The Shaukat Mahal was constructed in the 1830s as a wedding gift for Sikander Jahan Begum, the first female ruler of Bhopal. Architecturally it is a bit of an oddity compared to other buildings in the heart of Bhopal, the building has many western elements combining both gothic and islamic themes. This is due to the design being attributed to the Bourbons of Bhopal, widely considered to be descendants of renowned French kings.
Up until 2015 the building was in a terrible state with ceilings collapsed and wide cracks appearing on the majestic facade and interior walls. Despite this the building still housed 21 families, but their safety became a concern as the Mahal continued to decay.
This all sounds very familiar, a situation that the Taj Mahal Palace in Bhopal has also experienced. But all is not lost, as with the Taj Mahal Palace there are plans in place to renovate the building, and here they have already made an excellent start to that process.
I arrived at the Shaukat Mahal with the assumption that I’d only be allowed to stare into the entrance way. It was a height of building activity, surely too dangerous to have a visitor wonder inside and explore the building? But this is India of course, no health and safety concerns here ! I was welcomed in and left to walk amongst the rubble and renovation activities.
Renovation started in 2016 with a team of 80 people, and the desire is to use 18th and 19th century techniques as much as they can. In a hallway by the main entrance is a makeshift demonstration area, where plans of the renovations and examples of the materials being used are available for people to see.
Natural construction materials such as methi powder, urad dal, jaggery, jute, guggar, limestone powder and surkhi (red soil) are on display. Used in the right proportions they become the best binding material for any construction, and successfully held the Mahal together for almost 200 years.
Expertise from Rajasthan has been drawn upon to ensure the correct traditional masonry techniques are adopted, and once restored it is envisaged that the Shaukat Mahal will host cultural performances, have a small museum detailing the history of the building and Bhopal, along with a cafeteria serving authentic Bhopal cuisine.
It’s wonderful to see the Shaukat Mahal coming back to life, and it will surely become a cultural and tourist focal point in the city once completed. I hope this encourages the renovation of other nearby buildings in Bhopal that are in a similar perilous state of decay.
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