Romance in Murals – Expression of Love at Chitrasala in Bundi

‘That slender one should send a letter

Couched in artistic language

Written on a Kettaki leaf, scratched by Kasturi and wrapped by a silken thread

Having a symbol of her breasts smeared with sandal paste

With her name inscribed on upper portion’



‘Forgetful of worldly attachments

Lost in his thoughts

Suffering from fever caused by his memory

She heaves deep sighs, neglects her food, walks or rest

Without bothering to listen to her friends’



‘High palaces and blossoming lotuses

Do not give the pleasure any more

She throws the ornaments being placed on her body by her friends

Nor is she delighted by acts of entertainment

Having achieved an objective she is restless

Is desirous of engaging in such pursuits

Which she could not in the presence of her lover’


The 18th-century Chitrasala of Bundi palace in Southeastern Rajasthan is a chock-a-block of romantic depictions of Shringar Rasa in the form of large murals. Most of Chitrasala murals are inspired by Rasikapriya, a love poem written by Keshavdash of the 16th century.


Bundi takes its name from a narrow valley Bandu – Ka – Nal (Bandu was a chieftain of the Meena Tribe and Nal means the narrow ways). Rao Deva conquered this terrain in 1342 CE and renamed as Hadoti. The Aravali Mountains surrounding Bundi present the most picturesque view with its flowing rivers and lush green forest, in the whole of Rajasthan.

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Rasikapriya is portrayed as the vehicle of emotion. The description of the countryside, cities, forests, hermitages, rivers, gardens, tanks, sunrise, moonrise and the seasons are beautifully illustrated by the artists of Chitrasala. There are seven colours, namely, white, black, yellow, red, grey, blue and mixed tones that have been primarily used in Chitrasala murals.

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Keshavadeva defines a nayaka or hero as a man who is young, expert in the art of love, emotional, proud, selfless, generous, handsome, rich and reframed in taste and culture. A nayika is a heroine whose very sight fills a male’s heart with shringar rasa. There are four categories of naikyas according to Rasikapriya.





Padmini – Padmini is a beautiful nayika, soft as lotus, intelligent, cheerful, clean and soft-skinned, free from anger and has a golden complexion. She loves clean and beautiful cloths.

Travel Tips

Bundi is located in southeastern Rajasthan at a distance of 50 km from Kota, the largest city of the region. Bundi can be reached from Kota by regular bus services and shared vehicles. While at Bundi one can also explore the surrounding hill terrains rich in prehistoric rock art. There are many stay options in Bundi ranging from budget homestays to high end. Keep three days for your Bundi trip if you love a more relaxed slow trip.




Chitrani – Chitrani is adorned with diverse beauties. She is fond of dancing and singing. She is fond of perfumes and her lover’s portraits.

Sankini – Sankini means short-tempered and clever. She is a luxuriant growth of hair, likes red garments and pinches hard when excited. She is shameless and unhesitant.

Hastini – She has a thick figure, a fat face and large feet. Her lower lip and eyebrows are thick and her voice is rough.

Another draw of Chitrasala is the Ragini murals. Ragas are primary sources of all musical renderings in India. Each Raga or Ragini has an emotional situation based on different facets of love, either in union or separation. Ragas are ascribed to Shiva and his consort Parvati and Raginis are ascribed to Brahma and his consort Saraswati.











The important features of Ragini murals at Chitrasala are strong eyes, pointed chin, projected nose, round face, Jahangir style turban, narrow patka with geometrical designs, transparent chakadar jama, attractive black pompoms and shading under the armpits. Ragini Todi, Ragini Megha Mallar, and Ragini Asvari are important examples of this sect.

The depiction of zenana or women’s harem is yet the attraction of Chitrasala murals. Zenanas are large palaces built for women. These palaces are divided into different apartments allotted to the royal women or queens, less important ladies who hold various managerial positions and attendants. In these wings, only the kings and princes are allowed. Some common zenana scenes that appear in Chitarasala are princes playing chaupar, palace gardens, palace ponds, palace terraces, the celebration of Teez festival and women listening to music, feeding the fish and enjoying wine and smoking huqqua.






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The love murals of Chitrasala are a treat to eyes. They follow shringar at all its spell and intensity – when the passion strikes a woman after seeing her lover she sweats and is thrilled with romance and such is the intensity of her involvement she does not see even her friend standing nearby.  They integrate with the landscape of Bundi and the cycle of seasons. There are joy and delight everywhere.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Havelies and Jain Temples of Jaisalmer – Splendours to Devotion in a Fairytale Setting

Located in the heart of the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer, the golden city of Rajasthan was once a very prosperous city on the silk route that connected India and China with Arab, East Africa and the Mediterranean world. Once inhabited by Jain merchants, this frontier town has preserved a magnitude of palatial havelies and Jain Temples of majestic beauty. For an onlooker, they offer a mystical aura.



The Jaisalmer Fort

It is said that the Jains of Jaisalmer financed over 50 kingdoms and had over 400 shares all over Asia, including Iran, Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan.

With the forming of Pakistan, the trade came to a standstill. With no other options of business, the Jains left Jaiselmer for elsewhere to explore business possibilities.



From the Golden Fort as I strolled through the maze of lanes, I came across many havelies, some abandoned, others converted into middle-income group residential apartments and shops, but all showing beautiful jail works carved on golden stones.

Travel Tip

Jaisalmer is located in the western part of Rajasthan in the heart of Thar Desert. The distance between Jaisalmer and Jaipur is over 600 km (10 hours). Jaisalmer is however well-connected by rail and air beside road service. There are plenty of hotels ranging from basic to luxury properties. While at Jaisalmer also visit the Golden Fort, Kuldhara ghost village and the royal chhatris. The best time to visit Jaisalmer is winter.






Nathmal Ji ka Haveli is a 19th-century structure built by two architect brothers. Built as two separate houses but with remarkable harmony, the palatial haveli has beautifully carved exteriors. Two yellow sandstone elephant figures guard the entrance to the haveli. It used to be the Prime Minister’s residence in the 19th and early 20th century.

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Nathmal Ji Ka Haveli

My next stop at Salim Singh Ka Haveli located at Ashani Road. Built by Salim Singh, the Prime Minister of Jaisalmer in the 19th century, what draws your immediate attention is its splendid arched roof with carved brackets shaped like peacocks. The haveli made of entirely in stone appearing narrow in the first floor, and then the top floor spreads out into a mass of carving with graceful 35 arched balconies surmounted by pale blue cupolas. The palace is also known as Jahaz Mahal.

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Salim Singh Ka Haveli

Located in a narrow lane near Patwa Complex, the Patwaon Ji Ka Haveli is the most splendid among havelies at Jaiselmer. It is also the oldest built haveli in 1805 by Guman Chand Patwa, a well-known Jain merchant. It is not a single haveli but a cluster of 5 havelies, but for his five sons.

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The complex is also known as the ‘mansion of brocade merchant’ as the family dealt in threads of gold and silver used in embroidering dresses. The family also made a huge profit through opium trade and money lending.

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Inside the haveli, there is a museum and shop for handicrafts and antique objects. The walls are adorned with exquisite mirror works and beautiful paintings. Undoubtedly, it is India’s one of the best splendid havelies.

Within the vicinity of Jaisalmer Fort stands 7 exquisite Jain Temples built Rajput architectural style. The temples are decorated with intricate murals and stone carvings. Built between 12th and 15th centuries CE, these are dedicated to various Jain Tirthankaras.




Chandraprabhu Temple is the first one in the series when you descend from the palace in Jaisalmer Fort. Dedicated to 8th Tirthankara it was built 1509 CE and the main attraction of the temple are its intricately carved pillars and a series of toranas in the mandapa. To the right of Chandraprabhu Temple is the temple of Parswanath which can be entered through a beautifully carved torana. On its south is the temple of Shitalnath, the 10th Tirthankara in Jainism. The image of Shitalnath is composed of 8 precious metals. A door in the northern wall leads to the enchanting dim chamber of Sambhavnath. The temples are open all days for worshippers.











The Jain Temples and havelies of Jaisalmer are timeless classics, each woven with stories of wealth and devotion. In a nutshell, they form a fairytale wonder.




Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at


Kuldhara in Jaiselmer – A Travel Shot

Today, a deserted land haunted by stories of akal, conflicts and migrations, Jaisalmer, India’s golden city and a major tourism hub was not always like what you hear. The region was located in the middle of flourishing trade routes connecting India with Persia and the Arabian Desert cities via land route as well as ports of Gujarat. Opulence wealth had made it a pearl in the Thar Desert. The region was largely inhabited by merchants and traders, especially by Paliwal Brahmins in mansions and houses that stand deserted today, appearing almost like freshly excavated cities of Indus Valley Civilization.






We wanted a place of solace from the city’s hustle and bustle and what could have been a better place than Kuldhara, the erstwhile thoroughfare of Paliwal Brahmins, but now a haunted place. 20 km further drive takes you to yet another abandoned village and a fort called Khabba Fort, a sight appears as if straight from Arabian Night sets. Spend two days and hop around desert villages. You will discover many more such abandoned houses.

Travel Tips:

Kuldhara is only 20 km from Jaisalmer. Most tourists don’t prefer to stay here, however, we recommend to make Kuldhara your base at least for 2 days and 2 nights if you are a soul seeking traveller. You are at absolute peace in the rugged landscape with zero human interference, especially in starts studded nights. For a comfortable, yet budget accommodation check out Dreamline Cottages behind the heritage site. The rooms are clean, spacious with hot water facilities. Its owner is Mr Khan (+91 9929834687) who is a local man and knowledgeable. He also takes tourists on desert safari deep in Thar desert. Food is at extra cost and has to be told in advance.





A Village near Kuldhara













Kabba Fort and the Village

Paliwal Brahmins had established these villages in 13th century immediately after the Rajput Chieftain Jaisel Bhatti taking possession of Jaisalmer as the founder ruler. Trade was at its peak and the place had an advantage being far off from Agra-Delhi, the centre of political power in India. Gifted by its extreme landscape the locals had mastered the guerrilla warfare. The looted wealth gave rise to prosperity over time attracting merchants in large numbers to settle in the region.  Though nothing has remained as markers of their prosperity in the villages around Kuldhara, you see slices of their opulence at havelies of Jaisalmer.









Havelies and Jain Temples at Jaiselmer

A popular story goes:

Some 200 years back the inhabitants of Jaisalmer were profusely rich and it was a seat of highly sophisticated culture.  In the desert trade caravan route, there were 84 villages of Paliwal Brahmins that came under Jaiselmer kingdom.

Everything was going peaceful. But the trouble started With Salim Singh becoming the new Diwan who introduced fresh taxes and started oppression against villagers. He crossed his limits when his lusty eyes were set on a beautiful 15-year-old girl in Kuldhara. He commanded the villagers to hand over her in 10 days time.

On the next day, 83 people from Kuldhara were sent in all directions to rest 83 Palliwal villages for hosting community meetings.  On 5th or 6th-day village representatives from all 84 villages assembled in Kuldhara and in a meeting it was decided that they had reached the limit of oppression. They also felt that the king of Jaisalmer had ditched them.  The only option was to pack up and move somewhere else.  On the 9th day, all 84 villages were deserted.  They fled in the dark night, leaving behind their homes and everything within them. Kuldhara was abandoned by its very own people. No one saw the thousand-odd members of the village leave. For generations now, no one knows where the Paliwals have resettled. All that is known is they cursed the town when they left that no one would ever be able to settle down in Kuldhara again.

Today the houses are almost in the same condition as they were left behind by their inhabitants. In the middle of the abandoned village is an abandoned Jain Temple. From the terrace of the temple, you can see the sprawling ruins of lanes and brick homes, equidistant from each other, are neatly laid out. There is also an abandoned boali, a traditional water harvesting structure built during the glorious days of Kuldhara.












Kuldhara today is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India as a heritage site.





Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Khichan – A model of ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’

‘Unless we live with non-violence and reverence for all living beings in our hearts, all our humaneness and acts of goodness, all our vows, virtues, and knowledge, all our practices to give up greed and acquisitiveness are meaningless and useless. He who harms animals has not understood or renounced deeds of sin… Those whose minds are at peace and who are free from passions do not desire to live at the expense of others.

All beings are fond of themselves, they like pleasure, they hate pain, they shun destruction, they like life and want to live long. To all, life is dear; hence their life should be protected.

If you kill someone, it is yourself you kill. If you overpower someone, it is yourself you overpower. If you torment someone, it is yourself you torment. If you harm someone, it is yourself you harm’.

Lord Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara

Situated on major trade junctions of Medieval India, the Thar Desert of Rajasthan has been a stronghold of Jainism for hundreds of years. However, as the trade collapsed and the patronage declined a large percentage of Jain merchants / Vanias moved out at the beginning of 20th century from their native towns and villages to as far as Chennai, Mysore, Kolkata and Hyderabad in search of new opportunities. But the core belief and practice of showing compassion for all forms of life is embedded in their DNA which they carry around with them. This is best evident in a small village called Khichan in the middle of the desert in Jodhpur District. Here one can see the deep symbiotic bond between its people and the migratory demoiselle cranes.

At the turn of the 20th century, several rich merchants from the Jain community lived in Khichan. A leisurely stroll through the village lanes and by-lanes reveals a number of abandoned or locked palatial havelis with intricate carvings on their facades. Their owners have however settled in distant Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata and come for their annual vacation during the chaumas (monsoon season) for a couple of months to connect with their roots.





As dawn breaks, these abandoned havelis wake up from their deep slumber to the chaotic krok-krok calls of thousands of demoiselle cranes in the sky above. The scene appears spectacular for visitors like us but for the villagers, it is just another morning of celebrating life with the winged visitors.




Every year towards the end of August, just after the monsoon rains have ceased, they fly from their breeding grounds on the plains and steppes of Eurasia and Mongolia to Thar Desert (Rajasthan and Gujarat) in large flocks. All of a sudden the sleepy village of Khichan is transformed into a chaotic noisy place and the sky above the village is darkened by thousands of cranes. This is an incredible natural drama in a country of billions of human souls where there is a constant fight for space related to human activities.

Travel Tips

Khichan is a village located at Phalodi Tehsil of Jodhpur District at a distance of 7 km from Phalodi and 142 km from Jodhpur. Keep one full day from early hours (before sunrise to sunset). You can reach Khichan the night before and stay either at village (Kurja Resort) or at Phalodi (Remember: Phalodi is a dusty chaotic place on Bikaner – Jaisalmer Highway and staying options are basic). While at Khichan do contact Sevaram Mali (+91 9982372596) for the early morning spectacle and to listen his story of transformation and passion for birds. 

By 10 AM, head towards the lakes for another sight of birding and be there again at the time of sunset. 


A couple of decades ago only a few dozen of kurza (the local name for the demoiselle crane) migrated to Khichan, but today their numbers have increased to many thousands, thanks to the villagers who decided to feed them in an organized way due to their strong Jain beliefs.


A large space has been demarcated and fenced to feed the cranes every morning. Every day throughout the season (November – February) 500 kilos of grains are spread on the ground for the birds. This is all paid by the monetary donation from the Jain community in the village. After the cranes complete their morning breakfast they gather beside a pond nearby. This is where I first came in close contact with Khichan’s demoiselle crane.

After a two hour drive from Osian, yet another village in Jodhpur District known for its early Pratihara temples we reached Khichan around 11 AM with no idea where to spot the birds. After buying tickets we were shown a small pond, called Raati Nadi where not even a single crane could be seen at the spot. The frustration, however, turned into pleasure when all of a sudden we saw a large flock of kurjas above us heading towards yet another water body nearby. We followed them and were mesmerized by the spectacular sight – thousands of birds gathered on the dune beside a small lake called Vijayasagar facing the rising sun and their tie like black chest feathers contrasting with blue sky. A short while later they departed in different directions in small family flocks.














After spending an hour, we headed to the village again to explore the human – birds’ relationship and to arrange a stay for the night. Here we met Sevaram Malu, a man in his 30s, who has been known for healing the injured birds and fighting for their protection since his early childhood days. It was afternoon and we had to wait till early the next morning to see the spectacle. With no options of staying in the village, we drove to the nearest town, Phalodi where some basic and budget accommodations are available.

