Jamshedpur: Garden of Steel

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Jamshedpur boy ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore India’s first planned industrial city, the living legacy of one man’s vision

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Founded by a Parsi, planned by an American, named by a British Viceroy and landscaped by a German botanist; few places in India parallel Jamshedpur’s pedigree or pluralism. It was a lecture by Thomas Carlyle in Manchester where he said that “the nation which gains control of iron soon acquires the control of gold” that inspired Jamshedji Nusserwanji Tata to set up India’s first steel plant.

Tata said “Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens; reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks; and earmark areas for temples, mosques and churches.” A cursory look at Tata’s city reveals how his guiding words have been followed, almost to a T! It was befitting that Lord Chelmsford named the city after its founder in 1919.

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What to do

Though Jamshedpur might not rank as your average tourist destination, any first time visitor to the Steel City is bowled over by its beauty and charm. As India’s first planned industrial city, telltale signs like plumes of blue flames and clouds of smoke shooting from chimneys, the orange glow of slag dumped on ashy slopes and convoys of trucks and dumpers, do exist. Yet, the usual soot and grime of industry have been cloaked in an undulating cover of green.

The perfect place to start is Domuhani or River’s Meet, where it all began over a century ago. The scenic confluence of the Kharkai and Subarnarekha rivers prompted prospectors scouting the Chhotanagpur Plateau for three months to freeze on the site overnight. Tata Steel, the country’s oldest and largest iron and steel plant organizes factory visits to witness the manufacturing process. For a crash course in automotive engineering head to Tata Motors, where a truck rolls out every 6 minutes and is mercilessly put through a grueling test track.

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The most popular attraction Jubilee Park is a 237-acre oasis in the heart of the city. Modeled on Mysore’s Brindavan Gardens and conceptualized by Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel who landscaped Bangalore, the park was built in 1957 by Tata Steel and inaugurated by Nehru to commemorate its Golden Jubilee. Boating at Jayanti Sarovar, picnics around Smriti Udyan, Rose Garden and Upvan, recreational rides at Nicco ParkZoological Park and Laser Show with musical fountains (Tues & weekends 7 and 8pm), make it a year-round hotspot. The park is at its decorative best with a carnival atmosphere on 3rd March or Founder’s Day, the birth anniversary of Jamshedji Tata.

Sir Dorabji Tata Park near the cricketing arena Keenan Stadium hosts the annual Flower Show in December. Nearby, the Russi Mody Centre For Excellence is an intriguing complex with Romanesque pillars and galleries shaped like the pyramids of Giza. The museum (Tues & Sat, 10am-12:30pm, 3-5:30pm) is a repository of interesting nuggets on the history of the Steel City. Between 1914 and 1918, Tata Steel (then Tisco) supplied 1,500 miles of rail and 300,000 tonnes of steel to the Allied forces in World War I. Tata Steel was also used to make the Howrah Bridge in Calcutta, the Baha’i Temple in Delhi as well as an armoured car in World War II called Tatanagar. Besides a visit by Mahatma Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose too visited Jamshedpur and was even President of the Tisco Worker’s Union!

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Few know that naturalist Gerald Durrell was born in Jamshedpur and his father Lawrence Samuel Durrell constructed the Tinplate Company in the 1920s. The need for entertainment for the city’s European population led to the creation of Beldih Club (1922), United Club and Golmuri Club (1927). American Jesuits, founding fathers of educational institutions like Loyola School and XLRI, introduced the American game of handball to Jamshedpur.

Like India, the city’s USP lay in its power of assimilation. Here Biharis, Bengalis, Oriyas, Punjabis, Santhalis, Tamils, Marathis, Malayalis, Parsis, Aussies or Chinese melded their individual identities into a common core – Jamshedpuria! A cosmopolitan place with a unique lingo and laid-back attitude…

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For years its expat ex-student crowd insisted that ‘Jampot’ was ‘not like Bihar,’ citing famous alumni like Astad Deboo, Madhavan and lately Imtiaz Ali. But there are other things that make Jamshedpur special. One of India’s cleanest cities, it is the only million plus city in the country without a municipal corporation, maintained exclusively by the Tatas. It is also the only South Asian city selected for the Global Compact Cities Pilot Program by the United Nations.

