Unlocking Heritage

Unlocking Heritage
Raj Mahal Chowk at the Kota Garh Palace , Photo Credit: Karan Kaushik

History, heritage, and a two-day, family-fuelled rediscovery of a hometown

Karan Kaushik
August 31 , 2020
08 Min Read

The news of the reopening of tourism spots in Rajasthan has come as music to my ears. I’ve always been aware of Kota’s multi- layered character, but the idea of visiting its palaces and museums had never caught my fancy, until now. While the safety of home beckons, the itch to travel is upon us. 

My mother, my sister and I find ourselves giggling like excited teens in our car as we head to the Kota Garh Palace. It’s a beautiful petrichor-filled afternoon. The heavens have opened up and being the discerning travellers that we are, we can’t help but be absolutely ecstatic. 

Maharao Umed Singh’s statue

We have fresh face masks on and mom is carrying a sanitiser. At the Hathia Pol of the Garh, two masked guards greet us with a jovial ‘khamma ghani’. Two imposing stone elephants, brought from the Bundi Palace by Maharao Bhim Singh I, grace this gate. On either side are motifs of women warriors conforming to the Kota School. There’s a board at the bottom of the left one, highlighting safety guidelines for visitors. While one guard assists us in washing our hands with soap, the other conducts our thermal screening. One of them is kind enough to point to an impressive Durga painting at the centre of the high ceiling and we crane our necks while making sure that our masks stay put. Mom folds her hands to thank the goddess for keeping us alive all this while. Desi mothers, I tell you! 

The Bada Mahal’s miniature paintings

Another guard leads us to the ticket counter through the temple of Brijnathji, the tutelary deity of the Kota rulers, and tells us that we are the first set of visitors for the day. At the ticket window, the masked ticket seller offers us some sanitiser after handing over our tickets. We make our way to the museum through the Borseli Ki Deodhi and the Raj Mahal ka Chowk, which is dotted with nagaras or drums from the 17th and 18th centuries. A guide draped in an attractive lehariya saree welcomes us inside the Durbar Hall, a part of the Rao Madho Singh Museum. The feeling of entering a museum after nearly an eternity is magical. Normalcy finally seems to have returned. A towering statue of Maharao Umed Singh greets us while a life-sized elephant statue adorning a golden caparison stands next to it, on the right. 

Previously known as Akhade ka Mahal, the Durbar Hall was built by Maharao Durjan Shal in the 18th century. On display here are traditional musical instruments, seals, copper and brass curios, porcelain pots and toys, old scales and weights, a wooden throne, palanquins, textiles, sculptures and other regal memorabilia. 

A painting of Queen Mary of Great Britain with Maharao Umed Singh at Kota’s Raj Bhawan from 1911 particularly captures my attention. I didn’t know my city was once visited by a vilaayati queen. Intricately painted portraits of royals are staring down at us and they all look visibly happy. After all, they finally have visitors! 

The picture gallery at rao madho singh museum

We then explore the Raj Mahal, or the throne room, where the royal court was held. Thanks to the rich mirror work adorning its pillars and walls, it is also known as Sheesh Mahal. Its walls are bedecked with 17th-century wall paintings. 

These depict scenes from Lord Krishna’s life and hunting scenes, which made the Kota school of painting so well known. To its left are the arms and wildlife galleries housing medieval armour, and stuffed wild game trophies. We also visit the gallery showcasing vintage, sepia-toned photographs of the royals. 

We clamber up the floors to explore the Bada Mahal, the palace where the king resided. All these extra lockdown kilos are making me huff. I take it as a tedious workout session that has been long overdue. We stop for a quick photo-op at the Barah Dari, where parties and court meetings were held in the summer. The refreshing breeze wafting in from the Chambal tells me why. 

The tibara in front has a rich collection of miniature paintings and marble motifs on the walls. The golden colour in these paintings is actually gold. There is endless marvelling at what we have seen so far and a lot of posing as it’s our first photo session with face masks on. 

From the palace, drive up to Kota barrage and spend a rainy evening feeding pigeons by the chambal, brimming in all its glory. you can spot thousands of pigeons flying together and spectacular panoramic views of the bastions of the Garh from here. 

