A drive to Tonk, trip organized by Shagufta Siddhi (founder of Ganga Jamuni)

In a nutshell : A weekend visit to a city, that does not appear in many tourist maps of Rajasthan – Tonk. Lunch & conversations at a centuries old, haveli of an erstwhile royal family, a stunningly beautiful guest house built centuries ago, beautiful Tonk Masjid with a beautifully painted Mihrab, An Institution that has painfully collected, restored & stored original manuscripts of the medieval period, unchanged old world charm, simple warm people.

Tonk masjid

Unlike other trips, we travelled in a group, trip beautifully & passionately curated & organised by Shagufta Siddhi , founder of Ganga Jamuni, star attraction was to meet & hear from author, historian, Rana Safvi, whom we have been following on social media so far ……….

Positive side effect of travelling with ganga jamuni – During the trip we made some amazing new friends….. similar interests & passion – history, food, travel. 

Contents:

 Please find below the contents – so that you can skip sections that do not interest you & go straight to the more interesting sections:

1. Introduction – how we got to know of this trip, who are the people behind the trip
2. A note on the trip experience as a guest
3. History of Tonk 
4. Machli Bhawan – five centuries old building in which descendants of the Royal family stay 
5. Sunehri Kothi
6. Tonk Masjid
7. Medieval period rare & other original manuscripts at APRI – Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Arabic & Persian Research Institute.
8. Other interesting things we did in Tonk
9. Home cooked Lunch at Machli Bhawan

Description:

Please skip section 1 & 2 if you have just read our post on Bundi.

1. Introduction – how we got to know of this trip, who are the people behind the trip

We have been following historian & author Rana safvi’s posts on Instagram from quite some time now. We have always found the posts to be a source of great knowledge about things that we have not necessarily read in a book or on the internet. These posts are mostly based on experiences & information collected during her travels around the country.

So when Rana safvi posted about this trip on Instagram, we decided to jump in. While the trip suggested that everyone meet at delhi station & travel to tonk & Bundi by train, we decided to drive from & to gurugram.

We got to know that Ms. Shagufta Siddhi will plan & organize the trip. Connected with her, coordinated, made the advance payments & then went for the trip.

Got to know later that Shagufta has been running Ganga Jamuni, an organization that explores the cultural layers, food, traditions etc & documents them for the future. They also do regular tours to such culture & history rich places. To get updates on their upcoming yrs you can follow them in Instagram, Facebook or contact them on WhatsApp.

Meaning of ganga Jamuni – in short it talks about harmonious co existence of Hindu & Muslim populations. Read more about it from the link here – Ganga Jamuni & also the screenshot below:

2. A note on the trip experience as a guest

Ganga jamuni is not just any other regular travel agent. If you are expecting 100% water tight professionalism in all interactions, i would suggest that you skip travelling with them. 

If you want them to respond to you at 3 am coz you are feeling like having Maggi, I suggest, look for the usual folks. However, just an indication about, say, a medical challenge will be taken care of, as if you are at home, with family. 

If there were 10 things on the list, maybe we did 8, skipped 2. Or something shifted from one day to the other. However, amazing things also got added which were totally unexpected – like the 20000 year old cave paintings 50km away, in the middle of nowhere. 

Promised schedules were not adhered to, with German precision. The tour leader went with the flow. She let people enjoy more, when people were enjoying – rather than pushing them off to the next item on the list. She would wrap up from a place if it did not appeal as much. 

‘Tick box’ was not the agenda of the team leader. Genuine enjoyment by the guests was the focus here. 

It’s a one person show (with support from few other passionate mates) & I would say the result was incredible. Fabulous & way beyond expectations.

We always travel on our own – just two of us. We had no idea we would enjoy the trip with a group so much. The conversations were so rich. The bunch of strangers had a common passion & hence bonding with others was fast & easy. I guess we made some very good friends who would remain connected for many more years. 

To conclude – The team leader managed the show with immense warmth, fun, constantly thinking how to make the guests absorb & enjoy more & most importantly – the insights, nuances & information passed on to the guests, as a trained art historian. 

Rana safvi, fondly called Rana apa by all, spoke with clarity on many topics of history that made some of our concepts on history & culture much clearer than ever before. 

Always heard of tonk road when in Jaipur. Never bothered to find out, till this trip happened.

No one ever mentioned visiting Tonk either.

3. History of Tonk:

Riyasat of Tonk started with Nawab Muhammad Amir Khan (1769–1834). So let me tell you his story first & along with the story, will tell you the story of Tonk.

