Hidden behind a row of street stalls, the decades-old homely iconic structure is known for providing shelter to Vizag’s visitors. GV Ramesh explores the genesis of, and legend associated with Turner’s Choultry – a well-known historical building in Vizag.
For long, prior to the twentieth century, visitors to Visakhapatnam comprised mostly of pilgrims and devotees visiting Simhachalam temple. This was until the establishment of the King George Hospital (KGH) in 1845 brought about a sea change in the demographic as well as tourism-profile of our city. KGH became the only resort for patients with chronic illnesses not only from North coastal Andhra Pradesh but also from the Southern part of Orissa. Consequently, Visakhapatnam became a ‘medical’ destination, long before medical-tourism became a ‘term-in-vogue’.
In order to provide affordable stay for them and other tourists, many philanthropists came forward to build a choultry – a lodging facility – in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Chief among them was Maharaja Gode Narayana Gajapathi Row of “Chemudu” region. He donated around thirteen thousand square yards in the area known, then, as ‘Enugula Thota’ – vernacular for “Elephant Lines” of early military days. The other Rajas and Zamindars of Vizianagaram, Bobbili, Jeypore, the Ankitam, Inuganti, Uppalapati families too had donated liberally for the construction of this building, which opened on 26th Dec 1898. It was named Turner’s Choultry – ‘Turner Chatram/Satram’ in Telugu – after the then famous former Collector of Vizag, Henry Gribble Turner. Initially, Vizag Municipality had been entrusted with the management of this choultry, which was subsequently handed over to the Endowments Department in 1975 for more effective management with centralised focus.
This sprawling edifice-like structure can be found on the left side, when one travels a furlong or two from Jagadamba Junction towards Poorna Market. The building – raised to a height of around a meter-and-a-half from the earth – is in the shape of a rectangle with a big central courtyard, surrounded on either side with rooms, with strong walls plastered with lime-mortar. The entrance lobby of Turner’s Choultry can be reached through a flight of wide steps. The dual-pitched roof of the building consists of two layers of tiles – bottom flat-tiles and top pot-tiles – layered on the wooden posts cut from premium grade Burma Teak logs. It has sixteen rooms, out of which two are being used for office work. Another block of twenty rooms, out of which ten rooms house different offices, and ten are for tourists, was constructed on the rear-side in 1957. All the rooms meant for tourists are available at very affordable rates for the benefit of persons belonging mainly to the lower-income group.
Owing to its antiquity and architectural splendour vividly visible in its stone columns; patterns on the facade on the entrance door; engraved floral patterns cut in stone above the crown of the entrance arch; floor-level, pointed and arched windows in the front lobby; etc., Turner’s Choultry has been notified as a heritage building too. Legend has it that the great Telugu poet – Mahakavi Sri Sri – wrote a number of poems, which went on to become part of arguably the greatest anthology of Telugu poems of twentieth Century, the ‘Mahaprasthanam’ – while sitting in the courtyard of this building.