Shutters will soon be down on a nostalgia shop in this Himachal Pradesh tourist resort with a Parsi business family finally disposing off a 160-year old prime British-era property that is expected to give way to an ultra-luxurious commercial outlet.
Set up in 1860, the Nowrojee and Sons General Store is the last iconic private landmark in the once-peaceful abode of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama with the mighty Dhauladhar ranges in the backdrop.
Old-timers fondly recall this prominent colonial landmark in the quaint uphill town known for attracting a steady stream of Tibet enthusiasts, Buddhist scholars, backpackers and even Hollywood stars.
Before Independence, the grand wooden store used to take care of the daily requirements of the British officers and their families.
The store in the heart of the town has seen five generations of the Nowrojees. The late Nauzer Nowrojee, a friend of the Dalai Lama, looked after the store-cum-residence set up by his great-grandfather for over 60 years.
The eldest of five brothers, Nauzer, was born in 1915 in Karachi and died here at the age of 85 here. After his death, his bachelor brother Jimmy looked after the business.
“With disposing of this prime heritage, very soon we will lose the old world charm that still showcases antique glass jars, lanterns and classic old advertisement hoardings,” says octogenarian Naresh Sood, who goes nostalgic for his long association with the Nowrojees.
The shop once used to take care of the daily requirements of the British officers and their families. It sold a variety of goods from bakery items to tobacco to toiletries and liquor to even arms and ammunition.
After the death of Nauzer and Jimmy, the shop was handed over to a local caretaker who sells only newspapers, magazines and confectionery.
The shop, the store is synonymous with McLeodganj, even withstood the devastating Kangra earthquake of 1905, recall locals.
They said due to inadequate repairs, lack of financial resources of the owners and limited understanding of heritage preservation, the building is in a dilapidated state for nearly three decades.
The Gothic-style of architecture store has been purchased by a local businessman who intends to bulldoze the building to make way for an ultra-luxurious hotel.
“Another eyesore is set to take its place,” says another local Tashi Dawa, who is settled here since early 1960’s.
“I wish the government should take over the building like British-era Bantony Estate in Shimla that was also decaying for many years. Such an iconic place could boost the tourism,” he said.
Dawa, whose parents had great relation with the senior Nowrojees, recalled that he used to visit the store to drink soda.
His son Tenzin said he used to peep into its adark room’ of antiques.
Justifying the decision to sell the heritage, Nauzer’s youngest son Parvez Nowrojee said a caretaker was running the shop for almost a decade.
“Of course, it has been a tough decision for the family to dispose the property,” he said.
He is currently here along with his elder brother Nowrojees, who owns a tea business in West Bengal.
The family also sold the British machinery to manufacture the aerated drinks to a junk dealer.
One of the oldest antiques in the store’s possession is Petromax 835 Special, a German-made hanging wick lamp.
Boxes of imported cigarette brands like ‘Passing Show’ Craven ‘A’ Virginia Cigarette, Number Ten Virginia of James Carlton Ltd, London, and Cavander Ltd of Godfrey Philips Ltd, London, are showcased in the store. These brands were quite popular among the British at that time.
A box of Cuticura Soap is also displayed. The US-made soap was advertised for curing sensitive skin and for skin purification.
Vinolia white rose soap of Vinolia Co Ltd of London and Calvert’s carbolic medical soap of F.C. Calvert and Co Ltd of Manchester, England, can be seen as well.
There are other relics from the past-small posters of German-made Sun brand wick lamps, Blue Bird toffees, shoelaces of Warrior and the Majestic porpoise boot laces of England.
A large number of wine and liquor bottles with their soiled labels and antique glass jars are also lying in the shop.
McLeodganj was a civilian settlement outside the British garrison of Dharamsala. It was known as the ‘Ghost town’ after the British left India.
More than 70 years after the British left, this town still attracts their descendants who are eager to explore their roots.