The Royal Heritage of Bhopal's Begums – Part 2
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Bhopal is not India’s capital, but
it has all the features and reflects the great highlights of the country. Bhopal
is actually the capital of Madhya Pradesh State. There was a time that Bhopal was
the heart of an independent State. The city was forced to join the union of
India in 1949, but since then the royalty attention has faded and the city’s
monuments have been neglected. However,
there are still signs of the glory days to be seen in the ruins of the palaces
and old mansions. My guide told me that the local government has become more
aware of tourism, so there are plans to restore and refurbish these architectural
remainders of the Nawab era. I could see, in the centre of the city, that work had
already started. The restoration process should result in a brighter future for
this historic city.
I stayed at the Jehan Numa Palace Hotel which was a convenient location from which to discover Bhopal’s attractions. During my stay at this former royal palace, I discovered not only the heritage and architectural wonders left behind by Nawab dynasty, particularly by the Begums of Bhopal but also the nature, wildlife, tribally cultural significance and ancient temples. Where in the world could you find all these attractions in such close proximity: lakes, the national park, the traditional bazaar, an old cobbled town, monumental palaces, mansions, epic mosques and temples.
I explored the city of Bhopal
accompanied by two local lady guides. Miss Drashti Saxena was Hindu and Miss Saman
Ali was a Muslim. Both of them seemed to be very pleasant and welcoming,
working closely in tourism. We began our exploration on VIP road, stopping on the
banks of the Upper Lake to visit Gohar Mahal.
Gohar Mahal (Gohar Palace) is a
palace built in 1820 by Qudisiya Begum known as Gohar Begum, the first woman of
the Nawab Dynasty who became the ruler of Bhopal after the death of her husband
in 1819. The palace is a marvellous piece of architecture, combining Islamic
art with a touch of Hindu and Mogul influence. This great memorial to Gohar
Begum’s influence on the history of Bhopal has some extraordinary features including
beautiful court yards, decorated rooms, ornamental ceilings, large halls, arched
terraces, archways, wall paintings and fine woodwork. The palace looks tired
and in decay because of years of neglect, but the restoration work has already begun
to bring back to life the faded collages in doors, walls and passageways.
Entry to Gohar Mahal was through a
giant wooden door under an archway in the reddish façade of the palace. My
guide knocked at the closed door, and it took several minutes before a guard opened
the door. Despite being a guest of the local tourist office, I was told we were
not allowed to take pictures. I did manage to capture some of the enduring
features of the palace as we made our way up narrow stairs to different levels
to reach the rooftop of this three to four storey building. It gave a good view
of the Upper Lake. Miss Drashti told me that the rooms in the palace were
designed with the double ceilings. The false ceiling and a ventilation system with
small grills was designed to keep the room cool in the harsh summer heat. There
were two court yards, one with a fountain in the middle. We entered a small
yard on the west side of the palace and left Gohar Mahal through a back door.
Opposite the Gohar Mahal was
Seedhi Ghaat Wali Masjid which overlooked the Upper Lake. This Mosque was
small, but magnificent in its style, with the prayer room area built in reddish
sandstone with beautiful columns and arches. The design and construction of
this Mosque is very similar to other large heritage mosques such as Moti Masjid
I went through a big arch next to
Gohar Mahal, called the Sikandari Gate, which led me to a large square called
Iqbal Maidan. This massive area seems to be the heart of ancient Bhopal as it
is surrounded by the architectural splendours of Moti Mahal, Shaukat Mahal and
Moti Majid. I looked around the square and for a moment felt that I had been transported
into the 18th century. I imagined what the life would have been like
in the square during Nawab era, crowds of people, horses and carriages.
The Iqbal Maidan used to be
called Khirniwala Maidan, because there was a beautiful garden full of khirni
trees, known as the tree of life. There is still a three hundred-year-old khirni
tree in the square. Drashti explained that the Maidan was renamed in the honour
of the great Muslim poet, Mohammad Iqbal Lahori after India’s independence.
Iqbal’s revolutionary poems inspired many Indians. His famous poem: "Sare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Humara" which has been inscribed on a stand in the Maidan, means
"Out of the whole world, Hindustan is the best place to live".
I continued to
discover more of this glorious city, nourished by the Nawab Dynasty.
To find out more about the Jehan
Numa Palace Hotel and book your next trip, please visit www.jehannuma.com.
For more information about Bhopal, visit tourism.mp.gov.in.
To see more of Reza’s images of Jehan Numa Palace and Bhopal, go to www.amirinia.com/india.
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