Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bundi undiscovered treasures

The ornate designs of Bikaner are hidden, but at least the city lies on the tourist map of Rajasthan. Bundi, in the south-eastern part of the state does not feature on tourist itineraries, and is a sleepy town full of architectural treasures:

In this photo by Kurt Schulz, at the very top of the hill are the walls of Taragarh Fort, while the Garh Palace is built on the slope of the hill. At the foot of the hill is Bundi town, with the square-shaped Nawal Sagar Kund (reservoir) visible in the photo. Water and water resources are found aplenty in Bundi; the Chambal and Kushal rivers pass through the district. But the terrain is mostly a plateau with many hills and valleys, so natural water sources have to be tapped efficiently.

The Rajput rulers built many reservoirs, lakes, and baoris (stepped wells). Most famous is the Raniji-ki-baori in Bundi town, 46 metres deep and decorated with ornately carved pillars and delicately chiseled arches. Another stepped well is the Chudakalya baori, while the largest reservoir in Bundi is the Dabhai kund. Near Bundi is the Jait Sagar Lake, on which is built the summer palace Sukh Mahal, and which is used today for water sports.

Bundi was founded by the Hada Rajputs in the 14th century, much of the construction in the Garh Palace was done in the 17th century, including the Chattar Mahal, Hathi Shala (above), and the many temples. The style of construction is almost entirely Hindu with many animal motifs, like the elephants, rectangular pillars rather than rounded columns, and square brackets instead of curved arches. The material for construction is the local sandstone, a little of it red and yellow, but mostly brownish-green serpentine stone extracted from the Rajpura mines.

The interiors of the Garh Palace are painted with Rajput battle and hunting depictions, religious scenes, and romance elements. Bundi town seems frozen in place, with little tourist-related activity, since it stopped growing from the 18th century. Many of its undiscovered houses are built in traditional styles while its main markets, the Chaumaukh and Sadar bazaars, continue to sell colorful odhnis (long scarves for women), hand painted wood and metal wares, miniature paintings and jewelery.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Beautiful Havelis of the Shekhawati region

The Shekhawati region, near Jaipur, was not a princely state but a collection of estates ruled formerly by Shekhawat Rajputs. These estates formed part of the old Kingdom of Jaipur. The havelis (mansions) of the Rajputs show their military architecture, with thick fortified walls, cannons, and traditional solid design features. They were built on commanding positions overlooking the Rajput chieftain's town or village. The havelis of the merchant families are beautifully carved and decorated with frescoes, and built inside the protection of the towns:

The Poddar Haveli in Nawalgarh town has been converted into a museum. Many of India's industrial houses like the Birlas, Poddars, Bajajs, Mittals, Khaitans, Goenkas, Ruias, Parasrampurias and Kanodias, are from the Shekhawati region. In the old days Rajasthan was on the trade routes to Central Asia, Delhi-UP, Gujarat, Africa, and West Asia, and it was very rich. That wealth is reflected in the havelis.

The Rajput houses were built with local sandstone, but the merchant havelis also incorporated lakhauri bricks, plastered with a special mortar prepared from lime, jaggery, guargum, urad dal, jute fibre, and bilva pulp. The havelis incorporate outward projecting balconies, brackets, arches, chabootras and intricately carved wooden doors. The masons who built these beautiful structures are known as khatis, while the gorgeous frescoes were the work of chejaras.

Each haveli is built in different style, with gorgeous frescoes decorating the inner walls and roofs. Some from the 19th and 20th centuries incorporate European design features. By those days the old trade routes had dwindled away, and the economic powerhouses were the British stations of Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. The construction of the railway was the last blow to the Rajasthani trade economy. Many of the merchant families migrated to greener pastures, leaving so many havelis to years of neglect. Now some of these have their architectural structure being restored, with the help of the traditional khati masons and chejara painters, while the interior designs inculcate modern amenities for foreign and domestic tourists.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Heritage Properties

The Financial Express reports that WelcomHeritage, the largest chain of heritage properties in India, has signed two new heritage properties in Rajasthan and Goa (Hotel Panjim Inn). In Rajasthan, it has signed a 40-room hotel in Mukundgarh Fort, one of the many beautiful havelis of the Shekhawati region.

