India is home to some of the most magnificent forts and palaces in the world. Their architecture and attention to detail are unparalleled, and we draw a lot of inspiration for our brand ethos from the architectural history, wall paintings, and stories associated with these magnificent structures. To celebrate Palace Day on 19 July, brought to India by the Centre for Historic Houses, Royal Fables brings you a collection of quaint stories about the Indian monarchy that testify to those glorious times.
The Laxmi Vilas Palace.
The Mysore throne.
GANGAJALI: MAHARAJA SAWAI MADHO SINGH II; HIS WATER GOES WHERE HE GOES
The former King of Jaipur, Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II, entered the Guinness Book of World Records when he had two enormous sterling silver vessels, the largest in the world, created to carry “Ganga Jal” on his travels to England in 1902 to attend Edward VII’s coronation. He was a devout Hindu ruler who did not consider European water fit for drinking and was aware that he would also require Ganges water to perform religious ceremonies in a foreign land, as orthodox Hindus were not permitted to cross the ocean to reach Europe at the time.
Between 1894 and 1896, these vessels were built over a two-year period and were shaped using a total of 14,000 silver coins. They had the capacity to hold 4000 litres of holy water and weighed 345 kilos, and the unique feature of these vessels is that soldering sections together was avoided.
The Maharaja paid travel agency Thomas Cook Rs 1.5 million (Rs 750 million in today’s value) to charter a brand-new ship on which beef had never been consumed. Six luxurious suites were installed on the ship for the family deity, members of the group, and himself. The SS Olympia set sail from Bombay with 132 servants, a retinue of Hindu priests, over 600 pieces of luggage, and three urns carrying 2,700 gallons of holy water. When the ship encountered stormy waters near Aden, Madho Singh, after consulting with a priest on board, ordered that one of the urns be thrown overboard to appease Lord Varuna. The voyage ended without further disruptions, and the British were taken aback by the sight of such massive silver jars. According to Jaipur chroniclers, King Edward VII personally visited the maharaja’s camp to view the two jars, which can be seen at the Diwan-i-Khas of City Palace in Jaipur even today.
QAISAR BAGH: EMPEROR’S GARDEN
Wajid Ali Shah, the last ruler of the kingdom of Awadh, was a great connoisseur of art in all its forms, and his palace reflected that innate personality. He began building the Qaisar Bagh as soon as he ascended the throne in 1847. It was located in the southeast corner of the Chattar Manzil palace, and he envisioned a palace complex that would be a paradise on earth, complete with large gardens that would be the ideal setting for dance, drama, and poetry readings, and is widely credited with the revival of Kathak as a major form of classical Indian dance. One of his biggest contributions was the development of Pari Khana, a school for music and dance that employed 180 female artists, usually drawn from the families of courtesans, dedicated to the promotion of music and dance. He began to stage his magnificent Rahas (a personalized name for Rasleela) full of sensuous poetry, his own lyrical compositions, and glamorous Kathak dances.
The palace is adorned with magnificent pillars, banisters, Hindu umbrellas, lanterns, and Moorish minarets. European-style gilt crowns and statues complement the Mughal-style pavilions. The palace had separate chambers for the royal ladies, in keeping with era traditions, and a majestic 12-door white stone building also stands in the center of the palace.
GUNDALAO LAKE: MAN-MADE LAKE IN KISHANGARH
Gundalao Lake is situated between Purana Sheher’s old city and Madanganj’s new city. The tranquil water flowing in front of the Phool Mahal Palace refreshes, soothes, and calms the environment. This is a man-made lake built by Rao Gunda between 1460 and 1500, 100 to 150 years before Kishangarh was founded.
According to a popular legend, Rao Gunda sacrificed his son to the lake due to scarcity of water, after which it rained heavily, and once, when the pond was full, his son was seen floating on a matka (earthen pot).
This man-made lake is the soul of Kishangarh’s Phool Mahal palace and has served as inspiration for a number of famous Kishangarh miniature artists, including Nihal Chand, and can be seen in many 17th-century paintings. Even today, its setting and myths serve as inspiration for Kishangarh painters working in the traditional style of the Kishangarh school of painting on paper, cloth, wood, marble, and other surfaces.
