Gabhana palace, near Aligarh, West U.P.

Hello and hello !
For a while I thought my hibernation would last even longer but then Aligarh happened ! So here I am !
I had been invited by the wonderful Urmila Singh to visit the heart of Western Uttar Pradesh. It was the tilak ceremony of her grand-nephew. She knows my interest in things old and traditional, and Inayatpur Baghera, the village near Aligarh, where her nephews own 75 acres of land and the village home itself, is old and traditional and feudal.
I was overwhelmed by the warmth shown to me by the entire family. The nephews, Vipendra and Dipendra Singh, the nieces, Sunita, Archana and Rachana and their families had opened their home and their hearts to me. And to many others. We all stayed in their house, had beds or mattresses to sleep on—we ate, talked and laughed late into the night and queued for bathrooms—the classic Indian shaadi ka ghar– rapidly disappearing from our cities. I enjoyed every moment of it!

During the ceremony we were introduced to Shri Umesh Singh who is a zamindar from Veerpura, another village near Aligarh. Umesh Singh is a large gentleman, with a luxurious, Rajput-style moustache and a diamond in his ear. His dress at the ceremony- starched, very white kurta and pyjama, is ubiquitous in this part of Uttar Pradesh. I do wonder how on earth they get them so white and I cannot. Turns out they all have dhobis. Remember ? I said traditional and feudal ?

Umesh Singh is kind, gracious and hospitable. When he heard of my interest in old havelis/houses, he offered to take us himself not only to his home in Veerpura but also to Gabhana palace and his cousin brothers’home in Morhaina. These names I have never heard of –they are tiny places in the same region and have these hidden treasures. He invites us to have lunch in his village home and I am so very excited !

Aligarh city is a hole in the wall—but the countryside is something else.
It is the Uttar Pradesh that I have seen only from train windows in my journeys across the state. These are the plains of India. Miles of flat land divided in sections, large and small. The skies, this time of year, also flat and a bluish white. The sections of land are mostly cultivated. Harvested wheat lies in stacks, many of them blackened by this year’s inclement weather. This is what feeds us in our cities and I am thankful. There are clumps of trees at intervals- mango, babool(acacia nilotica) and beir(Indian jujube), the last now obsolete in our cities. I am happy that foolish people have not planted the fast growing Eucalyptus instead. Remember, traditional ? Thank God !

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The newly built highway connecting Aligarh with Delhi is good. It is this that curves and leads us to Gabhana. After about 35 minutes of driving Umesh Singh points to a building in the distance, perched at an elevation amidst a cluster of low houses. Yes, the building so far only in my imagination has materialized. It is a palace- straight out of Rajasthan. This is the fort palace of Gabhana.

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The palace has a traditional Rajasthan-style, intricately carved gateway in pink sandstone.The double chatri also typically Rajasthani. It’s wings, colonial in style and painted pale yellow and white sit a little uncomfortably with the main structure.
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The classic Rajasthani door with small balconies with chatris-

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The palace and the land surrounding it are now divided into two—each side owned by two parts of the family. Our host today is Dipendra Raj Singh and his wife, Saranga and daughter, Stuti.

Clad in a ghee- coloured khadi kurta and pyjama , Dipendra Singh meets us on the staircase and leads us to a verandah on the first floor. Built, as Indian havelis often are, it has a courtyard at the bottom, surrounded by verandahs which lead to rooms. The floor of the verandah upstairs is of red-oxide, rich and glossy with age. Morah chairs and a table lie in the centre—perfectly in harmony.
The verandah unpstairs with its stunning red oxide floor

A view of one of the courtyards

A view of one of the courtyards

We go into a sitting room. It is large. Its sofas are covered with white slip covers(I wonder idly what the upholstery is like) and Belgian glass chandeliers hang overhead. We meet Dipendra’s wife, Saranga, a lovely lady in a crisp cotton sari, her head covered with her palla and a tilak on her forehead. Saranga and Dipendra Singh are gracious. We are served cold ‘Tang’. I am immediately transported back to our days in Beijing when I was introduced to ‘Tang’ imported by our embassy from HongKong. It used to be a fabulous,’foreign’ drink for me. We have all moved on and there is Tang everywhere in India. But I was sipping it after years and liking it!

