Home > A Tryst with Heritage

 


Karni Fort, Bambora

 


Rawal Kot, Jaisalmer

 




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

        

Originally trained in London at the Royal College of Art, Doug Patterson graduated with a Master of Arts degree and subsequenty studied architecture at the Architectural Association and graduated in 1974. In tandem with his design career, he worked as an artist, and has had numerous exhibitions of his paintings and illustrations. His method of working has mostly been on location, sketching first in pencil and then applying colour in his studio, using a variety of media - pastels, water colour, acrylic and, more recently, oil paint. During the last seven years, he has travelled in India, commissioning various craftsmen and artists to prefabricate architectural components for his various projects - carvings, timber, sand-stone and marble, including inlay work in semi-precious stones. This gave him a wonderful opportunity to produce numerous paintings and drawings which he has then exhibited.

In August 1999, he was asked to collaborate with the WelcomHeritage Group of Hotels and, as their guest, he travelled in India to produce a portfolio of illustrations of their Heritage properties and monuments in these locations throughout Rajasthan. This was a terrific opportunity to visit the palaces, forts and havelis. Travelling by road, he covered almost 8,000 kilometers in four weeks.

I left London on 19 October, shrouded in a damp grey mist, and flew to Mumbai, the power house of India and the New York of the East, with its energy, super-rich, abject poor, mega congestion and gleaming high-rise buildings. I then flew north to my first location, Bhopal, where I met my driver, travelling companion and within days, great friend, Mr. Mod Singh. We arrived at Noor-Us-Sabah Palace (WelcomHeritage) over-looking the lake. The sky was blood red as I sat sketching my first illustration on what was to be a remarkable journey. Bhopal has some of the finest buildings in India. There's the old city, with its crowded market places, the huge mosques and palaces of the former Begums who ruled from 1819 to 1926, the Taj-ul-Masjid mosque - a towering edifice commissioned by Shah Jahan Begum in 1868, which is the largest mosque in India.

50 km to the north of Bhopal is the tranquil sit e of Sanchi, which has some of the oldest and most interesting Buddhist structures in India. Emperor Ashoka built the first stupas here in the third century BC.

The journey to north Kota takes 12 hours, and the road is in need of a little attention. This caused the steering wishbones to separate, but, as always in India, the parts were soon re-welded in a tiny workshop, accompanied by smiles and a never-ending supply of tea. Enroute we stopped at Jhalara Paton and visited the Surya temple, which has stunningly beautiful carved idols, then on to Jhalawar where I discovered the Bhawani Natyashala Theatre, constructed on three levels with a magnificent auditorium - a true theatrical gem. 

Finally, Kota. Strung out along the east bank of the Chambal river, the Umed Bhawan Palace (WelcomHeritage) is surrounded by beautiful gardens. The palace was originally designed by the English architect Sir Swinton Jacobs, and must have the most memorable billiard room in the world. The interior is lined in timber panelling, and surrounded by hunting trophies, including 12 tigers sitting on the floor like huge cats guarding the billiard table. The city palace and fort is one of the largest complexes in Rajasthan. Forty kilometers to the northwest is Bundi, which was one of my favourite location to draw, dominated by the battlements of the Taragarh Fort, built in 1354, which hugs the monumental rock face. Inside the palace buildings are the famous Bundi murals. The town has an unspoilt medieval atmosphere, where the Rajput legacy is well preserved.

Our journey took us southwest to Chittorgarh, the amazing hilltop fortress which epitomises the romantic ideal of Rajput chivalry. This massive structure stands on a 280-hectare site, 200 meters above the surrounding plains. In 1568, when Allaudin Khaji sacked the town, the fort was defended heroically - but against overwhelming odds. The culmination of the battle was that the women performed 'sati', and 8,000 orange-clad warriors rode to their deaths.

170 km southwest is Karni Fort Bambora (WelcomHeritage). The historic fort has been restored and it was the perfect place to recharge our energy and be totally peaceful and still. Karni Fort is located in southern Rajputana, 50 km from the romantic city of Udaipur, the Venice of the East, with its fairytale palaces, parks and gardens which line the Fateh Sagar and Pichola lakes. I first visited Udaipur in 1980, have returned at least 40 times since and still think it is an architectural poem of outstanding beauty.

The drive north takes you through wonderful landscapes passing the 15th century Kumbhalgarh Fort which is almost inaccessible. Perched on top of the Aravalli range at almost 1,100 meters, it was captured only once by the Mughal emperor Akbar. The fortifications stretch almost 12 km.

My eventual destination was the Maharani Bagh Orchard Retreat (WelcomHeritage). What a delightful place to stay. Originally planned in the late 19th century for the Maharani of Jodhpur, accommodation here consists of small bungalows tucked into the vegetation. It is also perfectly situated for visiting Ranakpur, one of the biggest and most important Jain temples in India.

