The conservation of the royal kitchens started in 2015 by the Walled City of Lahore Authority and Aga Khan Trust for Culture
A no-go area inside Lahore Fort has suddenly became a point of attraction for tourists and conservationists. This area was once the splendid area with aroma of enticing dishes cooked for the royals and nobels of Lahore Fort. Yes, that’s the Royal Kitchen “Shahi Bawarchikhana” of Lahore Fort. It’s news for everyone that very soon all heritage lovers will have a chance to sit there in a royal mood and enjoy Mughal recipes. I am sure that every Lahori would love to visit this place. But how did this happen? How an abandoned area got a new life at once?
Well, for my readers, before I jump on to how it happened, let me give you a brief intro of this place. This royal kitchen is located at the backside of the Alamgiri Gate of Lahore Fort. A narrow passage will lead you to the place from the admin block where department of archeology has its offices. Leading from a narrow passage you will come across a mesmerising beauty of ages old structures now being conserved. The walls are built with small brick, the majestic arches attached together forming the kitchen area and roaming around in 400 years old arches you can imagine the past glory of the place with the hustle and bustle of the chefs and helpers while cooking food for the kings and queens. The royal kitchens were constructed during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan. It was where the food was prepared along with a huge variety of drinks, sweets and appetizers. The helpers would carry the food from there to the private chambers of the king, queen, princes, princesses and other courtiers. Later when the Sikh took over the Lahore Fort, the royal kitchens were damaged like many other buildings inside the Fort. The kitchen was converted into a food store room and at the same time it was used as a stable for horses and other animals. The British in 1849 converted it into interrogation cells and jails. During that time the open verandas were closed with bricks and new structures like iron doors and beams were added along with the construction of an upper storey. The upper storey served as offices for policemen. The electricity supply lines, sewage system and water drains were laid during the British period. During the British rule, another storey was added in the building. What happened to this place after the partition? It is said that the police department used it as interrogation cells until late 1980s, when they were handed over to the archaeology department. After partition the building of royal kitchen was agonised more than ever. The beams, wooden doors, windows were taken away. Maybe those were pulled down during the riots. The building was dilapidated and later some parts were demolished and offices were constructed there. The building that we see today is the remaining part of the huge kitchen complex.
The conservation of the royal kitchens started in 2015 by the Walled City of Lahore Authority and Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Photographic and technical documentation was carried out of the area which revealed the hidden elements of the place. The excavation of the place was the main task during which several other structures were also revealed and even walls having fresco work on them were exposed. All these structures had somehow gone underground with the passage of time. Similar to the conservation of Shahi Hammam and Wazir Khan Chowk, the original ground level of the place was revealed. Extensions and structures connecting to the temple of Loh were also found there with fresco work on them. Well I am glad that all this is being conserved now. Another interesting thing seen there was the 400 years old Tandoor. This was the most authentic evidence to the fact that this area was a kitchen during the Mughal days.
So the conservation is on but here I have something more interesting for you. The place will be soon open to public as a Mughal era restaurant. This will surely be the first of its kind. While talking to the experts of this project I got to know that there is a separate kitchen and cooking area for the restaurant. This has been done to avoid any damage to the original structures and heritage site. The sitting for the guests will be made at the roof top of the arches. Don’t be afraid the arches are being strengthening during the conservation, so you just imagine yourself sitting at world heritage site and having dinner. The kitchen area being constructed there is of international standards. The courtyard is being preserved and will be turned into a function area. Like Wazir Khan Chowk there will be stage for the cultural performances inside the courtyard of the royal kitchen. It is planned that musical and theatrical activities will be carried out there for the guests. I am sure that these activities will take people to the old days when the fort was at its zenith. Also, the authority is planning to develop a museum and gallery there so that people visiting the site can look back into the history through artifacts and pictures.
Actually the revival of such places is the need of the hour. We need to preserve the heritage we have with us and making a place a tourist spot is the best use, this way the history and place never dies. I am sure that with these additions and illumination at night the royal kitchens will attract every Lahori and international tourists. I am seeing very lively night tourism of Lahore Fort through this project.