LAKSHMI VILAS PALACE: GRANDEUR USING INDO-SARACENIC ARCHITECTURE
Vadodara is home to one of the world’s largest palaces, the Laxmi Vilas Palace, which is four times the size of Buckingham Palace and is the largest private residence ever built, spanning over 500 acres.
The most impressive Raj-era palace in Gujarat, its elaborate interiors feature well-preserved mosaics, chandeliers, and artworks, as well as a large collection of weaponry and art. The palace is adorned with paintings by the famous artist Raja Ravi Verma, who was specially commissioned by the then Maharaja of Baroda. It is set in sprawling park-like grounds that include a golf course. The Navlakhi stepwell on the premises is a window into the ancient water resource system built by kings to overcome Gujarat’s parched lands. The LVP Banquets & Conventions, Moti Bagh Palace, and the Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum are also part of the complex.
It was built in 1890 during the reign of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, and it exemplifies the magnificent artistry of Indo-Saracenic architecture, a revivalist architectural style popular in India in the late nineteenth century, particularly in public and government buildings in the British Raj
and princely state rulers’ palaces. It borrowed stylistic and decorative elements from native Indo-Islamic architecture, particularly Mughal architecture, which the British considered the classic Indian style, and, less frequently, Hindu temple architecture. The basic layout and structure of the buildings were similar to those of other revivalist styles, such as Gothic revival and Neo-Classical, with specific Indian features and decoration added. The domes, minarets, and arches merged Gothic, Muslim, and Hindu elements. Charles Mant was the principal architect, and he and his team spent over 12 years building this amazing piece of architecture.
MYSORE THRONE: BEJEWELLED ROYAL SEAT
The Golden Throne, also known as Chinnada Simhasana, was the royal throne of the rulers of Mysore and is one of the palace’s main attractions. It is only open to the public during the Dusshera festival, and the rest of the time it is disassembled and stored in the palace’s safe lockers. The throne is made of fig wood and is adorned with ivory plaques. It was adorned with jewellery, gold, precious stones, and silver figurines, and the throne was made with approximately 280 kilos of gold. There are four levels of the decorative tiers of the throne which represent the four aims of human life, that is, Kama (pleasure), Artha (Prosperity), Dharma (Righteousness), and Moksha (Liberation).
The origin of the golden throne is shrouded in mystery, with various legends telling us different stories about its existence. The throne, according to legend, belonged to the Pandavas of the Mahabharata and was located in Hastinapura. Kampilaraya moved the throne from Hastinapura to Penugonda, now in Andhra Pradesh, and buried it. In 1336 AD, Vidyaranya, the royal preceptor of the Vijayanagar kings, showed Harihara I, one of the Vijayanagar empire’s founders, the location of the throne’s burial. He was given the throne by the governor, Srirangaraya, in 1609, and ascended to the throne in 1610. Another theory holds that around 1700, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb bestowed the throne on Chikkadevaraja Wadiyar.
The throne is also said to be cursed by the former queen, Queen Alamelamma, who jumped into the river Kaveri, prior to which she cursed that Talakadu becomes a barren land, Malangi turn into a whirlpool, and may Mysore kings never beget children.” This actually came true, and 400 years since, the Wadiyar dynasty never had any children for alternate generations.
The gem-studded Golden Throne has been put on public display inside the Mysore Palace only during Dusshera.
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THE KAZA MOTORCYCLE DIARIES
I downed yet another Tsampa pancake with butter tea before heading towards Kaza. With the Spiti river on my left and the mighty Trans-Himalayan range overlooking my ride, the sun shone and intuitively hid behind the clouds, making it a dreamlike ride. By now, the Triumph Tiger 660 a.k.a. the Baby Tiger had become a reliable, almost protective travel companion. He covered up for my tiny fumbles as a rider and rode impeccably through loose gravel, water streams, and potholes. Even though his real merit lay over tarmac, not once did he betray me under his sports tourer demeanor. A futile hunt of off-road tyres across the country rendered me with a spare set of conventional road tyres, which was a huge respite amidst Spiti’s unforgiving tracks.