In the early evening, we drove to Vijayanagar Lake for yet another experience. Against the setting sun, the lakeshore and the nearby dune looked very different from the noon scene. Most of the birds were engaged in gobbling copious quantities of pebbles that are found in abundance on the lake shore. It is a strange habit. Since the grains they eat are whole grains, the pebbles act as digesting agent. Just before the sunset, they called it a day and fly away to Malher Rim, a sand dune 25 km away from Khichan. We were told that they spend the night standing on one leg.






The story of Khichan’s association with demoiselle cranes is ancient, but their conservation effort is only 50 years old. And surprisingly it has an Odisha connection, the state I belong to and had recently carried a story on a similar topic from the Mangalajodi Bird Sanctuary.

Also, Read Here:

Mangalajodi– Where Ashoka is Born and Dies Every Other Day

Ratanlal Maloo, who initiated the project more than 50 years ago, was a legendary figure as he alone has taken care of the conservation of thousands of demoiselle cranes that came to this sleepy village every winter from time immemorial. It started with his uncle’s request to leave Odisha for Khichan to take care of his ageing grandmother, who had recently crossed 100 at that time. However, little he knew that the decision of returning to his roots would change not only his life but also the lives of thousands of innocent birds.

Here he could not sit idle. His uncle entrusted him with a job of feeding grains to pigeons, sparrows and peacocks that frequent a place on the outskirts of the village. Being devout Jains both Ratanlal and his wife liked the idea. They carried sacks full of grains to the feeding ground and disbursed them. Initially, there were only squirrels, sparrows, pigeons and occasionally peacocks came and ate. But one fine day in September he saw for the first time a dozen of large black and grey birds feeding. On inquiring, the villagers told him that they were migratory birds frequenting Khichan every winter.   They were called demoiselle cranes or kurja in Rajasthani. Ratanlal Ji started observing them closely. Their numbers increased to 80 in November, but in February all of them disappeared in one night. He had to wait for another year. This time the number was 150. This number kept on increasing and now has reached a staggering number of 25,000.

It was not an easy task for Ratanlal Ji in the early years. As their numbers increased the dogs of the village started pouncing upon them, either killing them for meat or leaving them injured. To protect the birds Ratanlal Ji first convinced the village panchayat to allocate a suitable space on the village outskirt. Later, he coaxed the local Jains to help him build a 6 feet high fence. It was done and he called it Chugga Ghar or the feeding home. He then got a granary made to store grains that started pouring in from members of the Jain community. He also got a room constructed to heal the injured cranes.


Here I bring in another soul who has followed Ratanlal Ji’s footsteps in conserving winged guests of Khichan. Sevaram Mali, thanks to his gesture, we were invited to his terrace beside the Chugga Ghar at the break of the dawn on the following day. We were there at 6.30 AM.

The drama unfolded. We saw flocks slowly marching towards the Chugga Ghar, but to our disappointment, they did not land for almost two hours. They just flew over our head. However, the pigeons were first to finish their breakfast in the Chugga Ghar. After waiting patiently for two hours we saw a flock of about 30/40 birds enclosing the extended space making sure if it is safe to land. Slowly their numbers increased to thousands. Waves after waves of these beautiful birds landed. It was a spectacular show of wildlife. There are many congregations of different species of birds across the world, but here at Khichan it is not just dramatic but has a strong spiritual connection.


















It was because of Ratanlal Ji’s dedication and vision that the cranes got the food they needed in the Chugga Ghar and therefore don’t ravage the farmlands of Khichan and the surrounding villages. As a result, they have become guests who are received warmly.

The cranes after a sumptuous meal flew off to the lake where we had met them first on the previous day. It was also the time for us to return from the village with a deeper understanding on India’s spiritual culture where respect for all forms of life is imprinted in our genes.


Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at



Bikaner – Town Of A Thousand Splendid Mansions

 Way back in 1990s, when I first heard about the magnificence of Havelis or traditional Indian mansions of Bikaner  I  nourished a subtle desire to visit in person and appreciate the impressive architecture of the Havelis. The newspaper feature articles that used to appear in the intervening period until my first visit to Bikaner circa 2000 CE could not satisfy my visual appetite that could be whetted only by a visit. . My first visit to the Havelis in Bikaner town and its agglomerations was facilitated by Tourism Writers Guild whose dynamic associates viz. Shri Updhyan Chandra Kochar, who is no more now and Zia-ul-Hasan Quadri with several others had organized a Heritage Walk in the old sectors of the city covering only a few major Havelis. At that time, it was cloudy and digital cameras had not come in vogue, which could have given considerable advantage to accurately record the beauty of the mansions of yore. I managed a few clicks but returned dissatisfied. However, a couple of years later, the situation came to be realized in an entirely diverse and more advantageous manner as the weather was cool-warm with a bright sunshine. Secondly I was equipped with a Nikon D800 and Kodak Easy Share Z990. During the five day’s stay in the City, I could thrice sneak into the old and narrow alleys to view Havelis as closely as could be managed, which were created by the collective wisdom of reputed native architects known as Suthar, stone carvers (Pashaan Silpi) and painters (Usta and the Chungar/चूनगर) whose names were assiduously listed by Mr Quadri during research.


The splendid Rampurion ki Haveli is the most well-known architectural wonder  ever created in Bikaner. In fact, it is a cluster of Havelis, which the Department of Archaeology of the Govt. of Rajasthan has declared as protected under the relevant Act. The fascia of the mansions, situated in narrow lanes bears ornamental carving depicting floral and animate objects up to a height of three storeys. The front portion of all these Havelis was laid in red sand stone, which was quarried in abundance at Dulmera in the erstwhile princely state of Bikaner.


The city is situated amidst sand dunes, interspersed by several lakes full of sweet rainwater that collects as runoff -such as at Gajner and Kolayat (22 and 34 kilometers away on the road to Jaisalmer, respectively), an abundance of thorny vegetation of the arid zone as well as large shady trees such as Neem , which are particularly protected by the locals. Sometimes, it rained in torrents in the Bikaner region but the weather might run dry for several years at a stretch causing scarcity of water. All water holes run dry  offering an opportunity to clean the mud from the bottom and strengthen the embankments. However, ground water aquifers are accessed to meet the growing needs of the people for potable water and keeping the population in comfort zone.  


In the regions that sustain brackish groundwater, the people have devised innovative ways to store sweet rain water in the Kunds and masonry tanks. The Tankas and Kunds were constructed with stone/bricks set in lime mortar. The materials naturally keepthe stored water cool and acid-free for a long period……sometimesfor three years with minimum micro-organism causing parasitic diseases. Nowadays, many industrial units have been set up in the district, particularly on the Sri Ganganagar road, which hasenhanced the need for water. It will be difficult to be able to meet the demand as well as manage disposal of waste and toxic water released by these newly set up units. 

 Shri Quadri’s listing of Havelis or old mansion of Bikaner and its agglomerations makes an impressive number -1003, which is amazing in itself and indicates the great effort and time devoted by both -the builders and the designer architects, in addition to the crafts persons that could be involved with the creation of the architectural splendor, which has become not only a window for the world to depict the ingenuity and standards of workmanship of Indians artisans but also as rich source material for study and research to the students of the Schools of Architecture and Design. A close inspection of the fine carving on stone and wood, the methods of cladding and fixing of stones, juxtaposing of the carved pieces and brackets without a visual indication of the glue, creation of frescoes on wall, niches and roof and the layout can leave one stunned for a while.  

