A palace for a school

The building, the biggest and tallest in the region, is made up of four stories with 45 rooms and two underground basements. Materials used in its construction include stone, marble, seasoned wood and baked bricks, while the plastering has been done with a fine paste of red clay and lime. It could be seen on walking through the rooms that they have been designed in such a manner that every part of the building is well-lit and ventilated. The walls are at least three feet wide, while the rooftop gives a fantastic, all round view of the whole area, both built up and lush green countryside. Of course many of these constructions have come up after partition, so the original view must have been greener and grander!

Bedi palace was previously surrounded by a large square, fortified by a boundary wall that also enclosed long rows of servant quarters and stables for the many horses that the Bedi family kept, since they were fond of riding and hunting, which were considered the sports of royalty. The large square is now, in part, a playing ground and part built upon area, where a government school has been constructed without taking into consideration the historical value of the site — but at least further destruction of the building has been avoided.

 The approach to the palace is appallingly filthy as you have to walk quite a long distance through narrow pedestrian alleys, with overflowing drains and garbage lying all around — a result of young 'educated' household members now being ashamed to clean outside their homes, something which was done with pride in days gone by. This approach is a far cry from the levelled road that was built in 24 hours all the way from Rwat when the Viceroy of India visited the palace during the Second World War! He came to seek the assistance of the Bedi family in a difficult period and the family took great pride in welcoming him to the family retreat — they had a very special relationship after this which came in handy later on.

This road, which would have given easy access to the palace, is now unusable for various reasons, one being that encroachments have taken over. It was interesting but heart-breaking to go around this small palace and inspect its architecture. It's in a bad condition these days due to neglect and a 'couldn't care less' attitude by the authorities who should be taking care of it. Used for many years by the government as a school for the children of the locality, its precious wall paintings depicting Sikh culture and mythology have been ruined by the students, who have scratched their names across faces and figures. White ants are running rampant in many parts of the woodwork, including the roofs and the beautifully carved windows and doors.

The front door, which is a marvel of craftsmanship, is cracking and in need of measures to save it from disintegration. Walls and floors are slowly but surely being eroded for lack of upkeep and repair. It is frustrating and a feeling of helplessness overcomes when you see the destruction taking place when it could so easily be stopped. If this building had been anywhere else in the world it would have been preserved as a treasure and made a tourist attraction.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan nothing is done to preserve and maintain historical monuments that are not only wonderful to look at but have a fascinating history as well. What are the people in charge of heritage doing? This palace needs to be renovated and refurbished to its original beauty and preserved as a heritage site.

Visitors from India, especially Sikhs, are interested in the palace because of its historical value to their community. Since the palace was built in a predominantly Muslim area, Khem Singh had the foresight to carefully plan a strong defence and fortify it against attack. Many of their forefathers were saved from massacre by Muslims during partition, when they fortified themselves inside its four walls.

With good weapons at hand and plenty of food to sustain them, everyone inside was kept safe until a contingent of Gurkhas sent by the Viceroy rescued them and provided a safe passage to India. They took along jewellery and personal belongings but everything else was looted or gifted to influential politicians and dignitaries. A chandelier studded with precious and semi-precious stones was auctioned for just over Rs 500!

Elderly people living in the area have many stories to tell about the family and the palace and a young boy who hung around as we toured the palace told how these stories have been passed down and become legends. This palace has the potential to become a big attraction for all tourists especially those interested in architectural sites of historical significance. A fee for entry into the premises can provide money for its upkeep, but only after it is restored.

Three school teachers are keeping an eye on the place as the school has been shifted to the new building mentioned above, while one of them is occupying a room in the building. Though they appear to be trying their best, they have neither the expertise nor the funds required for its upkeep

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