Monday, 30 January 2017

The Fort Of Gwalior - A Witness To Millennia


I arrived at Gwalior at the second leg of my trip through the state of Madhya Pradesh. The city, over a period of three days, left a very poor mark on me as a whole - with the air laden with diesel fumes, the narrow roads running a stream of honking mini-tempos and bikes, the debris of construction and signs of decay and the general heaviness of a north-Indian winter smog. But amidst all these, raised as if on a pedestal, stood the proud fort of Gwalior. This place was different than the city that encircled it. This place was wonderful.

The Fort Of Gwalior - Man Mandir Palace

The silhouette of the fort walls in fading light
The fort has witness the history of central India being made through the past millennia and more - the Gurjar-Pratiharas, Kacchaphaghatas, Tomars, Mughals and then Marathas (Scindias) ruled over this fort and the territory. The fort stands proud.


Getting In and Around

The Gwalior Fort occupies a north-south running hill/plateau. There are two access gates - Urvai Gate to the south-west and Qila Gate to the north. Both the gates have a steep ascent to the top. The Urvai Gate is to be used in case you plan to get a vehicle along. The Qila Gate is strictly for pedestrians.

The road from Urvai Gate

Either of the gates can be accessed easily using public transport - the numbered mini-tempos that run on fixed routes. I entered through the Urvai Gate and exited through the Qila Gate, which allowed me to cover Tansen's Tomb after the fort. one can choose any way to enter, but note that the tickets to the main monuments - Man Mandir Palace, Sahastrabahu (Saas-Bahu) Temples and Teli Mandir - are sold at a single counter near the Man Singh Palace complex at the centre.

On the map

The expanse of the fort can be covered on foot. Vehicles are permitted from the Urvai gate to the ticket counter only; this means that the palaces are to be covered on foot while the temples can be accessed by car.


The Jain Colossi

The status of Gwalior as a prominent centre for Jainism is underscored by the numerous sculptures of the Jain Tirthankaras hewn out of the mountain rocks. The statues are found at various places along the periphery of the mountain. The prominent among these are the group called Siddhachal along the road that climbs in from the Urvai Gate. Here one can see a continuous line of the twenty-four Tirthankaras of Jainism.

The colossi of the Tirthankaras

 The series of colossi

Another set of statues are located just up the road from the Siddhachal group, along a downward staircase. Here one can see a 58ft high statue of Lord Adinatha among others. This location being a little out-of-sight, appears to be a hit among the city youth.

 The colossus of Lord Adinatha

 The tank colossi section


The Man Mandir Palace

This is the main palace of the Gwalior Fort. The palace was built in early sixteenth century by the local ruler Man Singh Tomar. The palace has four storeys, out of which two are underground.

 The walls of the Man Mandir Palace - adorned in turquoise

 The view of the city

The ground storey has an access to a courtyard and a few small rooms. Watch out for the delightful peacock motifs on the pillar brackets and faux patterns on the walls. The underground storeys are accessed by narrow staircases. One can see the entertainment rooms, pools and hanging place in the lower storeys. It is recommended to cover your noses to ward off the stale odour.

 A door frame

Rooms inside the palace

The peacocks adorn the brackets

The phansighar (where criminals were hanged)

Only about one-fifth of the palace is open for the general public. Close by one can also check out the ASI museum, an open hall and a circular tank.

A circular tank near the palace

The dome of a hall near the palace


Karan Mahal, Vikram Mahal, Jahangir Mahal and Bheem Singh Rana Chhatri

These monuments are located to the north of the Man Mandir Palace and have a separate entry ticket. These palaces were built by the eventual rulers of the fort and have a more residential flavour than the defensive structure of the Man Mandir Palace. All these three palaces have chhatris at the higher levels which give a brilliant birds-eye view of the sprawling city below. The Jahandir Mahal also has a stepped tank in its huge courtyard.

