The expansive Sadiq Garh Palace in Bahawalpur once glorified the opulence of one the most affluent princely states in the subcontinent. However, it has now become a tragic reminder of lost history and extreme neglect.
A little over a century after it was constructed, this historical palace in Pakistan has been reduced to a picture of desolation. Had it not been for the fading paint, missing tiles, crumbling walls and broken glass windows, this royal palace could have been a major tourist attraction in Bahawalpur.
Apparently, no one has lived in Sadiq Garh Palace for over two decades. This historic white palace is permanently closed for the general public, as it has long been at the centre of a legal battle involving the descendants of the royal family of Bahawalpur. However, visitors are usually allowed to go up to the main palace gates and take pictures in the front garden.
History of Sadiq Garh Palace
The then-ruler of Bahawalpur, Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan (V), constructed this palace as his principal royal residence back in 1882. The palace complex sprawls across hundreds of acres. It is located in Dera Nawab Sahab near Ahmedpur East, a serene town that once served as a home to the royal family. The structure is said to have been designed by Italian architects and cost around 1.5 million rupees at the time. It took almost 10 years to construct it.
Despite its deteriorating condition, it’s not hard to imagine how magnificent the white palace of Bahawalpur must have seemed during its glory days when the nawab used to hold his ‘darbar’ in the large court and foreign dignitaries dined in the grand dining hall. In fact, records suggest Viceroy of India Lord Mountbatten, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Shah Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi were among the prominent leaders who once stayed at this palace as the guests of the nawab.
Structure of Sadiq Garh Palace
The majestic complex of Sadiq Garh Palace includes four main buildings and vast but perfectly symmetrical gardens. The entire complex is fortified by a huge wall with bastions and arched entryways. While some publications claim the palace contains 99 rooms, others argue the total number is somewhere around 120, with each room decorated in a unique theme. Despite being designed in the 1800s, the palace boasted a modern design. As it turns out, all rooms had spacious walk-in closets and attached bathrooms with huge bathtubs. It is also one of the biggest royal palaces in Bahawalpur.
The main palace building has three floors. The interior of Sadiq Garh Palace included an extravagant ballroom, a Turkish hall, grand dining rooms, conference rooms, kitchens, ladies’ harem and most importantly, an actual throne for the Nawab of Bahawalpur that is still present in the middle of the main hall.
Meanwhile, the exterior of Sadiq Garh Palace consists of pure white marble with beautiful carvings. The main building has one large dome in the centre. It is flanked by two smaller domes on its sides along with high-arched doors and windows.
The palace complex also has a state secretariat building and a mosque. It also has a separate building that houses a cinema and a gym. According to some reports, the complex also used to have an armoury, a small arms factory, a water filtration plant and an automotive workshop.
However, it is important to mention that Sadiq Garh Palace is still considered an architectural marvel. This tourist attraction in Bahawalpur is an excellent example of craftsmanship, as it flawlessly blended designs from both the East and the West. The enchanting gold ceilings, tall pillars with gold trims, well-lit hallways and huge chandeliers gifted by Queen Victoria of England could even put some Ottoman-era palaces to shame.
While the royal palace of Bahawalpur may remind some of grand old English manors, the elegant Mughal-style mosque on the premises with large domes and minarets is a fine example of South Asian architecture.
This awe-inspiring palace remained in the hands of the royal family for several decades. It also has two vintage elevators along with an enormous parking area that once housed the cars used by Nawab of Bahawalpur. Over the years, the vehicles were either taken by the heirs of the royal family or were auctioned off.
Moreover, the covers of the Holy Kaaba (Ghilaf-e-Kaaba) were once displayed in the grand court. However, they were either taken by a relative or stolen by thieves, much like everything else in Sadiq Garh Palace.
Almost all the furniture, weapons, heirlooms, chandeliers, paintings and other valuables are gone from Sadiq Garh Palace, leaving it completely desolate and empty. The kitchens on the left side of the palace have nothing left. Meanwhile, the vast waiting rooms and halls look almost haunted due to their discoloured walls and shattered floors.
The gardens outside the palace apparently used to be in a relatively better condition up until a few years ago. But they now look unkempt as the broken lampposts and rusted metal fences highlight negligence and lack of maintenance.
Decades ago, after Bahawalpur State was merged into Pakistan, all of Nawab of Bahawalpur’s palaces were taken over by the government. Nearly 40 years later, the Supreme Court ordered to divide some of the assets – including Sadiq Garh Palace – among 23 heirs.
Sadiq Garh Palace is not the only historic palace to have suffered such a downfall. The once-majestic Derawar Fort in Bahawalpur is currently in ruins as well. Fortunately, the picturesque Noor Mahal and the well-preserved Darbar Mahal have fared well in comparison.
The scenic Darbar Mahal, which was constructed in 1905, is not open for general visitors. That’s because it holds offices for Pakistan Armed Forces. However, the stunning Noor Mahal has now become one of the main tourist attractions in Bahawalpur.
Noor Mahal was built in 1872 by Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi (IV). He was also referred to as Shah Jahan of Bahawalpur for his interest in constructing beautiful buildings. At the time, the construction of the palace cost approximately 1.2 million rupees. It was named after the nawab’s wife, Noor.
In 2001, the Government of Pakistan’s Department of Archaeology declared this Italian-style palace a ‘protected monument’ and opened it for the general public. Meanwhile, Sadiq Garh Palace remains abandoned and in need of urgent renovation and repairs.
However, if you love exploring historical places, you might want to include these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Pakistan to your travel bucket list.