First Published on March 28, 2016
From atop the Jaisalmer Fort, somewhere far off in the horizon, I glanced about some unique golden structures. The Bada Bagh, as our guide pointed out, were the royal cenotaphs of the Bhatti dynasty of Jaisalmer. Even from a distance, they looked glamorous and there was no way, I was not visiting them. And so we did, on our way back from the mysterious Ghost town of Kuldhara.
I have already shared my experience of discovering the Ghost town of Kuldhara and for those of you who may have missed it, you can access the post through this link. Having exited the gates of this ghost town, we headed straight towards the majestic golden structures of Bada Bagh.
Call this an eerie journey, I was already pensive, with my unanswered questions of Kuldhara and along the way, I kept spotting the other abandoned villages of the Paliwal clan. I was so busy musing over the story of this clan that I did not even realise when we reached Bada Bagh. Warm winds below over the desolate golden piece of art – there were no tourists nor any guides. The atmosphere for me continued to be as strange and mystic as it was in Kuldhara. Despite this strange feeling, the magnificence of the place had me stumped.
Bada Bagh is called Bara Bagh in the local language and it means a “big garden“. However, this place is anything but a garden. This is the place that was built as a memory of the royal family – for those Kings and Queens who passed away. The typical tomb shaped cenotaphs are called Chhatris. The first one that was built was for Jai Singh II by his son Lunkaran in the 16th century. Jai Singh II was known for his contribution to making the desert around Jaisalmer green. He set up a dam near a lake and help parch the dry heat of this place. To honor him, his son set up a memorial in the form of this cenotaph near this dam and created a large park around it.
Tradition caught on and from then on, every death of a royal member of the rulers of Jaisalmer were honored with a Chhatri in Bada Bagh. This continued till the 20th century when the last one for Maharawal Jawahar Singh was left incomplete as his son who ascended the throne after him, died within one year of his ascension. This was considered to be bad luck and from then on, the tradition of cenotaphs at Bada Bagh was discontinued.
Have you ever felt this – sometimes you find something so beautiful, that you want to keep it exclusive.You don’t know where to begin, you feel that if you began it wrong or touched it wrong, it will spoil the excitement. You want to leave it elusive and yet you can’t. Well, that is how I felt as I entered Bada Bagh. The entire spread of cenotaphs beckoned me, yet I was hesitant to enter. I did not know where to start and what to do, and all I wanted to do is capture it all in a moment and yet, not. 🙂
Bada Bagh is set along a hill and you enter the place at the base. The place has two distinct rows of cenotaphs, each one similar and yet distinct. The simple stone structures have some lovely carvings on it and it is amazing how there is no color contrast to these carvings and yet, they stand out on the entire facade adding to the beauty of the cenotaph. The first one that I captured on entered was the most recent of them – the one which was left incomplete for Maharawal Jawahar Singh.
As you climb up and enter this particular cenotaph, you will notice that there is no memorial but instead a stand holding an earthern pot of water along with a sketched portrait of the ruler. I am given to understand that this is placed in the cenotaph of the one who departed last, as an attempt to quench hist thirsty soul. Notice that the entrance of the cenotaph has an inscription. This is nothing but the name of the ruler for whom this cenotaph was built. In this case, Maharawal Jawahar Singh.
The cenotaphs are of varying sizes and the significance of the same is simple. The more powerful you are, the bigger your cenotaph is.
The entire place has an abandoned look. Here and there you see a lot of crumbling structures but despite the same the beauty of the place is unmistakable. They definitely make an ideal backdrop for your memories. 🙂
Within the first row of the cenotaphs, there is one marble slab in each with a figure of a man on a horseback. This represents the ruler for whom the cenotaph is built.
Scattered between the larger structures are smaller ones that possibly represented princes and smaller royal members. The roofs of these are quite striking and gives the small structure a shrine like appearance. It sort of reminded me of the various dance pavilions that I have seen in India.
Once the first row of the cenotaphs end, you need to climb up the hill a bit to explore the second row . On climbing up, the view of Bada Bagh is just stunning. We happened to be here around mid-day and I can quite imagine how beautiful it would look at Sunset or Sunrise.
Walking through this series of Chhatris was a different experience. Unlike what I noticed down in the earlier set, these had stone pillars with the same figure of a ruler on a horseback. In addition to the same, there were some of women. My hubby’s theory was that these were figures of the number of wives that the ruler had. And the same was true to some extent, except that it was a little more gory than just number of wives.
It represented the women in the life of the ruler who self-immolated or became satis by jumping into the burning pyre of the ruler. The tablet of the woman next to the ruler was his queen while the one with a lot of women were representative of his concubines. I have always felt that this particular tradition of Sati has been barbaric and horrifying and everytime, I encounter it, I feel angry and sad for these women who believed it to be a part of their “duty” towards their husband. I got to know of this significance of the stone tablets much later, after I had left Bada Bagh and in a way, it was good coz my pensive mood did not affect my fellow travelers while we were at Bada Bagh.
A few of the Chhatris on the second row had some amazing ceilings, one of which is as below.
Having seen the second row, we trekked back down to our car. As I glanced back at the silent royal structures, the same feeling associated with an elusive beauty hit me and I kept looking at the Bada Bagh till I could see it no more. The strange feeling was so powerful that I almost missed the lovely windmills in the backdrop of the Bada Bagh. Somehow, the majestic cenotaphs of Bada Bagh made everything else seem so insignificant.
If you are headed to Jaisalmer, I would definitely recommend a visit to these golden monuments of Bada Bagh. Waiting to know what you felt. 🙂 Till then, here is a pin for your board.
Getting to Bada Bagh:
- Jaisalmer is accessible from most cities in Rajasthan by road and rail. The nearest airport to Jaisalmer is in Jodhpur and one will have to take a cab or bus or train to reach Jaisalmer.
- Once in Jaisalmer, you can get to Bada Bagh by any public transport, including bus, autos or cabs. Your hotel will be able to arrange for one. Alternatively, you can just hail one off the street.
- Flat shoes, cotton clothes and lots of sun tan is recommended given the warm weather throughout the year. Best time to visit is from October to February.
- Check out my general tips on Rajasthan here. A lot of them would hold good for your visit to Jaisalmer.
- You can visit Bada Bagh between 8 am to 6pm on any day. The entry fees for an Indian is INR 20 and for a foreigner is INR 50. The charges for a still camera is INR 50.
- Keep aside 45 minutes to 1 hour for a tour of this place.
- Guides are not easily available. We found one only once we were exiting. There is no fixed charge mentioned here for a guide. You will need to negotiate your own deal.