Sunday, 9 December 2012

Inside Kovai - The Walkers Park in Race Course encircles a small patch of land rich in history

Senior citizens enjoying a walk along the Walkers Path in Race Course on cool, crispy evening
If you’re in Coimbatore and enjoy a brisk walk or jog in the morning or evening, you are already probably familiar with the Walkers Park in the Race Course area. For decades, the 2.5 kilometer long neatly maintained path along the Race Course Road located in the posh Race Course area has probably been the only spot in the city where over 10,000 strangers rub shoulders with each other every other day in an effort keep themselves fit.

But, not many are aware of the rich past of this small stretch of land, which historians claim, used to be a horse racing venue way back when Ooty was not yet in the map and hence drew its name. “Between 1804
A file shot of the Old Race Course Area about a 100 years ago

and 1868 when Nilgiris district was formed by the British, the Race Course area used to be a ground for training in horse riding and even minor racing activities were held. The elliptical shape of the Race Course area explains that,” said a city-based historian.

While the natives who first settled in textile town preferred the Town Hall area then known as ‘Kottai’ and ‘Pettai’, the British, when they moved to Coimbatore and established tea estates in the hills, chose to move into the region now known as Race Course.  “At that time, Race Course area had bungalows of British officials and other government servants who built a club, a movie theatre, a church(the All Souls Church) and other recreation centers to maintain their lifestyle. It was the genesis of the modern Race Course,” historian C. R. Elangovan said.

By the late 1800’s, affluent Indians of the time such as Diwan Bahadur Lakshmi Narasimha Aiyar moved to the Race Course area and built sprawling bungalows across acres of land. Among some of the prominent Indians who made Race Course region as their home include Independent India’s first finance minister Sir R. K. Shanmukham Chetty who moved from the Town Hall area to Race Course for health reasons."During that time, Mahatma Gandhi had visited him at his residence is also said to have walked along the Walker's park," the historian added.

Ever since the Race Course neighbourhood has been in existence, the Walkers Park has also been present and is probably one of the few walking tracks in Tamil Nadu to remain that way even after so many years. “Back then, there used to a walking track with a small patch of garden on either side.  There used to be another garden on the other side of the Race Course Road which has now been converted into parking lots for commercial establishments,” said a long term resident of the neighbourhood.

Over the years, all the who’s who in Coimbatore region upto Kangeyam preferred a residence in the Race Course area as it has become a prestige issue. “Folks from as far away as Peelamedu and Vadavalli drive down to Race Course area to take a walk as it is a kind of a tradition now besides being able to spot old friends and acquaintances,” said S. Aravindan, a retired government servant from the area. 

School children at the open air gym on Race Course Walkers Path
 Old timers lament the lost character of Race Course, remember old days with nostalgia

Although Race Course area remains one of the last few remaining green spots in the city where tree-lined roads are still a reality, old timers here point out that life has changed so much over the years and, for the worse. 

Leading industrialist and environmental activist Ms. Vanitha Mohan, one of the oldest residents of the Race Course area recalls with nostalgia the Race Course of the past. “It used to be so green and such a calm neighbourhood. One could just come out of his or her home and watch the world go by, there used to be so many birds, especially sparrows chirping all through the day," she recalled. "Today, Race Course has lost its character.”

Rapid commercialization has meant that many of the green spots have been converted into parking lots for hotels, retail outlets and even coffee shops. “Today, Race Course has become the favourite haunt of the Generation X who zip past these roads at break neck speed and can be seen hanging around coffee shops and restaurants all day,” says Rajesh G, another resident of the neighbourhood.

Residents of Race Course appeal to the city planners to create more walkers parks in the city to decentralize the crowds that throng Race Course. “It is simply insane that people from R. S. Puram and other areas have to come here for a walk. The civic body should provide more facilities in the city for public which will also reduce traffic congestions,” Ms. Vanitha Mohan said. 

The Race Course residents association has also actively campaigned against felling of old trees in their neighbourhood and has even locked horns with the city corporation over the isusue. “But, we cannot regain what we have lost already,” said another resident on condition of anonymity. "It is only a matter of time before this neighbourhood becomes yet another congested locality in Coimbatore," he says. 

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