In its multi-cultural society exist serene places of worship like Cursetjee Manekjee Shroff Agiary, better known as the Parsi Fire TempleJama Masjid in Sakchi, St George, St Joseph and Beldih Church, Rankini Mandir in Kadma, the Dravidian hill top shrine of Bhuvaneshwari Mandir in Telco Colony and the newly constructed Sai Baba Mandir in Sonari.

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Drop by at Tribal Culture Centre in Sonari, which preserves the rich heritage of the Santhal, Ho, Oraon, Munda and other tribes. On the far side of a manicured garden are busts of tribal leaders like Baba Tilka Majhi, Birsa Munda and Sidho-Kanhu, who fought British imperialism. Corridors are lined with exquisite Santhal and Gond paintings while the Tribal Heritage Hall showcases bison horn instruments, Chhau dance masks, vessels, implements and other tribal artefacts.

Continue on the tribal trail to Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary, an hour’s drive from the city. Caretakers at the Pindrabera Forest Rest House recount tribal legends about Dalma mai, the goddess of the hills and organize wildlife trails to the many reservoirs dotting the park. Equally scenic are excursions to other lakes like DimnaPatamda and Hudco.

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Jamshedpur takes its sports quite seriously and Tatas’ commitment to it is apparent by the number of premiere sporting arenas like JRD Tata Sports Complex, Mohan Ahuja Stadium for badminton, Tata Football Academy and Tata Archery Academy, a sport popular in the tribal belt. If you enjoy a round of golf, head straight to the scenic courses of the Beldih and Golmuri Club, which host the Tata Open in November.

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Where to Shop

Sakchi and Bistupur are the main commercial hubs. Chhaganlal Dayaljee & Sons, established in 1918, are the oldest jewellers in town. Biponi Handicrafts (8-10, N Road, Bistupur) is the best place for Jharkhand’s ethnic souvenirs with tribal and Chhau dance masks, grass and bamboo handicrafts, Dokra art or metal sculptures made by the lost wax technique and Pyatkar (Paitkar) paintings on scrolls of bark.

The chitrakar (artist) community uses natural colours – green from leaves, yellow from palash flowers, red from stones and dull black from carbon. The Tribal Culture Centre in Sonari has a small sales outlet and one can watch artisans at work at Amadubi Art Village, 65 km from Jamshedpur.

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Buy wonderful handspun fabrics like shawls, bedsheets and towels at Khadi Bhandar on Bistupur’s Main Road. Jharkhand Rajya Khadi Gram Udyog has shirts made from tussar silk and khadi under the brand name Johar besides salwar suits. Bengal handlooms like exquisite kantha, jute and silk saris are available at Tantushree (3, Main Road, Golmuri). 

For shawls, stoles, jackets and other woolen garments at bargain prices head straight to the seasonal Tibetan Market, which congregates every winter at the Circus Ground in Golmuri between Nov-Jan. 

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Where to Eat

Despite being a small town, Jamshedpur has its fair share of fine dine options. At Fortune Park Centre Point, enjoy multi-cuisine at Zodiac or wood-fired veg pizzas on the rooftop restaurant Little Italy. One building away, there’s open-air barbeque at The Sonnet. The new Alcor Hotel is making waves with its clutch of restaurants – all day dining at Zirca, Pan-Asian cuisine at Mandalay or Oak Wood, the Irish Bar & Lounge. At Appetite in Hotel JK Residency, sup under the starry backdrop of the Tata Steel factory. For Indian cuisine, try Madrasi Hotel in Bistupur, Delhi Darbar in Sakchi or Giani’s in Telco. Dastarkhan opposite Ram Mandir in Bistupur serves kebabs, biryanis and Mughlai, including regional specialties like Bihari Kabab.

