While travelling in India, I became fascinated with the variety of patterns in its architecture. Historically, they’re mostly a legacy of the Sultanates and the Mughal Empire, and Islam’s tradition of non-figurative art. But interesting patterns can also be found in Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and modern architecture, and also in natural forms.
These galleries collects all the photographs of patterns I took during my visit. I’m releasing these into the public domain. They are far from comprehensive, and others can be found in various places such as Wikimedia Commons.
Rajasthan retained a large degree of autonomy and aristocratic Hindu culture under the Mughals. Its art and architecture is therefore more figurative, and outside the scope of these galleries. However, Mughal influence can be seen, especially in the patterns of Amber Fort in Jaipur, below. Also, I couldn’t resist the peacocks, which are almost abstract in their kaleidoscopic exuberance.
Another day trip from Udaipur was to Chittaurgarh Fort. It’s also called ‘Chittorgarh’ or just ‘Chittor’, but despite what Wikipedia has decided, ‘Chittaurgarh’ is the correct transliteration.
It was always going to be a long day, catching the 0600 train there in order to have time to see it and return to Udaipur for my overnight bus to Bombay. I just hoped that I hadn’t finally reached Fort Saturation Point and it would be a disappointing waste of energy.
Again, there was no need to worry. Chittaurgarh is great. Just look at this awesome picture, taken from a vantage point I didn’t bother going to.
It took about two hours for Jabar, my chauffeur and guide for the day, to drive us out to Kumbhalgarh. On the way we passed through the Aravalli region, where the scenery reminded me of California: hills of red-brown rock and scree, scattered trees, green irrigated fields in the valley. We passed the Banas River, and stopped to see a cattle-powered water wheel in action.
Cattle with painted horns turn the lever which brings up water from the well behind
This was all reasonably interesting, but only a teaser for the main show, Kumbhalgarh. I was worried that after covering most of Rajasthan, I might be all forted out and unable to appreciate it, but I needn’t have worried. Kumbhalgarh is absolutely stonking.
It wasn’t the most auspicious introduction to a new city: I arrived in Udaipur on an uncomfortable nightbus, on which I’d been kept awake most of the night by a full bladder. I hadn’t found a couchsurfing host, and the recommended hotel had messed me around and eventually told me they were full, so I’d had to book a more expensive one down the road. Arriving at 7am, I’d had to wake up the duty manager who was asleep on a mattress in the foyer.
For several days before I travelled there, everyone had been telling me how beautiful Udaipur was. I’d been sceptical – I’ve seen a lot of places in India which are sort of beautiful, but ruined by filth and human activity – but eventually my expectations couldn’t help but be influenced by the repeated message.
To move on from Pushkar, I booked a berth on a night bus to Udaipur, leaving from nearby Ajmer, with the intention of having a look around the town during the day.
Ajmer is a big Muslim pilgrimage town, containing a major tomb/shrine to India’s top Sufi saint, a “miraculous” mosque and a ruined fort on an overlooking hill – which contains yet another Muslim tomb.
I arrived in Pushkar just as the biggest event of its calendar, the annual Camel Fair, was kicking off. It was a bit of an accident. I only went to Pushkar at all because my college friend Jo lives there, working as a veterinary surgeon for the animal welfare charity TOLFA.
In Jodhpur, I didn’t manage to find a couchsurfing host at short notice, so I booked myself into the Govind Hotel. It’s just a couple of hundred metres from the railway station, and the manager offered a walking pick up straight off the train. However, they’ve had problems in the past with the station authorities not believing they’re picking up guests with prior reservations, and threatening to prosecute them for touting for business on the platform. So the manager described the procedure: I tell him my carriage number and he will wait outside it, wearing a blue t-shirt. When I get off, I should look for him but not talk to him. When he sees me, he’ll briefly show me a piece of paper with my name on it. Then he’ll walk out of the station, and I should follow behind him at a distance until we’re clear.
I could have found the hotel myself, but once I’d heard about the John le Carré style procedure of the walking pick up, I definitely had to go for it. The contact went precisely as planned, and we were undetected by the railway authorities as we exchanged a subtle nod on the platform and escaped through their net to the street outside and the hotel.
I was only in Jodhpur for one day, so I had to make the most of it. I signed up for a tour of the Bishnoi villages, organised by the hotel, to cover the morning, and then planned to walk into the old city and see Meherangarh Fort in the afternoon.