1st Nawab – Muhammad Amir Khan


Muhammad Amir Khan was a Pashtun – his ancestors were from Afghanisthan. He started off as a warrior in different armies & over time he made his own team of warriors. Loosely, this was like a medieval version of today’s private sector international armed security groups, who are not aligned with any nation / ruler but work on contract with different people at different time in. Amir Khan used to tie up with the highest bidder often.


At the height of his power, Amir Khan is said to have controlled a personal following of 8,000 cavalry, 10,000 infantry and up to 200 guns. The largest contingent amongst the Maratha chiefs, by far.


Amir Khan worked with different Rajput & Maratha rulers & his last assignment was with Yashwantrao Holkar of the Maratha Empire. He had a kind of arrangement with the Holkars that he would get a share of new territory or riches acquired through war.


In 1806, Amir Khan received from Yashwantrao Holkar, the area of Tonk (to rule). There was no specific ruler for Tonk before this. The lands were part of a larger kingdom. We heard that initially the place was called ‘tunkra’ (piece) & later over time it became Tonk.


In 1817, after defeat of Marathas in the third Anglo-Maratha War, Amir Khan submitted to the Governor General Hastings of British East India Company. Hastings was anyway wanting to finish off the Pindaris (contractual fighters who did not take a fee from the King, but took a percentage of the war spoils), whom they perceived to be a menace. So, in The Treaty of Gwalior, Amir Khan had to cut off his links with the Marathas & he agreed to join hands with the British to eliminate the Pindaris.


Amir Khan eventually was offered a large stipend by the British in lieu of recognition as a hereditary ruler (Nawab) & also with the fact that he agreed to disband his army.


He was the only Muslim ruler among all hindu Rajput rulers of that time in Rajasthan.
In 1830, he commissioned the Tonk Masjid that we visited during our trip. His successors added more elements to the masjid over the decades.

2nd Nawab – Muhammad Wazir Khan


Amir Khan died in 1834. He was succeeded by his son Muhammad Wazir Khan (r. 1834–1864). Like his father he remained friends with the British & he thus chose to be on the British side during the 1857 sepoy Mutiny.

However, his court also became a refuge for those writers, artists and musicians who fled Delhi after the revolt and no longer enjoyed the patronage of the Mughals. Several members of the former Imperial Family, together with their retainers and connections, took service with or received refuge from the nawab. In the years that followed, the court at Tonk emerged as an important cultural and artistic centre, preserving the best of the old Mughal world.

3rd Nawab – Muhammad Ali Khan


He became the ruler of Tonk from 1864 to 1867 AD after his father expired. His rule ended very fast as the British found him guilty of mass murder – A dispute with one of the principle rulers of Rajasthan, the Thakur of Lawa, had escalated beyond control. Nawab Muhammad Ali Khan decided to end it all by eliminating his opponent and many of his relatives.

The British banished Muhammad Ali Khan from Tonk & deposed him to Benaras, where he died in 1895. 

4th Nawab – Muhammad Ibrahim Ali Khan


After deposing Muhammad Ali Khan, the British government announced Ibrahim’s minor son, Muhammad Ibrahim Ali Khan as the Nawab, under care of his uncle.

He introduced a number of activities towards modernising the society – schools and hospital, government departments of state, and a modern administration. The Nawab got full ruling powers in 1870, after becoming an adult. He started working on propagation & preservation of the Muslim cultural heritage. He supported many charitable and educational institutions, both within and outside Tonk, expanded and enriched the famous library.


Nawab Hafiz Sir Muhammad Ibrahim Ali Khan Bahadur remained the Nawab of Tonk from 1867 until his death in 1930.


In 1901, he passed a law for the conservation of wildlife and the environment in his state. Today it sounds obvious but back in that day it was very progressive.


I was reading in an article that ‘by 1925 the army consisted of just 50 old men armed with decrepit rifles, more a danger to their possessors than any imagined enemy’. What a contrast to a ‘warrior past’, 4 generations away, little more than a century before.


In 1864, Ibrahim Ali Khan started a practise of sacrificing camels on Eid al-Adha. The family discontinued the practise in 2014, after Rajasthan declared the camel as a state animal.


5th Nawab – Muhammad Saadat Ali Khan He ruled from 1930 – 1947

Saadat ali khan


Nawab saadat ali khan’s daughter Saidunnisa begum still lives in Tonk. She is 90+ years old. – We went to their house, machli bhawan, for lunch.