The interiors of Mukundgarh Fort, with traditional Rajasthani seating and a modern bar! See more photos at Travel Webshots. WelcomeHeritage plans to promote it as a spa destination. WelcomeHeritage has 63 heritage properties with the maximum in Rajasthan (19 properties) followed by Uttarakhand (8 properties), Himachal Pradesh (6 properties), and Madhya Pradesh (5 properties).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jaipur scientific design

According to the ancient Hindu principles of city design, streets must be broad and straight, crossing each other at right angles. Such is the design of the unique city of Jaipur in eastern Rajasthan, which fittingly serves as the large Indian state's capital. Following an alliance with neighbouring Rajput rulers, and their victory over Mughal invaders, Jaipur's founder and greatest ruler Sawai Jai Singh II began the construction of the city in 1727.

Known as the "Pink City" Jaipur is constructed using red sandstone, while buildings from other stones have been colored gerua (Rajasthani for pinkish-orange) to stress the imperial ambitions of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II (1699 - 1743). There is a popular misconception that the color was added on to welcome Prince Albert in 1863, but on that occasion the city was generally spruced up, the color was always original from the material used. The old city of Jaipur was protected by a 25 foot high wall, while the surrounding hills were also fortified. Sawai Jai Singh issued invitations to merchants, traders, artisans to come and settle in his city. Their homes were built on top of the shops, which lined the streets, and they were afforded loans for the construction of these havelis.

Designed by the Bengali architect Vidhyadhar Bhattacharya, based on the ancient Hindu architectural treatise the silpa-sutra. Water for the construction was brought by a canal from the Jothwara River, and all through the main roads ran aqueducts, to keep the streets cool (now closed up). Rajput heritage is reflected in the floral designs, richly carved friezes, the colonnades, kiosks, and niches. The towering Hawa Mahal (wind palace), constructed in 1799 by Sawai Pratap Singh, has 953 intricately carved lattice windows which convert hot winds into cool breezes and afforded a viewpoint for royal ladies and concubines, while protecting their privacy.

Apart from the old City Palace is the more modern Rambagh Palace (above), situated in the midst of sprawling gardens and woodlands, now functioning as an exclusive heritage hotel with separate residences for the royal family. Unlike the rest of Jaipur the Rambagh Palace is distinctively white, and was originally a hunting lodge! As the local saying has resonated in Jaipur and its environs: "Jagat main aakar kya kiya, kabhi na dekha Jaipuria?" (What is the use of being born in this world, if you never get to see Jaipur?)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jodhpur in the sun

Jodhpur 'the oasis in the desert' was founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha, of the Rathore Rajput clan, after he shifted his capital from Mandore. Meherangarh Fort looms large over the city awash in the rays of the sun....the word Mehar is from Sanskrit 'mihir', which means sun. The Rathore clan are suryavanshis or the descendants of the sun god. The photo above is by French photographer Nicolas Chorier.

Sucessive rulers in the mid 17th to 19th century added to the red sandstone structure, creating lavish rooms. The distinctive style of arrash plaster, made of crushed shells and lime plaster soaked in pits dug in the ground from periods of more than a year, was used to get the perfect sheen on the walls. This is further decorated with goldleaf paint and mirrors to create magic in the rooms. High ceilings, jharokhas, tiny balconies with beautifully carved red sandstone awnings added to make this fort a highlight of the kingdom and city.

The city of Jodhpur is painted in the hues of the indigo shade to keep it cool and mosquito free. The blue hue can be seen from a distance, like from that aerial shot above. The town is famous worldwide for its dyeing expertise by the Chawde sect and there is a street in Jodhpur named Chawda ki gali as well. The city is famous for its beautifully crafted mojri's or juti's (in leather and hand embroidered) as they are more widely referred as. The leather workers are called Bhambis. Jodhpur is also renowned for its exquiste furniture in the local wood and there is a huge market for these items.

