It’s been 14 months since I concluded the second leg of The Grand Tour here on Dream Of A City. And since it is becoming increasingly clear that I’m not going to be able to secure a contract just yet for Part II on Treaty Ports and Imperial Cities of East Asia (on account of the recent museum job as well as contracts for four other books!!), I thought I might as well continue with the journeying.
So here goes…
This is the third and final leg of my Grand Tour East of Suez.
In 1498, Vasco da Gama, Portuguese explorer extraordinaire, landed on the coast of Calicut, in Malabar. From hence began the 400 year dalliance between the European powers and the Indian Subcontinent, that saw the Portuguese, and then the Dutch, the French, the Danish and the British carve out dominions for themselves.
The Portuguese established their Estado da Índia, or the “State of India” in 1505, with its capital first in Cochin and from 1511, in Goa. Goa would remain Portuguese for a staggering 450 years till 1961, when it was annexed by the new Indian Republic.
Merchants of the Dutch East India Company, or V.O.C. arrived in 1605 and established trading settlements along various coastal regions – Bengal, the Coromandel Coast, the Malabar Coast, Ceylon and Gujarat. Their most important cities were Cochin, on the Malabar Coast, Pulicat, on the Malabar Coast, and Colombo, in Ceylon. they would remain till 1825, when their presence was removed from the Subcontinent forever by the British.
In a similar fashion, the Danes arrived in India and established a fort and trading settlement in 1620 at Tranquebar (today’s Tharangambadi) on the Coromandel Coast. Their Fort Dansborg still remains even today, but the Danes themselves lost their settlement to the Brits in 1845.
The French established their presence at Pondicherry on the Coromandel Coast, in 1673. By the mid-1700s they had eked out a rather substantial piece of territory on the Coast, but lost most of it to the British soon after, except for a handful of non-contiguous enclaves, ruled from the principal enclave of Pondicherry. Pondicherry and the other enclaves were returned to India in 1947.
Which leaves the British…
In 1608, merchants of the Honourable East India Company arrived in the port of Surat in Gujarat, and proceeded to establish their first trading settlement on Indian soil. This was swiftly followed by the establishment of a larger Fort and trading settlement in Madras (1639) on the Coromandel Coast, Bombay (1668) on the Malabar Coast and Calcutta (1690) in Bengal.
In 1772, Calcutta became the headquarters of the East India Company and the de facto capital of the British Indian state – a position it would relinquish to Delhi only in 1911. Dominions East of India, notably the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore were governed directly from Calcutta.
Company Rule ended in 1858 and the vast dominions of the East India Company came under the direct rule of the British Crown. Thus was the British Raj established. Sovereignty of the Raj extended to almost all of present-day India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar, save for Portuguese Goa and French Pondicherry.
At its peak at the turn of the 19th century, the capital of the Raj was moved to Delhi – the historic seat of the Moghul Emperor, located at the edge of the desert region of Rajasthan with its palaces and Moghul gardens situated in fabled, princely cities: Agra, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Udaipur, Lahore…
1947 saw what-was-then-British-India free itself from the yoke of colonialism, and in doing so, undergo a painful Partition into the independent nations of India and Pakistan (which further split into Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1971). Burma had earlier split from India in 1937, and Ceylon had been a separate Crown Colony from 1795.
In the course of the next year and a half, I will explore and relive the epic history of the Subcontinent from 1500 till 1950, wandering the streets and historic centres of more than a dozen port and princely cities in a bid to uncover what remains of this history today.
Naturally, part of my efforts to uncover the past will involve sojourning in the grand hotels and palaces that featured prominently in the social circles and histories of each and every one of these cities. I am still fascinated by the history of travel and hospitality, after all!
Our travel itinerary shall take us west along the coast of the Subcontinent, rounding the island of Sri Lanka and north towards Rajasthan. The cities we cover include:
- Calcutta (Kolkata) and the Grand Hotel
- Benares (Varanasi) and the Nadessar Palace
- Madras (Chennai) and the Connemara Hotel
- Pondicherry (Puducherry) and Hôtel de L’Orient
- Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) and Bungalow on the Beach
- Colombo and Galle Face Hotel
- Cochin (Kochi), the Bolghatty Palace and Le Colonial
- Goa and the Mandovi Hotel, Panjim
- Bombay (Mumbai) and The Taj Mahal Palace
- Delhi, Maiden’s Hotel and the Imperial Hotel
- Agra and the Grand Imperial Hotel
- Jaipur and Rambagh Palace
- Jodhpur and Umaid Bhawan Palace
- Udaipur and The Lake Palace; and finally
- Lahore and Faletti’s Hotel.
Join me, fellow wanderer, on my Grand Tour of the Port and Princely Cities of the Subcontinent!
First stop: Calcutta.