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August - September 2004


Magnificent London

by Bajrang Bahadur Mathur

This article is a rough sketch of a city where I made my home and raised my family like many millions before me. I have lived and worked in London for some 40 years and even today I feel that I have not seen many places, which are worthy of a visit. Therefore I thought of sharing with you my experiences of this magnificent city.

Brief historical context: London, the Capital City of the United Kingdom, is a great metropolis and more so a cosmopolitan city. It is not planned but it has gradually and naturally grown organically over a period of some 2000 years. London, with the River Thames meandering through it, still contains many beautiful villages e.g. Blackheath, Dulwich, Greenwich, Hampstead, Harrow on the Hill, Highgate, Pinner and Richmond to mention a few.

Inspite of all the development pressures, these attractive villages still retain their original character, but practically all of them have been engulfed by suburbia. It is said that London is home to some seven million people and is spread over an area of approximately 620 square miles. In addition, some 25 million visitors come every year to enjoy the attractions of this wonderful city.

From my perspective London has many excellent aspects and features, which make it a special and charming city. Only a few are highlighted below.

People: Naturally, people come first and we find that London is a prime city with an enormous breadth of cultural diversity. Today's Londoners have come from all over the world and this process is still continuing. There are many established communities and list is endless: Africans, Caribbeans, Americans, Arabs, Australians, New Zelanders, Chinese, Cypriots, Greek, Turkish, German, Irish, Italians, Jews, Latin Americans, Poles, Somalis, South Asians, Spanish and Vietnamese etc. Don't be surprised to note that in addition to English over 300 languages and dialects are spoken by London's school children and most of the world's religions are practised. It can therefore be said that one of London's main attributes is its cultural and religious diversity. Whilst, St. Paul's Cathedral, rebuilt after the great fire between 1675 and 1710 by Sir Christopher Wren, stands tall and mighty - dominating the skyline and holding Christian values, other faiths have also created and constructed their synagogues, temples and mosques. All these communities have played an important role in the development and growth of London. This fusion of cultures gives this city a cosmopolitan flavour.

Built Heritage: Many lanes, streets and squares of London tell a tale of good and great buildings, which are historically, architecturally or archeologically important. These are the legacies of kings, aristocrats, rich people and church authorities who commissioned architects and builders to construct big and beautiful buildings. Currently the commissioning is in the hands of speculative developers, banks, other financial institutions and government departments. London being the Capital City and a hub of financial, commercial, cultural and political activities, has always had its fair share of spectacular and eye-catching buildings, structures and their built environment, many of these are famous landmarks. Various royal palaces including Buckingham and Kensington Palace, Big Ben - a renowned London icon, together with the Houses of Parliament, Tower of London etc are all from the past era, whereas contemporary London Eye - constructed to celebrate the new millennium and the new 40 storey glass clad conical Swiss Re Tower heralds new dramatic times in shaping London's great built heritage.

Pomp and Pageantry: Foremost tourist attraction of London is still what goes around in a ceremonial way in respect of the royals. Most noticeable ritual is the daily changing of the guards in the forecourts of Buckingham Palace and Horse Guard Parade.

Green Parts: London is very much a green city. Green spaces are to be found all around in the form of royal parks, public parks, gardens e.g. Kew Gardens, other natural spaces of heath and woodland, sports grounds, squares and even tree lined streets - all for the enjoyment of the public. Well-known parks are Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Green Park, St. James Park, and Regents Park. Whilst Hyde Park has expanses of lawns and mature trees with the beautiful Serpentine Lake, the Regent's Park boasts some 6000 trees. Many parks become venues for special functions e.g. open air concerts, mass rallies and festivals. Kew Gardens is very different and special. It is in fact a botanical extravaganza with 30,000 species of plants and flowers, the majority of which were brought from different parts of the globe. To house the exotic, temperate, tropical and alpine species beautiful conservatories have been built. Kew Gardens is one of the best of its kind in the world.

Performing and Visual Arts: There is always much to do and see in London for residents and tourists alike. Various venues offer a wide range and choice of theatrical productions, music, dance, ballet, opera etc. The West End of London has a concentration of traditional theatres. However the prime area and heart of cultural activities is the South Bank. The main complex includes the National Theatre, National Film Theatre, Royal Festival Hall, and Hayward Gallery. It now extends in the east to include the New Tate Modern and the Design Museum, and in the west the London Eye, Aquarium and an Art Gallery. Other important venues are the Barbican, which provides for musical concerts and exhibition spaces, the famous Royal Albert Hall is a grand concert hall and it also hosts other events e.g. important boxing matches or lectures. The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden is the home of large operatic and ballet productions.

Museums and Art Galleries: There are numerous museums; each specializes in different aspects and topics in respect of the past affairs of mankind including science and natural history. The British Museum is supposed to be the oldest museum displaying artefacts representing almost all aspects of international history. The so-called Elgin Marbles of the Parthenon in Athens are housed here. Noteworthy art galleries include names like the National Art Gallery, Portrait Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts, Tate Old and Modern.

For me, London is a great place to live, work and pass leisure time positively and constructively. I hope you too come and enjoy this lively city. Be assured there is lot to do and see.

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