Every Haveli had one or several internal courtyards, curved, narrow and vestibule type entrance whereas the Nauhras (Office space, parking- cum- godown) or business houses attached with godowns had a wide, arched gate with heavy door sets made of wood. One wonders at the acumen of the architects in the use of geometry and mathematical calculation with native instruments applied to the aesthetic look of havelis. The layout of the Havelis and positioning of windows and doors afforded complete privacy to the occupants who could perform mundane activities without being noticed from outside. Not much wood was used in the Havelis but wherever it was, great wisdom and appropriate methodology was used  Window-panes were deliberately kept small-sized, latticed or fixed with Jalis at certain places for the outer windows and, of course, door sets, lintels and the jambs were studded with inlay as well as suspended or shelved motifs. From the year 1860s to 1930s, the wealthy Seths or merchants  had commissioned construction of the Havelis and were visionaries in a sense that they loved revival of several art forms and splendor in stone inspired by forms in nature –particularly the wild plants, that was capable of enriching the ambient space of Mohallas . Frescoes depicting contemporary events, episodes from Hindu pantheon and mythology, native life and other decorative motifs within the interiors provide cultural ambiance to life of the people. The architects of the Havelis were fully aware about the fine rules of utilization of space in a creative and aesthetic manner .

It is regrettable that nowadays many Havelis have become victims of  air pollution loaded with toxic fumes containing lead particles and oxides of sulphur. Innumerable auto-rickshaws that ply within the narrow lanes throughout the day are the major culprits. These vehicles run on diesel fuel and ooze black smoke from the exhausts causing respiratory distress to residents and visitors. I am not aware if a policy of controlling pollution of the air in the city exists or the district administration is alive to the problem to regulate the type of vehicles or the fuel that can be used within the city. It is high time the district administration thinks of introducing innovative ways of ferrying passengers by mini-vehicles that may run on battery power.


In the area of Taj trapezium at Agra, these types of battery-run vehicles have given some respite from air pollution. The noxious gases that come out from the exhausts of diesel-run vehicles get mixed with small amount of moisture already present in the atmosphere and transforms into sulphuric and nitric acids, and then, comes into contact with red sand stone having fine carvings. It reacts with the stone and causes slow decay of the surface of the stone disintegrating the texture of the stone. Within a few years the cladding of red sand stone on a building becomes disfigured and weak.

Therefore, with great urgency the suspended particulate level in the air as well as the content of noxious gases need to be controlled as  an essential measure for preserving the architectural heritage of Bikaner.

Bikaner State has preserved the old Rajput political, cultural and artistic traditions, completely unadulterated, until sixty years ago; and even today very many of them are still alive. It is true that Bikaner is not so well known to tourists and scholars as other Rajput states like Jaipur, Jodhpur or Udaipur, which can boast of a more attractive scenery and of greater economic resources. But the very remoteness of Bikaner has preserved the heritage of the past much better than in the more accessible states. The heritage is great and can well compare with that of her more fortunate neighbours and seldom surpasses it.

–‘The Art and Architecture of Bikaner State’, 1950 by Hermann Goet

However, on page 84 of the book mentioned above Hermann noted: ‘The Banya houses of the last half century imitate unsuccessfully the over elaborate and somewhat petty exuberance of the Jodhpur mansions of the middle 19th century. At present the tradition is rapidly degenerating. For the complete breakdown of artistic taste in India during the Victorian period with all its fondness for the discarded tinsel of the West has now reached the mercantile class of Bikaner, and houses are decorated with copies of pseudo-Gothic scroll work and grotesque ‘portraits’ of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, etc. In the meantime modern architecture is penetrating into the new quarters of the town which are being laid out by the government.

The historical havelis of Bikaner have been selected for inclusion in the 2012 World Monument Watch.


Author – Ranbir Singh Phogat

He can be reached at

Dundlod in Shekawati – A Timeless Heritage

A short distance from Nawalgarh, one of the largest painted towns of Shekawati in Rajasthan takes you to Dundlod, a picture postcard Rajasthani village famous for its Goenka Havelis and Chhatris.






In the 18th Century, the East India Company had a strong establishment in Calcutta. The backbone of their trade was produced that came from the hinterland. In those days, Calcutta was a major trading hub with huge caravans of camels, horses and bullocks loaded with prized merchandise making a beeline for its port. The transport and supply was generally taken care of by middlemen.

The Indian middlemen were mostly Marwaris from Shekhawati who worked on a commission basis. They were hardworking but shrewd businessmen and acquired substantial wealth over a period of time.




Among the earliest to establish such trading contacts with the British was Ramdutt Goenka of Dundlod. Along with his brother and sons, Ramdutta managed to acquire several profitable brokerships with early British farms such as Kinsel and Ghose, Kettlewell and Bullen. He also traded with the Greek farm Alexander Ralli which was one largest importer of Indian cotton, jute and hessian.

Travel Tips

Dundlod is located midway between Nawalgarh and Mandawa in Jhunjhun District of Shekawati region at a distance of 160 km from Jaipur via Sikar and 250 km from New Delhi via Dharuhera and Rewari. Established in 1750 CE it was a thikana of Jaipur state. Part of the the fort wall still exists in this heritage village. You need a minimum of two hour to appreciate the late 19th century murals at the chhatri of Ram Dutt Goenka and Arjun Das Haveli. The haveli has been converted into a museum with an entry fee of 50 INR. 

Dundlod Fort which is now converted into a heritage hotel ( is a blend of Rajput and Mughal architecture. The Diwan E Khas has stained glass windows and exotic antiquities. It has a library too. The hotel organizes a variety of activities including horse safari and cycle polo. 

Having acquired these agencies, the Goenkas expanded their business in jute and tea rapidly and part of the wealth they generated was invested in construction of havelis in their native Dundlod.

One of the key attractions of Dundlod is the chhatri of Ramdutt Goenka built in 1888. The dome of the chhatris has floral motifs with banners extending from the center. The dome is encircled by frieze showing Krishna dancing with his gopis, interspersed with musicians and peacocks. Another major draw among the frescoes is a man drawing water from a Shekhawati well.

Also, Read Here: 

Hill Forts of Jaipur – Jewels of Aravali




Though most of the havelis built by the Goenkas are not at their glorious best, the Seth Arjun Das Goenka Haveli is an exception. The haveli is now converted into a small private museum. The haveli is of typical Shekhawati architecture consisting of a public area, a courtyard, a family area and bedrooms on the upper floor. The havelis has 20 rooms spread over two floors.









Built in 1870s by Arjun Das Goenka, the haveli has some of the finest frescoes of Shekhawati. The dioramas in the interior of the haveli reveal aspects of life in those times, beginning with their reception room, cooled by huge pankhas (swinging cloth fans).

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Deeg Palace – A Synthesis of Persian and Indian Aesthetics




Dundlod is small and less crowded compared to other Shekawati heritage towns, such as Nawalgarh and Mandawa. But the wealth of its heritage is no less splendid. Besides havelis, the town also has a Darbargarh (palace) built in the 18th century by Keshari Singh, the erstwhile ruler of Dundlod thikana. The present scion and the owner of the palace which is converted into a heritage hotel conduct excellent customised horse safaris into the desert. The other attraction here is the Satyanarayan Temple located beside the Arjun Das Goenka Haveli. The temple has some breathtaking frescos of Shekawati tradition that are well preserved.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Jawai – Where Leopards are Locals

‘We went to India not only to observe the changes that had occurred since my former visit, 23 years ago, at the conclusion of our Philippine war, but also to visit places of interest, see something of the military air and ground forms, visit some old friends and acquaintances and then have a good tiger and big game hunt…Tiger hunting is regarded in India as a royal sport, and he who is successful in bagging this master of the jungle is looked upon as a public benefactor, for the number of people killed each year by wild animals and reptiles in India is appalling. Statistics are difficult to obtain because the native in some places hesitate to report what has happened, and in other cases those killed disappear without leaving a trace. The number reaches into the thousands, however.’

Brigadier General William Mitchell, Assistant Chief, US Army Service

A lot has changed since Mitchell wrote this in 1924. Now hunting of wild animals is officially banned and those blue-blooded Rajputs, who often partnered the British on their hunting expeditions, their present descendants have become saviours of wildlife.




It is difficult to date the practice of hunting as a sport in our country but as per the available historical records it proliferated in the early 16th century CE with Akbar’s passion for big games. He began the tradition of royal hunting, shikar that was followed by Mughal rulers until the dynasty fell in 1857 CE. A large number of murals and miniature paintings from 16th century CE depict Mughal, Rajput, Turks and Afghan nobility hunting from elephant or horseback. These outings were an exotic and heroic sport and tigers were considered the ultimate trophies.

