Lahore Fort’s Royal Kitchen tells tales of bygone days
The Royal Kitchens present inside the Lahore Fort have been revived and are now open to visitors. Cultural events frequently take place at the location
An astonishing ‘no go area’ inside Lahore Fort has now been conserved and turned into a tourist spot, but many of us are still unaware of the majesty of this place which was hidden in the fort since ages. Hardly anyone ever dared to walk in there because of the depressive and deserted conditions of this place.
This was the Royal Kitchen “Shahi Bawarchi Khana” of Lahore Fort which was once the scented area filled with tempting cuisines cooked for the royals and nobility of the Lahore Fort. Finding this place was one thing and conserving it was another uphill task. After much ado, the work has been completed. Now it is frequented by visitors and tourists and cultural events are held at this venue now.
You must be thinking where this gem is hidden inside the fort! This kitchen is located behind the Alamgiri Gate. As you climb up the royal ramp while entering the fort through British era postern gate, you will find it on your right and a directional board will tell you its location or you can take a tourist guide along. A narrow steep passage will lead you to this kitchen and take you into a huge courtyard bordered with antique arches and walkways. No doubt it is a mind blowing site, but you need to visit this place to believe and experience the majesty of the past.
Don’t be amazed with the present structures; let me take you into the appalling past. Almost three years ago, there were waist high shrubs amidst the danger of reptiles in this area and no one could dare going there. It was a dreadful spot with all the stunning arches failing apart and some of the edifices had already collapsed to the ground. The ages old bricks and mortar were falling out of the structures and the roof was almost colliding with deceased degenerated arches.
I would suggest that now you go to Royal Kitchen with the above picture in your mind and then you will feel the marked difference in the past and present scenario of the place.
Let me tell you a little about the history of this place and how it turned into a deserted site. This kitchen was built during the era of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan who was famous for building outstanding monuments and structures in Lahore. Keeping his aesthetics and values in mind, you can well imagine the grandeur of this structure too. It was where the food and delicious cuisines with special Mughal recipes and spices were prepared along with a huge variety of drinks and sweets. The helpers in their showy dresses, head gears and superior crockery would carry the cuisines from the kitchen to the chambers of the king, queen, princes, princesses and other courtiers. Any emperor or nobles of the neighboring areas were also served with food cooked in this very kitchen but who knew the fate of this place after the fall of Mughals.
Then came the rule of Sikhs and the Royal Kitchens were messed up. It was converted into a food and grain store room. At the same time it was changed into a stable for horses. Thus the kitchen was no more there, what a pity!
After the Sikhs, British took over the fort and in 1849 converted the Royal Kitchens into interrogation cells and jails. Who would have thought of such a use of this majestic place?
The elegance of the Royal Kitchen breathed its last. It was during the British rule that the open and huge verandas were masked with bricks and new structures like iron doors and beams were added along with the erection of an upper storey. The upper storey served as offices and rooms for policemen. The electricity supply lines, sewage system and water drains were laid in the kitchen by the British and finally the entire look and feel of the exquisite place was changed and turned into a gloomy mood.
After the Independence in 1947 nothing much changed in this site and the Police Department continued using it as interrogation cells until late 1980’s, when they were handed over to the Archaeology Department.
During the riots of Independence and later as well the kitchen was further damaged and the beams, wooden doors, windows were taken away and most of the parts were destroyed. Later, the offices of Archaeology Department were constructed there. The building that we see today is the remaining part of the huge kitchen complex. Most of the parts were pulled down and some collided with neglect and aging.
Then in 2015 the Walled City of Lahore Authority took up the initiative of restoring the glory of the kitchen and started cleaning up the place from scratch, and removed all the wild plantation and debris. Experienced architects and conservationists were called in to help and examine the conservation course of action. The idea of the conservation project was to safeguard the royal kitchen by conserving its structural fabric and presenting its original functions and integrating the royal kitchen into its surrounding context.
Complete investigations and structural assessment of the building was carried out and later the structure was strengthened; eastern collapsed parts were restored, some missing parts were rebuilt considering the existing portions as references, drainage was improved and the vanished flooring was re-laid.
Finally the smashed piece of fort got a new verve and now it stands majestically as a conserved portion of Mughal architecture.
These kitchens have been opened for the public now and cultural evening are also being held there for the public. All those who visit this site are amazed to see this new structure that has been revealed by removing the ages old plantation and debris. The pictures of how it was in comparison to its present state are also placed there, and you will be mesmerized looking at them.