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But beyond the comfort of fancy restaurants, the city is legendary for its iconic street food. Start the day with Tambi’s dosa near Beldih School, Fakira Chanachur (spiced snack of roasted lentil and peanuts) near Kamani Centre, Bhatia’s milkshakesBauwwa ji’s chai near XLRI or masala cold-drink near Regal ground, a curious mix of cola, Fanta, lime and mysterious masala. Come evening and locals throng to roadside stalls hawking egg rolls, pakodas, chaat and pani-puri (locally called golgappa or puchka).

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Topping the charts are Hari’s Golgappa at 26 No. Road in Telco Colony, Lakhi’s Egg rolls in Sakchi, Murga anchar (pickled chicken) at Howrah Bridge, chicken chaanp opposite Basant Talkies, mutton curry at Court, Nepali ka chicken in Bistupur and Surendra Kewat’s Litti in Sakchi, dough patties filled with spiced sattu (roasted gram powder) baked on a coal fire, smothered in ghee and served with potato mash and piquant tomato chutney… 

Jamshedpur’s residents really have a sweet tooth, evident from the profusion of sweet shops. Heavyweights like Narayan Kulfi in Sakchi, Chhappan Bhog in Bistupur/Sakchi, Bhola Maharaj, Gangour Sweets and Bhikharam Chandmal in Sakchi and Shukla Sweets in Azad Market churn out trayloads of laddus, rasmalai, rosogolla, gulabjamun, sandesh, chhena payas and pantua. Come winter and locals queue up for seasonal delights like the light brown patali gur’er rosogolla and nolen gur’er sandesh made from date palm jaggery. 

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is an unedited version of the article that appeared in the May 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveller magazine.

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32 responses »

  1. Jamshedpur jaisa bhi ho but all Jamshedpur boys are same. Surprisingly didnot know in 3 years of CBS that you were from Jamshedpur.

    • Jamshedpur boys! Sounds like ‘munde, gali tey gunde vs kudiyan, nashe di ya pudiyan’ kinda standoff. It wasn’t like a state secret or anything, but hell, there was so much happening at CBS Delhi that where i was from never really mattered…

  2. Very few people in India knew about this place in the last century. Now, it’s growing popularity as Jamshedpurians are going places. I am delighted to see this article. Made me nostalgic and proud.

  3. Jamshedpur..my hometown..to the academic gurus.. its defined as India’s first planned industrial city..a corporate social experiment…an example of one man’s vision..one who dared to dream…but to me….its simply home..where I rolled in its dust, climbed its trees, smelled its flowers, learnt to be me…oh to walk these streets again …one day…someday…..

    • Yep, at a personal level, Jamshedpur does evoke so many different memories – the capers at school, the flowering of the kadam trees, playing ‘antul’ marbles and other games in the colonies, call of the kabuliwala, the siren signaling the start and end of the day’s work at the plant, the evening announcement of the dosa guy beating his spoon on the tawa, pandal hopping at durga puja… a lot of it has changed, but it is still great to revisit and reminisce

  4. Thank you Jamshedpur for giving me a wonderful childhood, full of fond memories. I still have goose flesh and sometimes tears in my eyes just at its mere mention.
    I miss its greenery, cleanliness, beautiful roads and gardens, peacefulness, my house , my school , EVERYTHING!
    I sometimes want to run away from this madness called Mumbai and find comfort in the place which will always be my home.
    Love you and miss you

    • Hello Dr Mittal, though we’re also based in Mumbai, fortunately we’ve had the opportunity of going back to Jamshedpur quite often in the last few years. There’s nothing more enlightening than seeing an old place with new eyes! The amount of research during my Loyola Batch of 92 Reunion in 2010 and the recent articles made me truly rediscover my hometown.