I had even installed crash guards, bearing in mind the dozen falls that I had anticipated between Bathal and Chhatru. I’d end each day’s ride mentally saying, ‘So far, no falls’, knowing that was bound to change soon. But I would soon discover the Baby Tiger’s sheer defiance of gravitational physics, the details of which I have saved for another part. Getting back to today’s ride, I was engulfed by the magic of crossing the Tabo bridge and gorged over Tabo’s scenic fields and the gigantic mountainous backdrops. The road broke up again, and as I rode past mounding ranges of piled-up loose gravel, admiring the Jenga skills at play, a few rocks crumbled down and across the road a few feet ahead of me.
I immediately braked to a halt and looked upwards, seeing a few more dusty crumbles hurl down. I used my feet to roll my bike backward, such that there was more safety buffer space between me and the rumbling tumble. A few seconds of silence prompted me to prepare and zip past this stretch. And in no time, it was all behind me. The accompanying Endeavour too made it through, and within a scenic hour, we had entered the less quiet town of Kaza. Without a second’s delay, we were making our way to our much-awaited dining destination, Hotel Deyzor. A personalised homestay run by riding and adventure veteran Karanbir Singh Bedi, Hotel Deyzor has a distinct authority in Spiti for its unmatched hospitality and lip-smacking food. Like an excited school girl, I led Karanbir to the Baby Tiger immediately after meeting him. After all, it was his recommendation that made me opt for this bike blindly, and he needed to see it! Karanbir’s approving nod mirrored what I had envisioned on my way to Kaza. Needless to add, the Baby Tiger was a sheer head turner and attracted many doting glances wherever it ventured.
My accompanying team’s stomachs were rumbling, and Milo had already ordered her favourite mango shake from the menu. I could well believe that it was Deyzor’s mango shake alone that inspired her to make this arduous journey, such was her dedication to that tall yellow glass of bliss that seemed to leave the mythical som ras behind. A mighty plate of Turkish eggs and a protein shake later, I blissfully mounted my steed to navigate to what would serve as our home for the next three days. Roughly forty minutes from Kaza past Key and Kibber, Cheecham was a rustic hamlet best known for the iconic Cheecham bridge and breathtaking vantage points. A Navy veteran turned adventurer, Mohit Gulia had set up a little piece of heaven at the tail end of Cheecham village, known to all as Tethys Himalayan Den. The latest talk of Spiti, Tethys set a new level of hospitality standards in Spiti, with its eclectic style and massive bay windows. Delicate whites against pastel pinks and bright teals, Tethys breathed the boutique into Spiti’s remoteness in the dreamiest way that one can imagine.
At this stage, I was slightly concerned about my mother, for we had escalated from Tabo, amongst Spiti’s lowest altitudes to Cheecham, one of its highest, in the matter of a few hours. Her saturation levels in Tabo had dipped slightly, but the sense of alarm voiced by our doctors back home is what worried us. Both Karanbir and Mohit reassured us of the normalcy of it, and cautious as I had promised my father to be, I ensured that my mother was inhaling frequent doses of oxygen from her cylinder. Being over-prepared in these matters is always a good idea, which is why I had sent Manoj ji to scout for a medical cylinder earlier in Kullu. An ex-pharmacist, I thought Manojji would be the best contender to make this preparation. He had laboriously trailed the tall silver repository of air all around Kullu, Rampur, Sangla, and Tabo, only to find out at the Kaza hospital that we weren’t odd in failing to fit in the modulator. The cylinder had been empty all along! But thanks to my Zen mother and the surplus tinier cylinders that we had carried, she had cruised through her first night in Cheecham, going light-headed solely because of how stunning the views had been. mental healthcare into action. Moreover, it is a small step towards decolonizing mental health practise by creating spaces that are accessible, collaborative, and cognizant of social realities, “she elaborates.
Returning to the opening paragraph of this feature, Saumya makes a very interesting point that largely challenges and expands the scope of the argument. She states, “Research evidence overwhelmingly suggests that poverty, stigma, and social marginalisation are all serious risk factors for mental health issues – indicating that, contrary to popular beliefs as well as Maslow’s theory, mental health issues are not first world problems/issues that only come to the surface once material and physiological needs are met. Mental health problems are consistently found to disproportionately impact the less affluent in society”.