Should we have gotten cooler masks with fancy designs? We return to the ground floor and rest our limbs at the inviting souvenir shop. We picked up an attractive wooden elephant-print key holder and a mirror-studded lac keychain to mark our first post-COVID visit. Mom is also buying a book on Rajasthani idioms and their origin. Tonight’s gonna be quite a chokho night back at mharo ghar

Intermittent showers and the cloud cover prevailing since morning have brought much relief from the Rajasthani summer. I have fallen in love all over again. With freedom, with travelling, with my city, and also with life. The next day, unfortunately, is hot and we are in no mood for adventure. 

A colourful rajasthani turban

We nerd out at the Brij Vilas Palace government museum. We’ve never been here before. The museum was given a facelift by the Amer Development Authority of Jaipur in 2017. There are no entry tickets here. The government is keeping it free for the first two weeks to encourage visitors. The same protocols are in place: hand sanitisation and thermal screening. They are also maintaining a record book, so they can trace us in case of contagion. Like yesterday, it’s only the three of us here, which is great for an agoraphobe like me. 

An ancient sculpture at the Brim Vilas Palace

The museum displays a great range of rare and ancient sculptures, Bundi and Kota miniature paintings, and an armoury. We begin at the Pre-Archaeology section displaying artefacts through historic ages. 

Taking a break from the sculptures, mom leads us to the arms gallery. I appreciate the Garuda Dhwaja—an emblem of the Kota state—and portraits depicting the uprising of 1857 in Kota, before quickly moving on to the painting gallery. Here, I am most intrigued by the Nayak and Nayika series, particularly the one with a love-sick Nayika. I accidentally touch the showcase while trying to photograph it, and an alerted guard summons me with a whistle. We find our way out through the Jain Sculpture Gallery. The monkeys outside the museum look a little frazzled by the human presence. One even tries to pounce at me, but I manage a hasty escape. 

Life doesn’t get any better than this, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. Hope I’ll live to tell the tale to my grandchildren, albeit with a great deal of exaggeration, of course! 

How to Reach
Nearest Airport: Jaipur (245 kms, 4 hours)
Drive From: Jaipur and Udaipur are connected to Kota by four-lane-highway

Getting Around
x Unmetered autos cost Rs 50-70 for 5 kilometres
x Tourist taxis charge Rs 2,000 for half-day and Rs 2,700 for a full-day trip 

What to See
x Seven Wonders Park
x Geparnath Temple
x Ghatotkach Circle
x Abheda Mahal 

Where to stay
x Umed Bhawan Palace. 0744-232526-65
x Sukhdham Kothi. 0744-2320081, 2332661 

What to do
x Tiger Trails
The Mukundara Hills Tiger Reserve was developed in 2013 by merging the Mukandara National Park, Darrah Sanctuary, Jawahar Sagar Sanctuary and part of the national Chambal Sanctuary. You can spot more than 225 species of birds and animals like panthers, sloth bears, wolves, hyenas and jackals. Mukundara has also recently been blessed with two tiger cubs, taking the total tiger count to six. 

x Brij Vilas Palace
The government museum displays a great range of rare and ancient sculptures. 

x Brijraj Bhawan Palace Hotel
Built in the early 19th century, the grand edifice once housed the British residency. A part of the heritage property also serves as the residence of the royal family of Kota. Notable dignitaries who’ve visited the palace include Lord Curzon and Queen Mary of England. Email: brijraj@dil.in

x Kota Garh Palace
Intricate paintings of deities and royals, including Queen Mary of Great Britain. 

x Kota Doria
Visit Bhairo Gali in Rampura for some Kota Doria shopping. The cotton saris are perfect for summers, and can range from Rs 500 to Rs 25,000. 
The Kota Doria

What to Eat
Best kachori in town
x Sua Lal: Rs 10 per kachori
x Ratan: Rs10 per kachori
x Phool: Chand Rs10 per kachori
x Bhilwars: Rs 10 per kachori 

Jodhpur Namkeens: Visit for the best pyaaz kachori and mirchi vada, and don't forget to ask for the meethi chutney. Rs 50-Rs 100 for two.

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