NABEEL ANWAR DHAKKU
While most buildings built 150 to 200 years ago by the British and wealthy Hindus and Sikhs have been left to deteriorate, the Khewra guest house is a rare historical site that stands intact, in all its grandeur.
After the British colonised India in 1858, they constructed various buildings that housed schools and universities, patwar khanas and guest houses. Guest houses, in particular, were built at specific distances from each other, and served as lodging for officers who visited various areas.
Scores of guest houses were built in the Rawalpindi division, but most of these have crumbled. The Khewra guest house, however, is an exception.
Built in 1876, the guest house appears as if it was built just a few years ago, and serves as an example for how to preserve historical buildings. In this case, it is the Pakistan Minerals Development Corporation (PMDC) that is responsible for preserving the building.
Spread over 16 kanals, the guest house is divided into two sets by a gallery. One set is named after Dr H. Warth, who landed in Khewra in 1872 and developed the Khewra Salt Mines, while the other is named after W. U. Siddiqui, an engineer and the first Muslim to be appointed chief mining engineer at the salt mines after partition.
Each lodge contains two bedrooms with attached bathrooms, and a sitting room. Apart from the two lodges, there are another two rooms located at the rear, and the guest house also has a pantry. The kitchen is located a few yards from the main building.
The entire compound offers a captivating glimpse of colonial architecture. The ceilings of the rooms – including the bathrooms and kitchens – are nearly 23 feet high. In comparison, the ceilings for an average room in a city or village are barely 12 feet high.
Air conditioners have been installed in the spacious bedrooms and sitting rooms, while ceiling fans hang in the bathrooms.
At the front of the building is an expansive veranda, and all the doors in the building are made of cedar wood.
“The entire building was constructed using local white stone. Since there was no cement at the time, the architects of this guest house used clay and ground lentils for construction,” said Mumtaz, the deputy administrator at the mines. The guest house is only open to officials and official guests.
Mohammad Rafique, the protocol officer, said: “Anyone who comes here feels solace.” The building is centred on 16 kanals, and is surrounded by vast gardens. In front of the building stands a banyan tree, as old as the building itself.
There are currently five people employed at the guest house: a cook, a sweeper, a cleaner, a peon and a gardener.
“The sole secret of the preservation of this guest house is that maintenance is carried out periodically,” Arfan Shah, the project manager at the mines, said. “Even today, this building is safer than new buildings.”
Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2016