A mural, shown in Bundi Palace depicting royal women hunters in the 18th century CE

British hunters along with their Rajput counterparts almost shot the tigers to extinction. The mass killing of tigers and leopards showcased their royalty, machismo, power and wealth. Often the hunters went out in large parties, carried by 10, 20, 30 or even 40 elephants. Their servants dragged and baited tigers into open public spaces for grand exhibition and the hunters often legitimized the killing by arguing that the big cats were terrible bloodthirsty beasts with an unquenchable desire for human flesh.

This is one side of the story and the other side shows a remarkable bond between India’s people and the natural world. The same Mitchell further writes: The jungle beasts of India are very ferocious, while the inhabitants are practically unarmed and are unwilling to kill most animals on account of their religion. A fact which forcibly impresses the western travellers in India is the proximity in which the indigenous people and the animals of the fields and forest live. Wild creatures of all sorts are found at the doors of the huts’.

After a century of Mitchell’s hunting expedition, I meet a young scion of Mewar’s Rajput clan Pushpendra Singh Ranawat at Bera village in the heart of Rajasthan’s renowned Jawai Leopard Country. Pushpendra runs a successful wildlife camp on his own ancestral farm called Varaval Leopard Camp ( Together we went on an expedition deep into the leopard country and the exotic Jawai Dam where you see some of the best landscape in the whole of Peninsular India against the backdrop of spectacular Aravali Hills, one of the oldest in the world with a vast expanse of wetlands, agricultural farms and pasture lands. The drive was thrilling – daredevil off-roading on solitary granite hills.

Travel Tips:

Jawai is a cluster of hills surrounded by Jawai Dam in South Western Rajasthan on Jodhpur – Ahmedabad Highway at a distance of 163 km from Jodhpur and around 250 km from Ahmedabad. The nearest towns are Sirohi and Pali. While at Jawai do visit Bankli Home stay, a beautiful country resort at a distance of 50 km from Jawai. ( Owned by Krishnapal Singh Champawat the property has a magical ambiance set against the dry Jawai river, Aravali Hills, agriculture farms and secret marshy land where you can see countless migratory birds including pelicans and flamingos.  








Each hill of Jawai has a story and on some hills, there are temples of Hindu and folk gods. Interestingly, the local villagers associate the temples with leopard as the face of the god and treat the kills of their domestic sheep/goat or stray dogs by leopards as an offering (prasad). This reminds us of India’s millennia-old humble faith in Almighty resulting in the unique bond between the human and the natural world. In the last 50 years of Jawai’s history, there is not a single case of a leopard killing a human being in complete contrast to the erstwhile Maharajas and British hunters claim of big cats as man-eaters and therefore a reason to kill. Watch the film here to know more about Jawai.

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Khichan – A model of ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’

Pushpendra’s story starts much before his birth. Rao Bahadur Thakur Shivnath Singh Ji, Pushpendra’s great grandfather and the Thakur Saheb of Bera was a passionate hunter.

Rao Bahadur Thakur Shivnath Singh Ji

By the time his grandfather Thakur Saab Lal Singh Ji was young enough, India was free and had banned hunting. A new journey had begun. As a child Pushpendra would listen to scores of stories of shikar from his dada and nana and play around the very hills with his peers where his great grandfather once upon a time would set camps for hunting. These early childhood experiences set him on his path, not for an armchair corporate career but to lead and educate people like us about his land and the leopards of Jawai. For the last three and a half years, he has been consistently researching and watching leopard behaviour and passing the constantly created new knowledge to his esteemed guests. His day starts with an early morning safari at 4.30 am, much before sunrise with guests to Jawai’s magical hills and wetland and ends with yet another safari in the evening.










Jawai consists of 28 granite hills and most of the leopards live in and around these hills in volcanic caves that are found in abundance.  Rebari shepherds, farmers and Garasia tribes inhabit the landscape. The seasonal Jawai River flows from east to west before meeting the Luni River in the midst of Thar Desert.









The Jawai Dam was built by Maharaja Umaid Singh of Jodhpur in the 1950s to provide water to the parched region of Marwar. It is the biggest wetland in the whole of Western Rajasthan. The dam may have brought prosperity to the region as you see extensive canals in the countryside supplying water to the fields. Once upon a time a harsh desert land now altered into a mosaic of green and yellow with wheat and mustard plantation as far as your eyes can see. However, the river which once carried seasonal runoff has dried up completely.



My dear friend Krishnapal Singh Champawat shares his views on the now dry Jawai River in the film below.

Jawai has one of the largest concentrations of leopards in the country but it is still not a sanctuary either under the protection of state government or Government of India. This is perhaps due to the high density of human population and their peaceful coexistence with leopards. It is true that Jawai has leopards because there are humans and therefore has an easy food supply. Pushpendra’s team is working towards obtaining the status of community owned reserve forest for Jawai where local community will manage their wildlife resources, not the government. If it comes through then it would become a classic example of Gandhiji’s Swaraj, an idea that had led India to its independence from the British Raj.

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Mangalajodi– Where Ashoka is Born and Dies Every Other Day




Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Water Heritage of Jodhpur – Then and Now

Ranisar, Padamsar Ote, Vyapari Gaya Tote

If Ranisar and Padamsar overflow, the market rates will fall as there will be good rainfall and bumper crop and the hoarders and money-lenders will be put to loss 

An old saying in Jodhpur

Jodhpur, Rajasthan’s second largest city and the cultural capital of Marwar is a jewel in the crown of the desert state. In spite of its hostile terrain and harsh climate, Jodhpur has produced some of the finest artistic expressions and music in the entire Indian Subcontinent. The erstwhile Maharajas were not just great patrons of art and architecture but also skillfully managed the water resources of the region.



So durable was its water management system that it could quench the thirst of its inhabitants till 1950s through a complex network of lakes, step-wells, wells and jhalaras. Jodhpur has hills surrounding Mehrangarh Fort and is a catchment area for monsoon waters that flow down into small and large depressions. Its medieval inhabitants converted them into lakes from where water was drawn to over hundreds of step-wells and jhalaras built in different periods of time in the walled city area and beyond.

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Burhanpur – A Medieval Water Oasis


Every neighbourhood in the old city had its own baori and the maximum concentration of baoris is in the Chand Pol area. These baories not only provided water to its inhabitants but also refuge to birds and a variety of aquatic life. Teeming with the life they were a cool refuge from the heat of the desert to spend some time in.

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Travel Shot: Community Revival of Taj Baodi – A Success Story

Bijapur Water Heritage – An Oasis in Parched Deccan



But with the construction of Indira Gandhi canal, the Himalayan water started flowing into every household of the desert town through pipes and taps. People started detaching themselves from their roots of harvesting and respecting the water. Slowly the places and related customs became obsolete and turned into a refuge for tons of trash. The most vulnerable were the underground baoris; hidden from plain sight these have become a safe haven for anti-social elements.

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Reviving Ballari’s Water Heritage – Hope for the Best

Rao Jodha decided to build his capital on the summit of Pachetia Hill in the 15th century CE because the area had immense potential for harvesting rainwater and perennial springs that were visibly flowing in-between the rocks.

Travel Tips:

Jodhpur is the second largest city and is located in the heart of the Marwar region in west-central Rajasthan. Founded by Roa Jodha in 1459 CE Jodhpur is a major tourist place for its palaces, temples, desert biodiversity and ethnic life. It is also a shoppers paradise. The main thoroughfare for tourists is around the iconic Ghantaghar, the lanes and by-lanes of the Blue City and the majestic Mehrangarh Fort. 

From Jodhpur, a tourist can also plan to nearby Mandore Fort, Gurjar Pratihar Temples of Osian and Khichan for demoiselle cranes. 

For a local delicacy try out rabdi and kulfi at street corners around Ghantaghar.  

The first water project undertaken was Ranisar for supplying water to the fort above. The southern embankment of Ranisar has masonry walls of red stone with symmetrical steps descending up to its depth, exhibiting the great architectural skill of Jodhpur’s formative period. Water was collected from by both the common people as well as the royal family. Women would come to fill water in their pots for their household needs. For the royal family, labourers would carry water in large vessels up to the palace. From the turret (burz) water was also drawn up to the fort by Persian wheels.

