RAWALPINDI: When the ruler of Poonch, Raja Moti Singh built Poonch House in Rawalpindi around 120 years ago, he could not have fathomed its current state of neglect.
Located in the centre of Saddar, on Adamjee Road, it is among one of the oldest buildings, dating back to 1897.
The mansion, which once also served as a rest house of the Dogra dynasty of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and post-independence, as the camp office and home of the first President and Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) respectively, has lost its magnificence.
It continues to succumb to the apathy of the concerned ministry – Ministry of Kashmir Affairs – as it continually fails to find an architect to renovate the residence to its original state.
Fall from grace
In its prime, the building was a combination of European and Indian architecture, with the main complex consisting of courtyards, balconies, and separate living quarters for employees.
The main hall was reserved to house a court and to host grand parties, while, the upper chamber was for the Maharaja and his servants.
The mansion’s walls were embellished with intricate artwork and beautifully carved wooden balconies sat three to four feet from the lawns.
A large-sized wooden grill in the balcony of the lower chamber separated the women’s quarters.
And to add to its grandeur, the entire building was painted in pristine white.
Double doors with metal handles and bolts reflected the aesthetic sense of the times.
But now, side lawns and backyards of the mansion are heavily encroached by wild bushes and grass.
Cracks in walls, which were made deeper after the 2005 earthquake, have paper mulberry plants growing in them.
Ceilings leak when it rains dappling the white-washed walls.
The maharaja’s chamber is serving as a dumping ground and a sleeping room for grade-four employees.
The mansion, originally spread over 27 canals, is left with only 14 canals with encroachers having claimed the rest.
Qualified hands needed
A ministry official told The Express Tribune that the Punjab government controls around 4.3 canals of land, where it has established a bus terminal; and a 9.3 canal multi-storey complex was also standing on what was previously a lawn of the structure.
Deputy Administrator of Kashmir Affairs, Masroor Abbasi said that the ministry had to stop reservation work on the building many times due to the non-availability of a skilled architect.
Abbasi recalled that an architect had returned his contract after failing to carry out the restoration work.
He also said that a special kind of chemical, which was needed for the renovation of the building, was unavailable in the market.
However, he said that the ministry intended to consult the architects who had taken part in the preservation of the Poonch House, Lahore.
Paradoxically, he suggested that many historic buildings, monuments, forts, and mansions across Pakistan could be developed as tourist attraction sites with little investment, including the Poonch House, Rawalpindi.
Yet, it is the ministry itself that continues to neglect the heritage building year after year.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2016.