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Udaipur City Palace:Getting back the Glory

“The intention is to do a professional job of bringing the gleam back to this living heritage site and some of its antiquities while providing our traditional artists with a life of dignity,” Shriji Arvind Singh tells me over cocktails on his private terrace later that evening. “The initiative’s going to cost energy, money and time – it might, for all we know, take a generation or more. And it’s going to cost a lot more than we have today, which means it’s going to cost me a lot of energy in fund-raising!” says the 76th “custodian” of the House of Mewar. Those who know him are inclined to believe that he will pull it off, not for nothing is he known as the “king of hoteliers” in India and the driving force behind Udaipur becoming an alluring holiday destination in the world.

The Getty Foundation awarded the MMCF an initial project-planning grant of US $75,000 in 2005 and a second grant of the same sum in August 2008 to draw up a master conservation plan and to carry out emergency repairs. The principal coordinator of the project is Dr Shikha Jain, director of the Gurgaon-based NGO, Dronah, and co-convenor of the Haryana chapter of INTACH. According to Arvind Singh, the MMCF is expected to chip in with a matching sum to expedite the works. He and his team hope for the continued support of the Getty Foundation, and that other heritage-minded organizations in India and outside will also chip in to strengthen their endeavour.

“The Getty grant specifies that work be carried out in accordance with international cultural resource management guidelines so as to ensure the long-term preservation of this national historic landmark,” says Shikha Jain. “The long-term goal is to synthesize information on the history and conservation needs of the City Palace complex as it adapts to the impact of tourism in the 21st century. The National Museum Institute, Birla Institute of Technology, IIT-Roorkee, TVG school of Habitat Studies and INTACH will collaborate with the MMCF on various projects, facilitating restoration activities.”

The team is using the best of technology. For instance, they got experts from IIT, Rourkee, to conduct photogrammetry of the entire precinct. This was done to create perfectly accurate measured drawings. Photogrammetry is brand new in India.

Jain is of the opinion that “the City Palace project can be viewed as a model for India, where there is little professional conservation planning even for major national monuments.” She says that their team is in the process of fine-tuning the master conservation plan (which includes a risk management and interpretation plan) even as it is carrying out physical restoration works in the complex.

“We have recently completed restoring the Nagarkhana ki Chhatri (where the Nagara drum would be beaten to announce the approach of the king), one of the two towers at the main gate, at a cost of 7 lakh. The restoration of the Ghadial ki Chhatri, the other tower, is approaching completion,” say Mayank Gupta and INTACH conservation engineer Arvind Mathur, both of whom are members of the supervisory team.

By mid-2009, the lakeside palace façade and the (side) walls that have been damaged by water seepage over the decades will be repaired and terraces waterproofed. “We will also begin to restore some of the murals, wall paintings and glasswork in the Chitranki Burj,” adds Jain. “We will also hold a series of workshops for local artisans, in which master craftsmen and university-trained conservation experts will take part.”

Restoration of some of the museum’s art works is an important aspect of the project. The museum, which registers a footfall of 650,000 tourists each year, is home to paintings, pictures and armoury belonging to the Sisodia Rajput royals.

Another aspect of the restoration is systematic cataloguing. About 4,000 photographs and 200 paintings have been catalogued so far. Digitalisation of a collection of “Bahidas” from the 17th and 18th centuries has also been completed. These frail, parchment documents, a record of the maharana’s day, are now accessible to researchers and scholars. These documents, which were written daily in Mewari by a scribe, provide an insight into life at the time.

The museum is also being expanded to include a photography gallery. “We are privileged to have a trove of art treasures and would like to make ours one of the best museums in the country,” says Shriji’s son Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar. “There are museum experiences and museum experiences, but there’s nothing quite like looking at Mewari paintings and objet d’art in a true-blue Mewari setting, is there?”

More power to Mewar’s elbow.

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