Thus, Saumya’s two-pronged approach to broadening counselling access across India’s diverse population is indeed a trailblazer in its own right. Her story is also indicative of a wider contingent of educated youngsters broadening the scope of mental healthcare in India. Despite securing her pedagogical seat in distant lands, Saumya deliberately chooses to serve her remaining time in India as a counsellor to those in need. And for this reason amongst others, she is an inspiration to many other young aspirants across disciplines. Rajputana’s freshest advocate of accessible, culturally competent healthcare poignantly concludes, “Over time, I also became cognizant of some of the reasons for the mental health treatment gap in India, including significant social stigma, inadequate or inaccessible services, and low levels of public investment. I strongly believe that these challenges are reflective of the traditionally individualistic lens of psychology that has often neglected to take into account structural, social, and cultural factors in understanding and treating mental health issues, and has thus alienated many people in the developing world. Such learnings now motivate me to continue in this line of work and to do my bit to address the limitations I see within the field.
GLOBALLY ACCLAIMED ‘ROYAL FABLES’ RETURNS TO AHMEDABAD
On 6 August, the exposition opens with a showcase of the finest handmade textiles, crafts, and art to be inaugurated by H.H. Maharani Radhika Raje of Gaekwad of Baroda and Princess Krishna Kumari of Panna.
Royal Fables, a heritage platform that promotes royal India in all its glory, is all set to unveil its exposition in Ahmedabad in association with Digvijay Singh and BBG Royals and supported by luxury partners Sujhal, jewellery partner 7th Avenue, House of Marigold, and our associate sponsor BMW at Hyatt Vastrapur on 6 August 2022. The exposition will present art, fashion, textiles, and products made in leading palace studios across India. Besides, handpicked collections by leading designers and labels that keep the rich Indian hand-made tradition alive. Launching the exposition on August 5, 2022, with a welcome note from Anshu Khanna, Founder of Royal Fables, and an opening speech by Shri Uday Mahurkar Ji on the feisty Maratha women.
A panel discussion on the legacy of luxury will be moderated by Safir Anand, IPR Lawyer, and Ruchika Mehta, Editor, Hello! India, and among the guests will be H.H. Maharani Radhika Raje Gaekwad, Khushboo Bagga, Rani Saheb Uma Raje Jadhav, Digvijay Singh, Nidhi Sah, and Brijeshwari Gohil. Buransh, a fashion show presented by Royal Fables, Digvijay Singh, and BBG, and Satrangi by Maharani Chimnabai Stree Udyogalaya, will begin with a royal fashion walk with royal scions and jewels by the House of Marigold, followed by dinner.
“Gujarat, to us, has always been a land of the kings and nobles, home to palatial palaces and royals who cherish their inheritance with great humility and commitment to the nation. We are truly excited to bring the Royal Fables Exposition to the heritage city of Ahmedabad again. As they say, the fable with Gujarat has only just begun,” says Anshu Khanna, Founder, Royal Fables. As a firm believer in promoting heritage, culture, arts and crafts, I am elated and proud to welcome Royal Fables again to the heritage city of Ahmedabad. I look forward to witnessing an exclusive array of arts and crafts nurtured by royal families and distinct brands of India,” says Khushboo Bagga, Director, Petal Foundation.
On the 6th, the exposition opens with a showcase of the finest handmade textiles, crafts, and art to be inaugurated by H.H. Maharani Radhika Raje of Gaekwad of Baroda and Princess Krishna Kumari of Panna. There will be talks organized at various intervals on topics such as Heritage and tourism conservation in Gujrat by Professor Mickey Desai and Khayati Singh, Sonkatch, matrimonial alliance, and their impact on royal cuisine by Rani Saheb Uma Raje Jhadav of Deobagh. Safir Anand, IPR Lawyer, in conversation with Yaduveer Bera, Hemendra Singh Rathore, and Brijeshwari Gohil on tangible and intangible heritage. This will be followed by a fashion show by Palace Karkhanas featuring Jaykirti, Rosetree, Yaduveer Singh Bera, Fateh Couture, and Hemendra Singh Rathore.
