Friday, 23 September 2016

Summer Palace (Pari Mahal) - The Mysteries of Lahore Fort

Well being a Lahorite from childhood, I am listening different stories regarding the hidden secret infrastructure buildings of Lahore fort. You might also have listen about the tunnel that connects Lahore fort to Delhi. When I first time visited Lahore fort in school days, my father told me that there are underground basements in fort, used by Mughal Emperor’s in summer time. I don’t know from where my father heard about these basements but these building actually exist in Lahore fort.

The basement chambers of Lahore fort never been opened to general public and still hidden from the outside world. Fortunately, I along with my younger brother got chance to visit one of these basements named ‘Summer Palace’ also known as ‘Pari Mahal’. The place is basement of Sheesh Mehal (mirror palace), Uthdara and some portion of Shah burj. In order to enter the basement one has to use elephant stairs, a small door is located on left side in second lift of stair.

Our host a senior officer at Lahore Fort told that ‘summer palace’ historically had only one entry point which was Mughal’s secret stairway to enter the summer palace.”During British Raj a door from Elephant stairs was made by demolishing small part of the wall. Shah Jahan built the Shah Burj, the Sheesh Mahal and the Naulakha Pavilion in 1642 AD, the ‘Summer Palace’ supposed to be constructed before this in shah Jahan tenure.

                 The wall behind the Elephant Stairs is part of Summer Palace

It was a hot afternoon of September, when we entered the basement, the first thing which amazed us was sudden drop of temperature from outside, there was also fresh air circulating in building. The outer configuration of palace is rectangle in shape, I didn’t have any instrument to measure the dimension of building the rough dimension after pacing were 140 ft x 170 ft.

A state of art mechanism has been developed for both ventilation and cooling system for this Palace, once river Ravi runs parallel to, the north east wall of the Palace. The amazing and interesting thing of cooling system design was that north east wall of the palace has been partitioned with small windows; on inner side of these windows, concrete tunnels has been constructed, cool river breeze entered and trap inside, the other side of  tunnel opens directly inside the corridors of Palace. These tunnels work similarly as HVAC ducts of present time to carry cool air breeze. There are 42 fountains inside the Palace. It is also told by our guide that a slab somewhat 4 to 5 ft below the original floor of Palace has been found and water from river Ravi used to runs over it. This mechanism somehow cools the original floor of the palace. The North West wall of Palace has five mullioned types’ windows. When we entered the palace there was dark inside the only source of light was sun rays entering from these five windows. These five windows also directly partitioned parallel to corridors of Palace to bring natural light in all rooms.

                                        The five windows in this picture are 
                                     partitioned on NW wall of Summer Palace

The Civil Defence Department has used this basement as a storehouse in World War II. Altering many arches either closing them with brick masonry to be used as rooms/offices, the frequent white washes vanished the original Fresco art of the building. After Pakistan came into being, the building still was used as storehouse. Luckily there are few portions in the building where you can see the remnant of fresco art and painting works. The Palace has also signs of Sikh era rule in Lahore fort. There were few arches modify to use rooms for religious place.

The Palace was built with acoustics in mind as seen in many others Mughal architectural buildings if you are standing in one corner your low voice can be clearly heard by the person standing in the other corner of the same room.

In Summer Palace there are two secret approach ways to reach Sheesh Mahal. The whole Palace was constructed in maze pattern recalling the conventional style of the Labyrinth of Greeks. In Urdu language there is a word “Bhool Bhulian’ this word easily describe the whole construction pattern of Palace. You can easily lost in corridors and without the help of guide it is difficult to find the return way.  This Palace has also connected to secret escape routes and tunnels.

One of the remarkable things in Palace was secret room of Shah Jahan, a low ceiling room hardly of 6 ft & 4 inches in height. Reason of low ceiling height was that Shah Jaha was merely 5ft & 5 inches in height.  There are two small stairways to reach that room, interestingly two more stairways also constructed at distance that end nowhere only to trick enemy. The room slab is also a mezzanine floor. There is a large window on north east wall of room, centuries ago river Ravi flows along this wall. King Shah Jahan used to sit there and watched the site of flowing river. In time of wars he had a bird eye view of battlefields. It was strange feeling standing in this room, in Shah Jahan times not even the closest to King were allowed to enter this room. How time has changed dramatically in few centuries. Mughal, Sikhs and then British’s, the place has seen so many era’s, but how sadly now not only the Palace but also the history of this palace lost in dark.

                                me Standing in Secret Room of Shah Jahan


The Palace is now under the control of Walled City Authorities of Lahore. The Walled City officer Mr. Zubair really cooperated with us he has vast knowledge about the place and briefed us very well. Only regret after visiting this place was that we were not allowed to use tripod stand for taking pictures. In these dark corridors’ it is almost impossible to take hand held shots with low shutter and high iso’s. Not able to shoot best pictures as of my liking to document the place. 
Sun light entering in corridors of Palace from North West wall Windows
Mullioned type  window on North West Wall of Palace
The  dark Corridors of Summer Palace
Internee Guides of WCAL were also part of our group who visited the Palace
The  dark Corridors of Summer Palace
Secret escape way
A door in basement

that opens in Sheesh Mehal
Concrete tunnels has been constructed inside the windows, cool river breeze entered and trap inside
The tangled Corridors of Palace
Corridors of Summer Palace

The arches altered in Sikh Era
A junction of two Corridors
Fresco Work on ceiling
Silent Corridors