Photos: Md Adiluzzaman Adil
Thinking of having a quick weekend-tour outside Dhaka? Only some fifty kilometres away from the capital, Baliati Palace can be the perfect place for your weekend getaway. This magnificent ancient Greek style palace is one of the most famous archaeological sites near Dhaka. Built on 55.4 acres of land, this huge palace complex is also one of the largest colonial era zamindar palaces still existing in Bangladesh.
Gobinda Ram Saha, a rich salt merchant got the feudal lordship over a vast, fertile area of Manikganj during the first half of the 18th century. The magnificent palace was erected by his successors in the 19th century. According to an inscription found in the palace, it is known that the inaugural ceremony of the palace was held on the 1st of Boishakh, 1300 Bengali year which is April 14th, 1893 CE.
Surrounded by a perimeter of ponds, the huge palace is divided into four blocks inhabited by the four successors of the zamindar. There are similar but individual gatehouses for each of the blocks. The statue of a roaring lion on the apex of every gatehouse symbolises the wealth and power of the zamindar family. The palace is standing on the marvellously decorated, gigantic Corinthian pillars. Exquisite floral ornamentations all over the palaces and magnificent marble statues and lanterns leave the visitors wonderstruck.
There are four more buildings behind every block of the palaces. These three storeyed almost, ruined buildings were used as the female quarters. In the north of the palace premises, there is another building which was once used as the servant's quarter, palace stable and garage. There is also a huge pond with four ghats for the four families.
Legends say that once there was a huge salt barn at the centre of the palace premises to symbolise the source of the wealth of the founding zamindar. This is why Baliati palace was once known as the Palace of the Salt Barn (Golabarir Prashad). Now the palace has been named after the village where it is situated.
The zamindars of Baliati were renowned for their contribution in spreading education in this part of Bengal. Kishori Rai Chowdhury, one of the zamindars of Baliati established Jagannath College (now Jagannath University) in Dhaka which he named after his father. He also established many schools and charitable clinics in Manikganj district. archaeological department has been maintaining this huge palace complex since 1987. There is a museum in the 2nd block where different objects used by the zamindars have been preserved for exhibition.
Thanks to the palace's grandeur and reachable location, it attracts a lot of visitors from the surrounding area. Baliati can be reached through direct bus service from Dhaka to Saturia. However, the palace remains closed on Sundays and half days on Mondays. Although a lot of tourists visit the palace every day, there is no noticeable arrangement for refreshment for the visitors. If proper maintenance of the palace and refreshment arrangement for the visitors can be ensured, this archaeological site can be a great place for learning, recreation and entertainment for the tired Dhakaites.