Hey guys, I’m back with another travel story
Last October-end, I had gone on a week-long trip to the neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Bihar in East-Central India. I visited Ranchi and Jamshedpur in Jharkhand and Bodh Gaya in Bihar.
You might want to read a bit about Jharkhand before you start with this post. Check it out: Ranchi – Jharkhand’s City of Waterfalls
If you have missed my post on Bihar, you can read it here: My Bodh Gaya Experience
And now, let me introduce you to India’s first industrial city and also one of its best planned cities… Jamshedpur
Jamshedpur was founded in the first decade of the twentieth century by the ‘father of Indian Industry’ Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata, the Indian pioneer industrialist who founded the Tata Group, India’s biggest conglomerate company. And yes, the same Parsi gentleman who built the Hotel Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai after he was refused entry to one of the city’s grand hotels of the time, Watson’s Hotel, which had a strict whites-only policy.
It all began in 1900 when Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata roped in American geologist Charles Perin to build India’s first steel plant. After three years of meticulous search, surveyors settled upon Sakchi village located at the confluence of the Subarnarekha and Kharkai rivers. Along with easy access to water and scenic beauty, this area abounded in natural minerals like iron ore, coal, manganese, bauxite and lime. In 1907, TISCO (Tata Iron and Steel Company) was born. The township came up a year later. To build the city, people were required. They poured in from across the country and outside. From faraway states of Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat… and from neighbouring countries. From English and German engineers to American pastors. All were welcomed with open arms. The new township soon acquired a vibrant cosmopolitan nature and became a hot pot of many cultures. The Tatanagar Railway Station built in 1910 on the Howrah-Mumbai route, soon became the city’s lifeline.
The city contributed steel rails to the World War I. In 1919, the then Viceroy of British India, Lord Chelmsford, named the steel city Jamshedpur in honour of its founder. Again during World War II, the city contributed to the war effort. One of the city’s famous landmarks, the Boulevard Hotel, was set up in 1940 to lodge Allied troops. The city also faced the catastrophic Partition of India in 1947, one of the greatest forced migrations in human history. Uprooted from their native land which fell into Pakistani hands, displaced Punjabis made the city their new home.
Jamshedpur became a magnet for dreamers and achievers. The city sheltered runaways who later went on become rags-to-riches success stories. Many were related to food. This is how Jamshedpur has acquired an amazing cultural diversity. Besides fancy restaurants, the city has good street food. There are food icons which have served generations of locals and yet their popularity has not diminished. These include Fakira’s chanachur, Bhatia’s milk shakes, Bauwaji’s chai, Tambi’s dosas, Hari’s golgappas, Lakhi’s egg rolls, Ramesh’s kulfi and Kewat’s litti. Steel city, green city, clean city and the young generation’s “jampot”…that’s Jamshedpur.
Jamshedpur is also the city where my parents first met somewhere in 1962. My dad was employed in TELCO – Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company (now Tata Motors), and my mom used to teach doll-making to Adivasi women in Ranchi. They lived in Jamshedpur for almost a year after marriage before returning to their home city, Mumbai. That was in 1962-63.
Now, here’s my travel story
Sunday, 1 November 2015
Jamshedpur is 129 km from Ranchi. The two-and-a-half hours’ bus journey passes through hills and picturesque countryside. I reach Jamshedpur at around 1pm. The city’s two major centres of shopping and entertainment are Bistupur and Sakchi. I’m going to stay at Hotel Boulevard which is located in Bistupur, the heart of the city, four kilometres from the railway station, airport and bus stand. On the auto-rickshaw ride to my hotel, the driver describes each and every area that we pass by. That’s great. I’m loving the city already…so much greenery! In fact, it is one of the cleanest and most scenic in the country. One of the most prominent clubs which my parents used to frequent often, is located along the way. The city has a lively club culture, a legacy left behind by the British.
Half an hour later, I’m at the city’s famous Boulevard Hotel. Its location is excellent. The desk clerk tells me that they don’t offer discount but agrees to 15% for me. The hotel has three conference rooms and a piano room. Interestingly, the hotel also conducts piano lessons for learners. And they have a bakery too! The smell of freshly-baked goods fills the air. The AC deluxe rooms on the upper floors are okay but the non-AC deluxe rooms on the ground floor are spacious and old-style with high ceilings. And I love high ceilings! So I take a non-AC deluxe room.
