In Feudal Luxury - The New Indian Express

In Feudal Luxury

Published: 04th May 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 03rd May 2014 02:16 PM

The efflorescent shower, marigold garland and crimson tilak—de rigueur of a star-studded Indian hospitality welcome—is a welcome cliche at Fort Auwa, after the jeep has picked you up from Marwar Junction. A Buick is parked at the far end of the bailey, where Thakur Kushal Singh used to formulate strategies to attack hostile Mughals and the Marathas, the French and the British. Today, it is a neatly manicured garden and the alfresco dining area of the heritage hotel. Where marching sentries once kept vigil are now vantage points to watch glorious sunsets and the desert villages below.

Most of the original fort was razed by the vengeful British after Kushal Singh’s troops swelled the ranks of the 1857 Mutiny, leaving some bullet-pocked walls still standing; Mason, a British Army captain, was shot dead and his head displayed publicly in the village square at the entrance to the fort. Devi Singh, Kushal Singh’s son, rebuilt ‘Devi Bhawan’ in 1869, a modest twin-storeyed residence with a plain wooden roof. Successive thakurs over the centuries added new buildings and wings according to their personal tastes and prevailing architectural styles. Fort Auwa is a synthesis of Indo-Saracenic architectural styles; Rajput with Mughal influences. Freestone was quarried from Kadu, a village three kilometres away, for most of the construction. Though orillons, oilettes and other typical defence features found in forts are missing at Auwa, the thakurs splurged on art. Hundreds of artisans worked on the elaborate niches carved into scappled ashlars where deities were venerated. Moline cornices with floral designs and intricately carved elephants in full battle-livery adorn the flanking walls leading to the barbican that opens towards to the garden. The only Kadamba tree in Auwa and beyond is here—locals say Lord Krishna slept under it when he halted for a night on his way to Nathdwara.

While the zenana has been converted into the thakurs’ private residence, the mardana is the hotel building. The property has 18 rooms, each one opening to a common veranda facing the garden below. A recent wing extends from a crumbling bastion with independent private balconies. The Historic Square, with the column erected in the memory of those who died in 1857, which stands right by the fort entrance, is also the geographical centre from which the village radiates in all directions. Captain Mason’s cenotaph is a few kilometres away, by the banks of an artificial lake. Of probably less dramatic significance, but definitely more historic and architectural merit are the ruins of an ancient temple closeby. Built over a raised plinth with elaborate relief work, exquisitely carved pillars and ornate arches, the villagers of Auwa are seriously mulling over how to restore its former glory. Further ahead is the Mahadev Temple with an adjoining open ground where the charans, a Rajasthani tribal community known for its artistic and literary talent, hold annual meets.The region is a contradiction of concepts—a green Rajasthan. The best way to see this face of the ‘desert state’ teeming with palms and wadis, rock pools and stone houses is on the train safari—the metre gauge train from Khamblighat Station 30 kilometres from Auwa before turning around from Phulad junction 22 kilometres away. It chugs along the Aravali ranges, passing through tunnels and over the picturesque Kamla Nala and Phulad Dam; a slight detour on the way back to Auwa will take you to Phulad Dam. Plans are afoot to bring more action to the emerald-green waters with boating and angling. The indolent traveller may be content with feeling the cooled breeze while relaxing on the catchment as elderly Rawats saunter by.

The bucolic experience and the train safari occupies two days of your time. Linger on for a third day—or at least part of it—chances are you would get admittance into the inner circle of the Thakurs. The hathai—local-speak for informal village gatherings—is held in the courtyard of Fort Auwa’s residential wing. It has no fixed frequency, though the agenda invariably is the same—land encroachment, estranged couples  and elopement scandals. An indispensible aspect of these hathais is Auwa’s indigenous opium ceremony.

Auwa brings you a slice of Rajasthan you no longer get in Jodhpur or Jaipur—a land where valiant tales of swashbuckling heroes abound in every corner, where progress plods through in no haste and people accord your every request with a deferential ‘hukum’.

 —Thommen Jose

Thommen Jose is a copywriter and travel writer based out of New Delhi, is his blog.

Phone: +91-8130 777 222

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