The most exquisite craftsmanship awaits you in Bikaner

Head for Junagadh Fort in Bikaner…

Set against the 200,000 square kilometre golden sand carpet that forms the Thar Desert (Great Indian Desert), is an Indian city that often misses the limelight. It has a capacity to delight you with unexpected architectural splendour…from ornamental havelis hidden in a mesmerizing old town maze to sumptuous palaces overflowing with examples of rich artistic craftsmanship. So, if Rajasthan is on your mind, look beyond the J-trilogy (Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer). And be dazzled by Bikaner!

Kick off with the inspiring story of the city, the 15th-century result of an ambitious military adventure by enterprising Rao Bika, youngest of five sons of Rao Jodha, founder of Jodhpur. Bika realises that he doesn’t stand a chance at inheritance, so, he moves far from home towards inhospitable desert terrain to create a new kingdom of his own. State flourishes, generations thrive. Bikaner’s sixth ruler, Raja Rai Singhji accepts Mughal sovereignty and leaves behind a priceless legacy…Junagarh Fort (meaning big fort). The 986m-long wall with 37 bastions spread over a mammoth 5.28 hectares of land, encloses one of the finest examples of architecture in the country. Reserve a day for Bikaner’s magnum opus. Wow factor guaranteed.

Junagadh Fort Bikaner 9.jpg

But Junagarh is more than just a monument of scale. First, tick off all the quintessential architectural elements of a Rajasthan royal palace fort… impressive public areas, luxurious private quarters, graceful pavilions, wide-open courtyards, elegant pillar columns, overhanging balconies, intricate jaali-screen windows (jharokhas) and the iconic chhatris.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now zoom in for the finer details and wait for the jaw-drop. Intricate wall murals, elaborate stucco ceilings, lavish lacquered doors, pretty enamelled mirrors, even Dutch glazed tiles and Chinese wallpapers. Not just panels…entire rooms studded with exquisitely styled, gilded walls. There’s delicacy in each flawless motif and innovation in every impeccable pattern…tasteful, inventive, poetic. Scan. And process.

Dig deeper into the leftovers of art that bloomed to cross limits of imagination under a series of prosperous military leaders from the 17th-century Karan Mahal to the 18th-century Chander Mahal and the 19th-century Badal Mahal. Mughal-inspired white marble with wide-spaced floral and geometric ornamentation that make you sigh. Elaborate stucco ceilings that tempt you to be taller. Glass mosaic with gold leaf that evoke a silent ‘unbelievable’. Gold plated deities that make you blink. Paintings inlaid with precious stones that challenge your conscience. Carved panels and mirrors that feel like Cinderella. Let your right brain take over.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And finally, gear up for the best in this palace-fort-meets-art gallery with my favorite takeaway…the finest examples of local Usta art in the country. If you’ve seen one example, you can easily recognize it all over the palace complex. This highly ornate and detailed lacquer work on camel hide (‘Usta’ comes from Persian word ‘Ustad’ meaning master) uses vibrant colours and striking gold motifs in floral and animal forms. For the most elaborate, more intricate, more opulent example, swoon over the gold-vermillion Anup Mahal.   

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Usta stuns you wherever you go in the palace complex. Practice spotting the popular Taarabandi (a star-studded sky) and Naqqashi, (patterns of flowers and motifs) on ceiling surfaces, door or wall panels. Three-dimensional and embossed. Resplendent like Indian jewellery. Royal like Persian carpets. And regal like French tapestries. Undulating curves and strong shapes. Each pattern unique, all very distinctly Mughal in styling. Overwhelmed much?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The handful of Usta artists who migrated from Iran to India during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar were clueless that their craft would be relayed forward several centuries to become an icon of Bikaner. Ironically, just a handful of these skilful artists survive…as in all other demanding art forms across the world. But you can still scout the local handicraft stores for a handcrafted (very expensive) Usta souvenir. A coaster, goblet, vase, photo frame, or lamp…how deep is your pocket? More importantly, how large is your heart?

Usta Bikaner.jpg

 

Pin this post for later!!

Discover exquisite craftsmanship at Bikaner

Advertisements

Three Barcelona icons that will blow your mind

A deeper look at Gaudi’s architecture…

Barcelona’s most famous Catalan Modernism artist-architect, Antoni Gaudí made a livelihood from constructing (or deconstructing) ‘fantasy homes for the rich’ and dreamt of completing a ‘cathedral for the poor’. His legacy lives on through some of the most recognised icons of Catalonia. You’ve seen the pictures. Now dig deeper into his craft.

Continue reading “Three Barcelona icons that will blow your mind”

Why Rothenburg is the epitome of German romanticism?

Dollhouse town in Germany…

Factoid: Germany’s second largest city in the middle ages, with 6,000 residents (mammoth for those times) was reduced to poverty during the 30 years war, and virtually faded into oblivion. But life comes full circle. Today it has regained its glory as Germany’s best preserved medieval walled town. Rothenburg ob der Tauber seems like the perfect name for this fairytale place until you translate it into English…red fort on the River Tauber). Mmmm…something less practical, maybe?

Continue reading “Why Rothenburg is the epitome of German romanticism?”

Cocktail of opulence and tragedy at the Habsburg Palace

Vienna’s imperial palace will overwhelm you…

Even as you survey the facade of ornate Habsburg Palace, the winter residence of the Austrian imperials since the 13th-century, you sense fulfilment. The very essence of Vienna’s cityscape is embodied within these walls…several squares and gardens, 18 groups of buildings, 19 courtyards, and 2,600 rooms spread over a massive 60 acres…a mini city in itself!

Continue reading “Cocktail of opulence and tragedy at the Habsburg Palace”

Stroll in a cemetery that is worth a thousand pictures

Zagreb’s most surprising architectural gem…

Lovingly encased within seven acres of lush landscaped gardens, Miragoj Cemetery figures as one the top 20 must-visit places in the Croatia’s capital, Zagreb. The final resting place of 300,000 souls from diverse religions, created by architect Hermann Bollé, is one of Europe’s most beautiful cemeteries. 

Continue reading “Stroll in a cemetery that is worth a thousand pictures”

The curious case of the immortal European square

Six sides of the square…

What’s the single-most universal impression you carry home from European cities? For me, it has to be timelessness. Translated: continuity. And one of the best examples is reflected is the enigmatic town square. 

Continue reading “The curious case of the immortal European square”

Treasure hunt for the most exquisite hidden havelis

Beauties and bounties in the bylanes of Bikaner…

“You won’t be able to find them on your own.” The hotel manager dismisses our valiant declaration of self-exploration with a mysterious smile. “I’ll arrange an auto rickshaw to guide you. The lanes are too narrow for a car.” Intrigue levels: brim high.

Our driver, Wali, nods knowingly, when I show him the google pictures in my phone. We climb into the well-padded back seat of our colourful three-wheel drive towards the oldest part of the city. At 11 am, its still a lazy morning in the marketplace. Steamy curls rising from chai cups, brooms swooshing across verandahs and biscuit-laden carts rumbling along to designated spots. The man stirring hot milk at Ramji Ghewar Wale sweet shop seems absent-minded…still not fully awake yet?  

   Continue reading “Treasure hunt for the most exquisite hidden havelis”