PATIALA, situated between the Satluj and Ghaggar rivers, was formerly a princely state, ruled by a string of flamboyant rulers in the 19th century, who made its name a byword for everything larger than life. Thus, the “Patiala Peg” is a whopping measure of whisky, the Patiala saiwar three times the width of an ordinary one, and the gargantuan palace, to quote an overawed English visitor, “makes Versailles look like a cottage”. Its rulers were also enthusiastic patrons of the arts, architecture and sports, and the city’s gracious ambience and its rich folk crafts owe a great deal to their generous encouragement.
The present city has grown around the Qlla Mubarak, a fort built in 1763. Its oldest part, Qila Androon, though derelict, has traces of fine wall paintings. The Durbar Hall, added later, stands to the right of the entrance gates and is now a museum with a beautifully ornamented ceiling and well-preserved murals. Inside it, is a spectacular display of cannons and arms, including the sword of the Persian ruler Nadir Shah who invaded India in 1739. The lively bazaar aroundthe fort offers the city’sfamous hand-crafted leather shoes (fatties), tasselled silken braids (pirandis) and brightly embroidered paprika fabric.
The enormous Old Moti Bagh Palace, completed in the early years of the 20th century in the Indo-Saracenic style, has as many as 15 dining halls. Counted as one of the largest residences in Asia, it is set amidst terraced gardens and water channels, inspired by Mughal gardens. The terraces lead to the Mahal, Sbesh where the Art Gallery displays miniature paintings, rare manuscripts, objets d’art, and hunting trophies from the former royal collection. Pride of place is given to a collection of medals, some awarded to, and some collected by, the former rulers. The Art Gallery overlooks a large tank flanked by two towers, with a rope suspension bridge to connect them. The main palace has now been given over to the National Institute of Sports and the large pleasure pool where the maharaja once watched dancing girls cavorting has been converted into a wrestling pit.
In the north of the city are the Baradari Gardens, laidout in the late 19th century by Prince Rajinder Singh, an avid horticulturist, who also created a rock garden and fern house here. The splendid Kali Temple, which is located within the walled city, has a large marble image of Kali, brought here all the way from Makrana in Rajasthan.