maharajah of the road

Day 4

Maharajah of the road

Muscle cars


Day 4

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In Dungarpur

Monday 19th January 2009

All timings according to Indian Standard Time – IST


The day began a bit later than usual today, given yesterday's exciting events on the road. The unit being a bit tired, coupled with the calm, almost zen like atmosphere of the palace, the shooting took off at a calm and steady pace. On the itinerary for today are the fascinating old palace of Dungarpur; and the more modern, current residence of the 'Maharawal' (same as the more common Maharaja) the Udai Bilas Palace. Udai Bilas Palace is home to the Maharawal and his family, as well as being a lovely heritage hotel. This beautiful lakeside palace has played host to the unit for the Dungarpur leg of the shoot, so we commenced shooting with a walk around the hotel grounds itself. Built in the late 19th Century, a midsized palace of idyllic splendour strategically placed by the blue waters of Gaibasagar Lake, the palace is an embodiment of the old-world charm of princely India. A treat for both historical enthusiast and naturalist alike, this lakeside palace garners many rare birds to its shores in the winter months. The palace is a prime example of the fusion of the old with the new. Modern amenities placed subtly ensure that we are not wanting for comfort, while the walls of the lobby, corridors and anterooms are adorned with majestic hunting trophies. Tigers, bears, stags, wild boar and other fearsome local fauna stare down at us with their glassy eyes, frozen for eternity in their fiercest expressions. Age-old mementos, remnants from the era of the Princes, are displayed on all available surfaces. So, that innocuous little paperweight on the side-table could quite possibly have witnessed a few wars and what not! But enough said about times gone by, one can easily loose oneself in the complexly woven histories that form the fabric of this state, so lets get back to the shoot now!


Nicole D'Silva, one of the anchorwomen on shoot, is walking us around the palace grounds, telling us a little bit about the history of the Udai Bilas Palace. We hope to finish with the shoot here at the new palace and move on to the old palace, the Juna Mahal post lunch. The Maharawal has graciously offered to guide us around the old palace and discuss its unique history with us on camera.


We might not be able to stick to schedule after all, as there seems to have been some miscommunication and lunch might be delayed. This ends up with everyone getting together by the lovely pool for drinks and sandwiches.


Everyone is quite happy after the pleasant lunch, and we have finally decided to leave for Juna Mahal. The Maharawal is accompanying Nicole D'Silva, Mia Udeya and Pascal Helou in the bright tomato red Mustang convertible on the way to the Juna Mahal. Our production vehicles have reached before the Mustang, so while we wait we have a few minutes to take a quick look at the history of Juna Mahal. From the outside the palace looks like a crumbling ruin. The stonewalls are falling apart, and it's quite amazing to think that this unlikely ruined stone building might call claim to a very unique history. Mr. Purohit, our historian today, tells us that Juna Mahal, with over 700 years of history within its walls might be amongst the oldest royal palaces in India. Not just that, it is one of the rare few royal palaces to remain under the ownership of the same family throughout. Wow! Imagine that… Curiosity sparked, we accompany Mr. Purohit to the palace grounds and he tells us a little bit more about the history of Dungarpur and the old palace. Rawal Veer Singh Dev of the Guhilot Ahara Suryavanshi Rajputs, the ruling clan of this region, established the city of Dungarpur in 1278 AD. Rawal Veer Singh Dev became ruler of the Vagad region at this time, which includes the present day districts of Dungarpur, Banswara and the Chhappan tract of the Udaipur district. Dungarpur, being a stronghold of the fierce Bheel tribes people, refused to be subjugated by Rawal Veer Singh without a fight. So Rawal Veer Singh defeated the Bheel Cheiftan 'Dungar'(mountain) and was anointed Ruler of the region by the tribes people, who cut open their thumbs to put a 'tilak' (vertical mark on forehead) of blood to mark their acceptance of him as their leiglord. It is the Bheel Chieftain Dungar who gives this region its name – 'Dungar na Ghar' (home of Dungar) or Dungarpur. In order to ensure the fealty of the tribesmen and to set up a control base in the region, Rawal Veer Singh began the construction of a modest double story building of 4 rooms with small hutments and barracks around it; the year was 1282 AD. and this became the foundation structure for the eventual Juna Mahal. Dungarpur remained a transit point for many years under Rawal Veer Singh, it was only after his successor, Rawal Bhoolchand came to power and decided to shift his capital to Dungarpur, that the construction of the Juna Mahal began in earnest. One can say that this construction never ceased. Successive rulers all continued to add to the palace bit by bit, and eventually the palace as we see it today is a crazy melange of architectural and artistic themes and styles.


