D H Rao unravels mysteries of Buckingham Canal, Cooum’s arched bridges

Chennai: “Finding the hidden mysteries of the beautiful city we are living in has been the most interesting journey so far,” says historian D H Rao, who has done extensive research on the Buckingham Canal and travelled the entire stretch thrice!

Yesterday, in the first part of a two-part series of interviews to News Today, Rao shared his experience of visiting the lighthouses along the Indian coast.

Today, he shares his knowledge on the history and heritage of the Buckingham Canal and talks about the beauty of arched bridges built across the Cooum.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What sparked your interest to research the Buckingham Canal?
A: I was on a project doing research on bridges near Kanathur where I saw the pristine, clear canal. My mind was transported to the 1950s when my school took me on an excursion on a boat to Mahabalipuram. So, I started researching more about it. I am very happy to say that I have travelled the entire stretch of the Buckingham Canal thrice.

Q: Can you share a few interesting and unknown facts about the canal?
A: There are quite a few. The first one is its name. Buckingham canal was not the name given to it when the canal was built in 1802. However, the most thrilling story about the canal is that it was first only proposed to connect present-day Basin Bridge and Ennore creek – a distance of about 11 miles. But, when it reached Ennore, the builder, who known as ‘F K’, requested the government to extend the canal till Pulicat and the government agreed.

The canal came to Pulicat in 1806. The distance was measured to be about 25 miles and the government marked the milestone. The location of the milestone was a very big mystery for many years. I finally found it near the Chinthamani lock. It was only possible after travelling to the place thrice and exploring it by boat.

Periyar bridge (Then)

Q: How did you get interested to learn about arched bridges?
A: I came across the Periyar Palam during one of my researches. Being a civil engineer myself, I was struck by its architectural beauty. It sparked an interest in me.

So, I traveled upstream along the Cooum and saw every bridge built across the river. I discovered that quite a few bridges were thoughtlessly broken down. I went to Tamilnadu Archives at Egmore where all the records are kept and learnt a lot about the arched bridges of Madras.

Periyar bridge (Now)

Q: What did you observe during journeys along the Cooum river?
A: As far as this research was concerned, I focused only on arched bridges and the architectural style of the British when they built them.

However, during the journey, I found a structure near Napier’s bridge where the Cooum meets the Bay of Bengal. This structure was called a sand pump. It was built by the British to control the high tides and low tides of the river. But, when I visited the place a few years back, I noticed people demolishing the structure. This was a sad and thoughtless act by those who ordered the destruction of this heritage structure of old Madras.

Article by: Sharmada V & Suha Nisviya S A

NT Bureau