The list of participants is prolific and includes royal families from across the nation including H.H. Maharani Radhika Raje Gaekwad of Baroda, Rani Saheb Uma Raje Jhadav, Princess Diya Kumari foundation, Princess Krishna Kumari of Panna, Princess Nandini Singh of Jhabua, Nawab Kazim Ali Khan of Rampur, Katyaini Sinh Sanand, Rani Jaykirti Singh Baria, Kanwarani Kamini Singh, and Chandni Singh Seohara, Preeti Singh Rathore, Yuvrani Meenal Singh Deo of Dhenkanal, Madhulika Radiant, Nawabzadi Aaliya Babi Balasinore, Namrata Singh, Kunwar Yaduveer Singh Bera, Kunwar Hemendra Singh Rathore, Digvijay Singh, and Nidhi Sah.
MOTORCYCLE DIARIES: TABO MONASTERY
The quaint and ancient site of Tabo lies at 10,800 feet, which is amongst the lowest elevations in all of the Spiti Valley. Home to what is also known as the Himalayan Ajanta, the Tabo monastery was founded by Rinchen Zangpo in 996 CE on behalf of the King of Guge, a kingdom based in the Western Himalayan Region. Tabo is known for being the oldest continuously operating Buddhist monastery in India as well as the Himalayas. In other words, despite the vagaries and strifes of time, Tabo was never abandoned or isolated. Comprising nine temples and gompas, the monastery’s incredible sculptures, wall paintings, and thangkas exhibit an ancient aura. The town of Tabo itself takes one back to a forgotten era. Whilst photography remains prohibited in the main sanctum, torches are available to help visitors discern the magnificent artistry put into the enormous walls of the monastery. A whole range of Bodhisattvas horizontally span across the main sanctum, and the rear end of it is adorned with intricate artwork that left me awestruck even on my fourth visit. Due to its rare archaeological and historical value, Tabo Monastery is maintained by the Architectural Survey of India. The monasteries at Dankar and Key all fall within the Gelukpa order of Buddhism and are important venues where His Holiness the Dalai Lama held the Kalachakra initiations. The first Kalachakra initiation held by His Holiness in Tabo attracted around 10,000 participants. Mystic breezes and absolute serenity have accorded it a special place in my Spitian memories. The Spiti river flowing alongside it, the mysterious art caves overlooking the town from one side, and monks playing cricket on the town’s helipad, all make for unique sights to behold. The Shanti Stupa, a modern addition to the ancient monastic complex, makes for a blend as seamless as eternity itself. Strolling past the complex during my first visit back in 2017, I chanced upon a charming little cafe run by a local family. Thanks to them, I experienced the finest pancakes ever made, out of tsampa flour and drizzled with honey and mangoes. A perfect pairing with butter tea for the odd palate, this became a meal to savour and devour on every visit to Tabo in the coming years. And as memorable as this culinary delight is the little girl who dwells in the adjoining homestay. Tenzin Pamsom is now all of 10 years old, and Tenzin is a bright young girl full of beans and stories. The cafe owner’s niece, who stays with her uncle and grandmother to pursue her schooling in Tabo over her parental village of Mane, Pamsom, is another important highlight of my Tabo sojourn. During every subsequent visit, I am to reassure Pamsom that I met her on a previous visit by citing photographic proof, lest she dismisses my claims. After attesting to the photographs that I dish out from my camera archives, Pamsom looks a little more trusting of this stranger amidst the hundreds that stop by at this cafe year after year. This time around, Pamsom animatedly tells us a story that a recent visitor to their homestay told her—the legend of Yasho Masi. An epic tale that sounded much like the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ (minus Pamsom’s filmy songs that she had attached to it), I wasn’t the least bit surprised when the little storyteller made me search for Yasho Masi on Google. When it showed us results of some female actor look-alikes of the K Series, Pamsom bemusedly dismissed them and Google for not knowing enough. We rewarded her entertaining efforts with a hamper containing her favourite chocolates and snacks, the sight of which made her eyes light up.
The Tabo Monastery.
She promised us that she would share her treats with her older sister. Just then, her grandmother peeked out of her bedroom window and summoned Pamsom to run some errands. Pamsom ran along and bade us farewell until next time.
