the long established tradition of caravan  routes (serais) and dharamshalas (free boarding or lodging )built by Indian rulers. That is the limit of long distance people could cover a day. Such caravan  routs   dotted with chaultries (or Chatram in Tamil ) were specifically built  for the pilgrims traveling long distance. In the state of Tamil Nadu such old chatrams built by past rules like the Nayaks, Marathas in Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Tiruch, Madurai districts  are in a poor state or facing utter ruin. Commonly called Travel Bungalos in Tamil Nadu elsewhere in the Southern India, there are many in the Nilgiri hills and other places.  It is mentioned in some articles on Dak bungalows in the north that there are 250 to 350 of them in the Himachal Pradesh alone, each 12 to 15 km apart. The bungalows t under the PWD are known as PWD Rest Houses and are usually located inside, or close to villages and towns and the ones under the  the Forest Department  called Forest Rest Houses (FRHs) lie in an  isolated, wooded areas.   

Invariably such Dak Bungalows  exhibit a simple Indo British design with minimum facilities, tiled roof, long  wide verandah from where one could view the  front compound wall  dotted with trees (mostly fruit-bearing)and the surrounding places. Normally such dak houses were set at a bit higher location . Provided with kitchen, a couple of modest  bed rooms, Indian cooks would prepare them their favorite food  according to their taste and fancy -  courses of chicken, mutton and fish were available to the guests.. Across India certain non-vegetarian  preparations that are quite popular  today  and  are on the  menu of famous eateries  owe their origin to such Dak Houses of the colonial period. The talented cooks   were busy preparing nice food for the English sahibs and sahiba. The most familiar one being fiery Railway mutton curry of Dak mutton Bungalow. The Dak Bungalow Curry was another famous dish during Colonial times. It was prepared with either meat or chicken and served with rice and vegetables or bread to the British Officers when they stayed at the  Dak Bungalows. The taste was based on ingredients, location and the recipe being followed by the respective cooks. Functioning under  Company Rule  and later under the Raj, they offered free accommodation for government officials who had to bring their own bedding for night stay and servants to take care of  their personal cooking needs etc. khansamah could provide dining for those without their own cook. When the railroad arrived  in India in the  early 20th century across India,  high ranking British officials would arrive in a special bogie with his retinue  and  get off at the nearest station and from  they would go to the Dak House  for  a night's stay or two along with his servants including cooks and servants. In the earlier days, their only  means of long distance travel were either horse- drawn carriages or palanquins.  In the case of  junior official, they had to  travel in the first class bogey and engage a cart (bullock cart, etc) at the station where they got off  to reach the Dak Bungalow. The Dak  house cooks  would make arrangement for preparing and serving food to them, of course free of cost,  Dak Houses did not have any running water  and attached toilet facility and  the guests had to walk several  yards from the main building to reach the toilet on the premises. As for water for cooking, etc  the guests had to draw it from  the well on the premises. During the rainy seasons, sometimes, the officials had to stay there for more than a week. 

 As for the public, travelers from the business community, etc.,  they could use the dak bungalow by getting prior permission from the government official  and they had to pay a nominal fee plus deposit to be reimbursed  upon vacating the premises,  if damages  were  not  made in the rooms provided. to them. However, they had to pay separate fee  for using firewood during winter or if was  a chilly place.  Dak Houses are also known as Govt. Rest Houses and were quite useful  a century ago  connecting   travelling people temporarily.   

Officials at the dak bungalows included the dakwala (postman), the durwan (caretaker), and sometimes a khansamah (attendant).. Normally the chowkidar or care taker would go to the nearby village market and buy provisions for a week or so not paying cash, but on barter system that was common in those days.  In the past,  these places  were temporarily used to hear legal cases by visiting government officials to the local area. Circuit Houses served the same purpose at district headquarters - both as resting place and hearing  legal cases. 

During  the early English company rule when the British wee very busy grabbing the land by way of war or peace treaty with a twist   Dak bungalows or Travelling houses  were  to their advantage and proper use.  They served as the EIC's  outpost  throughout India in the 19th century, besides serving as  staging points for mail runners of the Imperial Mail Service. 

Lt Col JK Stanford, ICS a distinguished officer who served in the ICS in India and Burma from 1919 until 1936 between two stints in the British army reported a funny incident in the dak house. A  Sessions Judge who was hearing cases  on  the ground floor  was  quite annoyed by his  his Burmese wife, who was hosting a gambling party for her friends on the first floor. His attempt to stop the wild part ending his being clobbered by his wife right before other. Quite disturbed, he left the government sevics to save his honor.   

When the 1857 great rebellion by the Indian soldiers  were on for more than a year against the corrupt and mean East India company officials in the northern states, along  with them the natives were on rampage. During the tumultuous period  such  net work of Dak houses  became hideout for the frightened  and  escaping British civilians  and their families. Soon after the suppression of the rebellion, even a thatch was prohibited for use in official buildings. Some tragedies did occur at such Dak Houses.  The surviving dak bungalows must be restored back to their old glory. Such places once witnessed  all kinds of phases in a man's life. They were silent witness to the  to much of early Indian history, memsaibs and sahibas, their servants, etc, their  romances,  quarrels, bouts of violence leading to mayhem  murders, suicides and other tragedies. These travel bungalows are frequently clubbed with ghost stories by the locals and orchestrated by the scoop-hungry media. Such scars need to be erased by the government and convert them into tourist spots. 

As necessity did nor arise in the later period  such Dak Houses lost its importance and fell  into disrepair. Later. they  were  replaced by circuit houses, and to day, not many of them are maintained by the government.   Many of them are in ruins or razed to the ground  and the surviving ones  are being used by the govt. for mainly resting purposes; some  are  put to use as   lodges at the Sipahijola and Radhanagari wildlife sanctuaries.

Dak bungalow near Bhubaneswar Odisha. newindianexpress.com

Dak Bungalow Chhaka close to Bhubaneswar , capital city of Odisha  set in the old town  area called   Ekamra Khetra,  once served as a shelter for the travelling British masters from  Cuttack  to Puri, a  popular  temple temple town on the coastal area.  Unlike many Dak Bungalows that are built in the hill places, this one  is near a town in an isolated. area. Such isolated places have  now become semi urban areas or on the fringes of the cities. This  particular Dak House had no running water connection and electricity. The officers or any higher-ups had to depend on hand fans and a water well near by; the toilet  was within the confines of Dak house. This dak house was used both by higher and junior British officials.  
https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2018/sep/21/once-upon-a-timethere-was-a-dak-bungalow-1875204.html

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/dak-bungalows-and-ghosts-who-stay-there-117934

https://www.livehistoryindia.com/snapshort-histories/2018/12/12/dak-banglas-their-dark-tales

https://discoveringindia.net/dak-bungalows/

1 comments so far

Thanks for this useful blog, I found it informative and hope for more blogs in future from you like this.
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