Shimla toasts 175 years of historic Barnes Court


Shimla : A European exterior with a ‘pahari’ (mountainous) soul! That is how the historic Barnes Court, a neo-Tudor timber framed building that now serves as the Himachal Pradesh governor’s residence, was described on its completion of 175 years this week.

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Governor V.S. Kokje hosted the city’s elite to celebrate the occasion Thursday and recalled the sprawling building’s history.

Barnes Court was first occupied by the then British commander-in-chief of the Indian Army, Sir Edward Barnes, in 1832 and gets its name from him.

It is there that the historic Simla Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan in 1972. During the signing of the pact, then Pakistan prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his family stayed in the house as state guests.

Since 1981, the sprawling Barnes Court is the official residence of the Governor of Himachal Pradesh.

Raising a toast to the beautiful building, Governor Kokje said it had “a European exterior and a ‘pahari’ soul”.

Jan Morris, a travel writer, describes the architecture of Barnes Court in her book “Stones of Empire” as a “curiously re-constructed kind of English manor-house”.

“Its gardens were landscaped in English style, its trees were cunningly disposed, and the whole house was built in nostalgic half-timbering.”

“Patterned dark woodwork beneath its eaves gave it, it is true, something of the air of a Swiss hotel, a gabled veranda acknowledged that this in fact was India, but a cunning sleight of hand from some angles and the octagonal steeple, which stood at one corner of the house, looked tantalisingly like an English steeple.”

Flowerbeds in the front of the building were widened in the 1990s, an elevator and a fire escape staircase were added in 1994 and the various suites and office rooms were given Hindi names in 1998.