Day 2 of a Trip Down South…

DAY 2:

The second day of our trip started off after a leisurely breakfast in Sahiwal laden with the likes of fried eggs and parathas. After getting some much needed energy to take us through the day, we set off for the four hour trip to Bahawalpur to see the splendours of this once princely state. During the journey, I got to see many of the famous mango tree orchards and fields for miles around the narrow regional roads. Although, as we went deeper into Southern Punjab, there was a marked difference in the landscape as the surrounding were much more arid then the areas in the North. However, the expansive network of canals from the Indus River means that that these areas can be used for agriculture providing much needed prosperity to this otherwise deprived area of the wealthiest province in Pakistan.

The facade of Nur Mahal Palace
Great Hall of Nur Mahal Palace. Note the mosaic floors, ceiling frescos and Chandelier.

As we wondered around Bahawalpur in search of the vast palaces and striking monuments which have made this princely state so famous, we were reminded of similar towns across in the border in India. Although I have not yet been to India, my mother remarked that many of the monuments in Bahawalpur are very similar to those in Jaipur or Jodhpur. Indeed, after seeing pictures of some of the palaces I did see some similarities between the structures.

Our first stop was Nur Mahal or the Palace of Light is the Italian-style palace of the fifth ruler of Bahawalpur, Nawab Muhammad Sadiq Khan Abbasi built in 1875 and took three years to complete. Although the palace was meant to be a new residence for the nawab he never live in it for a day. It is said that the nawab’s wife was not comfortable living so near a graveyard so it was subsequently used as a state guest house where Prince Albert also stayed for a night during his visit to India in 1890.

Although the palace was built on the style of an Italian palace with most of the ornate furniture and decor pieces being imported from Italy and other parts of Europe, it also includes elements from Greek and Islamic Architecture which give it its unique domes, frescos and mosaic tiles. Unfortunately, after Bahawalpur became part of Pakistan and the palace were taken over by the government, all its insides were misplaces or handed over to the descendants of the Nawab and hardly any of the original furniture can be seen in the palace today.

Though the palace (like most of the other palaces in the city) is owned by the Pakistan Army, it is the only palace open to visitors which anyone can visit without seeking special permission.

The gate leading up to Jamia Masjid Al Sadiq.
A view of Jamia Masjid Al Sadiq before Dhuhr prayers. Students studying the Quran in the foreground.

After our trip to Nur Mahal we were told that we could only visit Durbar Mahal after 4pm so we decided to kill time by exploring the winding alleys of the old city. We first visited the Jamia Masjid Al Sadiq in the middle of the old city’s main bazaar. The mosque is of the same vintage as many of the palaces and serves as the main mosque for Friday priors in the city accommodating more than 50,000 people for prayers. The mosque is built at height to the bazaar and its surrounding areas and serves as a great vantage point of the city. The intricate marble detailing and the elegant courtyard were truly a wonderful sight.

After visiting the mosque we walked around the bazaar buying various tie-dye material to design new outfits, looking at various descriptions of new and old jewellery and trying out some of the local snacks. While, seeing the sites is a great way to see what the city has to offer, it was lovely to see the types of people in the city from young women buying clothes to old shopkeepers selling sweets or spices. Similar, to the old city of Rabat it was small and organised and had everything you could possibly want! After two hours of roaming around the hustle and bustle we decided to to make our way to Durbar Mahal.

Darbar Mahal at the cusp of sunset. The three levels bring together Mughal, Sikh and British Colonial architecture.
The outdoor enclosure of Darbar Mahal perhaps a wonderful spot for a meal?
The inside of one of the halls of Darbar Mahal. The walls have pictures of the Nawabs with a stuffed pelican in the middle.

Our last stop on our day in Bahawalpur was Durbar Mahal perhaps one of the newest palaces of the princely state. Although Durbar Mahal and Gulzar Mahal are actually linked together, we did not manage to see Gulzar Mahal as it required a separate set of permissions from another unit of the Pakistan Army.

The palace was commission by Nawab Bahawal Khan(V) in 1904 and was dedicated to one of the wives of the Nawab. The palace was built as a fort made with red bricks and has been in the control of the Pakistan Army since 1947. The palace incorporates Mughal, Sikh and British colonial architecture and is styled on the great monument of Lahore like the Lahore Fort. Although some of the original art work remains in the palace, most of the walls are filled with photographs and photographs of paintings of the nawabs. Few of the original priceless art relics, family heirlooms or furniture remains in the palace but the grand hallways and chandeliers leave somewhat of a rich legacy of the past. However an important symbol is still present, a stuffed pelican, the national bird of the state of Bahawalpur also seen on its royal seal and on the seal of some of the army units stationed in the state.

The palace is set on 75 acres of land and includes many buildings of which some may have been used as separate enclosures for women and state guests but now serve as various army offices. The gardens of the palace also include lush greenery, fountains, a beautifully decorated mosque and an outdoor enclosure now home to a small museum of the Nawab’s belongings.

Although we missed many of the remaining sites of Bahawalpur includes Derawer Fort, Sadiq Garh Palace, the Bahawalpur Museum, Central Library and Sadiq Public School, we hope to visit again sometime soon for longer so that we can see many of the sites in store. Next time we hope to spend some time getting lost (with caution) in the Cholistan Desert and travelling around Lal Suhanra National Park. After a day well spent and lots to be seen, eaten and bought we headed for Multan and prepared for our next (and final) day full of adventure.

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