5. Machli Bhawan –

This experience was unique & we could not have done on our own. It’s only due to the fact that our team leader Shagufta got to know them from before.


Saidunnisa Begum (d/o NAwab Saadat Ali Khan) lives in Machli Bhawan with her extended family.

Saidunnisa Begum


We reached Machli Bhawan by car about 30 minutes before the rest of the group arrived by train. We just could not locate machli bhawan. The place where google map showed, there was a large old gate leading to an old building. We saw a back gate that seemed not in use. We asked around & reached back at the same place.


The entrance is through the rear door only.
We got to know from Begum Nasreen Irum, the daughter of Saidunnisa begum, that, Machli Bhawan is approximately seven centuries old building.

Staircase that goes from ground floor to first – original stone slab stairs


The name Machli bhawan might be few century old – there used to be many fish tanks in the house of the family who lived here then. Those days there was nothing all around – just open areas & Jungle. We saw a century old photograph of Machli Bhawan later in the day at APRI.

Old picture of machli bhawan

The building was made by Rajput Hindus in the classic Rajput Hindu style. It has a Bengal style dome, jharokhas, hindu temple style of construction – stone pillars interlocked, lintel, lotus symbol etc. This was later bought by the Nawab’s family & was one of the Royal residences.


We went upstairs through the centuries old stone slab stairs, with white colored walls on both side. As we reached upstairs, the kids of the house showered flower petals on us to welcome.


We were taken to the drawing room & we just could not get our eyes off the wall & the ceiling. The ceiling of the hall & the walls were completely painted in metallic gold & also in colour. The painting, we were told, was as old as the building. Some parts of it would have been re-painted or re-done later.

The hall
Begum Nasreen seated in the niche


The detailing was intense & beautiful.
In the middle of the room was a beautiful arched niche with gold painted pillars.
Just above the nice was a framed photograph of Begum Nasreen Irum’s husband. He was an IPS officer & he served not only in Rajasthan but also in many other states.

Painted golden walls
Photograph of Begum Nasreen’s husband


Saidunnisa Begum & Begum Nasreen came & sat with us throughout our stay that afternoon. It was such a wonderful experience listening to stories from their childhood, growing up, travels to different parts of India & more. Like someone in our group said, ‘their way of speaking, language & tehzeeb remind me of some characters from a play named ‘Ishmat apa ke naam’ by Nasiruddin shah, Ratna Pathak Shah & others n team Motley, based on stories by Ishmat Chugtai.’

Begum Nasreen
Begum Nasreen
Painting on the wall


We were then taken for a tour of the house. As we reached the staircase that led from first floor to second, we realized that this staircase was visually different than the rest & was not connected to the one that got us from ground floor to first. So while the one connecting with ground floor was for all, this one was only for the members of the family.
This staircase was a piece of art. Painted off white in the base, the staircase had immensely intricate & beautiful paintings all over, including some in the ceiling.

Staircase
Niche
Room upstairs
Room upstairs


Absolutely loved visiting the other rooms – All rooms had paintings on walls & ceilings & each was different.

All over painted
Old arches


The artist had done some spectacular work on the niches.

Niche


Later we visited the hamam on the ground floor. It had a unique system of ventilation – fumes of agarbatti or other aromatic objects, lamps etc. could escape but rain water could not come in from outside.

Hamam, now converted to a room
Ceiling
Detailing – hamam


The hamam ceiling design allowed some natural light coming in from the top as well.
The hamam was stunningly beautiful with ornate designs all around.


The building also has a bawri (step well) in the basement. That has been shut for long. So we could not see it.


The building has come great insta spots.

Emblem


5. Sunehri Kothi

From Machli Bhawan we moved to Sunehri Kothi. The Kothi is a two storeyed building within the old palace complex, which was commissioned by Nawab Mohammed Ibrahim Ali Khan (1867-1930), the Nawab of Tonk. It was used for poetry recitals, dance and music, for self & also to entertain guests.
The ground floor has many beautiful painted arches.

Sunehri kothi
Sunehri kothi
Huge mirror


The walls and ceilings of hall in the first floor are made of enamel mirror-work, gilted and painted glass. The hall is illuminated through wooden frame windows that have colourful stained-glass brought from Belgium. The entire effect is that of an exquisite piece of enamel jewellery blown up to the size of a hall. This reminded me of
The balcony of the first floor has a beautiful green & white painted wall & set of pillars.


