The bite-sized city of Patiala has given its name to the generous Patiala Peg and the voluminous Patiala salwar. There’s nothing otherwise oversized about this old-fashioned city, so I conclude it must be because of the legendary Punjabi spirit Indeed, this is easy enough to spot in the hospitable people of Patiala—in the broad smiles, hearts’ greetings, and ever-open invitations to down a big brass tumbler of thick, frothy lassi. Patiala was established in 1763 as a military stronghold by Baba Ala Singh, its first maharaja; and the name literally means “land of Ala.”
The fledgling kingdom became one of India’s most powerful princely states, fending off repeated assaults by the warlords of Afghanistan, the Mughals, and the advancing Marathas. During the 20th century, Maharaja Yadavindra Singh, who ruled Patiala at the time of Independence, played a prominent role in the formation of the Union of India. Today, the city’s spruce polo field, parks, and cricket grounds exude gentility and wholesomeness. The quiet homes and peaceful, tree-lined neighbourhoods are resolutely serene in a fast-paced world.
WALK DOWNTOWN – The State Tourism Department organises an excellent 1.5-hour heritage walk of the old Patiala area. It starts at the Royal Mausoleum or the Shahi Samadhi, and is led by a knowledgeable guide. I enjoyed listening to gripping tales from Patiala’s 300-year battle-scarred history as we wandered through 18th-century neighbourhoods and markets like Bajaja Bazaar and Bartan Bazaar. After passing through Darshini Deori, the ceremonial gateway from which commoners once watched royal processions, we arrived at the sprawling Patiala Fort or Qila Mubarak.
FIERCE FORTRESS – Patiala Fort, built by Baba Ala Singh in 1763, is divided into two precincts that are both hauntingly desolate. Enter through a majestic gate to visit the first, the vast Qila Mubarak (for receiving state guests), which includes the Lassi Khana (kitchen), Sard Khana (cool rooms), Ran Baas (guest quarters), and the Durbar Hall. A flight of stairs leads to the second precinct, the Qila Androon, which consists of a succession of interconnected gardens, courtyards, and palaces. Along the perimeter of this massive ten-acre fort are its lovely, tree-shaded grounds, from which the Persian and Rajput architectural elements of the walls and; harokhas can be admired. The once resplendent Durbar Hall has stunning chandeliers, and a museum with quaint, slightly dusty treasures: a solid silver carriage, a jade dagger that belonged to Guru Gobind Singh, and the sword of Persian emperor Nadir Shah who invaded India in 1739.
ATMOSPHERIC ALLEYS – Atmospheric Haveliwala Mohalla, barely a kilometre from Patiala Fort, was once the city’s poshest neighbourhood. The now fading havelis with ornate doors and delicate lattice-work balconies were the homes of the court aristocracy. Though frayed at the edges, the haveIis still suggest their erstwhile stately aura. The quiet lanes are full of discoveries like Chhata Nanumal, a private archway built over a public road, where public hearings were conducted. Another unusual feature is the narrow Sappan Wali Gali or Snake Lane; jewellers intentionally designed the 1.5-kilometre street to be no more than two metres wide and zig-zag crazily, possibly to slow down any fleeing thieves.