Driving south from Udaipur, leaving behind the glamour and pomp of the Maharana’s fantastical follies we headed to Dungarpur. The crumbling red stained rocks populated with mud houses barely thatched or occasionally tiled contrasted with the polished black tarmac that spread before us. On the way to Ahmedabad, one of the countries leading economic powerhouses, we turned off the road to Dungarpur. Inside the high gates, past the emus, painted pheasants and great danes a suitably quirky 19th century palace appeared. A large pair of stone rhinos that guard the steps up to the building fit in perfectly.
Udai Bilas Palace sit on the edge of a small lake, wild boar and spoonbills mingle by the water’s edge below us. The floating temple’s ornate onion domes are a hangout for cormorants who periodically dive into the lotus flowers to catch frogs and small fish. Surrounded by forest the area was used for hunting by the Maharaja whose collection of trophies fills the old dinning and drawing rooms. Dinner that night is served in the courtyard around a vast marble table decorated with pietra dura peacocks and a jacuzzi that runs down the center of the table. Bubbles drown out the sound of other equally impressed guests who dine at intervals around the table.
Next morning we walk along the lakeside stopping at crumbling temples and a dilapidated sikar, a kind of hunting tower, before arriving at the old fort. Surrounded by hills and overlooking the sleepy town of Dungarpur the fort’s ramparts loom some 7 stories above. Like all forts of a certain age that aren’t on the tourist trail everything looks like it could collapse at any moment. Fortunately things improve once inside. A blaze of color in every room, fantastical, extraordinary, epic and playful everywhere you look paintings cover the walls. Elephants in procession march across the walls while tigers sit regal and splendid, bright as fire. Another room inlaid with thousands of tiny convex mirrors seems comparatively understated. We are the only people to visit that morning a solitary sweeper informed us.
After an afternoon relaxing by the pool accompanied by a 12 foot long stone crocodile and several ice cold beers I met an American artist who had come to photograph the fort. She explained that she would then place various animals in the rooms using photoshop. I will post the results on this blog soon.
Contact India Beat
Browse other articles: