Ashok K Mehta
Dotted with four must-see sights – the Madras Regimental Centre, DSSC, Wellington Gymkhana Club and Stavka, it is steeped in a rich history
Wellington (in the Nilgiris, not New Zealand) takes its name from the famous duke who made his mark in campaigns he fought in India. The place has four must-sees: Madras Regimental Center (MRC), Defense Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington Gymkhana Club (WGC) and Stavka. Here’s a snapshot of each.
The MRC is based around Wellington Barracks, renamed Srinagesh Barracks after the regiment’s former army chief and first Indian colonel. The first military unit to occupy the Wellington Barracks was the 74th Highlanders in 1860. The barracks’ design is unique, a mix of Napoleonic and Prussian styles. The tunnel entrance through the Assaye gate leads to a quadrangle of barracks and virtually to an amphitheatre, giving the recruit the feeling of a gladiator, walking into a vast space full of sunshine. The work that has been done to enhance MRC’s military splendor and environment is breathtaking – thanks to the cumulative efforts of commanders, including incumbent Brigadier General Rajeshwar Singh.
‘Namaskaram’ is the greeting of the Thambi, which has its origins in the Madras Native Infantry, the army’s oldest infantry regiment, although the Punjab regiment claims a march ahead. The Thambi, the Madras regiment, now recruits from Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and, of course, Tamil Nadu. One of the famous pre-independence battles is the epic at Assaye during the Second Anglo-Maratha War in September 1803. A number of Madras Native infantry units fought fearlessly and although outnumbered, Major General Arthur Wellesley led , the Duke of Wellington, the victory. “Winning the battle of Assaye was more difficult than that of Waterloo in 1915,” he mused.
The record of combat and theater awards after the independence of the Madras regiment is staggering. More than once it has been voted the best marching contingent on the Republic Day parade. MRC’s pièce de résistance is its large war museum, one of the best in the country. It is state-of-the-art and imaginatively arranged into nine hexagonal and two linear galleries covering every facet of Amar Thambi: from early history to the Hall of Fame. You can spend hours inside, but do ask for Thambi’s mobile encyclopedia, Maj Navjot Dhaliwal, to enrich your tour.
Defense Staff College: ‘To War With Wisdom’, surrounded by symbolic owls, is the motto of the DSSC. It is a beautifully landscaped property, perfectly suited to place well-rounded heads on square shoulders. A very different from LTTE’s political czar, Tamilselvam runs the well-stocked Officers’ Mess bar. It is here that a newly arrived Air Force Gp Capt is greeted by an elderly Army Command Colonel with, “Didn’t we meet before?” Short break. “We were in NDA, weren’t we?” laughed the Gp Capt. They met after 20 years; that’s the magic of India’s premier triservice academy. The DSSC is the second stage of unity and integration before the third stage in the ultimate institution for cross-learning, National Defense College, New Delhi. The aesthetic makeover of the college, coupled with transformational restructuring of the syllabus, makes it a truly unified institution. Majors and equivalent ranks in the other two services are equipped here to take on senior command and staff positions. The DSSC imprimatur is a young officer open to higher rank and responsibility. All things being equal, the deciding factor is, “Has the officer done Staff College?”
Wellington Gymkhana Club: Built in 1863 for British civil and military officers, the idea of the meter gauge line from Mettupalayam to Ootacamund with Wellington as one of the stops was born in the club’s Gun Bar above cherry brandy between two wise owls. Tennis and squash courts, a croquet court and the challenging golf course exceeding Staff College are in play. The fifth hole of Par 3 is as infamous for Hole in One as balls lost in crisscrossing streams. Little has changed in the club’s geography and architecture, except for the perch recently built to hit the pine and fir trees that engulf the club. In the 1960s, waiters addressed the clientele as ‘master’. Today it has become ‘saab’/Sir.
Stavka: Stavka, meaning high command in Russian, is located on a hill on Kotagiri Road and is the residence of Sam and Silloo Manekshaw. Two miles past Simp’s Park, a high incline rises on the right. Two Gorkha Gurung names are carved into a rock below a temple near the gate they built.
The ‘beware of dogs’ sign is misleading as the three canines along with three Gorkha housekeepers are extremely friendly. Last month, a bear demanded the Gurungs’ rations and even opened their fridge to remove mango juice. They laughed: “Our rum is safe.” On another occasion, a leopard sat royally on the roof of Gorkha’s outhouse. Even ‘Aayo Gorkhali’ didn’t help. The Manekshaws settled in Stavka after the government’s promise to make Sam CDS member UPSC never materialized.
From the large veranda you can see the dome of DSSC that Sam was in command of. An original Maruti 800 and a Sunbeam Talbott are functional. The Manekshaws cellar has dried up and a rare bourbon bottle remains. The Gorkhas keep the lawns and gardens tidy and Stavka spick and span as if Silloo and Sam were still there.
(The writer, a retired Major General, was Commander of IPKF South, Sri Lanka, and a founding member of the Defense Planning Staff, currently the Integrated Defense Staff. Opinions expressed are personal.)