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After Raj Niwas, Shimla’s historic Raj Bhawan too being thrown open to tourists

The majestic Raj Bhawan building known as Barne's Court is located in the midst of cedar forests.

Shimla: Four months after the 173-year-old majestic Rashtrapati Niwas, a summer holiday retreat of the President of India on the outskirts of Shimla, was thrown open to the public, yet another historic British-era building, Barnes’ Court, which is now the Raj Bhawan, will open its doors to visitors.

Named after Edward Barnes, the commander-in-chief of British India, Barnes’ Court showcases not only its grandeur and architecture but also a chapter of India’s history as the landmark ‘Simla Agreement’ after the 1971 war was signed in this iconic building between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Pakistan counterpart Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The two-storeyed palatial building with a fascinating Durbar Hall, has a stone masonry foundation, plastered walls and timber frames, typical of a neo-Tudor style of architecture of the late 1800s. It was built in 1832.

Incumbent Governor Shiv Pratap Shukla has taken a decision to let tourists, visitors, travellers and students take a walk through the spiralling complex, its well laid lawns and Durbar Hall.

A formal launch of the opening is expected to mark the Independence Day celebrations on August 15.

The visits to the Raj Niwas and Raj Bhawan will come at a nominal cost. Foreign nationals will be charged Rs 100 while Indian citizens will have to pay Rs 50. Himachal residents will get a concessional Rs 20 entry. School and college students will not be asked to pay any entry fee. There will be online booking to visit Barnes Court on two days a week on Saturday and Sunday from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.

The Governor held a meeting with high officials including Chief Secretary Prabodh Saxena last week and worked out the modalities on allowing entry of the people to the Raj Bhavan. There will be trained guides to take people for a round of the Raj Bhavan and explain its history and artchitecture.

“The decision is in line with President of India Draupadi Murmu‘s move to open the doors of Rashtrapati Niwas , Mashobra (Shimla). The visitors will be able to learn a lot about Shimla’s heritage and landmark buildings, their architecture and pre-Independence or post-Independence events which happened in this hill town, which remained the summer capital of India” said a senior official of the Raj Bhawan.

Apart from being an architectural marvel, the Barnes Court is host to lots of ancient artefacts, a British-era piano, a billiards table, an art gallery and ‘Summit Corner’ where a table and two chairs with photographs of Indira Gandhi and Bhutto still stand evidence to the signing of India-Pakistan peace pact called “ Shimla Agreement”

Those who lived in the building included British Commanders-in-Chief: General Napier, General Gomm, General Anson, General Campbell and General Rose.

Initially the building remained as Himachal Bhawan till the historic Peterhoff –which used to be Raj Bhawan was gutted in a fire and later it started serving as Himachal Raj Bhawan.

A former Governor VS Rama put in a lot of effort to refurbish the building and took out several old photographs and artefacts dumped in the store of the Raj Bhawan.

Earlier Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar decided to shift the Raj Bhawan to Peterhoff again for undertaking major reconstruction and conservation works this year but on his arrival as new Governor Shiv Pratap Shukla decided to reverse the proposal and keep Barnes’ Court in its original form.