Historic Barnes’ Court—the 191-year-old British-era heritage property, located in the heart of Shimla’s green lungs, majestic green Cedars has finally opened its doors to visitors, travellers – both Indian and foreigners and school children, a major turn in the history of the hill town. It is here that the historic ‘Simla Agreement’– a peace treaty was signed between Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Pakistani counterpart Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on July 2, 1972.
The building—now housing the state’s Raj Bhavan, still preserves artefacts of historic events, including tables and other articles now displayed at one corner of the sprawling hall. Till 1966, it was the summer Raj Bhavan and later it also became a state guest house for hosting high visiting dignitaries. Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto also stayed in the same guest house during the peace talks held after the 1971 war.
Governor Shiv Pratap Shukla on Saturday played host to 60 school children and some of the select citizens invited to the Raj Bhavan to mark a new beginning in the history of Barnes’ Court to facilitate guided tours to the complex, twice a week. It will be a regular feature now after for the Barnes' Court on all weekends and Sundays. His decision comes a few months after President of India Draupadi Murmu had opened 173-yr old Rashtrapati Niwas—a summer holiday retreat of the President at Chharabra, 16 km from Shimla, for the visitors.
“This property—Barnes Court (Raj Bhavan) is a heritage building if you look at its history and architecture. I have tried to break the loneliness of Raj Bhavan so that the common man gets access to the property and observes the heritage landscape here," the Governor said. Similarly, tourists, people coming from other states, and local people are also aware of the history of Raj Bhavan but due to compulsion, they could not come inside. Now, they will be able to easily see the splendor, prosperity, and culture of Himachal in this heritage building.
He added, “And, I am sure everyone will agree with my decision as being on the lines one President of India Draupadi Murmu taken to open the Rashtrapati Niwas, Mashbora in Shimla for the general public.” Since 1981, the sprawling Barnes Court has been the official residence of the Governor of Himachal Pradesh after the Peterhoff building – which was the state's Raj Bhavan – got gutted in the devastating winter fire.
In his book, Jan Morris, a travel writer, described the architecture of Barnes Court as “Stones of Empire”. Entry to the Raj Bhavan will be free for school students of the state and all children below the age of 10 years. For availing the facility, they have to show their identity card. Students of universities and colleges and visitors from the state and outside will be given entry to the Raj Bhavan by paying a fee of Rs 30. The entry fee for foreign tourists will be Rs 60. Admission will be free for persons with disabilities, and awardees at national and state levels.
The Raj Bhavan has also planned to engage guides and present a short film on its history and other archaeological highlights of the building for the benefit of visitors. Earlier, Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar had decided to undertake major conservation and reconstruction work in the Barnes Court building as its wooden frames, roof, and façade was showing signs of wear and tear but the incumbent Governor Shiv Pratap Shukla opposed the reconstruction and rebuilding plan to retain it in its original glory.
The building had originally been the official residence of the Commander-in-Chief in India from 1849 to 1865. Its first occupant was the then-British commander-in-chief, Sir Edward Barnes. Hence it has been named after him. The two-storey building, with teak wood doors and large bay windows, had also served as the residence of various British Commanders-In-Chief, such as General Napier, General Campbell, and General Rose.
As the Barnes Court also serves as the official residence of the Governor, the first floor will be retained as a private area while the entire ground floor, landscapes, lawns, and backyards will be accessible to the visitors.