Sanchi – of Serene and Secluded Stups

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After wandering around the hill, you are drawn back to the crown jewel that is the Stup 1. The four magnificent gateways with their exquisite carvings are the main attraction of Sanchi and its trademark. The stup was embellished with the eye-popping carved torans in the 1st century BC by the Satavahans. Satavahans were the right people with the right credentials for the job. They gave us the glorious Ajanta temples. You are just relieved that the torans have survived for over two thousand years in almost pristine condition. Of course credit goes to Cunningham and Marshall for the restoration efforts.

The four gateways are installed at four cardinal directions of the stup. They have a common design – two square pillars with capitals and surmounted by three parallel architraves. All sides of the columns and the rear and front of the architraves are profusely carved. You could mistake the carved panels for wood or ivory. A lot of carving is overlapping and would require highly skilled workers. Reportedly, the workers were ivory carvers of Vidisha.

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Charming Chanderi – of Baiju Bawra, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and 1200 Baoli

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The road stretch from Lalitpur to MP border will unhinge your joints. You cross into Ashoknagar district of MP over the downstream water channel of the Rajghat Dam. In rains water flows over the causeway. The landscape turns pretty with Vindhyachal hills and intermittent lakes making their entry. The early rains have made the hills lush with greenery. The beauty was enough for Babur to go ga-ga in his memoirs Babur Nama. The road after crossing into MP is a breeze and soon you see signs of the local Municipal Corporation welcoming you to the historic city of Chanderi. You are surprised to find the town clean with good roads and amazing signs for the tourists. Just looking at the densely packed attractions on the map confirms that Chanderi indeed is brimming with all kinds of monuments – tombs, mosques, gateways, palaces, temples and innumerable baolis.

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Kutchh – of Great Rann White Desert, Kalo Dungar Black Hills and Pingleshwar White Surf Beach

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The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Kutch is the Rann. In visuals you have seen it as white, featureless and stark landscape where not a blade of grass grows. Quick research of net has shown that you can enjoy two views of the Rann. First the aerial view from top of Kalo Dungar and the second is to actually walk on the white terrain at the same site where the annual Rann Mahotsav is held during full moon nights in winters.

It is May and hot. You have few hours only and have started early and are now racing north. The driver wants to take the car aerial but you have to keep reminding him that you want to see Rann only from a few hundred metres up and not all the way from the top!

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Ashtur Dreams – The Technicolour Royal Necropolis of Bahmani Sultanate

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Just looking at the long line of tombs you know the big daddy is the Ahmad Shah I Wali Tomb. The tomb is the second from the east. Ahmad Shah shifted the capital to Bidar in 1430 and rebuilt the old fort. Riches from different conquests brought opulence to Bidar which turned the city into a centre of culture and progress. He was religiously inclined and invited saints to Bidar. He was devoted to Hadrat Banda Nawaz of Gulbarga and later to Shah Nimat Ullah of Kirman, reportedly a Sufi dervish. He also respected the doctrine of Lingayats, a religious order of Deccan established by the philosopher, statesman and social reformer Basavanna (1134-1196). Ahmad Shah was like an earlier Akbar.

The Ahmad Shah I Wali Tomb is majestic and looks solid. The walls are about twelve feet thick supporting a huge orb dome on the top. There are three doors built into huge recessed arches. The walls carry three tiers of arches of varying dimensions. The tomb looks similar to its contemporary tombs in Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens.

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Mehrauli – The Second City of Delhi

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Mehrauli quickly became a hotspot for construction which continued for centuries and today perhaps boasts of more monuments than any other part of Delhi. The building of Mehrauli started just a kilometre away from Fateh Burj where Ghori and Aibak entered Qila Rai Pithora after defeating Prithviraj.

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Badami Delight

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You have started from Bagalkot and your first stop is Badami. You have only one day to see the triple wonders of Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole. It is hot and the area is drought affected. You drive into the dusty town and abruptly turn left into the parking lot. The parking lot seems to be at the foot of this ravine with sandstone hills rising on either side. On the right, the red rocky outcrop rises almost vertically housing the rock-cut temples. On the top of this South Hill sits the Badami Fort. Few yards straight ahead to the parking lot is the lake called Agastya Teertha hemmed in between the two hills. On the left of the lake is the North Hill of Badami. North Hill also has fort ramparts, few temples, guard posts and the ASI Museum. The forts were initially built by Chalukyas & Rashtrakutas and then Tipu Sultan installed cannons and his treasury to the original structures. On the west, the town is threatening to push into the lake with houses built on the edge of the lake. Beware of a snarling dog that apparently dislikes city slickers and is ready to chew your neck. Into the east, you can see the Bhootnath Temple complex built on the edge of the lake with another hill rising behind it. Kids bathe in the cool lake water and women wash laundry spreading it on the steps.

