By Tania Qureshi
All pictures are courtesy of the author.
We all are familiar with the Lahore Fort, but have you ever heard of the summer palace there? Hardly few of us know about this hidden jewel which is the huge basement of Sheesh Mahal, the house of mirrors, inside Lahore Fort.
The summer palace and Sheesh Mahal were known as jewel palaces in 1631. Summer Palace was also known as Pari Mahal ( Fairy Palace) but now no one knows much about it as it is hidden from public and also not much information is available on the internet about it.
From the elephant stairs a small door on the left leads you to this massive basement.
I opened the door and cool breeze embraced me. I could only see sun rays peeping in through the small holes of the window grills, rest it was all dark and scary. After a few moments my eye adjusted to the light and I could start making my way into the main passage. There was no electricity connection and the only sources of light were these windows and a few tunnels.
This palace was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as s summer house for the Royal families. This is the amazing feature of the palace; the ventilation systems keep the place cold during the scorching summer heat.
To me the labyrinth style basement with tunnels on corners illustrated as if it was the escape route of the royal families. The tunnels led to the River Ravi which was flowing near the Lahore Fort in those times. The boats of the Royal family were parked near the palace and in case of any attack they would have escaped through these tunnels.
I was awe stunned at the original fresco work inside the palace. The walls and ceilings were ornamented with silver, gold and fresco paintings some of which are still seen today.
The local guide along told me that the ceilings had no iron or wooden beams or even the cement, rather those were made of grams , white lentils, clay, jiggery, eggs, dried grass, lime plaster and small bricks ( the ones found in all Mughal monuments). This mortar worked like glue keeping the small bricks intact and place cold and also helped in preventing the place from insects. I wish we could use the same in our houses presently.
Walls decorated with fresco work.
Walls showing the gold paintings.
The arches and corners are built in such a manner that they create an extra ordinary echo system. If you are standing in one corner your whisper can be clearly heard by the person standing in the other corner of the same room. This mechanism I also found in the Shahi Hammam located inside Delhi Gate and the Badshahi Mosque. Maybe it was a unique technique during Mughal times to keep an eye on the conspiracies and gossips of the Fort.
About its cold flooring I got to know that underneath the floor was another one and between the two floors a sewerage system was laid through which the water of river Ravi ran, keeping the floors cold. Despite the water running between the floors, I could not see any seepage which we usually see in our houses. Another fact is that the palace is warm during the winter season. So maybe that was some technique or a myth and there was some other reason of its cooling and heating mechanism. Still, it’s a wonder.
The tangled Palace was built to avoid any attacks by the enemies and even I lost my way a couple of times, thanks to the guide who guided me to the main door. During the British rule, the Summer Palace was given a new entrance from the elephant stairs which we use now. Most of its ornaments were damaged during the Sikh period. The floor of the palace of repaired in early 1900s as it was damaged over the period of time.
I didn’t see any graffiti on the walls which I do come across while roaming around in the Fort. The place was just dusty but I could not see any debris or littering there. That was a good sign. I wish it can be turned into a tourist spot as we see other palaces abroad.
The writer is a media professional and can be reached at [email protected]