In Search of the Glass Palace

“Soon the district administration discovered itself to be in possession of monies sufficient to build the King his long promised palace. A mansion had appeared on the hill side that faced the Residency. It came complete with a durbar hall, a gallery, outhouses, running water and a garage… All of Ratnagiri turned out to celebrate the move. Cheering crowds lined as the Royal Family drove out of Outram house for the last time… Its upkeep was found to require a small army: twenty seven gate keepers, ten peons, six hazurdaars and innumerable other attendants, cleaners, sweepers and ayahs – a total of one hundred and sixty one in all..”  –

The Glass Palace

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“The Glass Palace” by Amitav Ghosh tells the story of three or four generations spanning across the 20th century, interwined with the history and geographies of India, Burma, Malaya and of course the British. The Thebaw Palace in Ratnagiri shares a place in that large canvas. And certainly in our hearts. For that matter, it touches a chord in anyone who has read the historic novel. Ever since we read the book, this visit became an addition to our ‘to-do’ list. This time we sneaked out of a three day mountaineering camp in Ratnagiri and set aside half a day to explore this side of Ratnagiri.

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 The Thebaw Palace in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, was built by British for the last King of Burma while keeping him in exile. The King lived in Ratnagiri for over 25 years, though he could live in this palace, whose construction he personally supervised and waited for a long time, only for less than five years.

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After years of neglect, the Palace has now come under the State Archeological department and houses a museum. Earlier, it served as the Collector’s bungalow, then a Polytechnic, and a University Centre. Our excitement was so visible and infectious, that Vinay Netturkar, the staff on duty who perhaps initially dismissed us as regular tourists, was soon taking us around, opening those rooms that are rarely opened and telling those stories passionately.

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 The “Glass Palace” mentioned in the book actually refers to the Royal Family’s palace in Mandalay in Burma. 

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