The hotel has an interesting history. During World War II, the steel city, being an important target for the Japanese, would receive warning signals from Calcutta (now Kolkata) of impending Japanese air raids. Bartholomew D’Costa who had come to this city from Goa in 1919, bagged the contract to create smokescreens above the city by burning tar in huge pits. His son, John, set up the Boulevard Hotel to lodge Allied troops. Today John D’Costas’s son, Ronald, runs the place. Surviving chairs, and bricks marked DC from his grandfather’s kiln can be seen in the hotel. As also, more than a hundred interesting photographs (or maybe more!) from the 1940s (and prior to it!) adorning the hotel’s walls. Among other interesting scenes, there are some of American and British soldiers having a rollicking time boozing at the restaurant-cum-bar. I love going through old photographs so this is like a trip to a museum. Very enjoyable. At my bedside, there’s a photograph of an Indian gentleman with his English wife.
It’s 2:30pm, time for lunch. The place is bustling with people. The conference rooms are occupied. Somewhere else a lively party is going on. I head for the restaurant, Chopsticks which still serves Goan and Anglo-Indian cuisine, and signature dishes like roast pork. But I choose hilsa fish in mustard oil Bengali style with steamed rice.
For dessert, I visit the hotel’s bakery downstairs. It has a wide variety of goodies including pastries, breads, rolls, etc. I buy a packet of oat biscuits and a fresh fruit pastry.
Dusk falls at 5:30pm in winter, so I immediately start for the city’s main attraction – Jubilee Park. It’s a 5-minute auto-rickshaw ride to the park.
Modelled on Mysore’s Brindaban Gardens and conceptualized by the German botanist, Gustav Hermann Krumbieger, who landscaped Bengaluru (Bangalore), the park was gifted to the citizens of Jamshedpur by Tata Steel in 1957 to commemorate its Golden Jubilee. The lush green park is spread over an area of 238 acres. The horticulture garden is noted for its singular hybrids…
Watch my video: Jubilee Park – I
Watch my video: Jubilee Park – II
Today being Sunday, the city residents are enjoying a time out with their families. I spend some time wandering around in the verdant green. I had read that the fountains at the centre of the park are illuminated in the evening every Tuesday and Saturday. (Actually, it’s every Tuesday and weekends. So, I missed the laser show with musical fountains!)
Next to Jubilee Park, the Tata Steel Zoological Park is the natural habitat of a variety of flora and fauna.
It has an attractive lake, a boat house and restaurant. The lake offers boating and water sport facilities.
Watch my video: Jubilee Park Lake – I
Watch my video: Jubilee Park Lake – II
Watch my video: Entrance to Jubilee Park
Adjacent to the park entrance is the Russi Mody Centre for Excellence. It houses a museum on the history of the steel city. But it’s closed right now.
I return to my hotel on foot. It’s a beautiful walk in the clean and green city.
While planning the blueprint of the city, Jamsetji proved to be a true visionary, asking its developers to lay wide streets planted with shady trees; maintain plenty of space for lawns and gardens; reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks; and earmark areas for temples, mosques and churches.
Jamsetji’s bust adorns many of the city’s public parks. Here’s one in Bistupur…
The water fountains are on in the mornings and evenings. It’s a refreshing sight.
Not only did TISCO (now Tata Steel) build homes and schools for its workers, but it also took care of the city’s infrastructure, from road-building to water treatment. The company has 50,000 employees or more in Jamshedpur, but it provides a wide range of services and amenities to the entire city population i.e. around 1,500,000 people. That’s Tata’s style of business – mixing corporate goals with social service.
In 2004, India’s only comprehensive urban infrastructure service provider, Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company (Jusco), was carved out of Tata Steel from its Town Services Division, to convert an obligatory service into a customer-focused sustainable corporate entity.
Clean and tree-lined streets in Bistupur…
Colourful artwork livens up the roundabouts and street corners…
Watch my video: In Bistupur
Entrance gate of Tata Steel…
It’s just 5:15pm by the time I reach the hotel so I continue my walk down the Bistupur Main Road. It’s lined with shops and restaurants. A nice-looking sari in a shop window prompts me to enter the place. And I end up buying three Kolkata cotton saris for Mom!
On my way back, I stop at the hotel’s Brubeck Bakery. The place is overflowing with young crowd. I choose a corn and mushroom pizza, an ice cream soda and a chocolate éclair. That’s my dinner.
Monday, 2 November 2015
After a light breakfast in my room, I start for Dimna Lake, 15 km away. Since the lake is away from the city, the chances of getting an autorickshaw on return are very low, so I hire one. It costs 300 rupees with an hours’ waiting.
Set in a beautiful environs among the Dalma Hills, the lake is a large artificial reservoir made in the 1940s. It’s a scenic 30-minute journey surrounded by lush green hills. At 10:40am, the weather is bright and sunny.
