Travel, Rajasthan, Hadoti, Madan Singh Trust Museum, Kota Garh, City Palace, Painted Rooms, Palaces of Rajasthan, Museums of Rajasthan

The painted rooms of Kota Garh

When we arrived at the Rao Madho Singh Trust Museum in Kota on that November morning last year, I was taken aback to see the freshly whitewashed exteriors of the Museum building. I mean, why would a red sandstone structure be whitewashed over? The white is so blinding in the mid-morning sunlight that I had to shade my eyes to even look at it.

Travel, Rajasthan, Hadoti, Madan Singh Trust Museum, Kota Garh, City Palace, Painted Rooms, Palaces of Rajasthan, Museums of Rajasthan
The Madho Singh Trust Museum in the Kota Garh or City Palace

Travel, Rajasthan, Hadoti, Madan Singh Trust Museum, Kota Garh, City Palace, Painted Rooms, Palaces of Rajasthan, Museums of Rajasthan The Museum is located within the historic Kota City Palace or Kota Garh complex, which consists of many buildings, but none of the other buildings in the palace complex were whitewashed. In fact, the building next to the Museum has been spared the whitewash (except for the domes) and I was able to admire the intricate stone jaalis or lattice-work that covered the entire structure.

The building with the jaalis, however, was not open to the public, making me wonder if the whitewash was for the benefit of the visitors to the Museum, who (according to the website) visit it see its

rich collections of arms and armour, royal regalia and ritual paraphernalia, textiles and objets d’art, and world-famous miniature paintings and wall frescos.

As our group was entering the Museum, there was a moment of panic where I wondered if the interiors of the Museum have been whitewashed over as well, obliterating the wall paintings that I was most keen to see. But then just past the Elephant Gate (see header), I looked up and saw a gloriously painted ceiling (see photograph below) and I knew that all was well.

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When I met a book cover

The best part of travel is the unexpectedness. No matter how much researches or reading one does in advance about a place, there is always something unanticipated to surprise the traveller. I always delight in these unanticipated surprises that get thrown my way and sometimes these surprises are so unexpected that it is difficult to even describe the feeling. Something like this happened when I visited the City Palace of Udaipur earlier this year.

But I’m getting a little ahead of the story, so first a little background.

Color by victoria finlay

About a year back I read a book that I can safely say enriched my life-like no other. It was Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay, which traces the history of how natural dyes, paints and colours were made for a European artist’s paintbox. The book is full of stories, anecdotes, histories and adventures inspired by the human quest for colour. (I highly recommend that you can read my review of the book here.)

To say that I liked the book is an understatement and I have lost count of the number of times I have read it. However clichéd it sounds,  Color… opened up a deliciously new world before me and one that I continue to explore every single day in art, but also in textiles, interior design, music, porcelain, and craft. For me, Colour… was as perfect as a book could get for me.

The beautiful book cover, which depicted a stained glass window with panes of different coloured glasses, was an apt choice for the book. But the book gave no details as to where the window was, and even though it looked Indian, I knew that this window could be anywhere.

When I entered the City Palace of Udaipur that February morning, I was looking forward to seeing the Maharana Pratap artefacts, the Mor Chowk, miniature paintings, some wonderful views across Lake Pichola… I had an audio guide with me which gave me the perfect opportunity to explore the Palace at my pace. When I reached the Amar Vilas,  a large breezy courtyard on the 4th or 5th storey of the City Palace, nearly 2 hours later, I decided to take a break and sit for a while on one of the many benches laid out there. As I looked around, I saw the multi-coloured shimmer of a large stained glass window across the courtyard.

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The City Palace of Udaipur

My first visit to the City Palace at Udaipur did not go very well.

I had gone buy tickets for the evening sound and light show at the Palace, only to be told that the show had been cancelled. I was surprised as there was no information posted about this on the board outside the ticket office. When I asked for the reason behind the cancellation, the ticket clerk mumbled something like “a function in the palace”. And when I asked as to why there was no advance information put out, he wouldn’t even look at me. When I asked if the sound and light show would be on the next day, he only gave a non-committal shrug, which could have meant anything. I had to be satisfied with that and leave disappointed.

My second visit was different.

I was back at the City Palace next day morning, this time to explore the areas accessible to a visitor. So, once I had paid for the entrance fee, the museum fee, the camera fee, and the audio guide fee and collected the various tokens, I set off for the palace complex with the hope that this visit would at least take away some of the disappointment of the previous evening.

City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, Travel
View of the City Palace from Jagmandir Palace

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The Udaipur experience

Udaipur was my last stop as part of a 10-day trip of Rajasthan that took me through sandy Bikaner and Jaisalmer, arid and rocky Jodhpur, and mountainous Kumbhalgarh. And when I arrived in the cool, green lake city of Udaipur, I was in for a bit of a shock. A pleasant shock, I must hasten to clarify. Part of the shock was how different it was from the image that comes to mind when one imagines Rajasthan, and part of the reason was how much Udaipur looked like the pictures I had seen of the city. 🙂

Udaipur, City of Lakes, Lake Pichola, City Palace
View of the City Palace from the Jagmandir Palace across Lake Pichola

Udaipur was established in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh as the new capital of Mewar as Chittorgarh, the previous capital, was deemed too vulnerable due to repeated attacks by the Mughals. The next 400 years saw Udaipur fighting for independence from the Mughals, repelling their attacks, signing peace treaties with them, facing attacks from the Marathas, alternately supporting the British or rebelling against them; and finally agreeing to join other Rajput kingdoms in forming the state of Rajasthan after Independence.

The 400 years also saw the city developing into one of India’s prettiest cities with artificial lakes, royal palaces for every season and weather, mansions, gardens, and what not. Having visited it now, I can understand why many foreigners consider this city as a wedding destination. Surrounded by hills on all sides, plenty of lakes, palaces on hire, and a salubrious climate, this is a just about as perfect a location as one can get. Add to this the allure of royals and local Rajput history, and you have the perfect exotic quotient that appeals to many.

I spent a couple of days exploring Udaipur, wandering in the alleyways of its old city, touring the famous City Palace on the banks of the Lake Pichola, visiting memorials and gardens, stuffing myself with sweets, picking souvenirs and bandhini dupattas, going on boat rides… Presenting some images from my wanderings in Udaipur 🙂

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