The Karan Mahal

A Chhatri at Karan Mahal

Jahangir Mahal as seen from top of Karan Mahal

The expansive courtyard of Jahangir Mahal

The tank in the courtyard of Jahangir Mahal

A view of the tops of Gwalior monuments

The Bheem Singh Rana Cenotaph is the northern-most of all monuments here. The chhatri is built adjacent to a stepped tank called Bhimtal. The reflection of the chhatri in the tank waters looks beautiful.

 The Bheem Singh Rana Chhatri


Sahastrabahu (Saas-Bahu) Temples

This is a set of two empty temples placed side-by-side. The construction of the temples is attributed to Kings Ratnapala and Mahipala of the Kacchaphagata dynasty, in the early eleventh century. The temple takes its name from the depiction of Lord Vishnu with a thousand arms (sahastra = thousand, bahu = arms). Over a period of time the local misnomer of saas-bahu gained prominence and was used as the primary name.

 The smaller of the Sahastrabahu Temples (a.k.a. Bahu)

The larger of the Sahastrabahu temples (a.k.a. Saas) as seen from the smaller one

The smaller temple is beautiful yet simple. The larger temple features exquisite artistry on the inside in the central hall and o the pillars. The temples were sacked and defaced with lime (chuna) during the Islamic occupation of the fort. It was only during the British occupation that the artistic splendor was somewhat revealed to the world.

 Inside the 'Bahu' Temple ...
... Man Mandir Palace can be seen in the background

 The pillars and beams of the larger temple

The intricate artwork on the pillars


Teli Mandir

This is another empty temple and is absolutely unadorned from the inside. On the outside though it features a very unique architectural style - almost Dravidian, but with local artistic elements. The height of this temple is about 30m and is attributed to the ninth century reign of Pratiharas. The temple takes its name from an oil-merchant (Teli) who is said to have commissioned this temple. The arched entrance to the east is a British addition.

The Teli Temple - front facade

 Side on view of the temple

The motifs that line the door


Gurudwara Data Bandi

Across the Teli Mandir lies the serene Gurudwara Data Bandi. The Gurudwara is in the memory of sixth Sikh Guru - Guru Hargobind. The name of the place is derived from a probable imprisonment of the Guru at this fort.

Gurudwara Data Bandi

Doordarshan TV Tower at the fort next to the Gurudwara


Chaturbhuj Temple

Descending from the Man Mandir Palace to the Qila Gate one comes across this small Vishnu Temple. The temple is non-descript except for an inscription along one of its walls that is known to be the oldest description of a zero.


Gujari Mahal

This small palace was constructed just next to the Qila Gate by Man Singh Tomar for his favourite Queen, Mrignaini. The Queen belonged to the Gurjar caste and hence the name - Gujari Mahal. Watch out for elephants on windows of the upper storeys.

The entrance to Gujari Mahal

 The elephant in the 'window'

The palace has now been converted into a museum managed by the state authority and has some very interesting figures. The principal among these is the Shalbhanjika which is displayed only on requests. The museum has a separate ticket.

The Shalabhanjika ... originally from Gyaraspur

An intricate Varaha sculpture

A pillar on display

The Gwalior fort towers behind the Gujari Mahal


Dargah of Mohammad Ghaus and Tansen's Tomb

A little away to the east from the Qila Gate, one comes to this simple complex of the dargah of the sufi saint Mohammad Ghaus in the Hazira Chowk area. The stupendous building is surrounded by a garden on the northern half and smaller dargahs and tombs on the southern half.

The dargah of Mohammad Ghaus

The jaali-work at the dargah

The frescos on the inside

The garden is a wonderful place to relax for a while after the excursion up on the fort. One can also pay obeisance to the legendary Tansen whose tomb is also placed in this compound.

The tomb of Tansen


Signing Off

There are quite a few places to see in Gwalior city other than the fort too. These include the Jai Vilas Palace modeled after the Palace in Versailles (France), Scindia Chhatris, Sun Temple, Memorial of Rani Laxmibai, the Narrow-Gauge Railway and a few more. These places would warrant that a visitor to Gwalior stay here for another day at minimum. A mask for your nose, a pair of earbuds and you'd be well on your way to enjoy these sights of Gwalior too!


