The Bilehra Palace in Uttar Pradesh Is One Of India’s Most Impressive Examples Of Royal Indo-European Architecture.

Uttar Pradesh in northern India is one of the Indian subcontinent’s last places for feudalism.

The centuries have gone by and gave way to a more gentle, poetic era. The rebellion in 1857 is still mentioned as if the acts of the Predecessors were told in great detail yesterday, by both villagers and princes. The former Awadh Kingdom was a centre of Sufism, a mystic Islamic branch and a centre of High Urdu culture. Behind the decayed façades with scaled fish, the symbol of the region, there are shares of courtly rites.

From the state capital Lucknow, a mango-grove journey leads to the Bilehra palace.

The structure is an astonishing example of India’s Indo-European Regency architecture, which predates the militant Indo-Gothic style in its fundamental lines. Since the death of the last king of Bilehra, Abul Hasan Khan, it has remained largely unchanged through the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic. He had died of the disease just a few months before, his eight-year-old heir; the family legend says that he died of a broken heart. The sole heritage of one of the country’s most ancient Shia lines are three young daughters.


The long dining rooms are decorated with candlesticking chandeliers and rotting piles of chipped soup from Royal Worcester. Arches that are typical of the Awadhi architecture school guide the eye to a large restaurant with clad lanterns, tumbling batteries of chipped soup and plates of Royal Worcester. The large sheet table was only barely used in one century, just one hour before arrival, with an opulent meal. I counted 12 courses, all of which were dreamed of by a couple of residents. The Raja told us that he was gathering with guests in the many nights of qawwali—Sufi devotional music—as he sat cross legged in the dhurries in front of rosewater plaques.

Rarely, the gracious Raja who divides his time between his family home at Lucknow and the beautiful Mahmudabad Fort seems to wander between the dried-up springs and aisles of magnolia trees leaved in wax. His eyes shine when he describes how the palace’s two sons are to be renovated and turned into a “dacha style retreat for artists and writers visiting.” As we turn away, he stops thinking, his tumultuous voice fads into the breeze already. “My task is to make my dad Mahmudabad fort, but my heart is Bilehra,” he goes on.


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