THE KALKA-SHIMLA Highway is not going to be the same again, at least for a month, if not more. The iconic Giani Da Dhaba in Dharampur has been demolished for the four-laning of NH-22. The owner promises to come back “with the same spirit”, but the new avatar is likely to be a downsized version of the original.
The National Highways Authority of India started pulling down the 40-year-old building on Tuesday from its moorings on the Solan hillside. The demolition continued on Wednesday, too, much to the shock and horror of regular motorists on the highway who use the restaurant as a pit stop and a landmark.
The dhaba, spread over more than 12 biswa land and built in 1973, soon turned into a “must stop” for many regulars as well as tourists who cram the highway on all days. It was also a measure of distance as in “It’s just 30 minutes from Giani Dhaba”. For Chandigarh and Panchkula residents, the restaurant was a popular eating-out destination. District officials said most of the land occupied by the dhaba was encroached upon.
Owner Kuldeep Singh Bhatia (77), said, “I know there are so many reasons, including professional rivalry, behind the decision to demolish my dhaba under the garb of NHAI. But I promise to everybody that the moment the debris is cleared, I will again rebuild a new Giani Da Dhaba with the same spirit, with which I had started it 44 years ago.” His son, Manpreet Singh Bhatia (41), joined his father in the promise: “We assure our thousands and lakhs of customers that we will be again in their service in a few weeks. We are not going to shut our family business.”
The family plans to restart the dhaba at their home, which is just above the demolished dhaba. A planned guest house, which was taking shape in the demolished portion, has to be shelved.
Known as much for its butter chicken and paranthas as for its legendary logo with a rooster announcing: “Meet me anywhere but eat me at Giani Da Dhaba,” Giani has a long list of admiring patrons, from former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to the present Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, with several Bollywood stars in between.
For owners as much for regulars, a mountain of memories are buried in the debris of Giani piled up along the road. “I still remember the days when so many Sanawarians [students of Lawrence School, Sanawar] came to my dhaba after bunking their classes, sometime in the late night hours to eat delicious vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes,” said Kuldeep.
The demolition drive began around 9 am on Tuesday, when three JCB machines with two small cranes suddenly arrived at the dhaba escorted by more than 80 police personnel. The family, which settled in the picturesque tiny city of Dharampur in Solan district of Himachal Pradesh in the late 70s, claimed they had not been served any advance notice prior to the demolition drive. The allegations were refuted by deputy commissioner, Solan, Rakesh Kanwar.
“The owner of Giani Da Dhaba along with others have been informed about the drive very well in advance. A compensation of around Rs 2.10 crore is being given to Kuldeep Singh Bhatia. There are around 127 small and big establishments, including hotels, restaurants, etc, which are being demolished in Solan district adjoining NH-22, “ Kanwar said.
Bhatia claimed ownership of all 12 biswa of land and complained that he was being given compensation of only around Rs 2.5 crore for 2 biswa land. But the DC said, “The remaining 10 biswas, including the illegally encroached land by Kuldeep Singh, also belong to Muslim Waqf Board.” Kuldeep Singh has decided to accept the compensation amount of around Rs 2.10 crore “under protest”.