Venue: Rashtrapati Bhavan, Raisina Hills
Date: 16 August 2015
Closest to church furthest to god, they say. There can’t be anything more true. Parts of the Rashtrapati Bhawan have been opened up to visitors and many of our friends from other parts of the world have taken this tour. . In fact a dear friend from school days had taken the tour with his family and has been strongly recommending this to us. Bottomline – we were already late. To make amends we made immediate plans and logged on to the Rashtrapati Bhawan website – https://presidentofindia.gov.in/rbvisit/rbvisit.aspx to book the tour.
The tour charges are 25/- per head and we were pleasantly surprised to get a confirmation on SMS in about two days.
We drove up Raisina Hills between North and South block a little before our scheduled time and on showing our booking SMS, were ushered in to the parking inside Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Once inside we reported at the reception where there were some security formalities (ID confirmation, photograph etc.)
Although it wasn’t 4 o’ clock, we were designated a guide before time. At this point we had to leave our belongings, including cameras and mobile phones, and join a group of about 15 people.
We were first taken to the Museum Hall where the guide gave a brief history of the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The museum had huge oil paintings of somber looking Viceroys and colonial dignitaries. She then took us through the Kitchen Museum, Dining Hall, library etc. Noteworthy cites are the Ashoka Hall which had a spectacular ceiling covered with paintings and frescoes and the Darbar Hall that sported a throne for the President. Behind this throne was a 5th century statue of the Buddha from the Gupta period. The fact that the President’s throne was kept in front of a star who renounced his throne seemed like an oxymoron.
Looking at such state sponsored opulence in a country when many people are forced to sleep in the open arouses mixed feelings. Nonetheless given the short duration of the tour (the whole exercise took us one and a half hours) and the simplicity of the whole approach, this to-do should work for the young and the adult. The opening of Rashtrapati Bhawan to the common man has created a connect between the presidential position and the average Indian. Rashtrapati Bhawan to us is now more than just Mughal Gardens.