Built in the late nineteenth century near the banks of the Mula river, the grand Aga Khan Palace – one of India’s biggest historic landmarks, sat right at the top of my things to do in Pune list as I tried to explore the city over the weekend. I had explored the iconic Shaniwarwada yesterday, followed by the Raja Dinkar Kelkar museum. While the Shaniwarwada wowed me, I was super impressed by what lay inside the otherwise nondescript three-storey museum but more on that soon. For now, let’s talk about the Aga Khan Palace where I stopped by on my way to the airport.
Because the Aga Khan Palace falls on the way to the Pune airport, actually just a few kilometres from it and my flight to Bangalore was late in the evening, I had almost the entire day to explore the place. The first thing I noticed as I neared the palace was its nondescript entrance. Hidden under a thick foliage, it is hardly visible until you are really close. But that’s where the nondescriptness of the place ended and as I walked past the entry gate I was able to see the entire compound in all its grandeur.
It was quite different from most of the historic monuments I have seen here in India. With its very current design, the place in no way looked more than a century old, at least not to my eyes. Every inch of the sandal-colored building with its huge Italian arches, spacious lawns and marble flooring spoke of affluence. To think of the fact that the palace was actually an act of charity done by Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III and was built to help the poor in the neighbouring areas of Pune, who were drastically hit by famine during the late nineteenth century is actually hard to fathom. This is the type of mansion one would call a dream palace, no less.
It is also hard to fathom that this beautiful palace actually served as a prison! A prison during the times of the Indian Freedom Struggle which housed Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba Gandhi, his secretary Mahadev Desai and Sarojini Naidu. Kasturba Gandhi and Mahadev Desai died while under arrest here.
The palace houses various artefacts of the Mahatma and his wife but access to most of the rooms housing them was restricted/not allowed. In the rooms where visitors are allowed and things are on display, it is hard to not imagine the past, the times of the pre-independence India. The various paper-cuttings talking about the movement and the situation back then only helped my imagination go wild.
As I walked from the front side of the building to the back, I discovered that there was an old part of it too. One that had a charm about it. And even though the part of the building I had spent time in already, was impressive, I seemed to like this side of the palace. The woodwork partly resembled the Naggar Palace we had been to some time back, only a little less colorful.
I spent some more time walking through the corridor of the beautiful mansion, wowed by the immaculately done every inch of the place. From the floor to the high roofs to the huge glass windows to the beautiful pillars, every single thing was so perfectly done. There were of course signs of ageing too but then, those are the things that add to the charm of historic places.
After spending more than half a day at the palace as I walked out through one of its many walkways I could not help but smile. It had indeed been a wonderful day.
Do you too like historical places?