The Jewel in the crown of this city is the Umaid Bhawan Palace built in the beginning of the 20th century. It is said that this palace was built by the Maharajah to provide employment to the people of the state as during those days the state was in a famine stricken situation. In this project more than 5000 men found work and were paid a daily wage of quarter of a rupee. The architect of this huge structure was M.V.Lancaster and the style was a blend of Indo-British architecture.

The opulence and Grandeur of this Palace is breathtaking. It took sixteen years to build this palace, which was completed in the year 1944 by Maharajah Umaid Singh. The interiors are in the famous art-deco style and in 1944 it was the world's largest residence with about 347 rooms. To meet with demands of today's world this property is converted into a hotel, while part of the palace serves as residence to the former Maharaja and his family.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bikaner ornate and hidden

Like Jaisalmer, Bikaner is situated in the midst of the desert of northwestern Rajasthan. Built in 1488 by Rao Bika after whom it is called Bikaner. As in Jaisalmer, where yellow sandstone is used in construction, in Bikaner the local red sandstone forms the main building material. Bikaner city is protected by a 7 km wall outside, and by the Junagadh Fort inside. The architecture of the fort, and the many palaces it copntains, are the epitome of traditional Indian design and decor. For example the jharokas in places are decorated in red sandstone, interspersed with white and blue Dutch ceramic tiles. Some of the palaces have ornate mirror work, paintings, and carvings.

The more modern palace of Lallgarh, which is also a luxury hotel, was designed by S.S.Jacob for Maharaja Ganga Singh. Lalgarh also uses red sandstone and local artisans for the exquisite carvings, but is designed in the mixed Rajput-British style. The business communities like the Agarwals, Rampurias, and Kotharis, own palatial mansions called havelis, hidden away inside the old city (second picture). These and the homes of the common people are built to keep the denizens cool, with their extended balconies and latticed windows, beautifully carved and decorated with lovely floral designs. The traditional artisans and stone-cutters of Bikaner are called Salavats and Ustas.

ALthough Bikaner is in the desert it is dotted with natural lakes like Kodamdesar and Gajner, which were expanded and maintained by the Rajput rulers, and even today attract thousands of waterfowl. The rulers also built kunds, which are underground tanks that harvest rainwater. In the 20th century Maharaja Ganga Singh brought water from the River Sutlej via the Gang Canal (named after him), which transformed many parts of the kingdom into a blooming garden.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jaisalmer keeping cool

Jaisalmer is located in the midst of the Thar Desert, on the western fringes of India's Rajasthan state, where temperatures can reach close to 50 degrees celsius in summer. The fortified city was founded in 1156 by Rawal Jaisal, whose descendants continue to reside in the main palace. All through the turbulent centuries of wars, drought, and relentless heat, the city has withstood all challenges partly from its unique design and architecture. The builders of Jaisalmer include the Bhati Rajput kings and nobles, the Jain merchants, and the common people from many other diverse communities. The main constructions in Jaisalmer date to the time of Maharawal Sabal Singh Bhati shown below in a portrait dated to 1690:
The homes, havelis, temples, palaces, and the massive fort are built mainly with the local yellow sandstone blocks, which are so intricately joined together that no mortar or cement was required to keep the walls and roofs standing!

The palaces, temples, and havelis are replete with beautifully carved jalis and jharokhas, filigree details, mosaics and blue tiles. The balconies jut out over the narrow streets to shield them from the harsh sun, and to draw in the breeze. The entire design of the ancient city is meant for keeping the inhabitants cool. The wooden ceilings of these buildings are coated with a local material made from limestone called muram, which keeps away the heat and prevents water seepage.

Jaisalmer also has many lakes and gardens and a slow meandering river named Kakni runs through the city, mostly dry in the summer, but providing a good location for many other towns and temples. Kakni loses itself in the sands after some distance.
AVANTIKA RESORT Located on the main highway from Ahmedabad to the port of Kandla in the vibrant state of Gujarat