SAROJ AND ME WITH MAN MANDIR PALACE IN THE BACKGROUND
Dominating the town of Gwalior is its magnificent fort built atop a solitary outcrop of the Vindhyas. Since its construction in the eighth century AD, the fort has had many masters, with practically every ruler of India laying siege to it. Over the centuries, the armies of the Rajputs, the Mughals, the Marathas, and the British have passed through its gates. Lying at the crossroads of north India, the historic fort was a strategic outpost on the trade routes that fanned out from Delhi to Malwa, Gujarat, and the Deccan, and hence a coveted prize. No wonder Babur described it as “the pearl in the necklace of the forts of Hind” and Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of India, famously proclaimed, “The Gwalior fortress is the key to Hindoostan.”
Describing a fort as a jewel might seem a bit odd, but one of the most striking things about Gwalior Fort is its gaily painted exterior, so unlike the forbidding aspect of forts in Rajasthan like Mehrangarh and Jaisalmer. We were fascinated by the bands of coloured tiles in blue and gold that decorate the façade of the central Man Mandir Palace. Laid out in a mosaic of images of Brahminy ducks, elephants, parrots, banana trees, crocodiles, and peacocks, they give the impression of pure embroidery in stone. If you were a connoisseur of beauty and art, wouldn’t you think twice before attacking such a place with your artillery? Then again may be not if you were an imperious Mughal emperor like Akbar or a much decorated English military commander like Sir Hugh Rose.
VISIT TO GWALIOR FORT – MAN MANDIR PALACE
The jewel in the crown of the Gwalior Fort is the Man Mandir Palace, built by Raja Maan Singh Tomar during the course of his reign between 1486 AD and 1516 AD. The bare stone walls, pillars, and screens in the interiors of this palace evoke both visions of the splendid life of the Rajput queens in their zenana and also seem to echo with the death screams of the Hindu kings who were imprisoned and tortured here by the later Mughals. Such were the extremes of exquisite beauty and ghastly brutality that this imposing palace was witness to.
Further along, beyond the Man Mandir Palace, are the empty shells of the palaces used by the Mughal emperors on their way to and from Delhi on their hunting trips. From the heights of these hunting lodges one can enjoy magnificent vistas of the impressive, albeit dusty city below. Particularly arresting is the view from the ramparts of the main fort of the Gujari Mahal, nestled in the foliage like a carelessly thrown chessboard. This edifice was built by Maan Singh Tomar for his favourite queen, Mrignayani (meaning doe-eyed), a Gujar princess. The deal she struck with her lord was a separate palace for herself, with a regular water supply through an aqueduct from the nearby Rai River. A real estate deal of imperial magnitude one might call it!
VISIT TO GWALIOR FORT – SAAS-BAHU MANDIR
Scattered along the length of the fort are some interesting temples. First one comes to the Saas-Bahu Mandir, built by King Mahipala in the eleventh century AD. This consists of two elaborately carved temples, one much larger than the other. The name indicates that a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law worshipped at the temples. But the etymology also indicates that the temples were dedicated to the thousand-armed avatar of Vishnu (hence the distortion from Sahasra Bahu, or the one with a thousand arms or hands) and his consort, Lakshmi. Further along is the oddly shaped Teli Ka Mandir, the oilman or oil presser’s temple, which is a melange of contrasting architectural styles, with a north Indian-style shikhara topped by a vaulted Dravidian roof. Personally, I didn’t find it all that visually appealing and presumably nor did the British, who blasphemously converted it into a soda factory during their reign.
ENEMY AT THE GATES 🙂 WITH THE PRINCIPAL OF THE SCINDIA SCHOOL
For a Mayoite like me, no visit to Gwalior would have been complete without a visit to our great rival, Scindia School
, against whom we played many Triangular matches (hockey, cricket, football) during my long-ago school days. Feeling like Russian sniper Vassily Zaytsev in “Enemy at the Gates”
, I stopped on a whim and asked at the porter’s lodge if my Sanawarian wife, Saroj, and I could have a tour of the premises. We were warmly received by the principal, Dr Madhav Saraswat. It was interesting to see how the erstwhile barracks of British soldiers had been converted to houses and dormitories for the boys. While architecturally not as impressive as my alma mater, Mayo College, Scindia School certainly has a proud 100-year history as one of the finest boarding schools for boys in India.
ELABORATE CARVINGS AT THE HANUMAN TEMPLE ON THE GROUNDS OF DEO BAGH
In Gwalior, we were hosted by Neemrana Hotels
at their delightful property Deo Bagh, which is on lease from the Jadhav clan, a prominent jagirdar
family with a history dating back to the Marathas. The fifteen rooms of this small heritage resort form the outer boundary of one quadrant of a charbagh,
with two walkways leading to a baradari
in the centre. When lit up at night, this pavilion, with its thirty-six arched doors, shines brightly like a neon fire in the centre of Deo Bagh. Below is an underground chamber, cooled by air flowing through ducts and blowing across the water channels surrounding the pavilion. Further along on the grounds are two smaller, exquisitely carved temples dedicated to Shiv and Hanuman respectively, which are still used by the Jadhav family. We found our stay here enchanting, surrounded as we were by beautiful monuments testifying to Gwalior’s chequered history, much like being on one’s own private movie set. The service was friendly but unobtrusive, with the same signature low-key style that marks the Neemrana brand, and no request was too difficult to fulfil for the extremely charming manager, Narayan, and his helpful staff.
THE LEISURE PAVILION LIT UP AT NIGHT AT THE CENTRE OF THE CHARBAGH AT NEEMRANA DEO BAGH