  5. Jamshedpur – a town only in geog books as the biggest private sector of iron & steel . But its a delight for al tos who lived there n even more for those who spent their wonderful childhood in this well planned n decent city .
    Years have rolled n i no longer have any chance of visiting this city but the regular updates has a magnetic effect . Each n every person must visit this cosmopolitian city n note the authenticity of al tat is posted ……..
    Hats off to u anurag for this post .:-)

    • Hi Nalini, thanks for your awesome comments. Sometimes, it’s hard for non-Jamshedpurians to really understand what the whole fuss is about, why people from ‘Jampot’ rave so much about their city – the schools and teachers, cleanliness and greenery, growing up, colony life, the golgappas & street food… Despite being a small town, the city shapes your overall attitude and prepares you to dream big and take on anything…

    • Thanks Asha. It is a delightful place! Though of late, the increase in traffic, especially heavy dumpers, has been a bit of an irritant. Meanwhile uncles returning from the Tata plant, still chug along in their Lambrettas and Chetaks in the middle of the road at 30 kmph. Disarming!

  6. Thanx Anurag and Priya for this well written article.Surely makes me feel proud to be a ‘Jamshedpurian’ if there is such a term.Got the opportunity to visit Jsr about 5-6 yrs back and it was so good to be back home. Always nostalgic when I even hear the name of the city or when I meet someone from Jsr.Though in Mumbai for so many years now, still I feel there’s no place like Jsr.

    • Hi Vanaja. Glad you liked the article. Have been based for many years in Delhi, Bangalore and now Mumbai. No matter where I’m settled, Jamshedpur will always be home. The moment I land there, a wave of nostalgia washes over me and I feel happy almost at a molecular level! Am sure everyone feels the same way about their home town, but we Jamshedpurians know… It’s different!

  7. Enjoyed the article, very nostalgic, was in Jamshedpur 1944-58 ( Loyola), kept coming back every year till 1972, last visit 2006 hope to visit once more. Jay Amrith

    • Wow Mr. Jairam, it’s an honour to hear from you.. You are one of the oldest Loyola alumni I know. Which year did you join Loyola? 1944 is 2nd World War! Being Asia’s only steel plant in those days, Jamshedpur was a high risk target. I’m told ‘Yellow signals’ were sent from Calcutta warning of impending Japanese air raids and huge tar boilers were lit at Tata Steel to create a smokescreen over the city. Would love to hear your stories… and document it. Where are you based?

      • Hi, my parents moved to Jam. ( it was just Jam in our days, not Jampot) in 1944 when I was 1, was in Loyola from 1950-58 preceded by a year at Sacred Heart Convent ( in those days, Loyola did not have early education years). By the way, Fr. George A. Hess, our august and remarkable Principal, passed away a couple of weeks ago at the age of 92/93. I have been based in Singapore for the last 33 years.

      • Never knew about it being called Jam! Got news of the recent demise of Fr Hess from the Alumni Association. Is it true that he started the Jug or ‘punishment of the week’ based on the suggestion of Mr Rao the registrar? In those days, it entailed missing the movie screening on Saturdays after march past! Wld love to catch up next time you’re down in India or we’re in Singapore…

      • Yes, I believe “Jug’ was Fr. Hess’s idea replacing his predecessor, Fr. McGinley’s corporal punishments ( of a mild variety).The very efficient Mr. A.L. Narayana Rao provided support and ensured implementation.Sure, please do get in touch if you come to Singapore.

    • Thanks Venkat. Though it’s the first time I’m coming across the term. Jampot yes, Jamshedpuria of course, Jamshedpurian maybe, but Jampot’ite! Now that’s new…

  8. Would love to meet you and maybe other Jsr fellows who are in Mumbai sometime.Is it possible anytime after 1st oct.maybe?

    • Am ‘loosely based in Mumbai’ because we’re travelling most of the time. Will be in Jampot by Sep end and then NE! But would be great to catch up when am back. Keep in touch…

  9. Good old Jampot, It took dad(Doc Bulsara), no more than 2 hrs to know if any of his 3 sons did anything in town, good or bad.

    • Jamshedpur was like a tightly packed atom where everyone knew everyone. Your identity was instantly established with ‘Aren’t you so & so’s son’? as stories of your deeds found their way home even before you did! So where are you based these days…

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