The complex lies in a remote and peaceful valley. I spent two beautiful days sketching in Chaumakha temple with its 29 halls supported by 1,444 pillars, all built in delicate marble.

My next location was Mount Abu, close to the Gujarat border and Rajasthan's only hill station sprawling along a 1,200 metre plateau, with Lake Nakki virtually at its centre. Based at Connaught House (WelcomHeritage), which resembles a charming English country cottage, we are surrounded by carefully manicured gardens. The contrast was the perfect balance to the Jain Dilwara temples, which must be the finest examples of the art of carving marble in the world. The workmanship is lace-like filigree and unsurpassed in its delicacy. In the afternoon light it becomes almost transparent. I was transfixed by its beauty.

On to Jodhpur, where we arrived dusty, tired and bedraggled after our various adventures. We were confronted with the Umaid Bhawan Palace (WelcomHeritage), the residence of the former Maharajah of Jodhpur. Its splendour, scale, luxury and service has no comparison in India. The following sunrise I set out for the Mehrangarh Fort. This must be the most impressive and formidable Fort in Rajasthan. Close by, and off the fort road, is the Jaswant Thada, a dignified white marble memorial cenotaph. Returning to the city, with its jumble of winding streets leading to bazaars selling textiles and silver, the senses are bombarded with smells, sound and colours, punctuated with the architecture of the beautiful sandstone carved havelis, built in the past by wealthy merchants.

55 km from Jodhpur is the Sardar Samand Palace (WelcomHeritage) built in 1933 as a lake-side hunting lodge in Art Deco style by H.H. Maharaj Umaid Singh. The lake attracts thousands of migratory birds. That evening I experienced the most spectacular full moon; the lake turned into a silver platter and the surrounding forest vegetation resembled gleaming chrome.

Returning from Jodhpur, on the outskirts of the city I visited Bal Samand Palace (WelcomHeritage). Built as part of the retaining wall holding back the lake, it is the original 13-century water reservoir supplying the city. The surrounding gardens are lush with water features fed by gravity from the lake.

Travelling north 90 km from Jodhpur is fully restored fortified structure, constructed originally in1523, has superb accommodation and supporting facilities, but I moved on to Nagaur, one of the locations for the WelcomHeritage Royal Tented Camp.

Surrounded by massive protective battlements, this complex contains fine examples of the Mughal baoris, fountains, and formal garden planning, originally commissioned by Akbar.

Skirting the Thar desert, we visited the town of Deshnok, and the Karni Mata rat temple, with its huge silver gates and marble fa´┐Żade. In the inner courtyard of the temple I sat sketching on the ground, surrounded by thousands of rats darting between my legs and running across my sketchbook. In my whole career, drawing in jungles or glaciers, volcanos or once on Christmas day at the Taj Mahal surrounded by 25,000 people all wanting a school pen, I have never experienced such apprehension! 

Bikaner, founded by Rao-Bika in 1488, is encircled by a 7-km-long wall, with five entrances. The fort and palaces are an ensemble of courtyards, balconies, kiosks, towers and jali windows, and a dream to draw. I stayed at the fabulous Lallgarh Palace (WelcomHeritage) built in 1902 in the Indo-Saracenic style by the English architect Sir Swinton Jacobs. In the late afternoon light I made a short excursion beyond the city to Devi Kund, the site of the Royal chhatris (cenotaphs). These white marble tombs are encircled by a pink and white striped wall and sit on the banks of a small lake.

Heading west, we left Bikaner in darkness and travelled through the Thar desert, 300 km to Jaisalmer. Its strategic position on the camel trade routes between India and central Asia brought this desert city great wealth, and the merchants and townspeople built magnificent havelis of the local golden yellow sandstone, smothered in decorative rich carving. This aesthetic is nowhere quite as exotic as in Jaisalmer. The old city is surrounded by convoluted massive walls, with 99 bastions, which historically gave a strategic security. Nothing has changed here for centuries. My hotel, the Rawal Kot (WelcomHeritage) was 2 km from the city, surrounded by a desert carpet, with a magnificent vista of the fort. I rarely stay in contemporary hotels, but this design, so carefully balanced between modern and traditional, was a delight.

Closing my sketchbook as it was the last location I set off, reclining in the back seat of the Ambassdor car. Gliding through the magical landscapes of Rajasthan, interspersed with villages alive with activity, colour and fabulous eating temptations, my days had passed timelessly, with only the changing light between sunrise and sunset as my clock. I eventually returned to Jodhpur, and finally to Delhi.

I would like to thank all the many friends I met whilst travelling and staying at the Welcom-Heritage properties, and for that fantastic opportunity to collaborate with the Group. Finally, for his patience, skill and tireless driving, with my endless search for drawing locations, changes of plan and early morning starts, my driver and friend, Mr. Mod Singh, who is assigned to Umaid Bhawan Palace's Travel Counter of Travel Aid.