We walked some more through Tabo town, and from a previous visit, I remembered stumbling upon an entire batch of young monks outside the monastic academy near Shanti Stupa late in the evening. They seemed to have been revising some verses under the supervision of a teacher. Their combined chanting made me and my friends just close our eyes and listen. After a moment of doing so, when we planned on making a move, we spotted a naughtier young monk switch off all the lights, sprinting from switchboard to switchboard while his teacher chased him amongst giggles from the others. A maroon-robed frenzy of such pure innocence warmed our hearts, and we smiled our way back to our hotel rooms.
A PATISSERIE AND CAFE IN JAIPUR OFFERING INDIAN AND EUROPEAN DISHES
Chef Tejasvi Chandela shares her culinary journey and how her cooking is closely linked to her Rajput roots.
It is the hippest space in Jaipur, the patisserie and café that “everyone goes to” and “hangs out at”. Dzurt Patisserie is not just known for its divine sweets and savouries, but also for its stunning interiors. The brainchild of a young, beautiful and accomplished Rajput girl, Tejasvi Chandela, Dzurt is delightfully European. Despite being tucked away in Rajasthan’s heritage city, known for its obsession with flourescent colours, pronounced stripes and vibrant prints, Dzurt instead
The Dzurt Patisserie and Cafe.Bakery items on display.Tejasvi cooking with Chef Garry Mehigan.Chef Tejasvi Chandela.
The café is set in a pleasing tone of mint green, interspersed with wall papers reminsicent of the Raj. The café’s atmosphere is like Tejasvi’s creative playground. Where she draws inspiration from her culinary legacy, turning it into turtle to relive the memsaab era of cakes and scones. A chef whose ancestral roots go back to Bilaspur in Himachal and Bagseu close to Bikaner, Tejasvi is able to combine the richness of her legacy with the authentic French, Italian, and English recipes of pastries and savouries. “No one knows their breads better than the French and their pastas better than the Italians,” she smiles. Reliving the era of Manchester florals and colonial raj, when delicately hand painted images of hydrangeas, roses, lilies, marigolds, and dahlias personified elegance and beauty in every format, she also recently launched a line of tableware, porcelain, linen, and home accessories that she calls Wisteria. Each piece, “rekindles the refinement of families like ours who were equally exposed to the finest in Indian and European art influences.” “Each of these pieces are like timeless buds for patrons of craft to pluck.Educated and trained by some of the best schools in the world, Tejasvi runs Dzurt Patisserie & Cafe and All Things. She learnt the art from baking schools in Paris and Barcelona and also worked in KL, Malaysia for a year to explore the local food and learn more about it. As her way of giving back, she each year travels to offer baking classes around the world. “It is my way of going on a discovery of local foods and flavours.” Tejasvi has her own YouTube channel as well as a studio kitchen to teach the art of baking and has been on Masters of Taste season 2 with legendary chef Mehigan.
Young, Tejasvi shares her journey with food and how her cooking is closely linked to her Rajput roots. “I suppose the reason why I chose this career is because I’ve grown up listening to stories of my ancestors and the various things they would cook. I come from a Rajput family.
My ancestral roots are from Bilaspur Himachal Pradesh and my maternal family is from Bagseu which is close to Bikaner. As a child I was always mesmerised by my nana and watching his passion towards outdoor cooking made me want to do the same. I used to hear my nana tell us stories as kids about his grandparents.
Their hunting stories would always catch my interest. I would love to know about the way they would make khad khargosh by digging a pit. Or how junglee maas was made more often on hunting trips because they had to carry ingredients with a higher shelf life and low water content such as garlic pods, ghee, dry red chillies, salt and ofcourse the game meat they would hunt.
I love outdoor cooking now and I did make khad murg for chef Gary Mehigan (master chef Australia judge) when I aired on an episode with him on his show masters of taste season 2, it’s a great one pot meal that brings the family together on the dining table to share a piece of history together. My winter time is best spent making lal maas and junglee maas on a chulha in my garden for my family.
“The reason why I chose this career is because I’ve grown up listening to stories of my ancestors and the various things they would cook. I come from a Rajput family. My ancestral roots are from Bilaspur Himachal Pradesh and my maternal family is from Bagseu which is close to Bikaner”.