Climbing up a long flight of steps, I reach the serene lake which is one of the main sources of the city’s drinking water.
Watch my video: Dimna Lake – I
Watch my video: Dimna Lake – II
Watch my video: Dimna Lake – III
Watch my video: Dimna Lake – IV
The lake gets replenished by several seasonal streams and heavy rains that lash the city during the monsoons.
I follow the walkway leading to the Tata Steel Guest House. There are quite a number of young couples hanging around, enjoying the peaceful surroundings. The lake has facilities for water sports but it’s only for members.
An hour passes by quickly and it’s noon. In the parking area, there are a few food vending carts selling ice cream, cold drinks, bhel, etc. I hop into the autorickshaw, but after slurping on two ice candies.
With its vibrant sporting culture, Jamshedpur is reputed to be the sports capital of Jharkhand. Its golf courses are open to all residents. After a brief rest in my room, I start for the Keenan Stadium, a multi-purpose stadium and an International Cricket Stadium built in 1939. Used mostly for cricket and football matches, it is also a venue for archery.
Watch my video: Cricket in Jamshedpur
Watch my video: At Keenam Stadium
Nearby is the immaculately maintained Sir Dorabji Tata Park which hosts the city’s annual flower show each December…
Also adjacent to the Keenam stadium is the JRD Tata Sports Complex…
It houses numerous sports facilities including archery, athletics, basketball, football, handball, hockey, swimming, table tennis, tennis, volleyball, etc.…
Watch my video: JRD Tata Sports Complex – I
A few excited girls (volleyball players, they chorus) request me to take their picture. Here it is…
Watch my video: JRD Tata Sports Complex – II
The international standard football ground and an eight-lane mono-synthetic track…
And the Tata Steel factory in the background…
Watch my video: JRD Tata Sports Complex – III
The Tata Football Academy (TFA) was started in 1987 by the Tatas to train and find new talent in football. The city is also known for the Tata Archery Academy.
The archery ground…
I’m interested in trying my hand at archery, but the office is closed for lunch time. Luckily, I bump into one of the archery coaches in the corridor. He tells me that most of the staff have left for a sports function and he’s on his way there too. So my only chance would be during the practice session which is after 4:30pm. That’s sounds fine. Five years ago, I tried my hand at shooting at an Army firing range in Manipur and it turned out to be an amazing experience. Most of my shots hit the bull’s-eye and even the army instructor was impressed by my first-time attempt at shooting. So I’m excited about archery. Will I be good at it too? Hmmm…
Next, I take an auto to Domohani (or River’s Meet) in the north-western corner of the city where the two swift-flowing rivers, the Subarnarekha and the Kharkai converge. The auto driver asks for 70 rupees, but later agrees to 60. Fifteen minutes later, I reach the place.
The meeting of Subarnarekha and the Kharkai rivers…
Watch my video: At Domuhani Sangam
It’s a very hot afternoon and there’s not much to see around. Thankfully, the rickshaw hasn’t left. Because there are fewer vehicles on the road. My tourist guidebook tells me that the Tribal Culture Centre, which preserves the rich heritage of the Santhal, Ho, Oraon, and Munda tribes of the region, is about 3km north in Sonari. So it must be nearby. The driver is not aware of. Perhaps the villagers would know…but there’s hardly anyone on the road. I return to Bistupur.
Near the beginning of the main road, just opposite my hotel, stands a prominent-looking old building with Café Regal on its second floor. I drop in for a look. Khursheed Bharucha, Tata Steel’s first Indian chief cashier, built the Bharucha Mansion in 1935 using surplus steel girders from the Howrah Bridge. He started the city’s oldest theatre, Regal Talkies. It shut down in the late eighties. His great grandson Varun Gazder got the second floor dining room renovated, brought in lights, fans and seats salvaged from the cinema hall, and started Café Regal. Two trophies gifted to the theatre for 100 days of running “Bobby” and “Aradhana” find a place in the tastefully-done interiors.
It’s a nice and cozy place…
From the feedback on the bulletin board, I can see that it attracts plenty of foreign visitors too…
The menu is limited. On Sundays, the café serves authentic Parsi cuisine from family recipes. I opt for jasmine tea.
