Presently in a dilapidated state, the infamous Palace Hotel had the honor of hosting guests of a grand stature and now requires the local authorities’ attention in preserving its rich history.
Built nearly 150-years ago by Babu Eshwar Das, a Hindu resident of the area, the Palace served as a rendezvous for the elite that toured the scenic city of Abbottabad.
Residents of the area are not familiar with the hotel due to its access restricted to high-society only post partition. It was built to attract a certain class of citizens reflected by the imported fixtures and fittings of the building from Britain. Coincidentally, the hotel’s cedar tree covered lawn once witnessed Britain’s Queen Elizabeth-II walk through it during her brief stay at the accommodation as a state guest.
However, Elizabeth-II was not the only royalty that stayed at the luxurious hotel of the past. Farah Pahlavi, the wife of the last Shah of Iran and the empress consort from 1959 to 1979, was also a state guest at the Palace. Apart from these royal figures, Zhou Enlai, the first premier of China, also enjoyed the comforts that the hotel had to offer.
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Currently, the hotel’s white wall paint is peeling off and much of its top of the line heating system has broken down over the years because of constant neglect. Gone are its days of fame, when the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto held a press conference at the hotel, in his movement against Field Marshal Ayub Khan in 1967. As fortune would have it, the institution was briefly owned by the descendants of Ayub Khan, who then sold it to its present occupiers – the city’s administration.
Sikandar Khalil, a 32-year-old employee of the Divisional Commissionerate, said he had been working in one of the offices at the Palace Hotel for 16 years, adding that he had become somewhat accustomed to the building. “Spending the day in this building built for the elite class gets me thinking about how time changes everything,” Khalil said while talking to the Express Tribune. “We often get people from all over the country and in fact the globe who recall the memories they have associated with this building,” informed Khalil, “some bring their children and show them the rooms where they spent their youth.”
Afzal Khan Lala, an 85-year old, who was born in the city and has spent his entire life here, said that the Palace Hotel was a hidden gem in Abbottabad. “In our childhood, apart from the British, only a few people had solid buildings and this hotel was one of them,” Lala said, reminiscing about the times he used to roam the streets surrounding the building. The hotel’s solid structure withstood the deadly 2005 earthquake when many buildings surrounding it crumbled.
Despite being under the government’s control, no attention has been paid to the leaking walls, the broken stairs, and the run-down condition of the building. Sources indicate that there is interest in selling the building to a commercial entity instead of preserving it as a national heritage.
Furthermore, credible sources told the Express Tribune that the Archaeological Department has not included the building in the list of historical landmarks, so the Palace’s preservation does not stand much of a chance.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2021.