Discovering Jhalawar

When I started planning for the Hadoti Trip last year, I wasn’t aware of Jhalawar’s existence at all. I feel rather sheepish admitting this, but its the truth. Located about 80 km from Kota, Jhalawar cropped up as a suggestion for a pit stop to explore Gagron Fort, Jhalarapatan and the Kolvi Caves.

The information available on Jhalawar, which was sketchy to say the least with the same information being circulated on various sites — it was a former princely state, it had a palace, a theatre, a Fort (Gagron), had the highest amount of rainfall in the state, etc. But then I read about bad road conditions between the Kota and Jhalawar, I decided to shift my base from the former city to the latter since these sites were closer to Jhalawar than Kota.

Once that was decided, all I had to do was to find a hotel to stay and wait for the trip to get underway. Here, Jayanti of One Life To Travel connected me with Mahijit ji of Virendra Bhawan, and that too got finalised, and the trip countdown began. 🙂

When I got off the train at Bhawani Mandi Station on that cold November morning in 2016, I had no idea that this was the beginning of an epic trip. I had no idea that I was going to fall in love with Jhalawar, so much so that it was going to be the highlight of my Hadoti Trip.

Travel, Jhalawar, Princely State, Hadoti Trip, Royal Trip, Rajasthan, Heritage and History

Jhalawar is an hour by road from Bhawani Mandi, and the drive took me through orange orchards (Jhalawar is the second biggest producer of oranges in India); stone quarries (think of the famous Kota stone); and even the depressing sight of a thermal power station in the distance, belching out smoke. As we neared Jhalawar, the landscape changed from rocky to lush vegetation. and when the road took us through a dense bamboo grove, with green sunlight filtering through I felt that we were passing through a magical place.

Travel, Jhalawar, Princely State, Hadoti Trip, Royal Trip, Rajasthan, Heritage and History

At Virendra Bhawan, a warm welcome and very comfortable rooms awaited my friend and I. We met Mahijit ji, our host, and over a leisurely and sumptuous breakfast, got introduced to the history of Jhalawar and the people who contributed to it, especially Maharaj Rana Sir Bhawani Singh, Mahijit ji’s great-grandfather.

Jhalawar was founded as a princely state in 1838. Carved out of the existing Kota state by the British, Jhalawar takes its name from the Jhala Rajputs of Wadhwan in Gujarat from where the rulers were originally from.

The foundation for an independent state of Jhalawar was laid by Zalim Singh Jhala, who was the Diwan and also guardian to the minor ruler of Kota. Zalim Singh ruled as the Regent of the kingdom and during his ‘reign’ he started developing a cantonment town in what is present day Jhalawar. Known as Chaoni Umedpura, this was to defense strategy to contain Maratha invaders who used to pass through this area, which was thickly forested, from Malwa plateau towards Kota.

By the time Zalim Singh died in 1824, he had also set up procedures that would ensure that his position and the titles and privileges that came with it would be hereditary. Therefore, when Jhalawar was created — after a series of conflicts between the office of the Diwan and the ruler of Kota — by the British, Raj Rana Madan Singh (Zalim Singh’s grandson), became its first ruler.

The years that followed saw the development of Jhalawar with villages, towns, public buildings and other infrastructure getting built. However, in the 1880s Jhalawar faced a crisis of leadership and governance leading to its territories being restored to Kota. In 1899, the British chose Bhawani Singh, a distant descendant of Zalim Singh Jhala, as the new ruler of Jhalawar. This was the beginning of a new phase for Jhalawar.

Bhawani Singh was, to put it very briefly and simply, a visionary. He was the Maharaj Rana for 20 years till his passing away in 1929 and in that period he changed the face and profile of Jhalawar.

From administrative and agricultural reforms to setting up schools and higher education institutes for both boys/men and girls/women, building a hospital exclusively for women, a grand theatre, the finest library of its time, societies to promote the arts, literature, music and culture, including one to study and translate the works of Shakespeare… Bhawani Singh did it all. He also brought Ghasiram, perhaps the best known painter of his time from Nathdwara to paint and decorate the Garh Palace in the 1900s.