© One Of The Road

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Shekhawati & Its Havelis - An Open Art Gallery


There is a region in Rajasthan near the eastern fringe of the Thar desert called Shekhawati, distributed between two districts of Sikar and Churu. The region is sparsely populated by Indian standards, yet by some estimates, it indirectly accounts for 80% of the countries industry. Oh yes, this is the region of the Birlas, the Goenkas, the Dalmias, the Jhunjhunwalas, the Poddars, the Devras, the Sarafs and many other illustrious names that make up bulk of India's industrial base.

 A glimpse inside a havel
Clicked at Nadine Le Prince Haveli, Fatehpur

The residencies of these families - their havelis - are no less important. These palatial houses, bunched up in narrow lanes of the small villages that dot the Shekhawati region, comprise a gallery of an immensely beautiful art-form - the fresco. The region is rightly called 'the open-air art gallery' of Rajasthan.

 A random haveli in Fatehpur


The Prosperity Of Shekhawati

Shekhawati is one of the newer parts of Rajasthan in terms of its settlement. The area was situated strategically on the trade route from northern regions to the ports of Gujarat and those from the east passing on to Sindh. The settlements of Shekhawati were known as thikanas. These thikanas began with construction of a fort and the immediate settlement, which was later expanded with the help of merchants from the Marwad region. The thikanas were majorly of a feudal nature and were not strongly bound to the parent kingdoms. The merchants of Shekhawati, free from external threats, flourished and amassed some good wealth.

 The fort of Laxmangarh, seen from the Char-Chowk Haveli


The Shekhawati Haveli

The havelis of the Shekhawati merchants have traditionally served a dual purpose - household and business. The havelis have been designed in such a manner as to keep the household affairs at an arms length from the business affairs. Yet it was possible for the household to secretly peep out onto the business side of things.

The door to the inner courtyard and one-way windows accessible from inside
Clicked at Singhania Haveli, Fatehpur

The courtyard of the Ladia Niwas, Mandawa

The haveli begins from the door. The main door is to be used for processions and special occasions only. A smaller door - barely 2ft x 4ft - embedded in the main door was preferred for daily affairs. The door opens to a small chamber for the guards and then the outer courtyard. This courtyard is surrounded by chambers for conducting business and is connected to an inner courtyard through a small room. The inner courtyard is the surrounded by the family residential chambers.

 The entrance to a haveli - images of dignitaries and use of 'Belgian' glass is common
Clicked at Singhania Haveli, Fatehpur

Stepping in to the Nadine Le Prince Haveli, Fatehpur - the entrance and the outer courtyard

The separating room between outer and inner courtyard had asymmetric doors
Clicked at Saraf Haveli, Fatehpur

The inner courtyard surrounded by family rooms
Clicked at Radhika Haveli, Mandawa

Some havelis had designated space for caravans, cargo and animals outside the main haveli. Almost all havelis follow this basic architectural premise.The last of the havelis were built in the 1920s. Many have been neglected to the elements, but a recent interest has seen an uptake i restoration and conservation. And of course, hotels.

Crumbling gates of the Char-Chowk Haveli in Laxmangarh


Artistic Influences and The Fresco

Almost all available surfaces of the havelis were covered with frescos. The fresco is a form of painting done on wet plaster; executed during the construction of the walls itself. The original coulours uses were all natural. The process in itself involves multiple layers of pigmentation work. The result is a set of paintings that have withstood the test of time.

Morni - a personal favourite; She's got style!
Clicked at the Saraf Haveli, Laxmangarh

 A hunting party and some portraits under the eaves
Clicked at Ladia Niwas, Mandawa

 A rather striking portrait of a lady
Clicked at the Murmuria Haveli, Mandawa
 A rather timeless floral pattern
Clicked at the Agarwal Haveli, Mandawa

The paintings in the havelis often portrayed religious themes - the ones with Krishna being extremely popular. Portrayals of royalty were common while some also featured western aristocracy. Some interesting portrayals transpose Indian mythology on western landscapes.