The view from the balcony is great. Here’s a glimpse of the main road…
Watch my video: View from Café Regal in Bistupur-I
The unpainted part of the building to the left is the former Regal Talkies…
Watch my video: View from Café Regal in Bistupur-II
In the evening, I start for the sports complex. It’s almost 4:45pm so I decide to take an auto-rickshaw. The one waiting outside the hotel costs 100 rupees. That’s ridiculous! The normal fare would probably be 20-30 rupees. Earlier, I had walked down ten minutes till JUSCO office junction to take a shared auto and it cost me just 5 rupees. I decide to do the same again.
At the sports complex, the place is bustling with kids. it’s nice to see them playing sports…
I wait for the coach at the archery ground…
Watch my video: Archery at JRD Tata Sports Complex
Watch my video: Evening at JRD Tata Sports Complex
Forty-five minutes pass by, but there’s no sign of him. By the time he arrives, it’s gotten dark and I’m not sure about faring well after dusk…
Yours truly with a bow and arrow…
He offers me the bow while one of his students places the arrow in the slot. The left hand holds the bow while right three fingers pull the string back and release the arrow. I look into the small circle to focus on the yellow – the bulls’ eye. My first shot hits the sky-blue area, the second – red, and the third – yellow. I’m disappointed. I had expected all three to hit yellow. The coach tells me that I have done well but I’m not happy. So I’m a sharpshooter but not an ace archer? Noooo….that’s not right! In daylight I would have hit bull’s-eye…most probably! There’s a long queue of kids waiting for their turn to practice, so I leave the place. To think that I spent an hour just for an archery practice of less than five minutes! Still, it was a memorable experience.
I decide to return on foot. But the dim street lights and the glare from the headlights of oncoming vehicles make it difficult for me to cross the street. So I take an auto-rickshaw.
It’s time to try some street food… Fakira Chanachur is one of the popular eating places in the city. It’s a small place famous for its chanachur ((spiced, roasted lentils and peanuts). I buy a packet of their specialty and like everybody else around… a 10-rupee jhaal (that’s what they call it) served in a paper pack. It’s yummy with onion, chilli, fresh coriander and lime tossed in.
Fakira Chanachur was founded around 60 years ago by Fakir Chand Gupta who came from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh to work at Tata Steel. The job didn’t appeal to him and he started selling chanachur from a food cart near Regal Maidan. After his death, his two sons expanded the business by adding a variety of spiced items. Now his four grandsons handle the bustling business at its many branches in the city.
After the spicy treat, I stop at Brubeck Bakery for an ice cream soda. As usual, it’s crowded with youngsters. A little later, I have a chicken grilled sandwich in my room and then it’s time to hit the sack.
Tuesday, 3 November 2015
It’s 9am. I’m at the hotel desk waiting for my check-out when a gentleman walks in to greet me warmly with a “I have been waiting to meet you, Madam” Oooh… that feels nice! He’s the hotel owner, Ronald D’Costa. It feels nice to hear him express his admiration for my travelling alone in Jharkhand. It turns out that he had answered the phone that I had made a couple of times to Reception. Perhaps the hotel and bakery chef in-charge with whom I had spoken before must have talked about me too. So now the nice and friendly Mr D’Costa asks me if I have visited the Russi Modi Centre of Excellence. I tell him that it was closed yesterday and he surprises me again with a “They would have opened it for you.” Well, he’s the owner of the city’s landmark hotel, so he’s obviously well-known too. A word from him and the doors would have opened. He asks me if I have the time to visit it now. I have to catch the bus to Ranchi. My Indigo flight leaves at 4:45pm. I may have an hour to spare but I don’t think it would be a good idea to visit the museum. Because I would lose track of time. I don’t want to miss my flight. Besides, I have enjoyed the beautiful old photos of the city gracing the walls of the hotel.
On the way to the bus stand, the auto-rickshaw passes the museum. One of the best things about staying in Bistupur is that wherever you have to go: Dimna Lake, Bus Stand, Sakchi, etc. the road passes through the sprawling Jubilee Park. There are no towering buildings here, just lovely bungalows and plenty of greenery. Unlike Ranchi and many other places in Jharkhand, there are no power cuts in Jamshedpur. Due to lack of time, I didn’t get to explore other parts of the city including TELCO, the second major factory in the city. Maybe next time…
Even around the city there are many places of tourist interests. If I had the time, I could have visited Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary. And the Amadubi ‘The Art Village’, 65 km south of the city. It’s the first rural tourism project of the state, offering visitors a glimpse into the life and culture of the indigenous tribes from close quarters. Then, there are picturesque places like Ghatshila, Chaibasa and Saranda, the largest sal forest in Asia. So Jamshedpur is quite an enchanting place besides being India’s most successful industrial city.
Hope you enjoyed reading this post Have a lovely weekend