Bhawani Singh was an avid world traveller and had the habit of compiling pictures from his travels in a book form so that people in Jhalawar could see what the world outside was like.

Listening to Mahijit ji share stories about Jhalawar, in general, and his great-grandfather Bhawani Singh in particular was to experience the history of Jhalawar and see the place come alive. This feeling was heightened when I saw the painted rooms of the Garh Palace and the Library, both of which are Bhawani Singh’s legacy.

The Garh Palace was built between 1840-45 and is a complex and consists of several buildings, temple, outhouses, stables and a non-functional theatre (Bhawani Natyashala). Like most palace complexes, this one too grew over the decades with additions and extensions getting built or modified. The Natyashala was built as late as 1921. Most rooms/mahals of the Garh Palace are out-of-bounds to the casual visitor, though one can stroll around the complex to get a feel of the size and layout. The Garh Palace used to have government offices on its premises till recently, but today, except for the Government Museum, all other offices have moved out.

The Government Museum of Jhalawar was set up during the reign of Bhawani Singh, in 1915, and is among the oldest museums of Rajasthan. The Museum exhibits includes sculptures, manuscripts and paintings and has one of the best collections I have come across. As a lover of Indian art, it was treat to go through the exhibits and delight over the more unusual ones. And that is putting it rather mildly !

I also got the chance to see the painted rooms of the Garh Palace. These are normally out-of-bounds to visitors, but thanks to some dogged perseverance and sheer luck, was able to see some of the most stunning works of art I have come across in India (watch out for the detailed post on the painted rooms next week!).

Here’s a peek into the treasures at the Garh Palace of Jhalawar. Clicking on any of the photographs will start a slide show and you can click on the arrow keys to navigate through the set. Once you have finished seeing the photos, don’t forget to come back to read the rest of the post.

The library that Bhawani Singh built is perhaps the most spectacular library that I have had the privilege to visit. Founded in the late 19th/early 20th century, it must have been was one of the finest private libraries in India at that time. Initially, it was known as the Kimball Library, and when it became part of the Government College at Jhalawar, it was named after Bhawani Singh.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw rows upon rows of book shelves filled with books that were at least a 100 years old. Hard bound editions of Shakespeare, a cupboard full of books on Napolean Bonaparte, museum catalogues from the Louvre and National Gallery London, books on art and architecture of Europe, books on Indian and Western philosophy, books on Indian art, and more. While I was thrilled to see books that I had only heard of, or referred to, it was distressing to see the neglect and decay the collection is facing. Though the Library is part of the College, few people seem to visit it if the dust and dampness is any indication. And yet, in spite of all this, the books seemed to glow with a life of their own.

Here’s a sampling of the books at the Bhawani Singh Library. Clicking on any of the photographs will start a slide show and you can navigate through the set using the arrow keys. Once you have finished seeing the photos, do come back to read the rest of the post.

When I asked Mahijit ji about the bamboo grove we passed through on our way to Jhalawar, he said that this was perhaps the last remaining patch of what used to be a dense forest full of wild animals. The area around Jhalawar was a forest and it used to be full of tigers, leopards, deer, birds and game.

While discussing the wildlife of the Jhalawar region, Mahijit ji mentioned a book in his library that indicated the richness of bird life more than a 100 years ago —Birds of Jhalawar in 2 volumes. In 1890, the then royal artist, Lala Jumna Das was commissioned to paint all the bird species found in Jhalawar State. Each bird painting records the scientific name, its English name, and the local name. Sometimes pithy and humorous comments are scrawled in. These paintings were prepared and compiled under the guidance of one Col. H.B. Abbot.

I was honoured when Mahijit ji took out the two volumes to show it to me. Some pictures from volume 1 of that book is given below:

The forests surrounding Jhalawar was the favourite hunting ground for both the royals of undivided Kota and, later, Jhalawar. The forests and the animals within disappeared over the decades due to development, roads, mines, etc (in the case of the former) and hunting (in the case of the latter). Mahijit ji recalled exploring the forests as a child and picnics and feasts with family and friends.

Today, only a small patch of that original forest remains with a road cutting through it — the bamboo grove.  On one side are several small shrines and on the other side a government-run nursery, which at one time was a cemetery for the British officials stationed in the cantonment. When we visited this area it with Mahijit one evening, we found the graves overgrown with weeds and vegetation. Though some of the graves were visible, it was not possible to estimate just how many graves were there.

