A ride through the time forgotten Afghan capital of Bhopal – Islamnagar
Islamnagar was the capital of Bhopal state in the 18th century during the reign of Dost Mohammad Khan, the founder of Bhopal. Before the Afghans arrived, the place was known by the name of Jagadishpur which was later renamed to Islamnagar (The city of Islam). The city lost all its pride once it was removed as the capital and now it has shrunk to a small village with the ruins of the fort left behind.
I was greeted to the formerly fortified city by a small fort gate. A fort wall runs all around the Islamnagar area but now they are in ruins. When I entered through the gate, what I saw were small houses on either side of the road. All the houses were made of clay and had only 6 feet height. The road seemed too narrow for such a glorified city of the past. I realized that this is one of the poor settlements of Bhopal. Probably they might have moved in once the city lost all its pride. Now the area is no different than a normal rural village of Bhopal. Indeed time flew by this place.
A few meters ahead of the gate is the Rani Mahal, one of the two main forts of Islamnagar. No one really visits this palace and I was the only visitor during that time. Rani Mahal was the residence of the queens of Dost Mohammad Khan. The three-storeyed building, even though is small compared to other palaces, has Rajput, Mughal and Malwa architectures evident. The palace has a small garden in the courtyard surrounded by rooms on all sides. It also has a Baradari (a building designed to allow free flow of air) within it.
Just adjacent to Rani Mahal is the Chaman Mahal, commonly known as Islamnagar Fort. This was the palace of Dost Mohammad Khan during his reign and all the administrative works were done from here. At the main entrance, there is a building with 12 painted glass doors known as the Sheesh Mahal. A few photographs and paintings of the Afghan history of Bhopal are exhibited here.
The Chaman Mahal is a beauty to watch. Rather than the building, one will be more excited to see the beautiful garden in the center of the palace. It is a Charbagh style garden (4 gardens laid out quadrilateraly with walkways in between) and according to the notice board, this is one of the very few examples of Charbagh style Mughal garden in Central India.
The architecture of the palace is a mixed form of later Mughal, Rajput and Malwa styles. It was built using red sandstone, Kakaiya bricks and lime. The main part of the building is the Baradari which served as the office of Dost Mohammad Khan. It also has a balcony that opens to a small stream just behind the Mahal. A Hamam is also seen nearby with a dressing room inside it. The style of the domes of the Mahal is particularly distinctive of the monuments of early Bhopal rulers.
Even though this Mahal has a great history behind it, most of the people are unaware that such a palace even exists. Even Bhopalis won’t be knowing about this place. The only crowd that I saw here was that of a wedding photography team. Now this place has sadly changed into a mere photography destination and a hangout for the couples. Its high time that these monuments should be properly protected for the sake of preserving our rich culture and history.
I came back to the parking area and nearby was the ruins of parts of the fort. They are not at all preserved and shrubs has grown all over them. Really a painful sight to watch.
I came out of the palace complex and turned my way towards Gauhar Mahal. But it turned out to be a “Gobar Mahal”. The building was closed but the premises are now used by the locals to tie their cows. Cow dung and goat dung were all over and I had to try hard for a footstep. It was a dismal sight to watch. The monuments which are ought to be preserved and protected are getting ruined in this fashion, and the authorities are doing nothing raises serious questions over the attitude of the Tourism Department towards the preservation of our culture.
I began my journey back with an air of disbelief over what I saw here. I took the exit through the other side of Islamnagar, which also had an entrance gate. The fort wall was well seen over the fields. Thus I bid farewell to the formerly glorified town with the hope that someday it will regain back its lost pride.