6. Tonk Masjid

As mentioned above, Tonk Masjid was established in 1830 by the first Nawab, Muhammad Amir Khan. His descendant made changes & additions in it over the next century.

A beautiful sketch of tonk masjid by our fellow traveller Sandesh Hurli


The mosque has a beautiful hand painted façade.
Hand painting on walls & ceilings was a part of tradition in this part of Rajasthan. The interiors are also stunningly beautiful – intricate hand painting all over the walls, ceilings, arches, domes.

The mihrab
Painting all over
View of masjid from the market


The most stunning part of the mosque was the Mihrab. For the uninitiated, Mihrab is a niche in the wall towards which namazis look while offering prayer. The mihrabs are made in such a way that namazis face the Qibla while offering prayers. So they do not need a separate direction finder.

Mihrab detailing
Mihrab detailing
Mihrab detailing


The Mihrab was intricately painted, in gloss finish.


In most mosques I have visited, the hauz (water body) for doing wazu (cleaning hands & feet) before offering Namaz, is in the center of the namaz area. In Tonk Mosque, the hauz was located in a separate area.


To know more about Tonk Mosque, please watch this video by historian & author, Rana Safvi – Tonk Mosque


7. A visit to APRI – Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Arabic & Persian Research Institute.

APRI houses one of the largest collections of medieval period rare & other original manuscripts. They collected manuscripts from all over Rajasthan & other parts of India. Many People donated the manuscripts that they inherited. 

They also are getting offers to digitize the manuscripts, from organizations in the Middle east.

We saw a huge Quran which the APRI commissioned. A family of artists created it over two years & it is on display since December 2012. It has 64 pages.

Many important manuscripts have been put on a museum style display on the first floor. The quality of display is very good, the place is very well maintained. We felt that for people who have less/no context of the exhibit / Islamic literature, the explanation on the note cards could have been better.

The most interesting manuscript that we came across was a Persian translation of Mahabharata, gita & Ramayana, commissioned by Mughal emperor Akbar.

Mahabharata in Persian- commissioned by Akbar

We also saw a well maintained museum. The two exhibits that attracted me the most were:
• Zahar mohra stone – If food with poison is put on this bowl, the bowl would crack. This was used to test the food given to ruler.


• Nayak & nayika panting – Bundi Kota style

Royal seal

The best part of this visit was to see how the restoration of old manuscripts are happening. The two people at that restoration center were highly knowledgeable & very passionate. They took extra time to explain the process to us & answered all our questions.

8. Other interesting things we did in Tonk

Gol Ghar – On our way back from APRI to Tonk Masjid, Shagufta pointed to a house with a round façade (hence the name) & said her friend stays here.

In some time, we were 3 strangers at Shagufta’s friend’s house. Like the machli Bhawan, this building had been bought by the ancestors of the current owner. She showed us around the house.
We awere spellbound at the warmth of Shagufta’s friend & her family.

View from the terrace room


Auto guy: We took a short auto rickshaw ride & started chit chatting with the auto guy. He told us ‘everyone is talking about a set of unusual people roaming around in town’.


Lady with the basket – Outside Tonk Masjid Shagufta met a lady standing with a basket. She asked ‘where did you buy this from’. The lady said ‘come with me’. She walked along us strangers, to the basket shop, quite some distance away, just like that. Amazing gesture I should say.

Shagufta (left) with the lady


We would have liked this to happen but could not happen due to lack of time – The itinerary of the trip mentioned ‘If there’s light, we will locate actor Irrfan Khan’s home’.

9. Home cooked Lunch at Machli Bhawan

The spread was a feast to the eyes, when it was laid out on the table. The aroma of qorma hit the right spot.

The spread

The ladies of the home had painstakingly cooked this, themselves. 

Absolutely loved the pulao – aromatic, perfect texture, independent grains of rice. Full of flavours.

Pulao
Pulao

The matar paneer was very good – super soft home made paneer.

The raita was thick, smooth , creamy & just perfectly seasoned.

The qorma was finger-licking good. Never had it as good in any commercial establishment. The flavours of the spices & meat, the richness of the gravy, the caramelization of onions, the super soft pieces of meat – all added to the magic.

The fluffed, piping hot khameeri rotis were just too good. Loved the fermented flavour.

Phirni for dessert was just too good . Rich, creamy texture. Not too sweet.

Overall – it was a memorable meal.

From Tonk we drove to Bundi. Read about our travel to Bundi here – Bundi

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