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Bridge No. 249: Delhi's Iron Grande Dame

18/04/2015 8:07 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Vijdan Saleem

I think that there is something intriguing about a bridge. It is the most practical of structures, but also the most evocative. India has so many of them, each with its own history.

Some remind us of the colonial past (such as Howrah, a cantilever bridge with a suspended span over the Hooghly River in West Bengal), others impress with their size (like the Mahatma Gandhi Setu: A bridge over the holy Ganges connecting Patna with Hajipur, Bihar) while still others symbolise the country's advancement in design and technology, an example being the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, a cable-stayed bridge with pre-stressed concrete-steel viaducts on either side.

A bridge takes us places and a bridge connects places. Sometimes, a single bridge defines a place. Take the Iron Bridge of Seelampur in Delhi (also known as the old Yamuna Bridge or Bridge No. 249 in technical railway parlance) that was constructed by the East India Company at a whopping cost of £16,16,335. With the completion of this engineering marvel, two principal cities of North India -- Kolkata and Delhi --were connected by the railways, this being the last link of the trunk line on this route.

In 1913, the bridge was converted into a double line by adding down line girders of 12 spans of 202 feet each and two end spans of 42 feet to the bridge. For the movement of road traffic, two road bridges were provided below the lines, making it a rail-road bridge. The entry of trains into Delhi Junction Railway Station, in such close proximity to the Red Fort, never ceases to impress the rail traveller, a reminder that after the Uprising of 1857, Delhi was a fortified city.

This bridge epitomises the composite culture of the country. While some make a living around the bridge, for others it's a safe haven. I photographed a man sleeping on the edge of the bridge, with trains moving above his head.

I also clicked a picture of a goddess at a small temple under a tree beneath the bridge -- I saw her as a protector for the Old Bridge. Different eras seemed to merge as I watched a bullock cart moving amid the modern machines of this century.

Incidentally, the bridge has an identical twin further downstream at Naini on the Allahabad-Mughalsarai section of the now North Central Railways.

The old Yamuna Bridge, with its huge iron girders, will retire to an extent when the new bridge, under construction a little way upstream on the Yamuna, becomes operational. But it would certainly not mean curtains for this iron monster and it will continue to remain one of the most famous landmarks of the city. Its role, though, will be limited to carrying road traffic from East Delhi to Central Delhi and back.

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