Ah! Finally, restoration work at the Lalitha Mahal Palace will be taken up at the cost of Rs. 38 crore. This is good news, but the money is nowhere near what is required for an actual ‘restoration’. The truth is, this ‘restoration’ is actually just a ‘temporary fix.’
We must appreciate the Government for understanding the urgency of ‘fixing up’ Lalitha Mahal, even if it’s a temp-fix. Many Mysureans feared that by the time our Government finally decides to restore Lalitha Mahal, it will no longer be worthy of restoration but will need reconstruction.
This fear is natural considering what happened to heritage structures in Mysuru after the Government waited too long — they collapsed.
In 2012, the 130-year-old Lansdowne Building collapsed. In 2016, a part of the 136-year-old Devaraja Market collapsed. In 2022, a portion of the 95-year-old Vani Vilas Market and a part of the 106-year-old Maharani’s College collapsed. We feared Lalitha Mahal Palace was next.
Rs. 38 crore has been allocated for the restoration of Lalitha Mahal, but will the funds be enough? More importantly, will Lalitha Mahal be ‘truly restored’? The answer is NO.
Lalitha Mahal will not regain its glory as long as Jungle Lodges and Resorts, which comes under the Forest Department, manages the Palace. And it’s not their fault. Their core competence is in their name — Jungle Lodges and Resorts — they manage lodges in the jungles.
Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd. does a fantastic job of running forest resorts and safaris, but they have no expertise in running a luxury hotel, let alone a heritage Palace luxury hotel with a grand history.
If we want Lalitha Mahal to be restored to its original glory, the Government needs to give it to a private hotel chain with expertise in restoring and running heritage structures.
When a professional hotel group with funds and expertise in managing heritage property takes over a Palace-like Lalitha Mahal, they will create our city’s first genuine five-star hotel and sell our city to high-net-worth tourists while making the hotel itself a tourist attraction.
We have an example of what Taj Hotels did to the once dilapidating Falaknuma Palace Hotel in Hyderabad.
Taj took over Falaknuma, promising to spend at least Rs. 120 core to restore it in 2000. They took 10 years and spent nearly Rs. 100 crore more than initially estimated, but people were awestruck when the Palace opened in 2010. Taj had restored the grandeur of Falaknuma Palace. Today, Falaknuma Hotel is a tourist destination, more than just a hotel.
The Falaknuma Hotel is open to tourists on weekends, where, along with a guided tour of the Palace, you also get a luxurious high tea at a high price of Rs. 3,000 per head! This high tea session is available in Lalitha Mahal, too. Still, it is nowhere as popular, luxurious, educational or awe-inspiring as the one put together by the Taj at Falaknuma Palace Hotel.
Will our Government ever float a tender so a worthy company like Taj will restore and manage Lalitha Mahal? We hope so, but our hope is weakening like the pillars of Lalitha Mahal; why?
Reports that the Taj Hotel will take over the Lalitha Mahal Palace have been doing rounds for 22 years, but nothing has happened!
It began in 2000 when the late Union Minister Arun Jaitley, then the Disinvestment Minister, wanted to give it up. We thought Taj would get it. Nothing happened.
Fifteen years later, in 2015, Union Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma said, “We believe it makes little sense to let these hotels run in perpetual losses.” Again, we thought Taj would get it. Nothing happened.
Two years later, in 2017, when ITDC (India Tourism Development Corporation) gave back Lalitha Mahal to the State Government, we thought Taj would get it. Nothing happened.
Instead, it went to Jungle Lodges and Resorts, a State Government body that manages lodges in the jungles!
But the Government assured us that it was a temporary arrangement and that a more experienced private hotel company would run it soon after a global tender was floated. Again, many thought Taj would get it. Nothing happened.
In 2021, it was said that while Taj is the preferred hotel group, as they had restored and managed 14 Palace hotels in India, the Government would still float a global tender to follow protocol. Nothing happened.
Last year, there were reports that Taj would get it. Nothing has happened yet.
The resurrection of Lalitha Mahal Palace is vital to Mysuru. It will give our city a new lease of life as a tourist destination. Lalitha Mahal, restored to its grand splendour, will reflect our claim of being a royal heritage city.
For now, while our Government keeps waiting to float a global tender, Lalitha Mahal is turning 102 years old, but I fear she will not live much longer; even if she does with timely temporary fixes, she will live like a ‘once gorgeous lady’ who still has her charm, but her children have ‘ruined’ her.
As I watch old, beautiful structures destroyed by neglect around us, I am reminded of an old Kannada adage — Mangana Kaiyalli Manikya (pearl in a monkey’s hand). It means a monkey does not know the value of the precious pearl it holds in its palms.
Lalitha Mahal Palace is a pearl in the hands of a Government that does not understand how precious it is. We are unworthy of beautiful things, for we know not their value. Hope, the Government will realise before it is too late.
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