Some of my readers would be surprised to note that there was a railway line where Rashtrapati Bhavan stands. The East India Railway connected Calcutta to North India, the Delhi Junction or old Delhi Railway Station had its beginnings thus. There used to be one train everyday. There are pictures of the first Railway, it was quite unlike the trains we see now.
Back then the capital of India was Calcutta. In 1911 during the Durbar, it was announced that the capital would be shifted to Delhi. The Old Secretariat located on Alipur Road was the assembly building (power was shared to a certain extent with Indian politicians). This was when New Delhi or as it is known now, Lutyen’s Delhi was still being planned. The railway line had to be shifted and that is the reason it passes through Red Fort and crosses the Yamuna using the old iron bridge, a gift of the East India Railways.
Before National Museum was constructed, there was a cluster of villages, and there was jungle all around. During the Mughal rule the area beyond the walled city was reported to be largely uninhabited (according to the colonial authors and accounts of the Mughal historians), with wild animals roaming the areas around Delhi Gate (where Mulana Azad Medical College is located). On the far side where the Kashmere Gate metro station is located, was the outer boundary of the Walled City or Shah Jehanabad. The area which is occupied by the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT), was the British Garrison.
The Rashtrapati Bhavan was the Vice Regal Lodge, where the Queen’s representative had his residence. Before the Lodge was constructed Queen’s representative used to reside in the building which is the office of the vice chancellor of Delhi University, it was at the time the vice regal lodge. Lord Mountbatten wooed Edwina in the ballroom in this building. The flagstaff was built to raise the Union Jack when the viceroy was in residence at the Lodge. There are guard houses throughout the road starting from Mall Road to St. Stephen college (at least I remember a number of them as a child, they were located at intervals, going up to Stephens). When the Queen’s representative passed on the way to his Lodge the soldiers would stand out side these tiny guard houses to present arms! A blaze of red uniforms under a blue sky must have been quite a spectacle.
Our first home was the barracks of the regiment to protect the Queen’s representative. There were fire places which were lit every winter, but of course this is what I was told, I was too small to have a memory of those days. When New Delhi was built it took away the glory and glamour from old Delhi.