We got out of our car in a narrow by-lane of Bikaner. It was getting dark too. And then we walked some distance to reach Mr Mahaveer Swami’s workshop. Mr Mahaveer Swami is a renowned painter from Bikaner, he does art in the miniature form. Almost all his paintings sell in six figures and more. Yet there he was, in his pajama kurta, simple and almost reluctant to speak! It was my privilege meeting Mahaveer Swami the famous miniature painter from Bikaner!
So what is miniature painting? “Miniature painting is a style and technique of painting, and as such, a wall sized work could be painted “in miniature”.”
Mr Swami makes his own paints, he makes his own brushes and he sometimes uses sea shells as his palette! He has a studio where he gets at the crack of the dawn to paint. When we were fiddling with some of his things he very politely told us- “मैं यहाँ अँधेरे में आता हूँ, मुझे सब पता होता है कहाँ है सो कृपया मेरी चीज़ें ना हटाएँ|” Basically he told us with infinite politeness not to disturb things on his table as he starts working in the dark, and he knows where everything is kept exactly!
I, of course, do not have any deep understanding of paintings or art. But what I saw clearly impressed me, more by the man who exhibits all over the world and yet is so rooted! In fact, before heading to his home Ram from Narendra Bhawan, said, “I call him this before we are 10 minutes away from his house, if he is in then we go visit him; if not then we go back to the hotel!” And yet he is simplicity personified, I don’t think they make too many like him anymore.
He takes six month long master classes for serious painters at his studio, he has a guest house above it. He gets students from all over the world.
He paints scenes from Indian classics but he also gives some of his paintings a contemporary touch. I quite liked his traditional businessman with a cell phone! I loved most his painting of a Sufi though but I can’t find a picture of it!
He was reluctant to talk initially, we had to literally make him talk about this work. Gradually he showed us his stuff, like paintings of the cricketers which is he is doing on commission, mandalas and other works in progress. I am so inspired by him, I wish more people could keep their heads on their shoulders in spite of being so successful!
PS: I was invited to Bikaner by Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner
Bikaner a weekend getaway from Delhi, is a historic city in Rajasthan. Did you consider Bikaner as a weekend option from Delhi/NCR? I did not, till I actually traveled to Bikaner this year. There is a convenient night train (12457, 11.35 pm from Sarai Rohilla) which you can board from Sarai Rohilla, Delhi Cant or Gurgaon and you reach to Bikaner early the next morning. The same train starts back from Bikaner at 10.30 pm and leaves you back in Delhi first thing in the morning.
There is plenty to do in Bikaner. It has the advantage of not being so crowded at the moment. Here is why you should consider Bikaner as a weekend getaway from Delhi.
Bikaji ki Tekri
Rao Bika was the founder of Bikaner. He was the fourth son of the King Jodha of the powerful kingdom of Mewar (Johdpur). He left his father’s area in 1465 and carved out his own territory in the wild regions of Bikaner. Bikaji ki Tekri is the first humble fort he built in the city. Only the fort and a part of the wall that surrounded the city now remain. There are hardly any visitors to the monument as of now.
The Grand Havelis of Bikaner
I did not expect to see such grand havelis in Bikaner. The most stunning are the Rampuria Group of Havelis but there are other stunning clusters too. They belong to the various group of merchants who flourished in the kingdom of Bikaner. A lot of them are simply closed now with the owners living in other cities. The area too could do with more cleanliness but the overall atmosphere in old Bikaner is amazing! The Haveli tour is a must do in Bikaner.
Lalgarh Museum is in the Lalgarh complex, which also has the palaces of the royal family once they moved out of Junagarh. The museum is well kept and well illustrated. I had too little time to absorb the rich history of Bikaner that spans over a few centuries. But I recommend the place and I would say if you are a history buff, do allocate sufficient time.
Junagarh Fort was started under the rule of Raja Rai Singh in 1589 and it was completed in 1611. It was built under the workmanship of Karan Chand. It is a ground fort, as in it is not on a hill, and it was never captured. The subsequent rulers kept adding to the fort till the royal family moved to the Lalgarh premises in 1902. The fort is well maintained, it is a must visit too.
