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Jaypee University of Information Technology

Shimla’s Vanishing Heritage: Elysium Tunnel, Forgotten Legacy

"Belvedere" damaged during new tunnel construction. Photo Credit Amit Kawar Credit Amit Kawar

Shimla, Dec 1, Ritanjali Hastir

Shimla, a city steeped in history and nostalgia, is witnessing a silent erosion of its heritage. The heart of Shimla, once adorned with the majestic Elysium Tunnel, now mourns the loss of its historical tapestry. The tunnel’s, originally name got lost in time and new name Auckland Tunnel, was a symbol of the city’s rich history and architectural legacy. Built in 1905, spanning 120 feet, it stood as a testament to Shimla’s glorious past. The recent transformation reflects not just a change in nomenclature but a profound shift in the city’s identity.

In 2006, during Chief Minister Raja Virbhadra Singh’s tenure, Elysium Tunnel fell victim to development zeal. The tunnel, initially 120 feet in length, was sacrificed and reconstructed at a cost of approximately Rs. 7.30 crore, including a bridge.

Originally slated for completion in 10 months, the project faced multiple delays, extending over five years. It took the intervention of the High Court, spearheaded by Justice Trilok Singh Chauhan, to accelerate the process. Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal eventually inaugurated the tunnel in 2012, emphasising the government’s commitment to bridging geographical and emotional distances.

Image Source: Internet

The new Auckland Tunnel aimed to reduce the distance between Victory Tunnel and Sanjauli by about 800 meters, a feat achieved at the expense of Shimla’s historical fabric. The Chief Minister lauded the historic significance of Shimla, once the ‘Summer Capital of the British’ regime and now a bustling state capital and tourist destination.

On top of the Elysium tunnel once stood “Belvedere,” a wing of Auckland House School, a place that was home to girls — boarding as well as scholars. The place is even mentioned in several books, with different stories written about it.  The development took a toll on it and damaged the heritage structure, and was then replaced with the current Auckland House School for Boys. Once a beacon of tradition, it now stands as a modern concrete structure, devoid of the charm that endeared it to generations.

 

The Tunnel, touted as a solution to congestion, has been marred by constant issues like leakage, potholes and inadequate street lighting since its inauguration. The second Tunnel made above the old one for walkers, is now home to few shops, a haven for drug peddlers especially targetting children; alcoholics; and criminal activities. Belvedere’s echoes linger, seeking recognition in the hearts that once found solace within its walls.

New Auckland House School For Boys

The question lingers—was the investment of Rs. 7.30 crore worth the loss of heritage? RKMV road remains congested, pedestrians bypass the bridges, and the soul of Shimla is being sacrificed in the name of development. The constant issues of leakage, potholes, and lack of street lights since the tunnel’s inauguration add to the skepticism. The charm of old Shimla fades with each development project.

It’s a plea for the ruling parties to tread carefully, recognising that heritage is not just a physical entity; it’s the pride of every resident. Development should enhance, not erase, the essence of Shimla, ensuring a harmonious blend of progress and preservation.

While celebrating the city’s past, it’s crucial to acknowledge the collateral damage to its heritage. The demolition of structures like Belvedere, a heritage building that could have been preserved with sensitive renovation, reflects a disconnect with Shimla’s rich history. As the city transforms, it should be remembered that each brick carries the weight of memories, and every step forward should tread lightly on the hallowed ground of its past.

In the pursuit of progress, Shimla’s soul, embedded in its historical treasures, faced erosion. The government’s initiatives, though aimed at development, inadvertently caused the fading of Shimla’s identity — a sentiment echoing in the hearts of its residents, the true custodians of Shimla’s pride.

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