Krishna-leela, clicked at the Saraf Haveli, Fatehpur

Radha-Krishna with a very-western-looking palace in the background
Clicked at the Kedia Haveli, Fatehpur

 A foreign accountant with his books
Clicked at Saraf Haveli, Fatehpur

The paintings also served as a means of education - especially for the womenfolk whose role was traditionally restricted to the confines of the haveli - the portrayals of objects of scientific progress (planes, trains) are a testament to this.

 River and bridge - a western or Himalayan setting
Clicked at the Rathi Haveli, Laxmangarh

A car portrayed at the Agarwal Haveli in Mandawa

 Current affairs - Portraits of freedom fighters
Clicked at Murmuria Haveli, Mandawa

The limits to artistry were often the ones imposed by the skill of the artist as no subject was particularly taboo. Paintings with erotic leanings were restricted to the private chambers, but then with the advent of the nineteenth century pan-India moral code these depictions were steadily obfuscated. There is a revival of the erotica though, largely due to the western interest in the exotic.

This is rather awkward
Clicked at the Singhasan Haveli (hotel) in Mandawa 

 This portrayal of Krishna-leela would be labelled as risque by today's standards
Clicked at Harlalka Chhatri (Hotel), Mandawa


Getting In

At present there are nine villages of Shekhawati which are known for the artistic appeal of their havelis - Mandawa, Laxmangarh, Fatehpur, Nawalgarh, Ramgarh, Bissau, Chirawa, Dundlod and Mahansar. All these villages except Chirawa can be approached from Sikar in the south-east and Churu in the north-west. Chirawa is to be approached from Jhunjhunu. Local buses are the best mode of transport as the rail network has not quite developed yet.

 Public transport ... yep, its interssting!

Each of these places is small enough to be done on foot in you have sufficient time. However, rickshaws are readily available too.

 Lane of havelis, Mandawa

Parking-lot and havelis, Fathepur

 The Singhania Haveli and the empty road, Fatehpur

I personally visited Laxmangarh, Mandawa and Fatehpur (in this order) in the 48 hours I could spend in the region. The notable havelis in these villages are listed at the end of the post.

On the map


Touring The Havelis

As far as the havelies are concerned, Mandawa and Nawalgarh are known to be best places to see them. Here you'll also hear tales of movie-stars as they are quite popular shooting locations. Havelis of Fatehpur are known for their artistic excellence, but since most are currently occupied, access is usually denied. Don't let that deter you though - there's still quite a lot of art on the outer walls and in any case entry to the outer courtyard is seldom refused (though photography may be restricted). Needless to say - please be polite!

 The outer courtyard of the Goenka Haveli, Fatehpur
Only accessed by a polite smile

Most havelis though are no longer occupied by the owners and are left for the caretakers for maintenance. The owners usually visit once in a decade or so. The caretakers in these cases would expect some amount from you - remember that since nothing is official, you have complete rights to bargain.


Notable Havelis in Laxmangarh

1: Char Chowk Haveli: Unique four-in-one haveli located to the north of the Laxmangarh fort. The southern side is residential, but free access on request. The Northern side has famous paintings of Mughal erotica, but manned by a watchman who locks and leaves at sunset.

 Inside the Char-Chowk Haveli - southern side

2: Rathi Haveli: A double-entrance haveli located to the east of the clock-tower. Residents run a shop in the market and visit the haveli at sundown or for breaks. Supposed to have good paintings on the inside.

 Gilded portraits outside the Rathi Haveli

3: Saraf Haveli: This small haveli to the north of Rathi Haveli is completely residential and has been renovated to resemble a modern practical house. A few paintings remain out of which one is the very beautiful 'Morni'.


Notable Havelis in Mandawa

1: Ladia Niwas: A simple haveli owned and maintained by an enterprising gentleman who arranges props for the movies shot in Mandawa and has himself featured in minor roles. The haveli has floral motifs and an antique shop in the basement.

