On our drive from Indore to Dhar, Suresh, our guide and the driver for the day, informed us “No one goes to Dhar. Let me take you to Bagh.” We politely declined. Bagh would have taken us four hours each way, and even if no one ever goes to Dhar, there are many things to see here. It has been the capital of Malwa at various periods in the last couple of millennia. We expected to see the last remnants of the earthen fortification which it was supposed to have since the times of the Buddha. There was no sign of it. A police officer who briefly talked to us about the town told us that the wall disappeared in the last few years, while Dhar expanded. If we’d known that there was something like this to see when we passed through eight years ago, we would have seen the last remains of a wall which was then nearly three thousand years old.
We entered Dhar through narrow roads which were sometimes paved. By today’s standards it is a tiny place. But it is structured in older ways. Our route took us past a mohalla of musicians, drums drying in the sun, and timber merchants with their large yards full of lumber and branches (photo above). There was even a mohalla which seemed to specialize in weddings. We saw small stables of horses and a car seemingly yoked to a couple of life-sized horses. This is a fixture in small town weddings. This is what put the stables in context for me. Such districts are subsumed into cities like Mumbai and Kolkata, but are lost in the spaces between financial, entertainment and the administrative districts. Here these older professions stood out as the main organizing principle.
Our road to the protected site variously called the Kamal Maula campus or the Bhoj Shala took us on to residential areas. These were not the well-organized new districts where the town was expanding, but the old inner warren on roads. The narrowest ones had buildings like the one you see above. Bright blue walls, and a two-story house spoke of relative prosperity, and the external stairs told us that the upper floor was probably given over to a tenant. The road ahead was blocked by parked motorbikes, and little music with horns on the part of Suresh produced no movement. We backed out and took a different route.
We saw more narrow roads, and closed doors. Houses stood wall to wall. The photo above is an example: two houses stand with a common wall between them. It is only the colour of the wall which distinguishes one property from another. Lanes are defined by spaces left between these walls. The car was small, and weaved through this maze without difficulty before coming on to a more well-defined road.
This road marked the beginning of a different part of the town. We later realized that this was the part built during the Maratha empire, and surrounds the Dhar Rajwada. For now our main clue was the building which you see in the photo above. This is in a style common in the later part of the Maratha era, and the beginning of the British times. Quite by accident, Suresh had taken us on a trip through Dhar which cut through its history!
We ended this tour with a sight of a line of brightly coloured houses, rooms really, with a picture of Ganesha painted on the wall. Suresh said that it is a local custom to make such a painting when a couple got married. This was clear from the writing and painting on the walls. I’d come across a custom like this in Odisha. Interesting that the same custom recurs a thousand kilometers away. Could that have anything to do with the fact that a tribal belt joins these two parts of India?