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Outer view of the palace


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Beautiful,” the French tourist said, and kissed his pinched fingers with a flourish. Our curiosity peaked. We tweaked our itinerary to include the lonely palace we first saw framed in the window of our train as it chugged through the plains of Madhya Pradesh.

‘Forlorn and sad’, we would add to the description of Datia Palace, an impressive structure built for an emperor who failed to show up. So the palace was never occupied except by the ghosts of the labourers who died building it. The tragic story of the ungrateful emperor swirled like the wind through this grand structure where the rampart walls once glowed with a mosaic of glistening tiles—now chipped and patchy—and its chambers adorned with colourful murals, now faded.

Raja Bir Singh Deo, ruler of Datia, had done Prince Salim, later known as Emperor Jehangir, a favour by having General Abul Fazal killed. The general had issues with him inheriting the crown from his father, Mughal Emperor Akbar. When Jehangir eventually did become emperor, Raj Bir Singh Deo invited him to visit his domain and built a grand palace to house his wives, concubines and travelling courtiers. According to our guide, he even embedded diamonds—now missing—in the knobs of stairwells so that the women could amuse themselves in a rewarding game of treasure hunt.

But Jehangir knew that the price of an Emperor’s gratitude would be high and found endless excuses to cry out of a promise he never intended to keep. And the palace meant for him languished like a fossilised dinosaur on the backwaters of time.

Datia, near Jhansi (44 km), falls within the tourist triangle of Gwalior (77 km), Orchha (50 km) and Shivpuri (105 km).

Text & Photos: Gustasp and Jeroo Irani
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
January 2018