A private builder from Indore will develop the 120-room Taj Mahal - the royal residence of erstwhile Begum of Bhopal - into a heritage hotel from January.
Sources in the state tourism department said it didn’t have enough funds to restore the heritage structure, as the project would require over Rs 60 to Rs 80 crore.
Taj Mahal’s pavilion, a 50 feet by 50 feet gallery in the courtyard, is tipped to be converted into a restaurant, said sources. An estimated cost of the project is Rs 5.57 crore.
According to local historians, Taj Mahal, located in Bhopal’s Shahjanabad, was built by Begum Shah Jahan who ruled Bhopal from 1868 and 1901. It reflects multiple influences - British, French, Mughal, Arabic and Indian architecture. The Taj Mahal has unique features. The minarets of the palace have little holes through which water was let out on frequent intervals to keep the palace cool during summers. The cooling system was based on underground water reservoirs. Begum Shah Jahan was inspired by Gond Mahal near Islamnagar which had a similar cooling system, add historians.
Until 2013, the Taj Mahal was under the archives department. In 2014 the monument was handled over to the Madhya Pradesh tourism department.
“We had de-notified it and handed it over to the state’s tourism department as the monument required a lot of money for its upkeep,” said Pankaj Raag, former commissioner of state archives department.
“With restoration, Bhopal’s Taj Mahal will get back its past glory”, he added.
Tapan Bhowmick, chairperson, Madhya Pradesh tourism development corporation, said, “Yes, we have received the property from the state archives department and now a builder from Indore will start working on this in January 2017. The place would be developed into a beautiful tourism resort by the end of 2017. Private parties were approached, as our budget did not allow the kind of investment it requires.” Bhowmick also said they were looking to replicate the ‘shahi models’ just like Rajasthan forts, havelis and palaces which have been converted into luxury hotels.
Next in line of becoming a heritage hotel would be Benazir Mahal located at Motia lake.
City historian Syed Akhtar Hussain said that soon after independence, the then nawab, Hamidullah Khan, threw open the building as a shelter for refugees from Pakistan. “In hindsight,” he said, “the move proved costly as the refugees stayed in the palace for over four years before a new township came up. The palace got damaged and its beauty was ruined. A few years ago, Serge Santelli, dean of the school of architecture in Paris, had visited Bhopal to restore the Taj Mahal. He described it as one of the best palaces in the world”.
However, some people in Bhopal did not seem happy with the decision. “Taj Mahal won’t be open for everyone if it turns into a heritage hotel. We will have to pay hefty amount to enter the hotel. Its architecture is so beautiful that everyone should be able to see it not just a niche rich crowd,” said Rahul Shah, a history graduate from Institute for Excellence in Higher Education.