Saturday, June 19, 2021

The wheel comes full circle…

Put the clock back by a century and you will find a leisurely and laid back lifestyle in Hyderabad. The now crowded roads had a deserted look about them. People mostly trekked on foot while the well-off travelled in transport which is out of fashion now.

No, there were no taxis to be flagged down. For the ordinary mortals bullock carts and cycles were the much sought after means of transport. Those who could afford chose to move in hand-pulled rickshaws and ‘Shikram’ (horse drawn carriage). The well-heeled had their own horses or elephants to ride. For the modest ladies who observed ‘purdah’ (veil) closed door palanquins were the obvious choice.

Gone are the days when traffic used to crawl at a snail’s pace. Now the city boasts of a transport which is as fast it could get. From palanquins to elevated rail, the wheel has come full circle in the nawabi shahr. The Hyderabad Metro Rail, which is all set to roll out two days from now, promises to transport people faster, safer and in real time. At every 90 seconds, a train will stream in to take you to your destination in a hassle-free manner.

One of the most vibrant cities, Hyderabad is faced with urbanisation blues – traffic congestion, public safety and health hazards. Dynamic changes in lifestyles make these challenges even more daunting. The Transit Oriented Development by the HMRL seeks to provide a one-stop-solution to all these issues. Besides providing a world class transport, the Metro stations will be the hub of activity where commuters can shop for their day to day requirements. The idea is to reduce avoidable motor trips so that one gets more time to spend with family.

The HMRL is creating a total of 6 lakh sft of retail space at 66 Metro stations. This apart 14 malls are proposed along the Metro corridor. For the business community it is a windfall with the number of footfalls going to increase.

Comparisons are odious. But a hark back to the past is necessary to trace the history of transportation in the city. The nobles and royalty of course had much better means of transport. The Salar Jungs, who were Prime Ministers of Hyderabad, had richly decorated Sedon chairs with inscribed monograms. One could see pictures of the closed door palanquins and Sedon chairs of Nawab Munirul Mulk and Mukhtarul Mulk in Salar Jung Museum.

Bullock carts and cars riding side by side on a dirt road in the 1930s.

The 6th Nizam, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, used to travel in an elaborate carriage drawn by four horses. Sir Viqar ul Umra, who constructed the picturesque Falaknuma Palace, also rode in Baggi Chaukrad (four horse carriage) while some nobles used different types of conveyance. Elegant and graceful in appearance, these symbols of royalty smacked of power and pelf.

They may be passé, but the renovated buggies still draw sighs of ecstasy at Chowmahalla Palace. In sparkling hues of white and yellow, the buggies which once carried the Nizam and his consorts are now available for lesser mortals to ride at Chowmahalla Palace. The royal buggies meant for ladies were simply cute. They were mostly 12-seater carriages with sliding window panes and vents for air circulation.

The ‘Shikar’ buggy was simply great. It had three doors and was accessed by a ladder. The Nizam used it for hunting. It had an emergency exit at the rear and a secret chamber inside. This was intended for a quick exit in case of an animal attack.

Not just carriages, Hyderabad also had its share of elegant cars. The 6th Nizam had a passion for the best of the cars. The first ever Rolls Royce (1912) in India belonged to him. The royal automobiles also include 1904 Napiers, Wolseley, Fiat, Packard, Ford, Buick, Harley Davidson motor bike. What is unique about these cars is that they were made to order for the then wealthiest man in the world.

The Nizam, who presided over the largest princely State in India, had his own railway system connecting Hyderabad with the rest of British India in 1874. His Highness the Nizam’s Guaranteed State Railway (NGSR) managed the railway services. In 1951 the NGSR was nationalised and merged into Indian Railways.

To supplement the railway services in Hyderabad city and suburbs, the Nizam State Railways introduced bus services in 1932. The initial fleet comprised of just 27 buses over 280 route miles. Hyderabad’s brush with aviation occurred in 1911 when Baron De Cater, a Belgian pilot, landed the first plane on Parade Ground. It was more a demonstration flight. But it was not until 1932 that some flying activity started when the Deccan Aero Club was established by Babar Mirza and P.M. Reddy.

Transport in Hyderabad got a flying start when the first air show was hosted in 1937 by the Hyderabad State Aero Club. It was just a static air show but it caught the imagination of Hyderabadis, including the 7th Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan. His daughter-in-law, Princess Durr-e-Shehwar, laid the foundation for the Begumpet terminal building the same year. “The functioning of the railways, roadways and airways under a single department was unique in the world”, says noted historian, M.A. Nayeem.

A rickshaw puller in the old city which are often used for carrying goods and materials by shopkeepers.

Hyderabad is changing and changing fast. Chaos could be another name for it. The burgeoning traffic tells on the nerves. The crisscrossing flyovers across the city are already bursting at the seams. The old city appears an oasis in the concrete jungle, but for how long? Of late, the purana shahr too is trying to shed its laid back attitude. Times are sure a-changing.

From palanquins to Multi Modal Transport System (MMTS), transportation has seen a sea change in Hyderabad. Now comes the Metro to address the chaotic traffic problem. It promises to transform Hyderabad into one of the most preferred global cities, a cherished dream of Chief Minister, K. Chandrashekar Rao.

The project works, which commenced in 2012, progressed in fits and starts thanks to the innumerable challenges – mostly non-engineering. One can’t help being envious of NVS Reddy, managing director, HMRL, who took the bull by the horns. “People called me mad and wondered how could the Metro train be taken through the congested roads of Hyderabad. With patience and perseverance we have overcome all the problems”, says a beaming Reddy.

He credits KCR and the Municipal Administration Minister, K.T. Rama Rao, for extending all the support. The Metro is now taken as an opportunity to redesign and rejuvenate the urban space. By using just 8 ft of central median, HMRL has built two tracks (up and down lines) to transport 60,000 passengers per hour in each direction. Put in other words, it means each track is equivalent to 7 bus lanes and 24 car lanes in terms of capacity. There is a station at an average distance of 1 km – 66 in all – spanning 72 km in the three high density traffic corridors.

The greatest advantage is the speed. As against the average vehicular speed of 8 kmph, the Metro rail is capable of a maximum speed of 80 kmph. But it will plying at an average speed of 34 kmph, adhering to the international standard.

Cars are the Johnny-come-latelies of cities which are primarily meant for people. HMRL plans to restore them to pedestrians, cyclists and others. It is trying to enforce a new normal where road users are respected and protected.

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