The Mustang has just reached us, and we begin shooting. Within the crumbing façade lies one of the largest collections of murals, glass inlay work, porcelain sculpture and paintings found in one place in India. As we walk around the palace, we are spellbound by the rich diversity of artistic expression that greets us. The Maharawal walks us through the 700 odd years of the palace's history. As Nicole chats with Purohit ji in courtyard, Pascal, Mia and the Maharawal with a small part of he unit, begin exploring the palace. Whether it is the brightly painted murals of the Durbar Hall (Royal Court), or the many amazing art pieces in the Maharawal's private chambers, we are all amazed by the rich diversity of the artwork that we encounter. There are scenes from famous battles that share space with bordering murals of illustrations from historical texts such as the Mahabharata. The Maharawal tells us about the history of these murals, as the cameraman Stephan has a blast shooting all the colourful rooms.


Nicole joins us as we are about to enter the Royal Bedchamber, and once again we are spellbound! The roof is a kitschy mix of miniatures, religious images, and mirror-work. The bedchamber is a set of smaller balconies and side rooms, each decorated in a different style. There is a lot of art in the very distinctive south Indian artistic style, which was quite unique; as it is quite rare to see one state patronising the art-work of another especially in Indian Palaces. Mia opens one of the side rooms to discover an entire chamber decorated with mirror work and glass inlay. A glass panel showing queen Victoria's coat-of-arms is suspended from the ceiling in one side room, which quite innovatively was used as a pull-fan we are told! Many such sights greet us in the numerous side rooms, but one particular niche is the most surprising. Nicole walks around the balcony area, as Mia and Pascal open a set of carved wooden doors to discover an entire wall of miniatures depicting passages from the Kamasutra, the famous Indian text dedicated to the art of sexuality! Mia, and Pascal call Nicole to see this wall, and we are all amazed at the beautiful workmanship of wall. The wall was constructed as a testament to both the then sovereigns artistic temper and an ode to the sexuality of the Rajputs.


After exploring one of India's oldest, most artistic palaces, we decide to head back to the hotel. Scheduled for the night is a grand dinner in the Udai Bilas Palace African trophy room.


Dinner commences with a few words of greeting by the Maharawal. Hunting; once a highly respected sport of the privileged, is these days one of the less popular elements of the Royal lifestyle. The Maharawal tells us that due to the popular opinions on animal cruelty and the futile killing of animals, the palace hospitality prefers to keep the trophy rooms closed off to the visitors as it tends to upset some of them. The current Maharawal's grandfather was an avid hunter who frequented the African hunting grounds. The prizes of his sport adorn the walls as we listen to the Maharawal tell us about the history of hunting game. We are all quite taken aback to hear that most of the wildlife reserves and national parks in India used to be Royal hunting grounds. So for years the Royal families had helped preserve a lot of the local flora and fauna on their private grounds. This unexpectedly positive side of the sport of Hunting has caught us by surprise.


Camillo Pardo with a friend began painting one of the Mustangs. The film unit had come up with the idea to create a stylized collage of our experience on this road trip. So we've all decided to make an event of this. Some beers and music, and the Americans start with the painting. We are all having lots of fun at this informal little get together, but sleep we must, for tomorrow morning we leave for Udaipur, with lots more to see and write about!

Maharajah of the Road

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