Gulmarg Palace in ruins, courtesy official apathy
Conservation Plan Gathers Dust For 3 Years
ARIF SHAFI WANI
Gulmarg, July 10: When Maharaja Hari Singh constructed a Palace over a hillock here in early 20th century, he would not have thought even in his wildest dreams that this confluence of colonial and traditional Kashmiri architecture would be in ruins mainly due to the apathy of his successors.
An on-the-spot assessment of the Palace revealed that in absence of any conservation measures, it has turned into a façade of decayed wood with broken windows, uneven floor, collapsed front deck and gables. If anything remains of the building, it is its name.
The stable beneath the single-storey structure where Maharaja used to keep his horses has caved in at many places due to seepage of water. The pine barks draping the building’s exteriors have also been extremely damaged.
Filled with unending layers of cobweb covered with accumulated dirt and dust, bird droppings and heaps of dust, a spacious hall decked by dusty traditional Kashmiri wooden work Khatamband ceiling and neatly carved deodar walling, reflects the Palace’s bygone glory.
Officials said Gulmarg Palace was a favorite holidaying and partying place of Maharaja Hari Singh and his guests till 1947. And after 1950, tourists and ministers used to stay there.
Abdul Rauf, the then Tourism cum Executive Officer of Gulmarg-Tangmarg area said many VIPs including Union Ministers have stayed in the Palace. “As Congress president, Indira Gandhi briefly stayed in the Palace in 1963. After becoming Prime Minister, she again stayed in the Palace with her family for many days in 1968. She liked the Palace owing to its serene ambience and unique architecture and waited for hours in its garden to have a glimpse of Nanga Parbat peak overlooking Gulmarg,” recounts Rauf who was also Indira Gandhi’s liaison officer in Gulmarg during her stay there.
Rauf said the upkeep of the Palace was so prompt that when an inlet pipe of the Gyser in Indira Gandhi’s bathroom leaked, the entire administration was activated to repair it. “The then Chief Engineer of Public Works Department was asked to monitor the repairs. Government used to maintain the Palace on priority as it was the best accommodation in Gulmarg those days. However, after 1970, the condition of the Palace gradually deteriorated due to lack of conservation measures,” he said.
“It is ironical that such a heritage building which had even earned praise from famous American architect Joseph Allen Stein, is in ruins. Its condition sums up the non-seriousness of the successive regimes towards conserving heritage buildings,” Rauf lamented.
After nearly three decades of inordinate delay, the conservation of the Palace was proposed during the Governor’s rule in 2008. It was decided to take measures for restoration of the Palace and convert it into a Heritage Convention Centre.
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) J & K Chapter was engaged as a consultant to make conservation plan for the Palace. In its detailed conservation plan, the INTACH states that lack of maintenance has resulted in deterioration of the Palace’s architectural and decorative features.
“This includes damage to the wall cladding, ceiling as well as missing window shutters. Additionally, craftsmanship for repairing and restoring of the various missing and damaged building elements and requisite technical skill for conservation and reuse plan for this building is available locally,” the plan states.
INTACH maintained that the Palace has the potential to be converted into a convention centre without affecting the heritage structure and submitted a plan estimated at Rs 1.60 crores for the endeavor.
The plan states that the Palace covers an area of around 8700sq.ft and comprises around 15 rooms of varying sizes and a large hall. “As of today, the building can accommodate around 100 persons and with sympathetic internal readjustments it is proposed to increase the seating capacity to about 200 persons. The hall with its walnut wood paneling helps in creating a royal ambience. Converting it into a convention centre, will not only ensure the survival of this historic building but also attract greater number of visitors while also insuring that the building will generate its own finances for future expansion and upkeep,” the plan states.
Officials said the plan was approved in 2008 by the Administrative Council of the Governor and subsequently funds for it were also released. However, despite passing of three years, the State Government failed to execute the plan.
Pertinently, last year the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah had underscored the need for conservation and restoration of Gulmarg Palace and directed the concerned authorities to take “urgent steps” to preserve the heritage building and utilize it for promotion of convention tourism. Omar had also approved Rs 50 lakh for its conservation and maintenance.
Convener INTACH (J and K) Chapter chairman, Muhammad Saleem Beg said if the comprehensive restoration plan is executed, the Palace can emerge as landmark of Gulmarg.
“We had proposed to make a traditional restaurant in the Palace’s basement and convert its ground floor into a convention centre. The Government is facing some difficulties in finding the right agency for undertaking the delicate and sensitive job. We want to maintain that after restoration, the heritage building has to be reused to help in its long-term conservation,” Beg said.
The building was earlier looked after by the Hospitality and Protocol Department. However last year it was handed over to the Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) for upkeep and maintenance.
The Chief Executive Officer, GDA Mehmood Ahmad Shah said under the supervision of INTACH, the ‘bill of quantity’[estimation] for the Palace’s conservation has already been formed.
“We had floated tenders for Rs 98 lakhs and set a primary condition that the executing agency should have done conservation of heritage related projects to ensure proper restoration of the Palace. However due to poor response, the work was re-tendered. Three parties have responded and negotiation with the lowest bidder is on,” Shah said adding the Palace’s restoration will start by the end of this month.
Lastupdate on : Sun, 10 Jul 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 10 Jul 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 11 Jul 2011 00:00:00 IST
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