THE SANGLA VALLEY MOTORCYCLE DIARIES
Well-rested and eager to inch closer to my special place, I rode out of the Padam Palace gates towards the district of Kinnaur. For most of the way, I had the mighty Sutlej lend me her company. Deep mountainous arches engulfed the highway, a sight and experience that didn’t get old despite the four-hour-long journey. The gorgeous apple orchards of Kinnaur carpeted the valley with different hues of green, and there was a drizzle in the air. Looking towards the blue skies over Sangla, I rode with the hope of escaping a heavy downpour and mostly managed. Taking over from the Sutlej was the power-packed Baspa river and Jindal Steel Works’ various hydroelectric enterprises. A momentous adrenaline rush of smooth, broad roads ended at Karrcham, which is where one makes an inward turn towards Sangla.
A hoarding outside Chitkul village.A bird’s eye view of the Sangla Valley.
A narrow road with several hairpin bends opens up to increasingly gorgeous vistas of the valley in between. In some parts where the road caved in deeply, there were tiny shrines of Mahadev and Hanuman. On other cliff sides, I found bright prayer flags fluttering about, further dramatising the ascent. A prominent feature of the Kinnaur valley, apart from its apple orchards, is the stunning Rampuri cap, donned by its women. Unlike their Kullu counterparts, who’d rather wear a scarf tied tautly around their heads, Kinnauri women carry out the Rampuri cap look with greater finesse than their menfolk, and most frequently call for a second glance. Children roamed about the streets, waving and cheering for the lone motorcyclist. Others shouted out for chocolates, and the uneven roads called for my undivided attention. With a stupa there and a homestay there, Sangla still felt remotely placed for the amount of popularity it garnered amongst tourists. Possibly because of its remoteness?
Another 10 odd kilometres ahead of Sangla, on the same road, was where the village of Batseri stood. Known for the Banjara Lodge and Camps, Batseri also has a more recent hotel development, titled Hotel Batseri. Surrounded by apple orchards and offering a stellar view of the Baspa river and the mighty Himalayas, this was the dwelling of my choice in the Sangla valley. Neat, clean, and functional rooms, good food, and an evening bonfire are all that one needs en route to a circuit with more basic accommodation lying ahead. After freshening up, my trio decided to take a drive up to Chitkul, India’s last village before the Tibet (now China) border. On another surreal drive through a village called Rakkcham, the road to Chitkul opened up to some exceptional mountainous formations, pine groves, and small streams running in between. One could easily be mistaken for this part of Himachal to be somewhere in Kashmir; that’s how dreamlike it is. The rain gently sprayed across our windscreen, and I was glad to have chosen against riding my bike up here. Crossing the sleepier town of Chitkul, with a few tea stalls and home stays mushroomed on either side of the road, we drove right up to the army check post and made a U-turn from there. Some jawans curiously looked up to see the intent of this RJ21 Endeavour, and I wondered if we had made them unzip their binoculars. But on a second thought, they are prone to being habituated to enthusiastic tourists who do the same thing multiple times a day, and they were probably just discerning the car model, especially since its previous owner had accessorised it to gather the demeanour of a Hummer! After a few enthu photographs near the ‘India’s Last Village’ hoardings, we drove back to Batseri and admired the dramatic evening skies. That night, we sat around the bonfire in Sangla’s crisp air, ate a sumptuous dinner, and drifted into a deep sleep. I left my gimbal on a tripod on the time lapse setting, and woke up to the most gorgeous 1.30-minute-long video, with the clouds doing a special ballet across overcast skies. And just like that, we geared up to leave for our first pit stop in Spiti-Tabo. The oncoming ride would be one of nearly 200 kilometres and span 6.5 hours. In between, I rode on stellar roads at first, but then rugged dirt tracks later, which even required me to make my first water stream crossing at Malling Nala With just one boot wet and the bike upright, I was rather pleased with myself for pulling off this impromptu stunt. All along, I could not help but repeatedly switch on my GoPro to record the breathtaking vistas of Nako and Sumdo. The Spiti river proved to be an equally gorgeous sequel to the Sutlej and Baspa, and by tea time, we had arrived at the sparrow-chirping monastic town of Tabo.
This is the last and concluding part of the story.