The sitting room-

DSC01461In thepicture, far left is Dipendra Singh, far right,Umesh Singh and foreground left Urmila and right her grand niece,Ruhi Singh.

The front terrace-
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Dipendra Raj says no one quite knows when the oldest part of the palace was built but it is about 250 to 300 years old. The newer part, however, was built by his grandfather, Dev Raj Singh and his elder brother, Laxmi Raj Singh. It took five years to build and was completed in 1917.

A photograph of Laxmi Raj and Dev Raj Singh kindly shared by Dipendra Singh-
Laxmi Raj and Dev Raj Singh

From the drawing room we walk into a large dining room-

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A beautiful, old tapestry from the home of Saranga Singh in Ramgarh, Champaran.They are not sure of its origin- it is obviously old English or French–do any of you have an idea ?

The tapestry-

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Stuti, Dipendra Singh’s daughter, has taken it on herself to restore their part of the palace. It was in very bad shape, she says, and was crying for maintenance. She will make it into a homestay–and I would love to visit ! The palace with its nooks and crannies is beautiful and, when you get onto the roof, on three sides you see just flat Uttar Pradesh landscape !

A view from the roof-

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A view from the roof

Another grand view from the roof

The corners of the large roof has rooms on its four corners–meant to sit in during the monsoon rains or the winter sun. The Singhs are adding bathrooms to three and making a pantry in one to serve guests later.
A room on the roof with a gorgeous view-
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We climb down a flight of stairs(a different one this time)to the ground floor and enter a very large hall. It is beautifully elegant with groups of old chairs. This used to be the ‘katchehri’ or courts during the time of Dipendra Singh’s grandfather.

The katchehri-later a drawing room

The katchehri-later a drawing room

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An elegant chair with a movable back in the room

An elegant reclining chair in the room(its back is movable)

Their zamindari, bestowed by the British, at that time included 60 villages and big tracts of land. Infact, the revenue generated in the 1930s was approximately Rs 70,000–a large amount if guaged by todays standards

The katchehri opens out to the front of the palace-
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A restored bedroom on the ground floor-
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An exquisite room on the other side of the courtyard has hand painted walls and a dome-shaped ceiling. the paint is peeling and the Singhs are trying to find painters from Rajasthan to restore the patterns-

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Just as I stop gaping we are led to the sheesh mahal–a room of mirrors ! And I thought only Amer fort at Jaipur had a sheesh maahal ! The walls and ceiling covered with elegant patterns inlaid with thousands of mirrors-
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Back again on the first floor we are taken to the old part of palace. This one is a large room, later converted to a sitting room with a painted stucco fireplace and a teak panelled mirror-

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The beautiful fireplace-
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In an alcove sit two pieces of stone carving which, the Singhs say, were found when the original palace was being constructed. They have to be atleast 800 years old- it must have been part of an ancient temple -and I have to say, Oh my God !

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A small balcony adjoining a bedroom –the jaali is, ofcourse, carved sandstone–exquisite !
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Then we go down yet again by a different staircase to yet another courtyard. This courtyard has the puja ghar-

The puja ghar off a verandah

The puja ghar off a verandah

A beautifully carved doorway in the same courtyard. I marvel at the attention paid to detail-

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Our kind hosts Dipendra and Saranga Singh on the front terrace-
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Father and daughter-

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Through all of this I realized that the palace was beautiful and, more importantly, it continues to look beautiful because its rooms have been left alone–have been kept exactly as they were. No addition of glossy marble floors or white and gold plaster statues that destroy a perfectly nice home.
The Singhs are sensible and good education shows — there is humility and they take pride in their home and heritage—and I am thankful as are many others like me !

Thank you, Urmila Singh for taking me to Aligarh.

Many thanks to Umesh Singh for being wonderful and making these visits happen—and finally, thank you Dipendra, Saranga and Stuti Singh for kindly opening your home for all of us to see!

Do visit when Gabhana opens up for guests to stay. You can see that it is going to be memorable and it is only about a two and a half hour drive from Delhi. I will keep you posted !

Read about many more old houses in my blog by clicking here and here

Hope you have very nice, happy days ahead ! ‘Bye until next time !

