KARNATAKA RAILWAY HERITAGE CENTRE; NANDI HILLS
Disregarding that imperial rule in India aided the destruction of a rich tradition in indigenous technology and scientific knowledge, it helped us to also gain access to new and emerging technologies, particularly in the transportation sector. For instance, we are proud that we have one of the oldest and most extensive railway networks in the world and that India was once the largest market for Rolls Royce cars. But this rich and relatively recent technological heritage is often overlooked by historians, architects, collectors and purveyors of art. Unfortunately, a large portion of our priceless heritage in railway locomotion and running stock, civil construction, automobiles and aircraft has been scrapped, or spirited away overseas. What remains is largely in the hands of private collectors or is fading away in dusty museums. Since 1853, the great Indian Railway has transcended not just a visible geographical boundary but also dissolved invisible layers of castes, communities, languages, and religions while connecting the length and breadth of the vast Indian sub-continent. There is an urgent need for the preservation of what remains. It is an important part of our shared history as a nation and collective memories as a culture or region.
Karnataka’s Railway Heritage
What is today Karnataka State was fragmented as parts of a diverse polity comprising of Princely States and directly administered provinces of British India. Thus, while much of the south of Karnataka was part of the Mysore State and north eastern Karnataka belonged to the Hyderabad State, Dakshina Kannada, Bellary and parts of Chamarajnagar were part of Madras Presidency, and Belgaum Division (comprising of the districts of Uttara Kannada, Belgaum, Dharwar, Haveri, Gadag, Bijapur and Bagalkot) belonged to the Bombay Presidency. This led to Karnataka’s railway network comprising of a unique and diverse range of operating systems and companies. Mysore State was served by the Mysore State Railway and the Hyderabad State by the Nizam’s Guaranteed State Railway (both incorporated in 1879). The Madras Railway Company built the line from Madras to Bangalore, the Southern Mahratta Railway (incorporated in 1882) operated lines in the Bombay Presidency areas and the north eastern tip of Karnataka was touched by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway. The West of India Portuguese Railway also touched the Belgaum district. Each one of these railway systems, since then absorbed into the Indian Railways, has left behind a rich legacy in terms of railway engineering. Some of the picturesque railway stations remain, but the pretty steam locomotives and rolling stock are long since gone, save for a few precious specimens that lie still in a few museums.
Nandi is located an hour from Bangalore’s periphery in a region that was once governed by many major South Indian dynasties and is therefore a hotbed of historical and heritage spaces. It is where one finds ancient temples, tanks, a rich mythological and historical heritage, a thriving natural heritage and the home of Karnataka’s beloved icon, Sir M. Visveshwaraiah. The area has also one of the last of the old Mysore State Railway’s railway stations, built in the pretty gabled style that was the signature of the civil constructions of that Railway.
There is no museum that tells the story of Karnataka’s railway heritage in a holistic way. It is proposed that a Karnataka Railway Heritage Centre will be built in the environs of the Nandi Railway station, which will form an integral part of the Centre. The Centre, which is much more than a museum, intends to focus on and preserve the rich history of Karnataka’s railway heritage. Its gallery spaces, live exhibits, outreach activities, awareness building and conservation programmes involving visitors, school children and local populations will highlight not only our rail history, but also draw attention to the local culture, recognise the contribution it has made to the history of Karnataka and build a sense of pride amongst visitors. The museum space is also intended to provide space for like-minded people interested in heritage, model making, craftsmanship to meet and interact with each other.
I.PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE – MUSEUM GALLERIES
The Centre proposes to focus on paying tribute to the great unifying force of the railways, which has been an intrinsic part of our lives for over a century.
1. The Outdoor Galleries
- The Nandibetta Light Railway- A 1:16 Garden Railway
The first outdoor display is a garden railway that is a 1:16 size replica of a real railway system that operated in Karnataka. At the outset, the ‘Nandibetta Light Railway will showcase and run miniature replicas of the Mysore State Railways now extinct Narrow Gauge system that ran from Yelahanka to Bangarpet and which touched the Nandi Station as well. Extensions of the Nandibetta Light Railway will feature working models of the meter gauge systems in Karnataka, which were once extensive, but which are now extinct.
ES-507 at Yelahanka Station on the narrow gauge line leading to Nandibetta. One of the locomotives that will be modelled in 1:16 scale for running on the Nandibetta Light Railway
- 1:4 Running Railway
The 1:4 Running Railway is a passenger carrying, live steam miniature railway that can give visitors the experience of live steam, which has now completely been given up in commercial operations in India. The system will be one fourth the size of a full scale railway system.
- Live Rolling Stock
It is hoped that in due course, the museum will be able to acquire full size locomotives and rolling stock that operated in Karnataka for display and a first hand experience by visitors, particularly children.
2. The Indoor Galleries
- Large stationary models:
The diverse railway systems that operated in the areas that became today’s Karnataka states operated a large variety of Steam and diesel locomotives. Stationary models in 1:16 scale are being planned and built by the Museum of Movement, one of the collaborators in the project. The Museum of Movement makes models in four media; metal, wood, acrylic and in paper. These will include models of locomotives pertaining to Karnataka that are preserved in various location in India, including Railway museums and those plinthed for public display. They will also include models of locomotives that no longer exist; which will be built on the basis of original engineering drawings secured from archives and enthusiasts across the world. Models are being built of iconic railway saloons and rolling stock too, including the Saloons used by the Maharajah of Mysore.
