Already in 1990 you had to get permission from the Chief of Police at Lal Bazaar to climb this monument. A friend, Kate, and I went to see him and he greeted us with an expansive ‘So you want to see a panoramic view of my city’ – his arms opened wide in an all encompassing gesture that only accentuated his ample girth and the standard issue metro police belt that held all in place. We climbed the stairs – pretty high, it does seem more than 48 meters – and, as we were smokers then, we lingered quite some time up top discussing politics, war, freedom movements, rallying colours and of course panoramas, before we came down. Its very good news the place will be opened for visits soon once more. Site also of some of the largest rallies I’ve ever attended.
Here is the Calcutta City tours rave about it:
The 48 meter high Shaheed Minar, popularly called the “Monument” is a prominent landmark of Kolkata. Established in the year 1848, it was named Ochtorloney Monument to honour, Sir David Ochterlony who served in the Nepal War (1814 – 1816). In 1969, this Ochterlony Monument received its new name ‘Shahid Minar’, which means “Martyr’s Tower” to honour the sacrifice of Indian freedom fighters. You have to climb 218 steps to reach the top of the monument from where you can savor a bird’s eye view of Kolkata.The architecture of Shaheed Minar shows a brilliant blend of Egyptian, Syrian and Turkish style of designing.
History of Shaheed Minar, Kolkata
It was founded in 1848, as Ochterlony Monument, to honour Major General Sir David Ochterlony’s (Commander of the British East India Company) triumph against the Gurkhas in the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1825. The architect J.P. Parker conceived the structure of this 48 meter high monument based on a blend of Egyptian and Syrian style with a dome having a striking resemblance with Turkish design. In 1969, the Ochterlony monument was rededicated to the freedom fighters of India – the martyrs who sacrificed their lives in the freedom movement of India and was renamed as “Shaheed Minar”, which in Bengali means “Martyr’s Tower.”
A winding flight of 218 steps takes visitors to the top of the tower from where one can have a panoramic view of the city. However, in 1997, a mishap occurred when a tourist jumped from the lower balcony of Shaheed Minar. From then, prior permission is needed from police to climb the monument. The last person to climb up the monument was the former Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi along with his family.
Lately, the state government of West Bengal has taken initiative to open up the monument for both local public and tourists. The work of refurbishment has started in late 2011 and will be accomplished in two phases. After the completion of the work, both tourists and local people can climb up to the top of the monument. There are also plans to set up stalls in front of the monument. Initiative is also taken to clean the pathways and beautify them with flowering plants.
The vast field lying towards the south of Shahid Minar is popularly called the Shahid Minar Maidan or the Brigade Ground. The place hosts political rallies for several decades. The first political meeting on Shaheed Minar Maidan was headed by Rabindranath Tagore, where he condemned the assassination of a young man in Hilji by the British in 1931.