Royalty in a dusty village
by Preeti Verma Lal
It is a dusty village in Rajasthan, some
250 kms from Delhi, and the road skirting it is scarred and a little rutted. Brown
houses, slender roads, chirpy women, mustachioed men and scruffy children - it
could have been called anything else and yet the village would be swathed in the
monotony of banality.
But it is amazing how well Mukandgarh stacks its
grandeur in its ordinariness, how the colours of the innumerable frescoes make
the brown of the street look anomalous.
you don't have a sharp eye you might just miss Mukandgarh, so cooped is it amidst
naked hillocks, thorny streets and tall wild grass. It is a dusty village in Rajasthan,
some 250 kms from Delhi, and the road skirting it is scarred and a little rutted.
Brown houses, slender roads, chirpy women, mustachioed men and scruffy children
- it could have been called anything else and yet the village would be swathed
in the monotony of banality.
But it is amazing how well Mukandgarh stacks
its grandeur in its ordinariness, how the colours of the innumerable frescoes
make the brown of the street look anomalous. I was travelling with Relief Riders
from the US and France and the itinerary had read: Day 1: Overnight at Mukandgarh
Fort. I was excited about the ride, but the Fort did not ruffle a feather. But
the moment I jumped off the Tempo Traveller that brought us to Mukandgarh, I pleaded
defeat. There was something awesome about Mukandgarh and that feel commenced with
the loud screech of the mammoth wooden door of the Fort. I knew I would have needed
an army to push that door, but the royal help managed it single-handedly. Handshakes
are perhaps not enough in imperial glossary, no wonder bugles and trumpets were
sounded and the drummer welcomed us as we walked up the sturdy steps to enter
Founded in the mid-18th century by Raja Mukand Singh, the
45-roomed Fort and its splendor sprawls in two acres of greenery. In the courtyard
sits a handcrafted ancient cannon as a reminder of the lost grandeur, and in the
garden gigantic copper pots stand like sentinels. The mud-red façade of
the Fort is offset by the lime green doors and the turquoise chandeliers, the
imposing chairs in the conference room, the golden dome of the temple of Goddess
Durga and the Shekhwati frescoes that seem to veil every wall.
a warm bath, we sit in the courtyard for a traditional dance performance by a
family of four. The youngest girl, barely 8, dressed in black dances with several
pots on her head, while the father plays the harmonium and belts outs a dirge.
The dance is followed by a puppet show that takes a dig at man-woman relationship
and has the audience in splits. They perform every night at Mukandgarh Fort -
these families that dance and sing together and the one that makes and pulls the
strings on the marionettes.
Inside the fort is
a multi-cuisine restaurant that has such tiny doors that even someone as petite
as me had to be warned about "Watch your head." The multi-cuisine restaurant
does not have a speck of white, all the walls are covered with frescoes that tell
tales from the Kama Sutra to the Krishna leela. On the walls are chiselled women
with beautiful eyes, pearls snaking around them seductively and their breasts
half-naked; the men beefy and on the prowl.
men and voluptuous women abound in Mukandgarh. I walk a mile from the Fort in
search of frescoes. The first one that falls my way is the Saraf haveli, its plaster
peeling off and its haunted appearance a little intimidating. The local guide
jingles the door chain and I stand in a corner waiting for the door to open. Another
jingle and there is silence again. I was about to walk away when the door actually
opens - an old man in white stands like an apparition. The Saraf haveli is deserted,
the caretaker and innumerable pigeons are the lone inhabitants within the hallowed
halls. There are nearly 50 rooms, all grimy but keeping history alive within the
mugginess. On the walls are family portraits, men in brocades and swords, women
wrapped in jewellery, horses caparisoned and stablehands liveried. If the family
occupies one wall, the other is replete with mythology - Krishna being the all-season
The Saraf Haveli is not an isolated instance.
There are others, prominent among them being Bheekraj Nanglia Haveli, Radha Krishnaji
Kanodia Haveli, Shivdutta Ganeriwala Haveli and Bargodia Haveli, all built around
1850s and all desolate now.
If the Shekhwati frescoes
have added an aura around Mukandgarh, something as mundane as a pair of scissors
throw in that extra sheen. As you walk the streets of the village you can hear
the whirr and the loud thumps of the hammer in the homes of blacksmiths, who painstakingly
carve scissors out of sheets of iron. Ask the little kid at the Bakshi Scissors
Shop and he would tell you that the scissors never rust and "come with a
20-year guarantee." Gauging the disbelief in my eyes, he adds, "You
know nothing about these scissors; they are sent to Holland and are world-famous".
I nod my head, I did not want to dishearten the kid whose hands were sullied with
the black of iron but had that twinkle in his eye about the 'world-class' product
that he slogged over for hours.
You ain't heard all about Mukandgarh
yet - it has a gym, an Internet café and a 'massaj parlour'. Forgive the
spelling error, work on your abs, gawk at the frescoes and buy a pair of 'world-famous
scissors'. If these don't make you bubbly, hire a camel cart for Rs 200, slather
yourself with sunscreen and loaf around. You might want to stay there forever.
in Discover India magazine, March 2005