By Vishal Bharti
Jammu: Once a ‘Royal’ is always a ‘Royal’- says an old adage! True in every sense but then there is a big disruptor called time. Time doesn’t stop and it takes everything in its grind.
The regal edifices and the heritage architecture are one of the major victims of the grind. Such monuments of glory, as they stand mute witness to changes around, start to reflect the wear and tear induced by time unless the succeeding generations take care of the heritage left behind by the ancestors.
The Royal Palace complex at Mubarak Mandi, perched on top of a hill overlooking the vast expanse of River Tawi, holds the undisputed crown when it comes to picking on the architectural heritage of the city of temples.
Having suffered years of neglect and exploitation, the pages are finally beginning to turn for the pride of the erstwhile Dogra Kingdom.
Before 1925 AD, ie when Maharaja Hari Singh moved to Hari Niwas complex, the palace complex at Mubarak Mandi served both as the royal residence and the seat of governance.
The oldest building of the complex dates back to 1824 AD when Maharaja (then a Raja) ruled the Principality of Jammu under the sovereignty of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Successive Maharajas kept on adding to the palace complex and the complete walled complex, as we see today, came up over next 175 odd years.
The architecture is a mix of Rajasthani architecture, European style baroque, and Mughal architecture.
The complex is grouped around several courtyards and includes various buildings and palaces like the Darbar Hall Complex, the Pink Palace, Royal Courts buildings, Gole Ghar Complex, Nawa Mahal, Rani Charak Palace, Hawa Mahal, the Toshakhana palace and the Sheesh Mahal.
The halls and galleries of the palace were used for official functions and ceremonies.
Speaking to UNI on conservation of the Complex, Executive Director, Mubarak Mandi Heritage Society, Jammu, Deepika Sharma said, “There are about 25 small and big buildings inside the complex and those structures need to be preserved. When the project started in 2008, the restoration work was initially undertaken by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). However, the team from ASI restored only one building–that is Army Headquarters, commonly known as Ex Foreign Office.”
She added that the work had initially been divided into two phases and the renovation carried by the ASI was under an earlier Centre Sponsored Scheme, adding, “but due to slow pace of the work, a need was felt to revisit the plan and it’s execution. After due deliberations and consultations, a fresh master plan was prepared at an estimated cost of approximately Rs 582 crores.”
The then Governor, Satya Pal Malik, sanctioned Rs 65 crores under JKIDFC to complete six languishing projects out of which two projects (Dogra Art Museum and Darbar Hall) were accorded administrative approvals and the work on the Darbar Hall started in October 2019. The administrative approvals for four more projects were received in March 2020 but then the lockdown happened.
“Dogra Art museum restoration work that involved shifting of invaluable artefacts from the building, too couldn’t be started as the laborious process of shifting delicate articles too got delayed and has now been resumed after lifting of restrictions related to Covid-19″.
“Our motive is to restore original glory of the heritage. But the work of restoration is a very specialised work and consumes lot of time. The general lack of expertise in the field, not only in the UT of J&K but also in rest of the country too, is a major issue,” she added. As per her, a positive development has been in form of some reputed private players expressing their keen interest in the project.
Despite the delay in two ongoing projects due to pendemic, she is hopeful of speeding of the pace once the experts as well as labour from Rajasthan return.
Deepika also revealed that people from one of the world renowned professional agency had visited the complex to see the project in the recent past. “They were fascinated by the majestic complex and are likely to make recommendations in the near future.
“While the restoration and preservation top the list today, there is a need to put such buildings to meaningful adaptive reuse as per the charter of the Heritage Society. Except for the museum, all the buildings and the courtyards would be empty after the restoration part gets completed and unless the assets are put into use immediately, the deterioration would set in again. We, therefore, have to remain open to ideas and suggestions so that there is no time lag between the completion and re-commissioning of the assets,” she said adding that, “immediate requirement is to strengthen the weakened hill slopes that support the entire complex.”
She further said that proposals for more than 10 sub- projects have already been proposed to the higher authorities for consideration and approval.
“The building restoration work has been divided into four zones comprising of information, entertainment, recreational and experiential activities. In these zones, museum, art and paintings, Toshakhana, eating points, handicrafts zone (on Delhi Haat pattern), bamboo work and pottery, photography, kids zone, entertainment parks, laser shows on modern lines, etc will be coming up once the restoration work gets completed. If all goes well and if there are no further interruptions, the restoration should get over within five years or so.
“Besides, local support is must to take care of such mega projects and for that a matter, we have appealed to the people to make this zone free from all kinds of pollution forms. Parking area will also be developed and the entrance streets/bazaars will be given heritage look with installation of vintage items,” she added.
“We want that the visitors should have nostalgic feeling on their visit. When we conceive big things, we have to sacrifice small interests and comforts,” said the Executive Director.
On December 17, 2019, Union Minister of State for Tourism and Culture, Prahlad Singh Patel during his visit to Jammu, assuring full support to the department in its efforts towards development of tourism and culture in the Union Territory saying that Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex is a gift of forefathers’ and it should be preserved.
“There is a need for preserving the Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex as it is a world class heritage site which has been gifted to us by our forefathers,” Patel had said.
He emphasized the need of collaborative efforts towards preservation and protection of historic Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex.