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She was one of the many grand buildings of Garli that had been lying ignored and unwanted by successive generations of our founding fathers.

One of the 25 odd structures, her job was to provide accommodation to travellers who came to Garli to ply their trade. Built by my Grandfather, Lala Mohan Lal in memory of his father, Lala Naurang Mal, she was initially called  Naurang Sarai.

First, a bit of history

With the arrival of the enterprising Sood community in the area, there was a surge in economic activity, leading to an increase of flow of travellers and traders to Garli. They would need a place to stay, to ply their trade, and move on. 

Taking care of travellers and traders was considered an important public service by the local people.  Hence the need of creating a Sarai was felt. And such a Sarai would require a local benefactor who would not only build it, but also ensure its operation, maintenence and upkeep.

Naurang Sarai was built on similar lines of other major Sarais in the country. She was to provide many services. So her structure  was made square in design with a large open courtyard (see illustration) . Rooms were built on the inside and shops on the outside. The rear portion provided necessary shelter for animals.

An Architectural Drawing of Naurang Sarai

How the Sarai functioned

People would arrive with their animals and caravans to find a hospitable venue to rest for the night. Not only would they find rest, but also an opportunity to meet and interact with people from diverse regions—creating opportunities for exchange of material, culture, language, traditions, and ideas.

The courtyard was the hub of all activity. It was the venue for entertainment,  a place for public and political discourse, a forum for interaction between the common public and the elite, a marketplace and the source of all the local juicy gossip!

It was also an opportunity for the local public to participate in the economic activity.

She provided employment – for cooks, watchmen, water bearers, cleaners and odd jobbers. Travellers had to be fed, they needed provisions, many services like ironmongers, barbers, cobblers etc. were required.  Their animals had to be looked after. 

A manager was made responsible for ensuring supplies, a proper distribution of meals to the travellers, and fodder for their animals. He also regulated the markets so that no unscrupulous trader could conduct their illegitimate business. 

Fostering Economic activity

The constant flow of travellers to Garli ensured economic growth in the region, and Naurang Sarai played a pivotal role in this. 

To foster inter village interaction and provide a forum for commerce, Lala Mohan Lal started  an annual “mela” (a village fair) where neighbouring villagers could set up stalls and sell their wares. Like any other fair, there was entertainment, eats, games and shopping.It became so popular that even after a 100 years, it is still held every September and now named “Maidane da Mela”!

During the 1920s and 1930s Garli emerged as a hub of economic and Geopolitical activity. Such was their influence that even the then Governor of Punjab, Sir Malcolm Hailey, was obliged to visit Garli at the invitation of Lala Mohan Lal. He inaugurated the Water Supply of Garli, and attended a pre wedding function of Lala Mohan Lal’s daughter, Hema.

He rested at Naurang Sarai before returning to Simla. 

The decline of Naurang Sarai

As stated earlier, the sarai was dependent on her benefactor, Lala  Mohan Lal. He not only bought the land, but also built the structure, and then paid for its regular maintenance and upkeep.  He was also the prime mover of commercial and political activity in the region. With his passing in 1933, the momentum slowed down, and slowly traders began to go to other places. By 1947, most economic activity came to a halt, as did the flow of visitors to Garli. 

This affected not only the community, but also the building. The grand old lady, resplendent in her glorious wood and brick architecture, began to age. 

Over the next 60 years, due to loss of regular maintenance and neglect, she fell victim to the elements. Her roofs leaked, her floors cracked, and slowly but surely, vandals started helping themselves to parts of her – the iron rods, the metal funnels, the wooden doors – till she was stripped of her dignity.  

By 2012,  she had become a garbage dump, a refuge for addicts, a centre for gambling and many such nefarious activities.  

That was the year when we decided to do something about it. Read about it in the next post.

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