Situated close to the banks of the Upper Lake, the Gohar Mahal (or Gauhar Mahal) is Bhopal’s earliest surviving city palace. Prior to my visit I had heard that there were plans to turn this heritage building in to museum and center for handicrafts, but in Feb 2018 there was no evidence of that at all !
The palace was built in 1820 by Qudisiya Begum (also known as Qudsia Begum), the first female ruler of Bhopal. Her daughter, Sikandar Begum, is responsible for the building of the nearby Moti Masjid.
There’s no entrance fee to visit this palace, in fact the entire place appeared completely deserted except for a couple of guards who claimed photography was not permitted and then proceeded to escort me around showing me places where photography was suddenly allowed. Of course this would result in a a tip being required for such an exclusive service, and whilst I don’t usually succumb to such antics, this time I just went with the flow. There isn’t an awful lot to see in the palace, your visit will be quite short, so I was willing to let 100 rupees leave my wallet.
The palace was clearly seen some investment, it was clean and very well maintained for the most part. I did also see areas where conservation efforts have taken place, so I hope in the future more effort is made to promote and make use of the space.
The highlight for me was on the upper levels. The rooms closest to the upper lake had some interesting hints of just how elaborately these rooms must once have been decorated, with mirrored ceilings and some quite elaborate wall paintings.
The guard was keen to take me to an area that was once the kitchens on the northern extent of the complex. Here he exclaimed was a secret tunnel joining the Gohar Palace to other palace complexes nearby and further north up the hill. A great claim, which I’m sure excites some of the tourists that visit. Sadly, I think it’s simply just a drain taking waste fluids down to the nearby upper lake.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the palace is the clever architectural elements to combat the severe heat in the region. The rooms located at the lake side have a double roof. The secondary roof, or false ceiling, inserted below the structural roof traps air which is not a good conductor of heat, and so reduces the transmission of heat from the roof to the interior of the building. Many of the rooms also had small openings near the roof to allow the warmer air to rise and leave the building, replaced by cooler air. This must have given the palace great airflow within the space.
Upon leaving the Gohar Mahal, cross the busy main road to the side of the Upper Lake and head west away from the city center. A short distance along here is a statue of Raja Bhoj, king of the Parmar dynasty. This is a new landmark in the city, having been unveiled in 2011. The statue is cast from gun and bell metal, and weighs seven tonnes.
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