Gujarat's iconic 'Golden Bridge' on Narmada bows out at 140
Bharuch (Gujarat), July 18, 2021
The magnificent and imposing 'Golden Bridge' in Bharuch on the river Narmada in south Gujarat -- built with the scrap iron of the disaster-hit Tay Bridge -- "retired" this week, after 140 years of glorious service on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad National Highway.
"Thank You, Golden Bridge - Narmada Bridge...For enduring our load... Uninterruptedly for 140 years," said Harish Joshi, Director of a media house, Channel Narmada and a former journalist, echoing the sentiments of millions in the state on the erstwhile rail bridge-turned-road bridge built during the colonial regime.
Hampered by the Narmada, the then British rulers decided to construct a railway bridge connecting the Bombay Province's administrative headquarters, Bombay (now Mumbai), with Gujarat and beyond, besides boosting trade and commerce, as the first trains had already started in Mumbai since April 1853, with rapid expansion of the rail network.
Led by renowned British architect Sir John Hawkshaw, the work on the Narmada Bridge commenced in 1861, but big and small portions came crashing down owing to floods in the angry river in 1863, 1868, 1871, 1872, 1873 and 1876, killing scores of workers, raising concerns right up to the British Parliament.
Undeterred, Sir Hawkshaw designed it afresh and started re-building it at the same site, from December 1877 and completed the 1.41-km bridge in May 1881 - at a total cost of Rs 45.65 lakh to the Bombay Baroda & Central India (BB&CI) Railway Company.
"It is officially called 'Narmada Bridge', but it became more famous as 'Golden Bridge' for the cost (Rs 45.65 lakh) in that era, they could have built it in gold..!" said prominent Bharuch homoeopath Saifuddin Mulla.
It almost met its Waterloo during World War I and II, when the British government toyed with dismantling and selling off the bridge's iron to finance the exorbitant war costs, but on both occasions, it bowed down to public pressure and the bridge survives today, smiled Joshi.
After 55 years, the gleaming new Silver Jubilee Bridge, 1.40 kms long with a double railway line was built right next to the Golden Bridge in 1935 for the mail and express trains bound from Mumbai to north India, but soon after Independence, the Western Railway discarded it and Gujarat government converted it into a road bridge.
Originally designed for a single railway line, the Golden Bridge in its new avatar became a cramped, narrow two-lane road bridge, serving around 10,000 vehicles and transporting over 100,000 people daily in both directions, till it bowed out.
Last week, Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel inaugurated the swank new Narmada Maiya four-lane road bridge built in 66 months for Rs 430 crore, thus officially "retiring" the Narmada Bridge.
NGO Bharuch Citizens Council President Jivraj Patel, history buffs and prominent "Bharuchis" in India and abroad now clamour that their beloved Golden Bridge should be converted into a permanent National Heritage monument for Indian and foreign tourists to visit and marvel at the architectural masterpiece.
"It has not rusted a bit despite such a long span of time. In its 140-year existence, it was stopped for traffic only once - for a month in March-April 2018 - to facilitate work on 'Narmada Maiya' bridge. Experts say it can easily last another six decades or more with proper upkeep," said Jivraj Patel.
Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel hinted that the government may consider this suggestion and formulate a strategy for it soon -- coming as sweet music for the bridge-lovers like Joshi and Mulla, who remember flinging coins out of their vehicles into the river with a silent prayer for good luck.
The industrial hub of Bharuch - and its twin city Ankleshwar, separated from north-south by the mighty Narmada - is famed for groundnuts, the ONGC oil refinery, chemicals and fertilisers firm GNFC, cotton and textiles, dyes, and a host of other industries.
It is also known as the "sasural" of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, whose husband Feroze Gandhi was born and spent his childhood here, and the family's ancestral home still stands in an old, quiet, middle-class Parsi locality of Bharuch.
Incidentally, Bharuch, having an estimated 2 million population, is considered the second oldest continuously inhabited city (after Varanasi) in India, with a history dating back over 7,000 years, when its ancient port conducted maritime trade with Africa, Europe and the Far East for several millennia.
Meanwhile, as the bridge was closed for speeding traffic from June 15, thousands of pedestrians started trooping down to Golden Bridge, walking end-to-end, admiring its sheer beauty, click selfies in the stunning views of the Narmada to the east and the west as it meanders to mingle in a misty haze with the Gulf of Khambhat some 50 kms westwards.