BHUBANESWAR/SAMBALPUR: From an ancient palace with immense heritage value to western Odisha to a restaurant, Rani Bakhri is in a state of flux. Within a year of being restored to its former glory, the iconic building of Sambalpur is undergoing change again. This time, for housing a ‘Nimantran’ restaurant by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC). In the effort, the three centuries-old building is being altered and tampered with.
Of the two floors of the historic building, OTDC plans to use the ground and the first floor for Nimantran restaurant. Since frontal portion of Rani Bakhri still remains under private occupation, the corporation has been working on the rear side to open and operate the restaurant.To give the structure a heritage hotel look, the entire façade has been given a white-wash. The original facade had a yellow hue and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) had restored it to its true form last year.
“Due to years of neglect and burning of organic matter near the palace, a thick layer of dirt and soot was deposited on the facade. After six layers of cleaning, the original yellow shade could be brought out”, said a conservationist.Several other deviations have been made to the palace which was originally designed in Rajasthani style of architecture. Wooden panels have been fixed on entrances and windows, and the flooring has been changed. The INTACH had used broken tiles on the first floor and Kota stone flooring on the ground floor to match with the original design but these have been replaced with wooden flooring.
The distortions do not stop here. An iron staircase has been added to the facade to facilitate movement of visitors to the restaurant’s first floor. The open-pillared verandah on the ground floor which was earlier covered with wire mesh to avoid pigeon menace now stands replaced with glass panels.While all encroachments around the monument were cleared by INTACH, OTDC has constructed a new makeshift facility on the right side close to the facade which obstructs the view of the palace. Sources said, this area was developed into an amphitheatre during restoration by the conservation agency.
“Conservation norms mandate that there can be no civil construction inside the monument; the walls cannot be punctured and its original design must not be tampered with. Old palaces across the country are being converted into heritage hotels while keeping original design of the monuments intact. Rajasthan is an example”, added the conservationist.
Assistant Director of Tourism Hemanta Pradhan said, since purpose of the restaurant is to provide a royal dining experience to people, interior is being renovated accordingly. Besides, provision is being made to install air-conditioners inside the palace and a few other works are being carried out, he added.
State convenor of INTACH AB Tripathy said although adaptive reuse of the heritage structure can be done, the original structure including facade cannot be distorted in the name of design as it is violation of conservation norms. Tripathy said he would take up the matter with the Tourism department.
The monument, also known as Jamadei Mahal, was built by the fifth Chouhan king of Sambalpur Baliyar Singh for his daughter Jamadei in 1650. Shyamsundar Dhar, noted cultural researcher from the city and an old resident of Bada Bazar near Rani Bakhri said government’s decision to convert the historical palace into a restaurant was disheartening. “The heritage value of Rani Bakhri is being lowered and a part of history is being destroyed. INTACH’s restoration has gone in vain,” he said.
Locals too expressed their displeasure. Rakesh Pradhan, a resident, said the monument was restored for public; and thousands of tourists who come from neighbouring states will not be able to visit the palace if it is turned into a restaurant. “The monument should have been kept in its original form after restoration,” he added.