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Hill Forts of Jaipur – Jewels of Aravali





Ranisar and Persian Wheel Structures 

The construction of Ranisar was patronized by Jasmade Haddi  Ji, the Maharani of Rao Joddha in 1460 CE, which was later expanded during the rule of Rao Maldeo.

Beside Ranisar is the Padamsar tank, yet another marvel constructed by Rani Uttamade Seesdini  Ji, who was the daughter of Rana Sangha of Mewar. Rani Uttamade’s other name was Padmavati. The project was also financed by Seth Padamsar Shah of Mewar at the behest of his mother to assist Rani Padmavati. Hence it came to be known as Padamasar after its patron.



Both these water bodies were periodically expanded and maintained by the royal families.

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Mandu’s Water Heritage – An Epicurean Delight

A little away in the walled city near the Ghanta Ghar is Gulab Sagar along with two temples – Neni Bai ka Mandir and Ranchor Ji ka Mandir. All of these were constructed by queens. According to Late Komal Kothari, Rajasthan’s foremost folk historian, most of the water bodies of Jodhpur were commissioned when these queens became widows.

The following is an extract from his conversation with Rustom Bharucha that appeared in the book Rajasthan – An Oral History.

‘Here we have to understand the laws relating to primogeniture (pātvi) inheritance, where the property of father goes exclusively to the eldest son and does not divide among the brothers as in the bhai-bant inheritance system.

In the pātvi system, we find that as soon as the king dies, his widowed queens are removed from the royal premises along with their servants. It is assumed that they pose a potential threat to the new king with their manipulations and conspiracies.  Only the new king can sanction whether these ex-queens can hold on to their property; they may however, be denied access to it. Now so far as movable property (chal-sampati) is concerned, including ornaments and money, this could remain with the queens unless the king orders that it should be returned to the royal treasury. What we find is that when the queens became widows, they would often give their property to a Brahman – this form of donation is known as udakena. It works on the premise that anything given as dān (gift) to a Brahman cannot be reclaimed by the king. Till the queen lived she had rights over the property, but on her death, it became the Brahmin’s property. We find that the patronage of many water bodies has come from such sources.

The other prominent donors were female dancers and singers who were patronised by the king and given the status of pardayatpaswan and bhogtan. There were also prostitutes from musician groups like the patar. We find that these women financed the construction of quite a few temples and drinking water sources after the death of their respective masters.’

Unfortunately, the construction and development of water bodies came to an end around 1897-98, when a public water supply system was introduced for the first time. But Jodhpur’s inhabitants continued to value and maintain the sanctity of old water bodies till the 1950s, after which a collapse began.

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Water and Thar Desert – Stories from Indo-Pak Border

On a fine morning when I started walking around the old city admiring its water bodies, what drew my attention were the clean waters of the Toor Ji Ka Jhalra built in the 1740s by Rani Toor Ji. This step well, however, had become a dump yard until recently when it was taken for restoration by local hotels. Water was drawn from this stepwell using Persian wheels once. I was very impressed with the sight, but this happiness disappeared as soon as I arrived at Gulab Sagar, a critically polluted talav with residents having opened their sewage lines into it and also dumping the garbage. Here I met Caron Rawnsley, an Irish environmentalist who has made Jodhpur his home for the last many years.











Toor Ji ki Jhalra and Gulab Sagar

We spent almost an hour at the spot to understand his ideas and concerns regarding Gulab Sagar and other water bodies of the city. Do watch the video below.

From Gulab Sagar, I next went to Mahila Bagh Jhalra, another restored stepwell, thanks to Caron who cleaned it single-handedly recently.

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Deeg Palace – A Synthesis of Persian and Indian Aesthetics

From Mahila Bagh, I strolled through the interiors of the Blue city and came across a number of small baories in different neighbourhoods. The most important being the Chand Baori but a great surprise was awaiting me on the following day when I and Caron walked through the Chand Pol area outside the walled city.


Chand Baori

Our first stop was at Sukhdev Ji Trivedi ka Jhalra, a clean undisturbed water body teeming with aquatic life. There is no information available virtually on its construction or patron. As Caron said it was also not spared until recently by the neighbours and had become a dump yard like many other baories of Jodhpur. He put in a lot of effort in cleaning but vandalism of the structure and its sculptures have not ceased. Do watch the video below on Sukhdev Ji ka Jhalra.







One interesting feature you see near every step-well in Marwar is a stone post with sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses engraved on it. You also see the inscription of the donor and sometimes his/her image.








Panchmadi Baori

Our next stop was a hidden gem among all step-wells of Jodhpur – Panchmadi Baori. It is virtually unknown to the outside world and thanks to its almost secret location, it has escaped vandalism. You see pristine water as you descend the steps.

From Panchmadi Baori we moved on to yet another hidden gem, the Ram Baori. Though it is located in the heart of the city it offers unmatched peace and tranquillity.










Ram Baori

Next, we went to the fairly well-known Suraj Kund, a large square tank with steps and pavilions spread over two floors. The structure is now under renovation by the Mehrangarh Fort authority. Built by Rao Suraj Singh in 1672 CE, the well is built in Mughal architectural style. It is located in the premises of the Rameshwar Siddha Peeth and was built to meet the water demand of the shrine.

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Step – Wells of Gujarat – a Timeless Journey




Suraj Kund

In close proximity to Suraj Kund is the Raghunath Ji ki Baori, the most well maintained of all the baories I saw. The kids there told me they use the place to learn and practice swimming.



The last baori visited by us was the Panch Kua Baori located in an open space but close to being encroached from all sides.



Jodhpur is truly a magical city. Its art, architecture, settlement pattern and more importantly water structures are unique in the Subcontinent but one feels disappointed to see this wonderful water heritage on the verge of extinction. We need a little bit of Caron Rawnsley in each of us to fulfill what Gandhiji meant by Swaraj. That said, the government too needs to wake up from their deep slumber and take urgent steps.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Water and Thar Desert – Stories from Indo-Pak Border

Sau sāndiya, saukarahalā, pūt, nipūti hoe

Mehadlā to buthān hi bahlā, honi ho so hoe

A hundred she camels, a hundred camels, all left childless,

What is destined to be will be, even so a few drops of rain would be a blessing.

Depiction of drought in one of the folk songs sung in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan

As a child, way back in the 1980s, like all the other children of India I was introduced to Rajasthan’s the Thar Desert as a sea of sand dunes, life on the edge and camel, the ship of the desert. Being from Odisha, a lush green coastal state, it was difficult to visualize about the desert and its environs merely through the printed word. I satisfied my curiosity by watching movies and flipping tourist brochures. Decades later, when I got involved in designing modules on the desert for teachers and students, I again used videos and pictures extensively but somewhere in my heart,, I was not satisfied with what I was offering to schools as I had never experienced life in Thar desert.




But as luck would have it, I recently ended up at a village called Tamlor in Barmer District situated at a distance of just 1500 meters from the Indo-Pak border, in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan.

Travel Tips 

Tamlor is located on Barmer – Munabao Road in Barmer District of Rajasthan at a distance of 2 km from Indo – Pak International Border. Barmer is about 100 km from Tamlor. Surrounded by sand dunes Tamlor together with other desert villages in the region are perfect destinations for off-beat travellers. On your way to these remote villages, you can also visit the Solanki Period architectural jewels – the Kiradu group of temples.  There are no stay options at these villages, but at Barmer, you have the upmarket Sanchal Fort ( as a luxury option. Mr Banarjee, the manager of the hotel will arrange your travel plan to Tamlor. While at Barmer also look for Ajrakh Block Printing craft and wood carvings.



Barmer, India’s fifth and Rajasthan’s third-largest district in terms of area shares its border with Umerkot District of Sindh Province in Pakistan. Umerkot even today is a stronghold of Hindu Rajputs and is better known as the birthplace of Emperor Akbar.

Barmer was known as Malani before, in the name of Rawal Malinath, a folk hero and saint, who is worshipped as a deity by local people. An environmentally extreme region, Barmer experiences temperatures that soar up to 50-55C in summer months. The district receives a mere 200 mm of average rainfall in a year. While talking to elderly folks of the district, one hears stories of Akaal (droughts that occur every year) and conflicts for water. For the desert people, water is as precious as gold and they hide it from the public eye to avoid its theft.