Some of the locomotives and rolling stock pertaining to Karnataka’s Railway system that will be modelled for stationary display in the indoor gallery
A YB Meter Gauge locomotive when delivered new to the Mysore State Railway (1930s) (Pic from Museum of Movement Collection)
Southern Railway Meter Gauge YP at Birur Station
A picture of the attendant’s saloon of the Mysore Maharajah’s royal train when it was first delivered.
3. Thematic displays
Thematic displays include detailed dioramas in which railway scenes are modelled, as they might have been years back. Thematic displays will cover well known railway heritage in India, including the World Heritage hill railways.
Through these displays, the story of the growth of the railways in India will be told. A great deal of painstaking research, documentation and reference to rare, historical records and photographs has already been completed for this purpose.
4. Gallery of Vanishing Cityscapes
Closely related to transportation is the physical environment within which it exists, innovates and re-invents itself. This gallery will preserve through photographs and miniature models early /original cityscapes in Karnataka before they were altered by subsequent development. This will prompt visitors to examine, reflect upon and discuss the relationship between transportation and the aesthetic-functional role of its built environment (design, place and people) in a constantly changing urban scenario.
Each gallery will be an interactive, curatorial space containing :
– Actual prototypes
– Miniature models in display cases
– A vertical visual wall – for photographs, multi-media-film/videoscreenings and installations.
– Audio equipment that will playback oral interviews and sound/audioscapes contextual to each gallery.
– Space for live, contextual curatorial events such as film screenings, photography exhibitions, audioscapes and oral interviews:
– PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE – WORK SPACES
5. LIBRARY & ARCHIVES
This space will support knowledge transfers and create documentation-archiving projects for research material (text, video and audio) in both digital and hard copy formats. The archived material will be open source and available to the public. Academics and institutions can also use the scholar-in-residence programme to initiate and complete research work that is within the museum’s areas of interest.
6. AUDITORIUM AND CONFERENCE ROOM
Built for the dissemination of knowledge through larger events - corporate off sites, school field-trips, film screenings, talks by domain experts, seminars and performances.
This space will be reserved for volunteer based conservation- restoration projects undertaken by the Centre. Visitors will also be allowed to watch the work-in-progress where applicable.
PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE- PUBLIC UTILITY SPACES
8. DINING AREA
This will have three themes to choose from- coach dining car, platform cafe and a formal railway refreshment room and will serve typical ‘railway’ food of Karnataka.
9. MUSEUM SHOP
This outlet will retail railway, maritime, automotive and maritime memorabilia and collectibles, local craft and merchandise (accessories, mugs, bags, mini-models, stationery, T-shirts, postcards, calendars, diaries and journals etc.)
10. RAILWAY STATION BUILDING
The historical old building of the Nandi Railway Station will be restored and used as the primary entry point to the centre. Visitors can take a train from Bangalore to the centre or visit by car. The restoration will ensure that local passengers who use the station for daily trips will not be inconvenienced; in fact the station building will be a living museum that is still providing the service for which it was built in the first place. Gallery construction will be done by architects that do not disturb the beauty of the current Station Building. It will also provide space for the museum office, public toilets, the ticket booth and the museum shop. Upon walking in, visitors will be treated to a multi-media, multi-layered sensorial experience that will include welcome announcements in the traditional train timing announcement style, audioscapes of railway memories, soundscapes from the platform including train whistles, hawkers and steam engines, life stories of railway staff and museum staff dressed in vintage railway uniforms.
The Nandi Station in 1942, in its heydays
11. OFFICE SPACE – in the Railway Station building
12. PUBLIC TOILETS-in the Railway Station building
13. TICKET BOOTH – Entry point in the Railway Station building
14. CAR PARK –Entry and exit point
II. PROGRAMMES FOR PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT-people, myth, architecture, culture.
- Village walks and visits to local homes for local meals/beverages (tea, buttermilk, lunch) or to see traditional occupations.
- Historical walks/day trips in museum vehicles–
- Nature and adventure walks – mapping and trekking up the hills, lake, fields etc.
- Farm your food programme – work on the site and volunteer with local farming and tree planting activities.
III. KNOWLEDGE TRANSFERS
- Scholars in residence – working on funded/personal projects
- Residential workshops by visiting experts through week days
- Partnerships with science, technology and history museums around the world.
- Exchange programmes with similar organisations around the world.
- Restoration and conservation projects
Physical infrastructure will be approached in phases:
Phase 1: Restoration of the Nandi Railway Station to its former glory.
Phase 2: A building in harmony with the Nandi Railway Station, built at a sufficient distance from the station so as to not mar its beauty, which will house display galleries, Ticket booth, Garden railway, Restaurant, live exhibits, retail outlet. A workshop for larger scale restoration work may be incorporated into this building, so that restoration and model making activities can commence
Phase 3: Garden Railway
Phase 4: Auditorium/Conference Room , Library & Archive
Operational infrastructure will be approached in phases :
1. Operational planning –operations and administration, land allocation, compliances, building.
2. Curatorial project and programme definitions- space and activity detailing
3. Revenue generation and funding activities – potential partnerships and detailing
4. Knowledge transfers - potential partnerships These phases will run concurrently, and certain activities may be put onto the fast track, if the environment is conducive and opportunities arise.
Design of the Museum Artefacts and Curation will be undertaken by the Museum of Movement.
The Museum of Movement is the brainchild of T. R. Raghunandan, railway enthusiast, model maker and restorer of historical artefacts. A former IAS officer of the Karnataka Cadre, Raghunandan’s activities in the direction of Railway Heritage preservation and protection include:
· Advisor to the National Rail Museum Delhi in improving displays in the museum (2008).