I wanted to stay at Nawalgarh for some more time due to my curiosity to know about the fort that was built by the original rulers. The guide was, however, not very enthusiastic about taking me there. Lastly, as a result of some serious persuasion, he relented and agreed to take us there. Then, with quick steps, we reached at the massive gate of the Nawalgarh Fort. It was telling the story of its original grandeur and also had the usual iron spikes for defending it from the attack of elephants of enemies. But, inside the gate, people had built markets and residential apartments. Many cottage industries were thriving within its perimeter. Our guide informed us that the descendants of the original rulers had sold off almost all their lands inside of the fort and had gone to settle away. And, that was the reason; initially he was not willing to take me there. The toll taken by the course of time was glaring.
Observing us in somewhat saddened state of mind, the guide wanted to show us something beautiful for making us smile again. So, he offered to take us to the “Temple of Ram Singh”, which is also called “Ramsa Peer”. We could reach upto the outer gate of the temple in comfort of our car. Having parked the car securely, we had our first glimpse of the magnificent temple. It was recently built and was strikingly large enough to tell us the story of social relevance and public support that it must have gathered in present times. At the entrance of the temple, we saw the life-size statue of King Ram Singh (Ram Dev) in the royal attire riding on his favourite horse. We became curious to know as to how a royal chieftain was raised to the status of a semi-god by the people and was still being worshipped in that temple.
It was said that King Ram Singh was bestowed with magical powers, which started being visible since his early childhood. The stories connected with his magical powers were carried over from generation to generation in the form of episodes/leaflets from his life. The first of such episode happened in his early childhood, when he could stop the milk, placed on the burning stove, to boil. Then he could also made a toy-horse, stitched together with pieces of clothes by a tailor, fly in the sky freely. Today, twenty-four of his magical exploits had been pictured on the walls of that temple. They are called twenty-four leaflets (Parcha).
Such were his magical powers that all the enemies of the state were afraid of waging a war against him. That had brought peace; stability and prosperity in the regions and people would have lived happily there. The saga still continues there. People flock in large numbers to make a wish there by tying a written note of their respective desires on the branches of a tree inside the temple.
There was a priest sitting and managing the affairs there. He started explaining the stories connected with the King Ram Singh. We had already seen the pictorial representations of those stories on the temple walls, so we felt his versions as a repetition. But informed that every year a grand event takes place in that temple, where a large number of people congregate. Anyway, even if we would have loved to stay at Nawalgarh for long, time was running out for us. So, we came out of the temple after paying our respect as per the local beliefs.
The Guide, then, agreed to take us to Dundlod. It was a small city at an approximate distance of 10 kilometers from Nawalgarh. The journey took half an hour or less. But, the guide helped me park the car just in front of “Sheogarh fort” or “Dundlod Fort”, which was built in the year 1750 AD by Thakur Kesari Singh Ji. There was no moat around the fort and the car could go right upto its inner gate.
Once inside the visitors can request the attendant to show the Durbar Hall, which generally is opened only on request. So, we also requested to open it for us. The durbar hall was painted in deep yellow and was shining in the light coming through curtains and illuminated with yellowing electric lamps. There were some antique furniture arranged in taste and pictures of royalty mounted on the walls. It also had a few almirahs full of books. The best, however, were the mannequins wearing the attire of King and the queen of Sheogarh. We loved to see them and immediately clicked their pictures.
The attendant informed the present owners have converted this fort into an exclusive heritage hotel. Besides the hotel, they also organize equestrian tours of long duration. For example, if you wish to travel across Rajasthan riding on the horses, this is the place you should contact. The duration of some of their tours might last for three months or so. Cost of such travel along with the cook and retinue of attendants may cost a fortune also.
From there, we came to the cenotaphs of Goenkas. It was situated in a secluded area and was presently looking very desolate. Not a single creature was visible there at that time. The cenotaph looked like a double story building and had beautiful chhatris at all the corners and on the sides. A wider flight of steps leads to the raised platform of the cenotaph. It is said that it had the most beautiful fresco on its ceiling. Alas! We could not see them as the inner grilled gate was locked from outside and there was no one to open it.
