Old-world charm of Srirangapattana

Old-world charm of Srirangapattana

Srirangapattana is one of those quaint places where there's much to feel even if there's not much to see. Long before Mysore became the jewel of princely India, Srirangapattana was the heart and nerve centre of the south. Its chequered history predates the East India Company. Its first rulers were one of many contesting chieftains, who emerged from the Vijayanagara Empire, but by the time the British managed to fortify their settlement in what became Madras, Srirangapattana was a preeminent military and commercial power.

The dramatic struggle for supremacy over Srirangapattana for much of the 18th century was in many ways the struggle for supremacy in the south. Its rulers Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan - more de facto than de jure - hold the enviable distinction of being amongst the few Indians to defeat the British in open battle. The Siege of Srirangapattana during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1799 was one of those rare, momentous occasions in Indian military history when a massive tripartite alliance - of the Company, the Peshwa, and the Nizam - was formed to defeat a single enemy.

Tipu's struggles against these foes form a thrilling David and Goliath story which should be remembered if nothing else then for the sheer odds at stake. His shadow looms over the town, the dungeons which held his British prisoners of war, the bastion where he held his last council, the water gate where he made his final desperate stand.

Yet, little of this exciting history strikes you when in Srirangapattana. A neglected city wall, a ruined palace, and a temple whose attractions barely match those of the thousands of similar ones scattered through Karnataka, this is all that Srirangapattana has to offer. True, the Dariya Daulat Bagh and the Gumbaz - housing the tombs of Hyder and Tipu - are maintained well, but on the whole, Srirangapattana fails to excite with its rich legacy. Unfortunately, the charm of Srirangapattana becomes apparent only if we imagine.

Given its advantages, Srirangapattana can well become a model for sustainable heritage management. Very few realise it is actually an island, River Cauvery branches off into two streams at its northern tip and rejoins expansively around seven km to the south.

Most of the town itself is pleasant and neat, a little like what you may imagine 21st-century Malgudi to be: it has just the right mixture of old and new for it to appeal to heritage enthusiasts without appearing kitschy. Immediately through the city walls and across the highway, the walk down to the Triveni Sangam is through verdant fields on a tree-lined road.

Srirangapattana has immense potential to be developed as a tourism hub sustainably reconciling the aspirations of the local economy with the demands of heritage conservation.

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