EXHIBITION HIGHLIGHTS THE FEMININE FORM AS CELEBRATED THROUGH AGES
The range of women in the arts spans a cross-section of Indian society and culture. From princesses to heroines, from goddesses to devotees, the many feminine forms are cause for celebration.
Overlooking the main artery of Patna, the grand Bailey Road, stands the magnificent Bihar Museum. The Bihar Museum, designed by the world-renowned architect Fumihoko Maki as part of Bihar Chief Minister Nitesh Kumar‘s vision for the development of civil society, is an iconic landmark that holds within it the many layers of the second historical urbanisation of India.
Front view of Bihar Museum, Patna.Dr Alka PandeBihar Museum, Patna.
Dr Alka Pande, art historian, author, member of the Bihar Museum Advisory, and Chief Curator of Women and Deities, shares the sheer historic richness of the museum and offers a glimpse into the forthcoming exhibition Women & Deities that will be unveiled on Foundation Day, 7th August. The centre of Imperial power, Patna, or Pataliputra, as parts of it were known in ancient India, continues to carry the grand condition of art, culture, and governance. Having been closely associated with the Bihar Museum, one of the finest examples of a giant home of culture, I would like to share an exhibition that I am curating, Women and Deities in the Bihar Museum. Consisting of 174 objects from antiquity, the mediaeval period, and contemporary times, the exhibition is a tribute to 2000 years of the representation of women through the ages. Nowhere in the world has a museum opened the coffers of its reserve collection to the public on such a scale. 166 objects consisting of Terracotta, bronze, stone, and paintings.
The Director General and Advisor to the Bihar Museum, Anjani Kumar Singh, as Chief Secretary of the State, single-handedly ensured the realisation of the dream and vision of the Chief Minister. Ever since Singh took over as the Director General in March of 2022, he has been populating the Bihar Museum with a steady and inventive scheme of programming. From art appreciation courses to exhibitions of artists from Bihar to now, this immense and significant exhibition on Women and Deities, “I believe that a magnificent building is not sufficient to keep alive the culture and heritage of a state. It has to be continually nurtured and fed with dynamic programming to keep it alive and vibrant. “In keeping with this philosophy, Singh is continually injecting the museum with a host of activities. A continuous hustle and bustle is seen the minute you enter the cool environs of this eco-sustainable building. The historical galleries, which showcase the wonders of Bihar, and the evolving Diaspora Gallery are a testament to the wonder that is Bihar.
The words of the First President of India are prophetic. If you know the history of Bihar, then you know the history of India. And these are the words that greet you the minute you enter the Orientation gallery. The museum cafe enriches the museum’s cultural ethos through its finger-licking array of the traditional cuisine of Bihar. The Museum Gift Shop, run by the Upendra Maharathi Institute, creates the most beautiful objects of art in a way that documents the intangible heritage of Bihar. The women and deities in the Bihar Museum are unique and significant in several ways. It shows the timeline of artistic representation of women through the last 2000 years and through these exquisitely sculpted figurines and paintings, the beauty, grace, and cultural identity of the women of the region.
The four materials which form the collection are also particular to the state. Terracotta and polished stone as materials were very much part of the Mauryan period, which flourished in and around Magadha and Pataliputra. The rich polish imparted to the Yakshi, her ornamentation, hairstyle, facial expression, and alluring smile add to the immense charm of the Didarganj Yakshi, the jewel in the collection of the Bihar Museum, not to forget the exquisite art by way of bronzes from Nalanda and Kurkihar, which flourished during the Pala period. In fact, two extremely significant things started in Bihar. In Vaishali where the first republic or oligarchy emerged, and Rajgarhia, where the foundations of the monarchy developed. The more I visit Bihar, the more I discover about the wonder that is Bihar and therefore India. My curatorial direction for this exhibition stems from years of my engagement with ancient Indian art history, culture, and heritage. It attempts to show the many manifestations of women in different materials, through different periods in time, and through different stylistic attributes.
The range of women in the arts of India spans a large cross-section of Indian society and culture. From princesses to heroines, from goddesses to devotees, the many forms and manifestations of the feminine form are celebrated in the exhibition. So much can be deduced and understood about the different aspects of Indian art, culture, and polity. Each artwork becomes a cultural bearer of the time and age in which it was created. I have dedicated this exhibition to the women of Bihar.
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