I take a cycle-rickshaw to the Sheesh Mahal because it is quite a distance from where I am put up. This palace is supposedly renowned for its mirror work and wall murals. When I arrive here, I am disappointed. I learn from the security guard that the palace is closed for repair work. So I make my way to Patiala Fort.
Called Qila Androon, it is a monument from the 18th century. The great claim of this fort made by tourism websites is that it has peerless murals in Kangra and Rajasthani styles.
‘There’s nothing here. Only empty rooms,’ tells me the burly security guard at the entrance. This too is closed but the guard’s words are comforting. I am not missing anything, am I?
The Indian Flag flies high on a tall pole above the elaborate entrance gateway leading into Qila Androon. I am tempted to believe that this place has been requisitioned by the Defence Forces. Apart from what may or may not be on the inside, this fort is truly a beautiful piece of architecture. The gateway has lost its old colour and shine but none of its grandeur. The decorations on its facade are superb. Fluted columns with bulbous articulations add to its majestic appearance.
I walk around the outer walls of this ruin. The bastions that project out of these walls from massive octogonal or 16-sided bases taper towards neat crenellations. Ramparts appear in three tiers in these bastions, ending with a ribbed dome over an octogonal kiosk. Little chhatris punctuate the walls here and there. As the walls slope slightly inwards, in a way forming its own buttress, vertical projections end in windows framed with cusped arches. Bastions appears at corners as well as along the length of the fort walls. Other buildings on the outside these walls are in states of greater ruin but they give an idea of what must have once been a rich kingdom. Old cannon guns lie silently under the shade of leafy trees.
The other building here is the Qila Mubarak which is open to the public. The main durbar hall is large and is home to a little museum of an unimpressive collection. There are chandeliers, swords, mirrors, royal portraits and coffered ceiling but the most impressive exhibits are the leather shields. These battle shields are painted colourfully with familiar stories – Rama breaking the bow to win the hand of Sita, Krishna stealing the clothes of gopis as they bathe in the river, portraits of the ten Sikh gurus, Rama’s coronation, Rama in battle with Ravana, Gajendra Moksha. Every scene has wonderful details and the fact that such paintings are on battle shields make them unique.
In the evening, I head to the Baradari Gardens. The place is more of a park than a garden. The lawns and walkways are neat. It is a welcome piece of greenery in the city. I see a few small fires going on within the park. Workers are busy high up on trees. I see that many trees are home to beehives.
‘This bottle is for Rs. 120 only,’ tells me a worker. For an entire bottle of freshly harvested honey, it’s actually a good deal. What am I going to do with an entire bottle? I am not going home anytime soon. I instead sample a few spoons of honey from the bucket. I pick out the dead bees floating in the thick syrup. I lap up the honey. It is heaven.
‘We are from Ganganagar,’ tells me one of the workers. ‘We were called to harvest the honey. We destroy the comb but leave the young ones alone.’
‘You must have gathered quite a lot today.’
‘This is nothing compared to our place. You will not believe how much work we have in Ganganagar,’ he replies proudly.
The next thing I try in Patiala is packaged lassi from Verka. In Punjab, fresh lassi can be had in many places but I had to try the modern variety. Verka’s packaged lassi is actually quite good. It’s a pity that this is not commonly available in South India. The next thing to try is pinni, a Punjabi sweet speciality. Where will I find it?