A number of historical sites dot Lahore, a city which has been inhabited for hundred of years. The old walled city of Lahore, has some wonderful Muslim, Hindu and Sikh architecture of historic significance, besides the 'havelis' built by the Dhyan Singh family. They once ruled Kashmir and migrated to India in the turmoil of 1947. "Haveli of Asif Jah" is among one of those havelis. It has seen many dynasties and suffered hardship of time, and now it’s serving as a Women's College in Chuna Mandi.
While going through the list of important historic buildings in the Lahore I came across Haveli of ”Asif Jah” in Chuna Mandi Lahore. This Haveli currently houses Fatimah Jinnah College for Women which presumably is not open for visitors.
This Haveli dates back to the 17th century in the period of Mughal Emperor Jahangir when Asif (Jah) Khan was appointed as Governor of Lahore by Jahangir in 1625. He was the father of Queen Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. There are various references in history about the construction of this Haveli, some of them relate to Asif Khan while some of the historians also documented Dihana Singh and Khushkhal Singh.
This place has seen many rulers and reigns, from Mughals to Sikhs, from Sikhs to Britishers and finally Pakistan. During the Sikh period, Dhyan Singh, the senior minister of Raja Ranjit Singh used it as his palace but it is more likely to be the palace of Jamadar Khushal Singh. During the British Raj, the building was used for British administration offices and after the creation of Pakistan, it housed CIA’s Torture Cell. In 1986, PM of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif announced the building to be used for establishment of a girls college.
Me along with my friends finally got permission to visit the Haveli on a bright and clear Sunday. Walking from Delhi gate (one of the thirteen gates of the walled city) and by-passing the famous Masjid Wazir Khan, we reached the Haveli. Some local children were playing cricket along its wall. We entered from the main Entrance arch with a huge wooden door and it felt like we were entering in a fort because the structure of the building is huge as compared to other old buildings and Haveli most of the structures in the walled city. The building has a vast courtyard and interestingly the architecture was the mixture of Sikh and Mughal reigns.
The current state of the building includes both old and new style of architecture. The building is well maintained and renovated over the time which does answer the question why it is being used as a Govt. Institute rather locking it down. There are classrooms on three sides; when you enter from the main gate. It’s highly unlikely that one could encounter such magnificent architecture in educational institutes. Lush gardens, tranquil shadows, beautiful Jharokas, big and old doors give a sense of peeping into the past along with institutional education. The rich architecture and history of the building provide the students with a beautiful environment to study in.
The fresh air and panoramic views of arched hallways and verandas are enough to amaze someone sitting on the stairs of the main garden. The garden is also used for the number of events like Mina Bazaar, classical shows and sometimes open air theatre. One portion of this structure has a basement which holds computer labs these days. All this makes the building one of the few institutions that represent the culture of historical Lahore while providing the world class education in 21st century.
The rooftop of the building is also fascinating which gives the abstract view of the whole building. Lahore fort, Badshahi Masjid and even Minar-e-Pakistan can be seen if you climb on top, its exterior is inspired by strategic architecture.
Sikh also have their footprints in the vast Haveli, the style of their architecture can easily be Judeged. When you cross the main garden in front of the Asif Jah's palace, the building is a master piece of Sikh architecture decorated with frescos. Time have faded away their beauty, but the renovation work is keeping it alive.
The Haveli is under continuous renovation and extension process, It will be no surprise to say that it has been greatly taken care over the time. Mr. Khursheed is the caretaker of this magnificent building for the past 22 years, explains the transitions of the building. “The building was unmanaged and in poor condition when I joined the institution. It is in much better condition and it makes me happy that it continues to improve over the time. I have 3 years left of career at this institution before I retire, but I can see this institution gaining highest in the field of education and becoming an icon of the history.”