On a trip to Rajasthan’s Alwar, a traveller finds all the places and reasons that make the little-known town an ancient architectural marvel. Text and photographs by Shoma Abhyankar
Nestled in the folds of Aravallis, Alwar is blessed with green hills and serene lakes. Not many know that the quaint town houses some splendid examples of Rajputana and Islamic architecture, some featuring a peculiar do-chala Bengali roof.
The loft of pigeons took a hasty flight with a loud flapping of wings revealing a row of twelve red sandstone pavilions neatly jutting out into the water, as I sauntered down the path that led to the magnificent lake. I was at Alwar’s Gopal Sagar Lake, built by King Bakhtayar Singh for recreation and supplying water to the grand city palace (Vinay Vilas Palace) next door, and nearby villages. The reflections brought the distant hills closer lending an emerald hue to the shimmering water. The pavilions at Gopal Sagar Lake are just one of the architectural marvels of the city.
The City Palace
The Vinay Vilas Palace was built around 1793 in an Indo-Islamic architectural style. Commonly known as the City Palace in Alwar, it is a grand structure with a large courtyard embellished with fountains. Intricate jharokhas overlook the courtyard. A central pavilion flanked by marble pavilions with lotus base at the head of the courtyard draw my attention. The upper floor of the palace houses a museum displaying more than 2000 paintings, weapons, 9000 coins, and some 200 sculptures.
It is the towering two-storied royal cenotaph, Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri, that truly leaves me awestruck. Built in red sandstone and marble by King Vinay Singh, in memory of Bakhtayar Singh and his queen Moosi Rani in 1815, the Chhatri overlooks the Sagar. The sandstone arches and columns of the structure accentuate the white-marble grand pavilion in the middle. Delicate ornamentation is a visual treat. It is said that the cenotaph is dedicated to Moosi Rani as she was the only queen to birth a son.
Siliserh Lake Palace
King Vinay Singh, for his love of hunting, built another smaller palace with 12 rooms in 1845, on the hill abutting the huge Siliserh Lake. Transformed into a heritage hotel by Rajasthan Tourism, the palace charms with arches, jharokhas, ornate columns and large terraces that afford a breathtaking view of Aravallis and changing colours of the lake all through the day.
The Fort of Alwar, also known as Bala Qila or ‘young fort’, was built around 15th century on the hills of Aravalli Range by Nikumbh Rajputs. The five-kilometre long and 1.5-kilometre wide fort with six entrance gates is counted among the largest forts in Rajasthan. The fort boasts of strategically placed water tanks. A small palace sits on the highest point on the hill protected by the fort walls.
With forts and palaces perched high up on the hills, the kings of Alwar found a solution for water management by making numerous water tanks. These tanks were fed with water from lakes through aqueducts. While a lot of the aqueducts have fallen with time and disuse, some remnants survive indicating a beautiful architectural and engineering masterpiece.
This 16th-century fort in Alwar district is more popular for being haunted. But, if one looks beyond the ghost stories, the ruins of Bhangarh tell a tale of a well-planned city with separate residential and commercial areas, temples, recreational areas, wells, tanks, drainage system, and a geometric pattern of streets. The palace within the fort protected by a sheer rock face is said to have been seven floors high originally, though only four floors survive in ruins.
Nau Gaja Digambar Jain Temple
A colossal 17.5-feet statue of a Jain Tirthankar built in Digambara style is what remains of the Nau Gaja Digambar Jain Temple. The ruins of the temple complex are spread out on a large area; intricately carved stone sections from columns and temple walls lie strewn in as reminders of a glorious past.