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Kuldhara in Jaisalmer – A Travel Shot



In Barmer, people have learnt how to survive in drought-like conditions. The following is an extract from Komal Kothari’s (Rajasthan’s well-known folk historian) conversation with Rustom Bharucha, in the book Rajasthan – An Oral History.

Yesterday it rained. If it had not rained for another ten days then you would have seen long faces. So now people are happy, this was the first rain of the season, even though it is already August. Now the sowing can begin. But the farmers also need a second rainfall. And after that, they need no rain at all for the crops to grow well. Now that they have got the rain, they will need only one more rainfall within 15-20 days or a month, and that will be sufficient for the seed.

Due to water scarcity, people of Barmer have adopted dry farming. Rotis made of millet (jawar) and various milk products are the only sources of protein in the region. The geology of Barmer District comprises of calcrete, silcrete, gypsiferous bed clay stones which do not make for potential groundwater aquifers. The desert underground stratum is poor in groundwater storage and transmission and the deep groundwater is saline.

Also, Read Here:

Water Heritage of Jodhpur – Then and Now




With this understanding about the Thar Desert, we travelled from Barmer through the sandy dunes to Pakistan border near Munabao, the last railway station on the Indian side in the Jodhpur – Karachi Thar Express.  You need permission to visit the area as it is a highly sensitive military zone. Fortunately, we had the permission, thanks to Mr Chatterjee, our host at Hotel Sanchal Fort, Barmer, who managed it. On the way, we stopped at Tamlor, a few miles before Munabao to pick up our local resource Mr Mahendra Singh Sodha who knew the Sarpanch of the village and is a great resource to understand the various facets of life, especially water harvesting and its management in the desert region.

As we entered the village of Tamlor, we were warmly greeted by Mr Hindu Singh Sodha, the young and dynamic Sarpanch of the village. He took us around the village and got us acquainted with its cultural and social life. The village has become a refuge for a large number of migrants from the surrounding dunes, in recent years, due to better infrastructure. One can see the hustle and bustle of village life, a woman milking a cow and yet another arranging fodder for the cattle and camels. There were children in the school celebrating the festival of Vasant Panchami.   As we walked through the interiors of the village, what drew our attention was the struggle for water. Women had gathered near a government built-tank to fetch water, however, it meets only a fraction of the local demand. On our way to the border, we stopped by near an open field scattered with a large number of beries and a deserted talav, locally called nādi.








Nādis are small community made ponds with embankments wherein rainwater from the adjoining catchment area is stored. Traditional nādis have survived for hundreds of years but after independence whenever government or any other external agency built them they have invariably dried up. As per the traditional knowledge system, people in the past knew where a nādi should be located and how deep into the earth one must dig, how to deal with the slope of a particular ground and how certain layers of the earth need to be strengthened in order to prevent water seepage.


The nādi we saw, according to Hindu Singh Ji, was built in 1971 by the Indian Army during the Indo-Pak war. Perhaps its builders had no idea where and how a nādi should be built and therefore it has ended up as dry and desolate.

Beri is a pitcher shaped structure that collects rainwater. It is about half a meter wide at the top and 3 to 4 meters wide at the bottom. The spot is strategically selected so that the percolated rainwater is channelised towards the well.








For hundreds of years, people in this hostile region had successfully lived with its harsh climate. They had mastered the art of harvesting rainwater and groundwater conservation. But it was disappointing to see most of the beris have become defunct now containing mostly brackish water. The traditional knowledge system suddenly has no takers thanks to the erratic supply of tanker water, which the villagers find expensive but have adapted to because it is an easier solution.

To know more watch this video below.

After spending about 30 minutes, we headed towards the border, a stone’s throw distance from the beris. Here, for the first time, I saw the barbed fence that separates two young nations, India and Pakistan, but one people and culture who once upon a time lived harmoniously for centuries.

We spent almost two hours in the village talking with the elders on issues such as water, food, and stories of partition from their near and dear after India split into two nations more than 70 years ago.


We left the village both happy and sad. Happy because of the warm hospitality by the villagers and sad due to the loss of traditional knowledge system of water management, which had been practised for thousands of years through community participation.



Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at


Hill Forts of Jaipur – Jewels of Aravali

The duality in the Rajput character was really astonishing. On the one hand he was a grim warrior, forever ready to draw his sword taking the cruelty, horror and pain of war in his stride. On the other hand he was gentle, warm in his hospitality, a lover of music and dance, and kind to the womenfolk, even those of his enemy’.

M.S. Naravane in ‘The Rajputs of Rajasthan: A Glimpse of Medieval Rajasthan

Rajasthan, the largest state of our country, is spread from the valley of Indus in the west to the plateau of Bundelkhand in the east and from the sandy tracts (south of Sutlej) in the north to the Vindhyas in the south. For centuries, it has nurtured various clans of Rajputs, who built a large number of forts both big and small across its length and breadth.

The genesis of fort building in India can be traced back to the Mauryan period. Arthashastra of Kautilya describes six major types of forts, of which the one that dominates Rajasthan is the Giri Durg or Hill Forts. Giri Durgas were further divided into three sub-types: Pranta Durg (built on a flat hill summit), Giri Parshva Durg (spread over the summit and slopes) and Guha Durg (located in a valley surrounded by hills).

In Rajasthan, a series of hill forts stand tall and strong bearing testimony to the power of Rajput princely states that flourished between the 8th and 18th centuries CE. Within these forts, the architecture of palaces and other buildings reflect their role as centres of art and culture.


Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan and a bustling metropolis is nestled in the lap of Aravali Mountains. Built during 1727 CE by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the kingdom of Jaipur was earlier known as Jainagara. It is widely known for its three hill forts, Amer, Jaigarh and Nahargarh, built between the 16th and 18th centuries CE. The king of Jaipur is regarded as the titular head of the extended Kachwaha clan.

Kachwahas or Kushwahas are a Rajput clan who built the Amer Fort which is one of the earliest hill forts of Jaipur. Kachwahas claim to be descendants of Kush, the younger of the twin sons of Lord Rama and Devi Sita. The clan originally ruled the Gwalior region of modern Madhya Pradesh. In 986 CE, the Kachwaha King Ishwar Das set off for the Himalayas in search of nirvana. Waiting for just this opportunity was Ishwar’s younger brother who immediately captured the throne and forced his nephews to leave Gwalior. The wandering brothers found refuge and peace in Rajputana. Sodh Rai, one of Ishwar Das’s sons conquered the state of Dausa by attacking and killing the reigning Mina tribal king. After this conquest, Sodh Rai established himself as the new Kachwaha king of Dausa. Sodh Rai was succeeded by Dhola Rai in 1006 CE. His son Kakil Dev founded Amer in the early 11th century CE.

Nothing significant happened in Amer for the next five centuries until 1548 CE, when Raja Bhagmal married his daughter Harka Bai aka Hira Kunwar (wrongly known as Jodha Bai) to the Mughal Emperor Akbar.


amer 6


Those were uncertain times. The Mughals were still finding their feet while grappling with other Muslim rulers, who were amassing wealth and power in order to oust Humayun. There was also a stiff rivalry between various Rajput rulers. At this critical juncture, Raja Purnamal, Bhaghmal’s predecessor and brother was the first person to realize that Mughals were trustworthy. They were unlike the old stock of Muslim rulers. Under his rule, the Kachawahas became the first allies of Mughals in Rajputana. Raja Bhaghmal extended the cooperation further during his rule.

His son Bhagwat Das who became the Raja of Amer was awarded a mansab of 5000 jagirs by Akbar in 1585 CE. He fought many battles for Akbar and gave his daughter Manbhawati Bai in marriage to Prince Salim, who later came to be known as Emperor Jahangir. These marriage ties between Kachwaha Rajputs and Mughals were the major turning points In India’s artistic history. For along with gifts, artists and architectural styles were also exchanged. Amer Fort stands as one of the wonderful examples of such an exchange as it was built along the lines of Mughal forts and palaces of the time.