The most important monument of Dundlod, namely, “Seth Arjun Das Goenka Haveli”, was situated very near to the cenotaphs. The haveli had been constructed in the year 1870 and in the present times it has been converted into a museum. I really appreciated the ingenuity of the person, who had curated that museum. He/she must have conceptualized it for enabling the visitors refresh old memories. If one goes to Morarka Haveli for its originality of construction style of 1900s and goes to Poddar’s havali for its beautiful fresco, then one must go to Goenka Haveli at Dundlod for its efforts to bring back old memories from various life-events of the bygone era.
Amongst the collection of wall-mounted pictures of dignitaries, family lineage etc., on display was the copy of the honorific title of “Rai Bahadur” conferred upon Babu Sheo Haran Das Goenka by the then British Government. It generated mixed feelings. People can still be awed by such titles because it places the recipient on a high social pedestal. Then, there might be another set of people, who abhors such titles because they see it as a sign of British connection.
Once inside the inner courtyard, we saw some extra large metal-crafted utensils. The curator of the museum had displayed them carefully. Each of the utensils had its name and its utility pasted upon itself. There were utensils for keeping granary and jaggery. The large size of the trays was giving clear cut indication of their utility in the large joint family. In our early years, we had seen such large trays and brass utensils in use, especially in the festivals and occasions where all the members of the joint family united. Before any such occasions, the utensils were cleaned and polished. My childhood scenes of brass utensils, gleaming in the day-light in the courtyard, came up for a fresh lease of life.
The value of a monetary unit, i.e., Indian Rupee, is often a good topic for initiating a discussion. When people from two of more generations sit together, each generation flaunts the quantity of products that he could buy with one unit of currency during his time. For example, in my early days, I could buy twenty postcards from India Post in one rupee and could write one letter each to twenty people. The collection on Indian currency situated in the haveli also brought back similar memories. It was also interesting to see that till 1944 the one rupee coin was minted in silver. But it was really intriguing to see that only three years later, i.e., from 1947, it started being minted in nickel.
The scene depicted in the kitchen was also lively. It showed how the master of the house used to have his meal, freshly cooked and served hot. Refrigerating a cooked meal and heating/re-heating on the microwave oven was not in use. Rush to finish off a meal and hopping around the city for various activities might be frowned upon. After observing the kitchen there, my childhood memory of sitting in the front verandah of our kitchen and having my meal, coming straight out of the wooden stove, started rising in my thoughts. I looked around, where was my grandma, who often used to give the first portion of her meal to us in the name of God’s Prasad. Alas! No one was there. It was my memory, which is now gradually fading!
Some rooms of the haveli had been arranged with all the gadgets and paraphernalia that were in actual use during those days. But it was difficult to say whether the items on display were in use in 1870s. In my opinion, as it happens, the household items often are changed by the owners. Therefore, in high probability, the items on display might be from the later era. But, the scene of business activities created in the outer courtyard was genuinely good.
In one of the corners, however, was the humble spinning-wheel, the epitome of freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. Presence of that item in the house of a Rai-Bahadur reflected the intensity of the social change that brought us the independence. In the last 77 years upto 1947 (from 1870, when that haveli was built), people shed off the status of the protégé of the British and started supporting independence. In fact, the entry of the spinning-wheel into the haveli, might be considered as the turning point, decided by some far-sighted master of the house, who could read the winds of change in the way India would be governed later.
The most endearing memorabilia, however, was the collection of life-size statues performing various activities in their respective areas in the mansion. In the outer courtyard, they were displaying the daily business and agricultural activities, at other places it was showing the household chores being performed in the inner courtyard. The expressions on the faces of those statues were remarkable. In particular, I liked the statue of the woman, who was churning milk. It looked so real as if she were waiting for the children of the bygone era to come to life again and to run towards her for a cup of fresh buttermilk. In the end, I can only say that sometimes it is good to forget, otherwise memories can be haunting!