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About Adity

Hello ! You are either already a friend or will become one--through this medium! I am an artist and jewellery maker, a wife and mother to two lovely children. Beautiful homes, food, nature and wonderful things happening around me make me ecstatic. That is why I started to write this blog-- to share with you all of these things. After all what good is any experience if not shared !
This entry was posted in Homes-old and new and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Gabhana palace, near Aligarh, West U.P.

  1. Alka Khanna says:

    Lovely! You are so lucky to be able to visit these beautiful homes… wish I could accompany you!

    • Adity says:

      It always surprises me how many such places get unearthed when you talk about them–but this happens in our smaller cities. Hope you can come if I am able to arrange it –I can take you to see a couple of the Lko houses to begin with.

  2. Ruth Shepherd says:

    Hi Adity, thank you so much for this. The palace is beautiful although there are some places that need immediate attention. Well done my dear and hoping to see many more interesting unknown monuments in future. God bless.

    • Adity says:

      Hi Ruth–happy you read it ! Oh yes,not only this palace but innumerable other such places are dying out. Look at some old houses in Lucknow including ours. We have put the house almost in working order but the streets and surroundings are another story–Lko Dev Authority is corrupt and does not give a damn about the infrastructure like water and sewage lines –builders do exactly as they want and no one bats an eye.

  3. rachna singh says:

    Adity Mami, nicely written piece on Gabhana. Hope to visit the place sometime again when it is formally opened for the guests.

    • Adity says:

      Thank you, Rachna–had Lai ji not invited me we would never have known ,leave alone see places such as these ! Do let us go back to see a couple of the other places that Lai ji mentioned .

  4. Saad says:

    lots of fond childhood memories of this charming place! used to be our weekend getaway with our uncle IG Khan who was friends with one of the brothers… you haven’t mention the swimming pool, though, one of the highlights of those trips.

  5. amrita says:

    Lovely, Adity. You are educating us all. xooo Dushi

  6. Vernon Gosse says:

    Visited Gabana in the early Seventies while working in Sales and Marketing with Geep Flashlight Industries-Allahabad. However, we only visited the Market areas not knowing a GEM such as this was hidden away. Thanks to you we have seen something so wonderful, something to cherish for the future.

  7. L.K.Singh says:

    Very beautiful heritage palace. Would like to visit.

  8. P.K.Banerji says:

    A stunning piece of coverage of life and times spanning over 150 years.Narrative is lyrical and visuals absolutely out of the world.For restoration work fort samode and haveli people in Jaipur may be contacted.

    • Adity says:

      Thank you for your suggestion–would Samode have any contacts for such work ?

      • LKSingh says:

        Dear Adity,

        Did you visit another side of palace under the custody of second family. The initial old palace as mentioned by Mr. Deependra Raj that it is 250 – 300 years old, is seems to be wrong. This palace can be old by 175 years ( built somewhere in 1825 – 1835). The second famly ( of Mr. Laxmi Raj Singh and their grand childrens.) are in possession of 1/2 of this fort / palace. The shooting of Hindi Film ‘Banno’ was taken place in this palace.
        Are the owners are planning to open the palace for general public.

      • Adity says:

        Thank you for reading the post. Our host, Umesh Singh, had planned for us to visit the other part of the palace but, sadly, there was no time.I believe it has been well restored. I have a made a note to watch ‘Banno’–thanks for letting me know.

  9. L.K.SINGH says:

    Dear Adity,

    Did you visit other part of the palace ( under custody of another part of the family) of ex. MP. The old part of palace as mentioned as 250 – 300 years old, seems to be incorrect as their ancestors start living in Gabhana in 1825 or so. Are this palace is being converted in Hotel / Home stay? You described the palace very nicely and liked by me with many others.

    Thanks and regards,

    LKSINGH

  10. L.K.Singh says:

    Dear dity,

    Did you visit other portion of the palace with another part of the family. The Palace as mentioned as 250 – 300 years old, seems to be wrong. It may be 180 years old. Did you visit temple also which is second side of the palace. Are owners planning to start hotel in the palace?

  11. Manasi says:

    Wow! The place seems to be a hidden treasure!!! Didn’t know it’s existed! Thanks for blogging about it and for the photo tour!
    Cheers!
    Manasi

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