The gentleman who gives samosas runs the Ladia Niwas antique shop ...
... yep, scenes of PK have been shot in Mandawa too 

 Aroom here has a few interesting royal portrayals

2: Gulab Rai Ladia Haveli: Currently undergoing renovations, so access is restricted. Originally known for its censored erotic content.

3: Chokhani Double Haveli: A double haveli as the name suggests, but with a large, dusty courtyard. Artistically not very significant, though you will definitely be asked for some tip by the caretaker - they are a poor lot.

 The junction of the two havelis

4: Jhunjhunwala Haveli: This one is known for its gilded room, which unfortunately is not impressive enough to justify the entry ticket (printed) of Rs100.

 The golden gallery

 I found this more intriguing than the gold

5: Murmuria Haveli: The paintings in this haveli are comparatively modern, and feature a take on the freedom struggle - there's Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and the likes. Even Shivaji Maharaj is present here. This also looks over to the Goenka Haveli which has a train lining the wall that opens here.

 Some floral patterns are found too

6: Monica Haveli: This one has been restored and reflects the general themes. It is more popular for its terrace restaurant.

7: Radhika Haveli: Just up the road from Monica Haveli, this one has been painstakingly restored to a hotel. It really is a wonderful feeling to be inside this place.

8: Temple of Thakurji: The temple has scenes from the 1857 mutiny. The horrors are portrayed rather imaginatively. The temple attendants expect a tip.

 Scenes from the mutiny of 1857 on the temple walls - also cannon fodder

9: Harlalka Chattri: The chhatri is a mausoleum of sorts, but has been renovated to a hotel. Features imagery related to Krishna and also some erotica which is rather explicitly restored. Order a cup of tea here and sit on the terrace to enjoy the view and then the paintings too.

 This one at the Chhatri had me really wondering - what a ride!

 A Mughal court scene at the Chhatri

10: Others: These are the havelis that line the streets, but are lost without names, nor doors.

Daily life under the eaves

Simply majestic


Notable Havelis of Fatehpur

1: Nadine Le Prince Haveli: A haveli belonging to a certain Devra family has been retrofitted and painstakingly restored by French artist Nadine Le Prince. It also serves a hotel (rather pricey) and an art gallery. Guided tours of the haveli are offered by students who work in its restoration. Tickets are for INR 100. Locally known as 'angrezon ki haveli'.

 An idea of restoration at Nadine Le Prince Haveli
The central arch is pending restoration, while the flanks have been restored three months prior

A Mughal-Rajput style portrait in the haveli

2: Saraf Haveli: This one is located next to the Nadine Le Prince Haveli and is one of the oldest. The haveli has not been restored and gives an idea to how the Nadine Le Prince Haveli would have looked before it was restored. Architecturally, it is an exact replica of the former. Entry on tips only.

 Entrance to the Saraf Haveli

3: Singhania Haveli: This one is located 100m north of the Saraf Haveli. This is a double haveli out of which one is open for visitors. It has been restored, but entry is free.

 Krishna, some cavalry and Laxmi ... at the Singhania Haveli

4: Goenka Haveli: Located at the northern fringe of a large cluster of havelis, this one is externally almost nondescript. A step inside and you will be amazed by the beauty of the designs here and the way it combines modernity with its heritage. Entry on request and of-course restricted to the outer courtyard.

5: Kedia Haveli: Located close to the bus stand on the main road, this one has some unique paintings - especially of vimanas. Entry on (very nominal) tips.

 A vimana (celestial flying craft) and portrait of Krishna at the Kedia Haveli

6: Mungilal Devra Haveli: This one lines the street, almost like a double haveli. The gates were closed, but the facade is excellent.

7: Others: I use this term to indicate the lane that starts perpendicular opposite the Kedia Haveli and is literally lined with havelis on all sides. Most of these are closed, but the art still makes its way through.

Havelis that line the streets

Chowdhary Haveli - the board says

 A certain Chotia Haveli


© One Of The Road