Karni Mata Temple
Karni Mata temple is truly famous as rats are considered holy here. I think it is one of its kind! It is assumed that when someone dies in the village of Deshnoke, they are reborn as rats in the village and when a rat dies, a baby is born. The temple is unique but I am as scared of rats as Doraemon I didn’t dare to visit the temple. Even just looking at the picture freaks me out, I think I did the right thing by skipping it.
Lakshminath Temple, Bikaner
Lakshminath Temple is an old temple in Bikaner, it is said that Rao Bika, the founder of Bikaner himself offered prayers here. Photography is not allowed inside the premises. I simply clicked a picture on reflex when the pigeons flew! I was yelled at for it, but as they didn’t ask me to delete the picture, I too decided to keep it and share it! You get a good view of the city from the area.
The Royal Cenotaphs, Devikund Sagar, Bikaner
Narendra Singh ji was the last king of Bikaner. He is now survived by two daughters. Starting from the first king of Bikaner, Rao Bika ji to the last king, Narendra Singh ji, all have their memorials at the Royal Cenotaphs, locally known as chattris. In a way if it was at the Bikaji ki tekri where the story started, this is where it all ends!
When I say local sweets I mean Ghewar primarily. I bought it from Lalji and it was amazingly yum. It was finished fast at home, before I clicked any pictures. I strongly recommend a visit to Lalji is you wish to buy Ghewar and other local sweets.
Usta art is said to originate in Persia and if I am not mistaken it came to India with the Mughals. It traveled to Bikaner with the King Rai Singh ji and it still lives in the streets of Bikaner.
I had the good fortune to visit the workshop of Mr. Ajmal Hussain Usta and see some of his creations. There is something about small towns, his creations start selling from 5 figures and yet he operates from a nondescript corner shop! Usta art is the art of embossing with gold along with meena. The surface could be many (wood, camel leather, walls, etc.), the artifacts varied too. Yet even the smallest mirror frame or photo frame is costly (in the range of 20,000 to 25,000 Indian rupees for small ones) and much beyond my reach. But if you are looking for buying Usta Art you could connect with Mr. Ajmal Hussain Usta on Facebook or via phone, his number is +91 9413467471. If you do not wish to buy you might simply like to drop in to see his work.
These are the major highlights of my trip to Bikaner. I am sure there is much more to explore in the city.
PS: I was invited to Bikaner as a travel blogger by Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner
What do I say about food? Food should be an integral part of travel but if you have been following my blog you can see that I hardly ever talk about food. Food and me, food is not my forte! There are many reasons for this. I will tell you my food story along with the food from Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner.
I have stayed for long in hostels, with bad mess food. Then I’m a vegetarian too. Gradually I realized that the world is not a vegetarian place, in India I am spoiled for choices but it is not true for other corners of the world. I have to admit it is getting better with time, as more people are turning vegetarians around the world. But with bad mess food which killed all my taste buds and vegetarianism, I hardly ever talk about food. But then I click food pictures diligently, almost of everything I eat, only I do nothing with it.
At Narendra Bhawan (and Suryagarh) they feed you a lot of good food and it would not be fair to keep all the food pictures to myself. So for starters, I am making a collage of the food I ate at Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner. Mind you, I ate much more. There was a gala dinner where my phone was dead, the power bank was dead, so I clicked no food pictures. I missed out on clicking a lot of drinks that I consumed! What you see above is some of the food I ate! And I ate it all in my 3 night 4 days stay. You can see that it is a lot of food!
In my daily life I am a light eater, the food at my home has hardly any spices or oil. Then suddenly on my travels, I eat a lot of rich food. I am a big fan of desserts though, even at home. I have a huge sweet tooth.
I learned the art of not finishing everything on my plate (only when I am on trips) simply because my stomach cannot take it! But I finish almost all my desserts (both home and away).
And while I am traveling I do not exercise much. If the itinerary includes a lot of walking, I am happy. But there are times when we travel by car, get down and walk a little and then sit down to eat, again and again! How do I keep myself healthy is a big question, to which I do not have a good answer at the moment. I am one of those people who can’t live without sleeping a lot. So I never manage to go to the gym while on a trip.
But here I am, I started with all the intention of documenting the good food (or at least some of it) I ate at Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner and I ended up discussing mess food, vegetarian food and my health. But this is a start, I have at least talked about food. Now the trick is to make it a habit and do it after every trip!
PS. I was invited by Narendra Bhawan to Bikaner as a blogger.