Raja Man Singh, the next in line, executed grand projects within the Amer Fort (1550 – 1614 CE). He was a trusted general of Akbar and one of his Navaratnas (nine gems). Man Singh first constructed the Man Mandir Palace, the oldest block of the fort. He also built the Man Sagar Lake in 1610 CE by damming the Dharabawati River for irrigation and recreation. A palace known as Jal Mahal was built in the middle of the lake. The lake is flanked by hills on its western, northern and eastern sides and covers an area of 300 acres.

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The Splendid Man Sagar Lake and the Jal Mahal

Amer Fort reached a new high under Raja Jai Singh I (1622 – 1667 CE). He built splendid buildings such as the Diwan – I – Aam, Sukh Mandir, Jai Mandir, Jas Mandir and Diwan I Khas. He also modified parts of the old block built by Raja Man Singh. Jai Singh I was an admirer of symmetry and the plan of the city of Jaipur testifies to his vision. In Amer, he laid out beautiful char bhagh gardens near Diwan – I – Khas and over Maota Lake.

Travel Tips

Jaipur is the capital and the largest city of the Indian state of Rajasthan in Northern India. Celebarted as the Pink Coty, it was founded on 18 November 1727 by Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amer, and after whom the city is named. It is located 268 km from New Delhi. Jaipur is a popular tourist destination in India and forms a part of the west Golden Triangle tourist circuit along with Delhi and Agra.

Surrounded by the Aravali Mountains, the city was planned according to Indian Vastu shastra by Vidyadhar Bhattacharya. There are three gates facing east, west, and north. The eastern gate is called Suraj pol (sun gate), the western gate is called Chand pol (moon gate) and the northern gate faces the ancestral capital of Amer.

Jaipur is a foodie’s heaven. Try out these local delicacies Typical dishes include Dal Baati Churma, Missi Roti, Gatte ki Sabzi, Ker Sangri, Makke ki Ghat, Bajre ki Ghat and Bajre ki Roti and sweets which include Ghevar, Feeni, Mawa Kachori, Gajak, meethi thuli, Chauguni ke laddu, and Moong Thal.  


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Amer Fort:

Amer Fort is located in a valley formed by a range of Aravali Hills locally known as Kalikho Hills and placed on the hill below the connecting fort of Jaigarh, about 12 kilometer from Jaipur in north direction.


Amer Fort marks the highest point of Rajput eclecticism and synthesis of Rajput-Mughal planning for palace spaces and gardens, water systems, art work and building craft. It has distinctive vertical layers of planning where the palatial quarters are located in the valley (Amer Fort) and the garrison is located on a higher elevation (Jaigarh) to command the valley.


The planning of Amer Fort in particular reflects the changing political strategy of the Rajput aligned with architectural planning concepts from Iran and Central Asia introduced by the Mughals. The palace and the fort are protected by fortification with four gates in four cardinal directions. Within the fort walls are found a number of gardens influenced by Mughal Charbhagh style gardens, courtyards and palaces.

Blending the fort with the topography of the Aravali, at the base on the east is the Maota Lake, fed by surrounding streams. It offers a splendid view when seen from above. Maota is derived from ‘Mawat’ or a shower of rain, which fills the lake. Maota Lake had multiple functions. During conflicts, it acted as a natural defense. It provided water to the palaces within the fort (evident from the elaborate system of lifting and tanks as seen in the fort). It also acted as a place of recreation for the royalty.

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The Diwan – I – Aam and Diwan – I – Khas inside the palace along with the Jaleb Chowk or the public space that is built along a ridge of the hill show distinct influences of  Mughal architecture.



The next significant structure is the Ganesh Pol, a two storied building which serves as the entrance to the private court of the palace. On the upper floor of the gateway is Suhag Mandir, a chamber that was used by the royal women to witness the state functions held below in Diwan I Khas through lattice screens.



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The walls of the entire building are illustrated with exquisite frescoes painted with natural colours using a 900 year old technique called Araash.  White marble dust from Makrana is mixed with slaked lime and pigment to make a paste. Then layer upon layer of the paste is applied to build up the colour. It is then dried and polished. According to experts, Araash decorated walls keep the structure cool in summer and warm in winter. The technique was brought by Christian missionaries during the reign of Akbar and Jahangir and taught to the local artisans of the Khumavat Kshatriya community. When palaces were built, it was the Khumavats who finished the walls and floors with 18 to 21 layers of marble dust and lime, then polished till the walls became smooth. Designs were made at the end illustrating a range of exotic flower vases, and ornamental foliage. The surfaces of the vases were further illustrated with images of court scenes, Rajput palaces and royal lifestyle.











In 1999, a colonial bungalow was restored in Mumbai and converted into a fine dining restaurant, Indigo. Kate Dineen, the only woman in the world trained in Araash technique, has done up the walls of this much awarded restaurant hailed for its old world charm. Trained under Gyarsilal Verma, a master of Araash, she has taken this highly laborious and lesser known Indian technique to global recognition and accolades (muirnekatedineen).

Another major artistic attraction of Ganesh Pol is the dome or Iwan ceiling decoration. Yazdi bandi is a decorative vaulting architectural pattern consisting of diamond shaped modules of different sizes with very small flat and horizontal star shape pieces in-between. Each tier interlocks with the tier above and below. Popularly called the honeycomb architecture for its striking resemblance to the abode of the honey bees, it is also known as Muqarnas in India. This element of Persian architecture is seen very commonly in scores of Mughal and other Indo-Islamic monuments.






After the Ganesh Pol, comes the most splendid part of the fort, Jai Mandir. Completed in 1729 CE by Raja Man Singh, it is an exquisite structure with glass inlaid panels and mirrored ceilings. Also known as Sheesh Mahal, the convex shaped glass panels were designed with coloured foil and paint. In the past when it was in use, it would glitter bright under the candle lights. Think the iconic song ‘Jab Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya’ from the movie Mughal-E-Azam where Madhubala dances in a hall of mirrors.


















Known as Thikri, the art of inlaying hand cut pieces of mirrors scaples into perfect shapes and arranging them on walls was a hallmark of Rajput aesthetics. The art is roughly 400 years old and a handful of artisans like Mr. Rajesh Anant of Udaipur are still practicing it (

Jaigarh Fort:

In order to protect Amer Fort and its palaces, Maharaja Jai Singh II built the Jaigarh Fort, 400 metres above Amer Fort in 1726 CE. Also known as the Victory Fort, it is 3 kms long and 1 km wide. The major attraction of this fort is the canon ‘Jaivana’. It was the world’s largest canon when it was built. The fort is heavily fortified with thick walls of red sandstone. Within it there are palaces with courtrooms and halls. A major draw of these rooms is its pretty lattice screens. Water was supplied to the fort from Sagar Lake, built below the hills for rain water harvesting. Water from the lake used to be transported to the fort in pouches loaded on elephant backs and also by humans. Jaigarh is a garrison fort and has one of the largest armories of the country.











Nahargarh Fort:

Nahargarh is the last in the series of Jaipur forts that is perched on an Aravali crest just above the pink city. Nahargarh, which translates as the abode of tigers was built in 1734 CE by Maharaja Jai Singh II. This fort has not seen a single battle. However, during the 1857 mutiny, several British officers took refuge in Nahargarh with the help of Maharaja of Jaipur, Sawai Ram Singh.














Nahargarh has some splendid mansions within its walls, prominent one being the Madhavendra Bhavan. The two storied palace is divided into 9 apartments and each one of the 9 apartments is again two storied. Artistically, these reflect a fusion of Indian and European styles unlike other forts where Persian influence is distinct. The fort offers a panoramic view of the Jaipur city.

The hill forts of Jaipur are testimonies of a time, when two ideas met to establish a new identity for India in terms of art, architecture, music and dance. While the other hill forts of Rajasthan fell into decay, the Jaipur Forts not only survived but carved out a path for Jaipur to evolve as India’s first modern planned city. Today when the country is torn apart on the grounds of religious differences, the Jaipur Hill Forts stand tall as sources of inspiration for religious tolerance and acceptance, much needed ideas to upkeep the secular fabric of India.


Author – Jitu Mishra

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