Volume 4 Issue 29| August 27, 2011|


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Journey Through Bangladesh


Sylhet's 137-Year Old Icon

Channighater Shiri, (The steps of Channighat)
Bonku Babu'r Dari, (The beard of Bonku Babu)
Jitu Miah'r Gari, (The car of Jitu Miah)
Ar Ali Amzade'r Ghori (And the clock of Ali Amzad)
is a popular limerick from the region that talks about the 137-year old clock tower. The historic icon on the bank of the Surma River in Sylhet city has recently been renovated after decades and saved from ruins. The clock now runs perfectly once again, but its bell remains out of order.
by Iqbal Siddiquee

Folk lore refers to the installation of the clock tower, by Nawab Ali Ahmed Khan in 1874, as inspiration drawn from the one in Chandnichawk in Delhi, India, set up by Shahzadi Jahan Ara. Ali Ahmed, also a philanthropist in his day, named the tower after his son Nawab Ali Amzad Khan. An alternate version of the story claims that it was Ali Amzad who established the historic icon himself. But, this information is considered as farce, as Ali Amzad was only three years old - being born in 1871 - when the clock was built. The spot used to be a great in attracting tourists - local, from adjacent villages, and foreign - as all were very curious to know how the big watch functioned.

As Ali Ahmed Khan passed away in the same year, the then British government appointed Ali Amzad's grand mother as his guardian and appointed the District Judge of Sylhet as executor to look after the huge Zamindari property of the Nawab family. The young Ali Amzad grew up in Sylhet since then, so as to ensure a proper education. The young lad was admitted into the Sylhet government Pilot Boys High school. Fate dealt him with yet another blow while he was still attending school as his 40 year old mother, Umarunnessa, also passed away. Ali Amzad had to then return back to his village home in Langla to look after the Zamindari and Nawab property.

The significance of the structure - locally known as the 'Ghorighar'- lies in history books and refers to it as an icon to welcome the then Governor General of India, Lord Northbrook. He had visited the spot in 1874 on a goodwill visit to tame unrests that were rising at the time. The people of Sylhet were agitated as the district was severed from the Bengal Presidency back then, and was joined with Assam. The people were not happy as they claimed Sylhet to be more advanced than Assam. Northbrook's trip included a visit to Channighater Shiri - steps leading into the Surma River as well. Since then, the tower has been an attraction for people all over.

The structure was badly damaged by the impact of explosives in the War of Independence in 1971. The adjacent Keane Bridge had to be damaged for tactics in war, and the move had paid its toll heavily on the clock tower. It remained dysfunctional till 1987, and was then repaired for a total cost of Tk. 1.9 lacs. But alas, the clock was damaged once again by a lunatic who climbed the tower and heavily damaged much of its machinery, just one and one half years later. It was repaired, and was back in order in 1990. And yet again, miscreants during a riot had pelted bricks and stones on it to damage it to a point where it could not run anymore.

The structure was given a facelift by the Zila Parishad through much renovation and alteration in the period of 2005-2006. It was repaired and the triangular structure was made more attractive to onlookers, besides which walkways were constructed for pedestrians along the river bank in 2006. The Sylhet City Corporation also raised the height of the Ghorighar in 2009, while its latest move was to install new machinery for the clock brought in from China last year.



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