I read in a little brochure put out by the Archaelogical Survey of India that the Chhattar Manzil complex grew around the nucleus of a palace built by General Claude Martin for himself. This was sold to Nawab Saadat Ali Khan, who and whose successors built more around it to house themselves and their families. The same brochure tells me that the two connected buildings I see before me when I walk in through the gate marked CDRI are Chhattar Manzil and Farhat Bakhsh. The building with the minaret and round dome above it is the Chhattar Manzil, and to its left, as you face north, is Kothi Farhat Bakhsh. It was not clear to us whether we were trespassing, so we did not explore further.
In 1951 this complex was given to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, which established the Central Drug Research Institute in this building. This prestigious institute outgrew the premises and moved out in 2012 when its new campus was ready. When we strolled in through one gate and out through another, the building seems to have been lying neglected for years. A rusty sign over a door proclaims a toilet. We see broken windows which clearly let in the rain. The derelict garden is host to a large number of butterflies. As we watch them, we hear a band of babblers quarrelling in the trees. It is a quiet Sunday morning in the busy heart of Lucknow.
The imposing complex needs care. It served as a residence of the Nawabs until Wazir Ali Shah moved to his new palace in Qaiserbagh. The building still looks imposing, and it is clear that it can be renovated. A little work on the web led me to this feel-good news item about the state government’s plans to restore the complex and set up a museum and a library on the premises. The intention is good, and one hopes that the work begins soon.