Travel with Marrium – Mall Roads
Mall Road’s are ubiquitous throughout the garrison cities of former British India as thoroughfares that offered parks and recreation, clubs, theatres and shopping arcades; all the trappings of modern social life. Mall Roads throughout India and Pakistan still remain the principal arteries for traffic, commerce and trade though they often now sport the post-colonial naming etiquette of glorifying the founders Gandhi and Jinnah. However, for most new- and old-timers, the main arterial road is still simply “mall road”.
In Muree, the Mall served as a vehicle-free thoroughfare in the times of British India. In hill stations where flat land was scarce and prized, the Mall is tree-lined promenade that linked the major civil and military wards of a hill station and served as an axis centering the structure of the town much like European tourist resorts. The highest ridges and hills offered panoramic views of the surrounding country and had shops and public buildings (churches, post offices, banks) leisure facilities (clubs, gymkhanas, theatres and libraries); parks, open grounds and educational facilities could often be found on the extremities of the Mall.
In the garrison cities of the plains Mall roads were often found within or extending into cantonments. A popular exception is Mall Road, Lahore, which was envisioned as the shortest distance linking the “native” quarters of the Walled City and the newly laid Cantonment at Mian Mir. As Lahore became the administrative capital of the newly annexed Punjab, a significant non-military European population set up camp; its Mall road rose in importance with civil and administrative buildings cropping up around it while the military cantonments became more enclosed. Soon, the civil population had its own parks, clubs, libraries and gymkhanas while the military and police had replicas of these institutions within the cantonment along the smaller “Cantonment Mall”, off-limits to civilians.
While most Mall roads were fully pedestrian-only or within designated hours, the colonial narrative of spatial delineation between the European and the native were a key feature of these thoroughfares. In Simla and Murree, a “Cart Road” ran lower and parallel to the main Mall, both roads merging at one extremity. Its functioned as the main highway for transport of goods to and from the plains. Significantly, unloading of the supplies was not allowed during the main promenade hours of 9AM to 5PM when the European population of the hill station was engaged in its leisurely pursuits. Thus Mall roads were the nucleus of an enacted utopia where the colonizers could indulge in avowedly “British” pursuits, away from the wretched weather, view and temptations of the natives they ruled.
Colonial views of Mall roads focus on the order and precision that the Europeans brought to the natives. Green, tree-lined avenues are shown as havens of calm and stability interspersed with public buildings serving precise functions. The focus on colonial architecture is often seen with postcards depicting lodges, gymkhanas, statuary and various pwd buildings. The church was the centre of European life and a buffer against the “heathens” of India and towering, neo-gothic churches were often the crowning glory of Mall roads and a particular focus for colonial postcard views.
Written by Marrium Habib