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The Unfading Charm of Cantonments

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Saturday, 22 September 2018 | JASKIRAN CHOPRA | Dehradun— My fascination with cantonments goes back to my childhood in the Doon valley when my parents had many friends in the army and we would visit their homes many an evening and enjoy the peace and greenery that the cantonment abounds in. We all know that cantonments are a world apart from the normal city areas. In various cities and towns, the cantonments stand out due to the distinct look they wear and the charming atmosphere they exude. It is a sum total of cleanliness, order, greenery, discipline and serenity. In the valley of Doon too, the cantonment or Garhi Cantt (as it is locally called) is a beautiful area that has retained its look and charm over the years, making it a popular destination for locals as well as tourists. The Governor’s House (Raj Bhawan), the CM’s house and several other important places like The Doon School are located in the Cantt area besides the army offices and houses. Little temples, some small shops and the CSD canteen give it a special look. Although Dehra Dun is still considered a green place, the cantonment area  manages to maintain a far greener look than the other parts of the city and one can feel the difference immediately as one enters the Garhi either from the crowded Dilaram Bazaar side or from the congested Bindal Bridge side. No doubt, it is an oasis of peace and beauty for the valley town that has grown into a noisy, bustling capital city over the past eighteen years or so. Anyone who wishes to experience the quiet that the valley was once known for can walk or drive in the cantonment and get a fine idea of the paradise that we have lost. The walk or drive through the cantt can be a great mood–lifter! The famous “Pine Grove” near Raj Bhawan has been there for ages and still stands, lone and quiet, holding a lot of my childhood memories within its fold. The “separated families” houses near the Doon School still look as they did when I used to visit (along with my parents) my aunt and her kids when my uncle was posted at a “non-family” station. We used to go to their place twice a month carrying “jalebis” and “pakoras” from the famous sweet shop that was once on Chakrata Road and has been shifted a few years ago from there. However, its fame has grown and it is known for the quality of its products. Its outlets can now be seen in many places in Doon. Each time I cross that white and yellow house, I can see myself, with my cousins, playing  hide and seek or sitting on the swing outside the little house. Children can be seen on the many kinds of swings at the parks in the cantt and one can hear the sweet birdsong from the plots of fruit trees all around. One can see the sun set, leaving a trail of various orange hues. There is no doubt that the cantonment area is the most beautiful one in the Doon valley. Sometimes I find it ironical that an army area is always the quietest one that we find in any city. The discipline and greenery are the main factors responsible for this, I believe. There is an air of controlled leisure that charms me no end. The little Garhi Bazaar (actually, not so little any longer) adds greatly to the atmosphere of the cantonment. It wears the look of old bazaars with shops on both sides of the curving road. Photographers’ studios, jewellery shops, stationery shops, electronics shops, sweet shops, bakeries and many other colourful set-ups give this bazaar a vibrant appearance. Just after this bazaar, the road takes one to the famous Tapkeshwar (cave shrine) of Lord Shiva. If one turns left, one moves towards RIMC (Rashtriya Indian Military College). Visiting the cantonment is more than enough to refresh one’s mind and body and provide a better perspective of life. Fortunately for me, I have always been associated with cantonments as many of my uncles, friends and cousins are from the army. I have always envied them and wished many a time that I had spent more of my days in cantt areas. However, the Doon cantt, which I visit often, has made up for this longing and given me great happiness.

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