March 11, 2007

By Parvin Khaleda

A major portion of Ahsan Manzil, the 18th century’s pink majestic palace on the bank of River Buriganga in Old Town of Dhaka, has been remaining closed for more than three years because for renovation.
   The renovation work, which began in July 2003 and was scheduled to complete in June 2005, is still on, depriving the local and foreign tourists of sighting the palace of historic interest and architectural excellence.
   The authorities of the National Museum, who look after all the museums, extended the time for one year, but the construction firm failed to meet the extended deadline.
   The museum authorities issued a number of letters asking the construction firm to complete the works immediately.
   ‘We will extend the time again, if necessary. But if there is no response from the construction firm, we will have no alternative other than inviting fresh tender,’ an official of the National Museum told New Age on Monday.
   The palace turned museum has tremendous attraction for the local and foreign tourists and about 2,000 people, an estimated two per cent of them foreigners, visit it every day.
   In winter, peak season for tourists, and on public holidays, the number visitors increases up to about 5,000, said a tourist guide of the museum.
   As the main portion of the palace has been remaining closed for the renovation work, a small portion of the building is now open for the visitors.
   The visitors, including the foreigners, feel disappointed finding the main portion of the museum closed for long.
   Monsur Ahmed, who came to visit the museum from Chittagong along with some of his relatives living in the United States, said, ‘We are disappointed as we failed to visit the main parts of the palace.’
   ‘It will be difficult for us to arrange another family trip to see the palace in future,’ he lamented.
   Saiful Islam, a university student, said he along with his cousin from Barisal had visited the place in June 2005 and the main museum was closed then.
   ‘My cousin, who is very keen on history, again came to Dhaka in October 2006 and I went to the museum with my cousin, but the situation was same that time,’ he said.
   The museum authorities said that they have nothing to do about the completion of its renovation work as it was the public works department conducting the renovation work at a cost Tk 3 crore. They also failed to say when the renovation would be completed.
   The palace of Mughal architecture was actually housed on 10 acres of land and its area reduced with the passage of time and changes in ownership.
   The government acquired 4.94 acres of land where the main palace is situated and made it a museum.
   The main entrance of the palace is out of the government acquired land. The original entrance’s design has the touch of Mughal architecture.
   Mohammad Alamgir, deputy director of the Ahsan Manzil, said they had requested the cultural affairs ministry several times to take step to acquire the main entrance.
   The palace was the residence of the Dhaka’s nawabs. Nawab Abdul Ghani renovated the building in 1872 and named it after his son Khwaja Ahasanullah.
   It has 31 rooms with a huge dome atop which can be seen from miles around. The palace has now 23 galleries in 31 rooms displaying of traits, furniture and household articles and utensils used by the Nawab.
   History says, this building was actually built during the reign of the Mughals and was bought and sold to different persons. Each of them reconstructed the building according to their own necessity. Therefore, the building lost many of its original features.
   The museum is open to all from 9:30am to 4:30pm Saturday to Wednesday and on Friday at 3:00pm to 7:30pm at the winter season. Presently visitors’ entry fee is Tk 2 for each person and it would be Tk 5 after the renovation completed, said the authority.


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