Posts Tagged ‘The Lanes

27
May
10

Brighton

[On the south coast of England, facing the Atlantic ocean, lies the vibrant and colourful seaside town of Brighton. Known for its vast stretch of pebble beaches adorned with Victorian piers, the town is a favourite with holiday-makers…especially from London, thanks to its proximity with the capital. On a warm and sunny summer day, tens of thousands of sun-worshippers flock onto Brighton’s beaches and promenades, occupying almost every inch of space available. However, as one might imagine, its not quite the same when subjected to some typical British weather patterns – of gloomy skies, rain and chilly winds. Incidentally, it was on one of these somber days that I arrived in town… but then, I had backup plans in mind :)]
 
It was the first long weekend of May and I took the train from London Victoria station to Brighton. In under an hour, and after passing remarkably close underneath an Easyjet aircraft taking-off at Gatwick Airport, I disembarked at Brighton. As feared, the BBC weather forecasts had been right, and the showers kept pouring incessantly. A quick stroll around town gave me a clear picture of the situation – the sky was heavily overcast and the beaches and promenades were almost deserted. Not letting myself feel disheartened, I quickly set off finding my way towards the one place that had originally attracted me to Brighton – the Royal Pavilion !

The Royal Pavilion

What is special about the Royal Pavilion is that it is unlike any other palace in Britain, or Europe for that matter! As you walk through the gardens and approach the marvellous structure, you may be forgiven to think that you have arrived in India……because the architecture of the building – with its elaborate domes, minarets and arches, is distinctively Indian, with medieval Mughal influences. But the moment you buy yourself a ticket [costing £9.50] and step inside, that perception changes, as you would feel transported into an extravagant Chinese palace,  replete with elaborate oriental decor. [Unfortunately, I couldn’t click any pictures, as with most palaces in Britain, photography was not permitted inside]

Indian exteriors and Chinese interiors !!! So who on earth owned this place ?

Well, despite its indisputably Asian design, the palace belonged to an authentic English prince. It was built in the early 1800’s, during the height of the British Raj, by prince George IV, who later went on to become King George IV of Great Britain. George IV was a committed playboy and the Royal Pavilion reflects his outlandish tastes. He had used the Royal Pavilion as his pleasure palace, where lavish banquets and balls were regularly held. Incidentally, his niece Victoria, who later went on to become Queen Victoria, didn’t share similar tastes and sold the palace in 1850 to the town of Brighton, who still happens to own the place.

As it continued to rain outside, I picked up an audio-guide and set out exploring the palace……leisurely studying its elegant corridors, banquet halls, kitchens, music rooms and bedrooms.

Interestingly, the Royal Pavilion’s Indian connection does not end with its external architecture alone, but in fact, is a lot more significant than that. During World War 1, faced with massive shortages of manpower, the British had recruited hoardes of Indian soldiers to fight for them on the Western Front. Many thousands of Indians died fighting in the trenches of Belgium and France, and several others were seriously wounded. Incidentally, the injured Indian soldiers were brought here to Brighton for treatment; and between 1914 and 1916, the Royal Pavilion served as a military hospital for them. The elegant banquet hall, music room and the Dome had all been converted into wards, and separate kitchens were created to cater to Hindu, Sikh and Muslim tastes/beliefs.

Situated in the first floor of the Royal Pavilion, was an exhibition dedicated to this period, displaying iconic photographs and video footage from the time, in addition to personal possessions and weapons left behind by the Indian soldiers. Looking at those black and white pictures, it was hard to imagine what may have been going through the minds of these men, lying wounded 4000 miles away from home and family, in an age predating internet and cheap air travel !

Some succumbed to their injuries whilst here at the Royal Pavilion, and amongst those who survived, most returned back to their hometowns in India, where as some went on to settle in Brighton, adding to the cosmopolitan nature of its population. The Indians soldiers had been very well treated and cared for at Brighton, and as a token of gratitude, the India Gate was gifted to the Royal Pavilion by the people of India, and unveiled by the Maharaja of Patiala in 1921.

By evening, there was some respite from the rain, and after checking-in to the ‘Journeys Brighton Hostel’ [which at just £11 for a bunker bed and included breakfast, turned out to be great value for money], I walked across to the seaside. Like many other beaches that I have come across in Britain, Brighton beach was a pebble beach and there was hardly a speck of sand to be seen. The Palace Pier – a major landmark in Brighton, was a world in itself with eateries, bars, arcade centres and amusement rides all along its length.

As I walked by the Journeys hostel towards the town centre, I came across a very interesting traditional pub that goes by the name of ‘The King and Queen’ ! Its old timber structure and historical feel was an obvious attraction for me, and I spent the evening in there. The building itself, I came to learn, was established in the late 1700’s and the walls inside were adorned with potraits of ancient English kings and queens. Lovely ! The pub seemed to be a major sporting venue, with its two large projection screens and many smaller flat screens, all beaming football action from around the world.

Later in the night, I stopped for dinner at a vegetarian Indian restaurant called ‘Planet India’. Vegetarian Indian food is not really my kind of thing when eating out, but then, that happened to be the only place near my hostel that was still open and the food wasn’t bad either.

The next day, I visited the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, adjacent to the Royal Pavilion, and following that, went around exploring the Lanes – which was a maze of old, narrow, picturesque, shopping lanes running through the town centre. The place was lined with restaurants and pubs, and I stopped by at a traditional pub to grab some lunch, before heading back to London.

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