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Aihole: A Peep into Chalukyan Temple Architecture

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There are few more temples in the complex: There is a 7th century Suryanarayan Temple with a Rekhanagar (curvilinear) shikhar; Badiger Gudi, a 9th century Surya Temple with a stepped well and ‘Twin Temples’ for lack of any identification sign. Most of the photos carry rear views as all temples in the complex are east facing. With the low Sun shining brightly in the late afternoon western sky it was practically impossible to photograph temples from the front.

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Finding Delhi – Sunder Nursery

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Sunder Bagh, then known as Azim Bagh housed rare plant species from different British colonies across the world. It was also used to experiment with trees that were proposed to be planted in the new city. About 1500 shady trees we see today along the wide roads of Lutyens’s Delhi came from this nursery. Those days, Azim Bagh stood on the historic Grand Trunk Road between Humayun Tomb and Purana Qila.

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Qila Rai Pithora – the First City of Delhi

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Delhi’s history goes back possibly to the times of the old village of Indrapat in and around Purana Qila. Other villages of that time were Sonepat, Panipat, Baghpat and Tilpat. Indrapat is the site of Indraprastha, the mythological capital of Pandavas believed to be buried in the area where Humayun built Purana Qila.

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Shergarh – Sixth City of Delhi

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Before entering the main gate, get off at Mathura Road and enter the lake area. You can take the kids out boating. But you have more serious things to do. You walk towards the looming Talaaqi Gate. This gate like the others is also capped with chattris and protected with bastions. Walk along the ramparts on the right with the rim of the lake on your right. Once the moat probably ran around the fort but now is limited to the western flank. Just make some noise walking so that you do not startle love birds cooing in the bushes.
Shergarh is a sprawling compound bound by walls on all sides. There are three gates: The Western Gate for entering is called Bada Darwaza flanked with mighty bastions, Northern Gate is called the Talaaqi Darwaza or the Forbidden Gate and the Southern Gate is called Humayun Gate. Humayun Gate is the signature symbol of Purana Qila with the two ubiquitous pavilions on top. At the foot is an amphitheatre where the Light and Sound show about Seven Cities of Delhi is played out in the evenings.

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Firozabad – Fifth City of Delhi

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Nothing beats the romance and magic of visiting a monument in Delhi on a wintry Sunday afternoon. The light December breeze has cleared the smog. The air seems almost crisp. Kotla Firoz Shah is an oasis in the middle of the city. It is hard to imagine that exactly 614 years ago on an equally beautiful December day this fortress was being plundered. Soak in the atmosphere sprawled on the green grass under the flitting sun. You can see Delhi’s first skyscraper Vikas Minar in the south, the IG Stadium in the east, floodlights of Firoz Shah Kotla Stadium just yards away, and for company you have crows, mynahs, eagles, dogs and even cats. Chat up the security guard for nuggets of information.

Apparently, this is the only place in Delhi supposed to be the abode of Djinns or spirits. Believers come and light up diyas and incense sticks. Some people even leave written requests. The steady stream of believers assures that wishes are being granted by the Djinns. Thursday is the day when most people come with their petitions and leave offerings. It is believed that the Djinns love Delhi so much that they cannot bear to see it deserted. The day beliefs die, city dies and you die.

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The Seige & Tragedy of Lucknow’s Residency – A History Lesson

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As you enter the main gate of Residency, the din of Lucknow city recedes until just the distant hum of traffic remains. It is a quite green oasis in the middle of cacophany that Lucknow is today. The pervading hush makes it hard to believe that this eerily quite place was witness to one of the bloodiest fights of Indian Mutiny of 1857. This is nature’s way of soothing the Residency with eternal balm and tranquility to anesthetize the tumultous past. The dewy green grass absorbs the shock of looking at the cannon scarred red brick walls. Most of the buildings are heavily damaged with few having roofs.

Barring the green grass, it seems that the siege ended just yesterday. The shattered walls carry the echoes of tragedy, doom, valour, disease and gore. Walk the grounds and you are immediately transported to those turbulent days. Residency is a sprawling compound with neat manicured gardens. Signs indicate the names of various buildings. During the rains, the green moss covering the red brick broken walls lends an exquisite charm to the place. Spend some time in the museum. The church’s cemetry has the graves of about 2000 people including Lawrence. Visit Nawab Saadat Ali Khan’s Tomb. Stay back for the light and sound show in the evening.

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