The land of Bahawalpur was part of the Hakra Civilization which is one of the oldest in the world, sharing the era of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian Civilizations. These civilizations were well connected via sea and land routes. The Hakra Civilization was mother civilization of “Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa”; read one of the many informative paintings, maps, unique glimpses from the past and historical photographs that were neatly framed and put on display for the viewers and tourists visiting the majestic Noor Mahal. If you visit the Noor Mahal, you may come across a number of maps of Bahawalpur region from different eras, and this information is available under one such map that broadly shows the entire Indian sub-continent of that time.
Located in Bahawalpur, this palace is immensely beautiful with high, colourful and tastefully decorated ceilings with massive chandeliers, aesthetically marbled, tiled floors and spacious halls. It’s a majestic work of architecture that would attract any history loving traveller to it. The building’s facade is well complemented by its equally stunning interior.
The Cornithian and Islamic-styled architecture spreads over 4140 sq. meters, and was designed by the state engineer, an Englishman namely Heennan, in 1872, and was completed in 1875, with many additions in the subsequent years. For instance, Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan-V added a mosque in 1906 with an expenditure of Rs.20,000. For good omen, the state coins and document with construction date were put into the foundation at the time of construction. The cost of the building was Rs.1.2 million and most of the items were imported from England and Italy. While a few stories are tagged with Noor Mahal, it is claimed that the palace was built by Nawab Sadiq Khan-IV (also called Shahjahan of Bahawalpur due to his love for architecture and buildings) for his wife Noor. However, she stayed in Noor Mahal for a night only and never came back. It was because when the next morning she woke up and looked out from the balcony of her bedroom, she could see Basti Malook Shah, a nearby graveyard, so she moved to Darbar Palace. Similarly, it is also claimed that no iron and cement were used in the construction of Noor Mahal; instead, the glorious building is entirely made up of mud which was obtained by mixing rice with pulses!
Many maps, showcasing the evolution of Bahawalpur state over a period of time and how its territories expanded under the rule of different nawabs, are also placed for those who seek the historical background of the area. The Bahawalpur region has a rich history of being invaded by different dynasties. Chronologically, the area was a prized possession for Alexander in around 320 B.C., followed by the Persians, Buddhist Empire, Rai Dynasty, Chachs, Arabs, Ghaznavids, the Sumras, Ghaurian Sultans, the Mughals, the Nahrs, the Arghuns, Rai Dynasty of Jaisalmer, Nadir Shah and finally it came under the Abbasi family of Bahawalpur in 1727 A.D. Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi-I, who was enthroned as the head of Abbasi family in 1723, thus, laid the foundation of the state of Bahawalpur. He died during a battle in 1746.
The walls of Noor Mahal are glorified with the portraits of the many nawabs that ably ruled the Bahawalpur state, with their significant achievements and other life information under their portraits. There is, however, one nawab who cannot be left out from any discussion relevant to the state. Nawab Sir Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi-V, who was one of the loyal friends of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and who extended all out support during the creation of Pakistan. Born in 1907, he succeeded his father at the age of three years only. However, he was enthroned in 1924, at Noor Mahal. He re-organized the Bahawalpur State army and was bestowed with many medals by the British, in acknowledgement of his contributions in World War II. He was the first ruler to accede to Pakistan after independence on October 05, 1947.
The very details of the court at Noor Mahal are maintained and preserved, with the throne of the nawab and the seating arrangement of those who would be part of the routine proceedings, while the real historical black and white photographs to coloured paintings from the last century or so, are placed around on tables to further help you imagine the court in its real setting, centuries ago. Even the dressing tables and furniture, weapons and personal belongings used by the nawab and his family to the uniform of their servants are preserved in their original look. The galleries display many photographs and the entire palace gives the impression of a museum and a mini Bahawalpur state within.
Another famous nawab, especially with reference to Noor Mahal, was Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi–IV (1866 - 1899). Construction of Noor Mahal was carried out during his tenure as the Nawab. He succeeded his father when he was only four and a half years old. The Viceroy of India was requested to look after the affairs of Bahawalpur state and he appointed a political agent to do so. On 28 November, 1879 the Nawab finally took over the reins of the state. A printing press was set up and a weekly newspaper namely ‘Sadiq Al Akhbar’ was launched in 1868. He also introduced modern system of education including madrasas, middle schools, high schools and colleges.
Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan Abbasi-I ascended the throne in 1746 after the death of his father. The significant development during his tenure with respect to the history of Bahawalpur today is that stature of a small city namely Sodhoki Jhok was raised to capital in the year 1748 and was named Bahawalpur!
While it looks majestic in daylight, well-lit at night it looks equally awesome, and a treat for your eyes. There is a well-maintained lawn in front of Noor Mahal where people can relax with their families. In 2017, the inauguration of Noor Mahal Park further beautified the entire look of the Noor Mahal. The park includes an antique styled fountain, amphitheatre, a water body with a bridge and children’s play area along with a jogging track. Two renowned and historical automobiles are also parked in the lawns. One of those is the Shahi Buggy which was used by the family of Nawab Sadiq-V for travelling.
The best time to visit Noor Mahal would be an hour or so before sunset as you are likely to spend around two hours there, and then can further enjoy the flood-lit exterior glowing in the night. A light-show is performed at night in which the development of this building over the years is shown to the visitors who sit in the front lawn. There is a minimal entrance fee of Rs.75, which is charged before entering the park. You can also purchase mementos from many shops where souvenirs and traditional regional artwork and handicrafts are also available.
In 1956, when Bahawalpur state officially merged into Pakistan after an accord was signed by the Nawab, Sadiq-V, Noor Mahal’s building was taken over by the Auqaf department. The Nawab continued to maintain his title, the traditional protocol and received an annual stipend till his death in 1966 in London. His body was brought to Bahawalpur and buried with state funeral in his ancestral graveyard at Fort Derawer of Bahawalpur, which itself is yet another architectural masterpiece of the region. His son and following generations continued with the title of Nawab, but with no administrative and political power attached.
Noor Mahal was, later, leased to Pakistan Army in 1971 and then Pakistan Army purchased it in 1997 for 119 million rupees. It was declared a ‘Protected Monument’ by the Archaeology Department of Pakistan in 2001. Pakistan Army took two years conducting the restorative work on the building and its architecture to bring it to its current form. They later opened it for general visitors and tourists. While Bahawalpur has a number of such palaces, tombs and historical buildings in its vicinity, Noor Mahal, with all its glory, is definitely not to be missed out.
The author is a health care leader, traveller and a seasoned writer for local English newspapers and blogs. He tweets as @Ali_Shahid82
Photo credits: Dr Khwaja Ali Shahid and internet