I wanted to name this post ‘the men and the stories from Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner‘ but I don’t know why I settled just for stories from Narendra Bhawan! I was invited to the hotel in the first week of January 2017. I decided to write about the stories first, the usual stuff will follow soon.
The Food Tales
Food is an integral part of Narendra Bhawan and the fellow concern Suryagarh (in Jaisalmer). They do all kind of food, Rajasthani, Indian, fusion, continental, and they do it well. But what I remember them for is the number of courses they serve. Last time when I went to Suryagarh, it took me a few days to recover from all the overeating I did.
This time I was careful. At the first meal, the Bikaneri breakfast I told the young lad who was serving me that I as done, my breakfast was over. He nodded his head and I was pleasantly surprised.
Look at this man, carefully, because he entered after I told his colleague that I was done with the breakfast. Balveer told me, “breakfast is not over till I tell you so!” He has left his best friend Sunil at Suryagarh, they are of the same kind. I once asked Sunil about the number of courses at dinner in Suryagarh, only to be told, “I have not counted them ma’am.”
I met Himmat Singh at the coffee shop. On our last day he mentioned he used to work at Dublin, Ireland. When I asked him why he came back, he replied, “That is a long story ma’am.” He makes wonderful coffee with lovely faces on it!
This time I saw Siddharth Yadav in a new role. He goes by the title of the Vice President. I found him present at the meals in a new avatar! He would declare everything healthy that he possibly could and urge us to eat more! He declared methi seed curry and bajre ki poori extremely healthy. He would declare kesar ki lassi healthy and he would do the same with thick badam ka milk.
So many times he would stand throughout the dinner and help clear plates. I am sure it is not there in the job description of the Vice President. When I would ask why won’t he sit down to have his meal, he would say the Chef needed help. Chef Sachit Jha, I always found running and producing one excellent meal after other! They both are running fit because I guess they run so much fussing about food!
The Haveli Tales
I met Ram for the first time at Narendra Bhawan. He took us on a merchant tour through the Havelis of Bikaner. He knows them like the back of his hand, maybe even better. In the lanes of old Bikaner, there are huge takhats in the open courtyards which are used for community gatherings of men. Ram told us he was moving around in the hotel Pajero to see how far the car would go in the narrow lanes one night. The people of the locality stopped him and demanded to know his business? Why, he an outsider, was going around at night in their area? He said they made him sit there but as he could speak the local language he was able to convince them that he was just on hotel work! Today everyone knows him and he weaves his way, with guests in tow, with ease!
He told us another fascinating story about the opening of Suryagarh! He said that quite close to the opening so much furniture arrived that there were not enough people to get it in. So the MD himself picked up a sofa and started lugging it in. The entire staff joined and they were moving around sofas for a long time, till everything was arranged to perfection! He later moved out of Jaisalmer and worked at places.
When Narendra Bhawan was opening Ram got a call from the hotel to see if he was interested to join back? He got back within no time. I told Ram, “you must be incredibly found of lifting sofas because that is what happens when a hotel newly opens.” We all laughed heartily and he totally agreed, “ma’am you are right, we did move a lot of sofas before the opening, everyone included.”
The Narendra Bhawan Tales
I had the pleasure of meeting Manvendra Singh Shekhawat (the MD of the group) again at Narendra Bawan. It is always a pleasure to meet him. He took us around the hotel and told us the story of Narendra Bhawan. Narendra Singh ji was the last King of Bikaner and Narendra Bhawan was his residence.
The original home had fuchsia walls, it was also home to 500 cows and countless dogs. The king would eat only after the cows and the dogs were fed! The hotel has been developed around the original home but rebuilt extensively. They have tried to match the personality of the king with the personality of the hotel. The coffee shop is called ‘Mad Hatter’ and the sofas and the chairs in the lobby do not match! The piano is bright red in color!
It was a first for me, to have a hotel that reflected the personality of the original owner! But then why not, after all homes reflect the personalities of the people who live in there!
In all, this was my fourth visit with the group, I have been to Suryagarh three times and to Narendra Bhawan (newly opened) once over the last 4 years! I know so many people out there from my past visits. I always want to go home by the end of a trip but I have to admit I miss these guys and the overeating I did there!
PS. I was invited to visit Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner as a blogger.