Makeover for Udaipur's big & small structures

Makeover for Udaipur's big & small structures


Makeover for Udaipur's big & small structures

As he wipes the sweat off his brow with his kurta-sleeve, Bansilal Nathulal Yadav deftly plasters a piece of antique fort-wall in Udaipur’s Sajjangarh ‘Monsoon Palace’, which stands in heavenly isolation just outside the town on the Bansdara peak in the Aravalli hills. It’s not regular cement that Yadav dips his hand into, but a special paste of ground marble mixed with lime, egg, and other stuff. And, it is not a big slap that he uses to spread the plaster, but careful little strokes.

“This is araish — a traditional type of plaster that was used in both domestic and public architecture in Rajasthan,” says the artisan. “It takes time to do, but araish looks beautiful and lasts for ages: One doesn’t have to run to the paint store every few years,” explains the middle-aged Yadav, who learnt the araish technique as a boy from his father, and hails from Delwada village near the temple town of Eklingji.

The following day, I find Yadav continuing his araish work on a medieval column in Udaipur’s City Palace, a marvelous exemplar of Rajput and Mughal architecture that looms over Lake Pichola. Working alongside him in the granite-and-marble fortress-palace are other traditional craftsmen — some restoring the woodwork in the Zenana Mahal, others repairing the terracotta trellis inside the Ghadial ki Chhatri, and a couple giving finishing touches to the long, barrel-vaulted former saddlery that’s been restored using original materials like lime mortar and converted into a media centre. And, all this is being carried out under the expert supervision of conservation engineer Arvind Mathur and conservation architect Mayank Gupta, both of whom trained in the UK.

 Yadav and his fellow craftsmen, Mathur and Gupta are part of a contingent of traditional artisans and professional conservationists commissioned to restore a clutch of Udaipur’s heritage structures, both public and privately owned.

The excellent thing is that it is not just major monuments such as the state-owned Monsoon Palace, a popular picnic spot, and the highly visited City Palace, now a museum run by the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation headed by Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, that have come up for restoration, but also some precious, little municipality-maintained gates, cenotaphs and shrines.

 The conservation work is being funded by the respective owners, but implemented at all these sites by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), which has an active local chapter led by retired forester S K Verma.

The City Palace initiative is, unsurprisingly, the most ambitious of them all. It involves carrying out essential repairs like repairing its massive lakeside walls, waterproofing its vast terraces and restoring some of its architectural details and art works.

“The intention is to do a professional job of bringing the shine back to this living heritage site while providing our traditional artists and craftspersons with a life of dignity,” says Arvind Singh Mewar, whose father was the last Maharana of Mewar. “This initiative’s going to cost time, money and energy. It might, for all we know, take a generation or more. And it’s going to cost a great deal more than we have today — which means it is going to cost me a lot more energy in fund-raising!”

Some of that energy has seen his foundation obtaining two grants of $ 75,000 each from the Paul Getty Foundation in Los Angeles recently. Getty’s conditions are that the MMCF will carry out the work in keeping with international conservation standards and contribute a matching sum while expediting the work. Evidently, they’ve begun as they mean to go along.

“An important aspect of the project is restoring some of the paintings in the City Palace, which has an excellent collection of Mewari miniatures dating to the 16th century,” says City Palace project coordinator Shikha Jain, director of the Gurgaon-based NGO, Dronah, and co-convenor of the Haryana chapter of INTACH. She visited various foreign museums last year to seek their technical assistance.

“I met experts at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the San Diego Museum where restorers are in the process of conserving 72 Mewari miniatures,” Jain says. “We hope help’s on its way. Meanwhile, we will hold workshops in which foreign experts will teach local artists and craftsmen the techniques of restoration.”
According to INTACH’s SK Verma and Arvind Mathur, the Rajasthan government proposes to establish a local history museum in the palace after the restoration is completed later this year. There’s already a makeshift gallery on the ground floor with some pictures and information on the area’s flora and fauna.

On our drive down from the Monsoon Palace to the city, I spot magpies, peacocks, a bush quail and a mongoose. We are traversing the Sajjangarh wildlife sanctuary. I wonder if we will comes across a panther, or one of the local sacred groves INTACH is in the process of listing, but we don’t. Fifteen minutes later, we are at Chand Pol, one of the historic darwazas (gates) of the city. It’s one of the five existing gates in the 18th-century city wall to have been restored recently at a cost of Rs 30 lakh.

The darwaza has been nicely restored — but INTACH’s good work has been marred by the fact that people have plastered the gate with advertising posters. That’s true of the other gates, too. Moreover, there are encroachments on and around them. “They’ve been there for ages, and the occupants refuse to budge. The problem of encroachment is always difficult to solve,” Mathur observes wryly. 

The darwazas are an important part of the heritage walk INTACH has just charted out, and the walk is coming up soon for UNESCO’s formal approval — there’s hope that the latter will do something to solve the problem (as they did in Hampi).

“The younger generation is getting increasingly involved in our movement, so there’s room for optimism,” says the energetic, 75-year-old Verma.

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