A bit of Nabha in Shimla

Hira SinghMaharaja Hira Singh of Nabha, Sketched at Khalsa Sikh College, Amritsar, circa 1903

Raja Bhagwan Singh of Nabha had died issueless. The British accepted the claim of Hira Singh and installed him as ruler of the Nabha state in 1871.

He, therefore, turned to be a keen supporter of the British who reciprocated by offering him a seat in the Legislative Assembly and raising his salute from 11 to 13 guns in 1874 and 15 in 1898.

In 1887, he purchased a five-and-a-half acre estate, now called the Nabha estate and Innes Own.

Innes Own was, probably, the property of General Peter Innes who also owned Chapslee and Snowdon. Innes Own (does not exist today) was the first building in the Nabha estate and was known for beautiful glass lamps and globes. Innes Own’s cottage and garden house were added by 1893.

Dry latrines for servants erected on the ground of the Innes Own in 1895 were bone of contention between J. M. Mendies and its other tenants and the Municipal Committee (MC).

After inspection, MC had declared the latrines of good design that would cause no inconvenience and that if latrines were placed too far away from houses then servants would not resort to these but would use the ground near the house.

Demanding tenants’ right of clean surroundings, Mendies replied to MC, “It amounts to putting a premium on wrong doing. If servants violate the law, they should be dealt with according to the law but to expose tenants to annoyance because servants are apt to transgress the laws, would be about as reasonable as to rule, that no person shall be admitted into Annandale because his servants might steal the fruit.”

Notwithstanding the Raja went on constructing buildings including a ‘Royal Hotel’, present Block 1, for the foreign and rich desi visitors, rented it to the Army in 1916. Block 16 is a Gurudwara and as per the provision in the transfer of property rights, the Granthi is a PWD employee today.

The hall in block 18 was used for religious theatricals. It has a school now. The mansion for the ranis was in block 37. Its ceiling, chandelier, looking glasses, fireplace and the woodwork are original and exquisite.

The Raja constructed 41 blocks in all and was often charged with irregularities by MC but his influence in the Punjab government always rescued him.

The consulting engineer T.E.G. Cooper appointed by the Raja wrote in 1905, “I could have converted this into one of the finest estate in any hill station in India, but unfortunately, as soon as His Highness makes a bit of terrace of any sort he wants to cover it up with some kind of a building, good or bad.”

The Raja got so disgusted with repeated remonstrances and notices from the MC that he wrote a letter in 1907 to the political agent of Phulkian states (Nabha was one of these), “The estate has become a perpetual source of trouble. The committee may be pleased to take over the estate or the state may be allowed to put up buildings suitable to state’s needs and comforts.”

Friendly to the Raja, the Punjab government cautioned MC against annoying him, so G.F. Wilson, president MC wrote on 24th September, 1909, “From the tenor of letters from the Punjab government it seems clear that it is their intention to let the Raja alone as regards his past delinquencies and indeed so long he does nothing in the estate to affect the health of persons not residing on his estate, to allow him to practically do what he likes as regards the future.”

rajasSikh luminaries come together: Sitting from left, Maharaja Hira Singh of Nabha, Tikka Ripudaman Singh and Bhai Kahn Singh .

The Raja died in 1911 and his son Ripudaman Singh succeeded him. He had inclination towards the nationalist movement and so lost the blue-eyed position with the British that his father had. The government acquired the Nabha estate in 1937.

After 1947, it shifted hands from Punjab to PEPSU to Punjab again and then to HP in 1966. A master plan for the development of the estate was prepared in 1969 under which 25 new blocks with about 200 dwelling units were constructed.

The old buildings of the Raja’s time are dwindling and burying history and heritage with them. One only wishes that Kairon’s idea of converting it into tourist village could have materialised!

Tailpiece

When Raja Nabha had completed block 34, he announced it was last construction. The loss of employment made the masons, carpenters and labour cry. Hearsay is that the Raja immediately ordered to dismantle the building and reconstruct it.

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