The historic Amrutanjan Bridge with its massive pillars, which you drove under on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway at Bor Ghat has been unceremoniously brought down to ease motoring through the expressway.
As you meandered through the Bor Ghat on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway and took a fleeting glimpse on your left side, of the majestic Duke’s nose and the rail line of the British era tucked at the edges of the hill, you would suddenly come under the stately and massive Amrutanjan Bridge.
It gave you a feel of a historic and heritage glimpse of the British Raj which set the tracks of our mighty Railway Network, the largest in the world today.
The Amrutanjan Bridge was an integral part of the Pune-Mumbai journey even on the old National Highway no.4 (as 6 kms stretch of the Bor Ghat where the Amrutanjan Bridge is located is common to both – this highway and the Expressway). It is easily a heritage monument going by the fact it is nearly 200 years old and gave a unique profile to this hilly terrain.
The bridge got its name thanks to a massive advertisement hoarding of the famous Amrutanjan balm put up in the 1970s. It is a unique experiment in world rail network construction and a great lesson for civil and railway construction engineers of the future.
The suddenness and the timing with which the bridge was blasted and pulled could be considered as a smart move by the authorities. It happened when the Covid-19 pandemic has locked us all and there was no way for public outrage and objections. While the powers-that-be must be smiling from ear-to-ear for eliminating the so-called obstruction, we have once again shown that it hell cares for history and heritage.
As environmentalist Sujit Patwardhan, succinctly put it in a whatsapp post, `how sad. It deserved being preserved as a heritage structure. Surely the need for the road and traffic could have been met without demolishing the structure. But we have no respect for heritage.’’ Adds Mukul Madhav, “this is not just a story of one bridge, there needs a paradigm shift in thought process about `development.’ Hope there will be some change in perspectives from the Corona case study.’’
Technology has proved once again that you don’t have to be a professional journalist to get indepth information on any subject. In the case of the Amrutanjan Bridge disaster, Dr Sudhir Rashingkar’s post is very informative. Taking you back to its birth, Dr Rashingkar states, “Railway came to India in 1853 when the first train between Mumbai (then Bombay) and Thane ran. It was a big sensation then and people used to call it Aginrath (Fire chariot ) because of the big steam engine and fire therein to produce steam in the boiler. Then it started expanding fast in various parts of India.
Pune (then Poona) was a major centre for the British Army, Governor’s summer capital and gateway between Konkan and rest of Maharashtra and other areas of India. Roads were not in good shape and most of the travel was by bullock or horse carts or on the back of horses or Bulls. Hence , the need to have a railway line was felt and planning work started around the same time as that of the first rail line between Mumbai and Thane ‘’
The major hurdle says Rashingkar was the steep Khandala hills (Now called Borghat) near Lonavala and it was a challenge to take the railway line through – from sea level to 700 metres steep height in short distance. A team of British Engineers were doing survey of this hilly area to plan route for the rail line. And at one point the chief engineer was baffled as to how to proceed further due to the steep hills. In a depressed mood, he sent a letter to his wife who was staying in Mumbai, mentioning -“I am stuck in planning this rail line. Do not know how to go ahead “.The wife, in good humour, sent a letter in reply, writing that, ”if you can’t go ahead come back.” (i e come home leaving the job back, work half finished).
The present day ‘Amrutanjan Bridge’ was part of this reversing station alignment (see old photo below). The steam engine had to be flipped 180 deg on a reversing turn-table and then attached to the opposite end of the train. This added significant time to the journey (Courtesy: Amit Paranjape on Twitter).
“When he got the letter, an idea came to his mind, “If you can’t go ahead, come back.” So he designed the line in which at this point, a bridge was planned connecting two hills. The rail line from Pune will come through a tunnel (now part of E way) on this bridge and will halt there. The engine will be taken to the other end of train and then it will go down to Karjat side reversing its direction, Same was to be done when train came from Mumbai to Pune. This bridge then constructed became famous as “Reversing bridge”. It was completed first for non- rail traffic after completion in 1830. It was opened for rail traffic on 21 April 1863.
Rashingkar further states, “later on, a new railway line was built around 1920-30 by having many tunnels and this `Reversing Bridge’ was abandoned in 1929, rendering it obsolete. Walchand Hirachand (Walchnad Group) played a major role in construction of tunnels and new rail line . The bridge was then prominently seen from train while going to or from Pune to Mumbai .
Later a big advertisement of Amrutanjan pain balm with the big letters AMRUTANJAN was mounted on this bridge and it came to be known as Amrutanjan Bridge. Later it became just a picnic spot (and a suicide spot!!).
When the expressway was planned, it went below this bridge and it lost its prominence. However says Rashingkar, “because of the bridge, there were many travel hazards due to steep turn at this point of the expressway. Many accidents took place of trailer trucks and many lives were lost. It was felt that this old bridge be demolished. Many wanted it to stay as heritage place. Legal battles were fought and ultimately it was decided to demolish it. However, due to heavy traffic on this expressway, to demolish it would need total stoppage of traffic for few days, much to the inconvenience of goods and peoples’ traffic. Thanks to the Corona problem, with drastic reduction in traffic, it was demolished without any inconveniences to traffic.
A Pune citizen and environmentalist Suchita Bhat who lived in France for over two decades rues, “Had it been in France, they would have definitely stopped the bridge from use if it was dilapidating, but also restructured it and preserved it as a monument to remind for posterity, their road history.
Structures older than 100 years are not demolished in France as per the government rules! Now, people only have videos for testimony!’’
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or individuals and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same.
That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.
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