I wonder how long this patch of green will hold out.

Clicking on any of the photographs will start a slide show and you can navigate through the set using the arrow keys. Once you have finished seeing the photos, do come back to read the rest of the post.

When I look back at the Jhalawar leg of my Hadoti trip, one thing stands out:  Virendra Bhawan and Mahijit ji are at the heart of my Jhalawar experience. Let me elaborate.

Virendra Bhawan was a great place to stay in and an experience in itself. Large property, warm staff, simple but sumptuous home-cooked meals, and a host who was full of stories and first hand information about the history of the region and then some more. My friend and I were the only guests at Virendra Bhawan at the time we were visiting and had the place to ourselves.

Clicking on any of the photographs will start a slide show and you can navigate through the set using the arrow keys. Once you have finished seeing the photos, do come back to read the rest of the post.

If I hadn’t stayed at Virendra Bhawan and met Mahijit ji, my trip would have been very different. For example, I would have visited the Garh Palace, but only the Museum and not the painted rooms for they are not really known. As for Bhawani Singh’s Library and the significance of the bamboo grove, I would have missed it completely ! I would not have known about the natural history of the region, just as I would not have known about the small Parsi community that used to live here or Parsi theatre, which was quite popular in Jhalawar.

I still remember the surprise I felt when I heard that Shyam Shankar, the father of Uday Shankar and Pt. Ravi Shankar was the Diwan of Jhalawar State. While Ravi Shankar was spent only part of his childhood in Jhalawar, Uday Shankar was here for a longer time and it is believed that he gave performances in Jhalawar too, before he attained fame elsewhere.

I could go on with the stories that Mahijit ji shared and the conversations we had, in which case this post will never end. 🙂

Travel, Jhalawar, Princely State, Hadoti Trip, Royal Trip, Rajasthan, Heritage and History

Jhalawar had everything that I love about travel — history, heritage, art, books, and then some more. Writing about Jhalawar more than 4 months after the trip has been a pleasure and a chance at relieving the wonderful time I had there.  And to think that I had no idea that such a place existed, prior to planning for my Hadoti Trip !

Jhalawar was also serendipity. Wouldn’t you agree? 😀


Disclaimer: I was hosted by Mahijit ji of Virendra Bhawan at Jhalawar. The words and opinion are all mine.


The Hadoti Trip Series: Dear Hadoti | Discovering Jhalawar | The painted rooms in the Garh Mahal of Jhalawar | Bhawani Natyashala: The opera house at Jhalawar | An evening in Jhalrapatan | The Buddhist Caves at Kolvi | The Gagron Fort at Jhalawar | An impact crater, a temple ruin and some discoveries | A fun evening in Kota | A safari on the River Chambal |


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18 thoughts on “Discovering Jhalawar

  1. Awesome post and this one was especially delightful since I have never heard of Jhalawar before. Thanks for introducing me to another place that goes on my list of places to visit before I kick the bucket

    Liked by 1 person

    1. MM, I hadn’t heard of Jhalawar prior to the trip, so you can imagine what it was for like me, especially considering that it turned out to be the highlight of my entire trip.

      Rajasthan never fails to amaze and never fails to surprise you either. Come to think of it, India is like that too, isn’t it? 🙂

      Like

  2. Wonderful. And though the discoveries and explorations and reportage is brilliantly yours, I do give myself a pat on my back, feeling happy that I could facilitate your stay. Jhalawar, definitely for me in 2017.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jayanti, for the comment and for facilitating my stay at Jhalawar. even though I would have visited Jhalawar anyways, it would never have been what it was. Thank you, once again. 🙂

      Like

  3. I could feel your excitement in every sentence. Yes, it was serendipity and so all the more wonderful, right? Lovely pictures, but then all your pictures are, aren’t they? 🙂

    Like

    1. Thank you Zephyr. You are one of the few people who picks up my voice and emotions from my writing, which os why your comments mean so much to me. Jhalawar is a lovely place and that is the reason why the photos are too 🙂

      Like

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