January 27, 2008

Magnificent Agra Fort

After the Battle of Panipat the Mughals captured the Agra Fort and with it came a vast treasure which included the world famous Kohinoor diamond. Babur then started living in the Fort in the palace of Ibrahim Lodi. The other great Mughals Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangazeb lived here and the country was governed from this Fort. The Agra Fort was visited by foreign dignitaries and ambassadors, travellers and other high ranking officials who were instrumental in the making of history in India.

Akbar began further construction of the splendid Agra Fort on the banks of River Yamuna in 1565 to serve as a military base. The Fort was ready by 1571 and was then used also as royal quarters and several additions were made until the rule of Shah Jahan.

Akbar and his son, Jahangir, preferred red sandstone and used it to build many palaces and courts. His grandson, Shah Jahan, used white marble, and built other marble mosques and palaces and pavilions of gem-inlaid marble which is seen in its resplendent beauty in the Taj Mahal.

Historians state that about 500 buildings were existing in the Fort originally. It is reported that some of them were demolished to make way for Shah Jahan's white marble palaces and mosques and some were apparently destroyed by the British between 1803 and 1862. Now there are about 30 Mughal buildings that have survived in the Fort.

Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb, in this luxurious Agra Fort. It is rumored that Shah Jahan died in Muasamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony from where he could see the mirage of the Taj Mahal until his death.

I went to the Agra Fort after my visit to the Fatehpur Sikri. Little did I know then that this was going to be the first among other forts that I was to explore during this trip to India.

There was a long queue at the Fort entrance for buying tickets, and I had no intention of spending time there. So within a few minutes, while in the snail-paced queue, I befriended a small group of people in front of me. Unfair it may sound, however, I informed them that I'd be returning for my spot in the queue after taking a few pictures of the Fort from outside, to which they agreed.

After about ten minutes of shooting these pictures of the Fort, I went back to find them still in the queue, and this time they kindly volunteered to buy a ticket on my behalf thus giving me the freedom to go around. I was glad and promptly paid them and continued exploring further. I stopped by at the entrance gate called the Lahore Gate (so named because it faces Lahore). It is also called the Amar Singh Gate.

Till my entry ticket was ready, I stood by the Lahore Gate to listen to the low-pitched sweet sounds of chirping birds dwelling in the Fort premises. I made a half hearted attempt to capture a few pictures of them fluttering past but realized I am not talented enough to achieve that feat.

It was a cool, slightly misty day, and there was a strange mix of excitement and serenity in the atmosphere at the Lahore Gate. Somewhat like how I got lost in my surroundings for a while even through the hustle and bustle of the tourists, probably the birds have got used to the place and so continue singing sweetly in the trees - coolly indifferent to the crowd passing by.

The Agra Fort is a fine example of a beautiful blend of the Islamic and Hindu style of architecture, and various buildings inside the Agra Fort represent the assimilation of other cultures as well. This is widely regarded as a distinguishing feature of the Mughal architecture.

The northern part of the Agra Fort is closed to the public as it is being used by the military. The northern side gate is called the Delhi Gate.

Jahangir Palace was used by the Rajput wives of the Mughals

View from Diwaan-I-Aam

Arches of Diwaan-I-Aam

The three rising domes of the ancient mosque, Moti Masjid, raising their heads over the red sandstone is a charming sight. Built by Shah Jahan, it is situated on the right of Diwan-I-Aam and its white marble structure is one of the precious buildings of the Agra Fort.

I spent the next few hours at the Agra Fort and had a delightful time in exploring the place. During this visit, I felt that I had a look at the Fort with a new perspective.

The Agra Fort is a photographer's delight. If you liked these photographs, click this link to view more pictures of the magnificent Agra Fort.

January 26, 2008

Fatehpur Sikri, Mosque Complex

Further to my post of yesterday on the Palace Complex of Fatehpur Sikri, I'd like to now share some information and my photographs of the Mosque Complex of Fatehpur Sikri, Agra District.

This Complex mainly includes the magnificent towering gateway called the Buland Darwaza, a smaller Badshahi Darwaza, one of the largest mosque of India, the Jama Masjid and its courtyard, a marvellous marble encased tomb of Shaikh Salim Chisti, and an assembly hall next to it called the Jamat Khana.

Jama Masjid and Buland Darwaza

There is a popular legend that while hunting around Sikri, Akbar's curiosity was aroused by the songs of some minstrels, whom Akbar found out was of the renowned Sufi saint, Shaikh Salim Chisti. Since Akbar was without an heir for a long time, he made a pilgrimage to the renowned Salim Chisti, to seek his blessings. The saint blessed him and he had 3 sons. When Jehangir was born to him, Akbar named his son after the saint as a mark of his gratitude and ordered the great mosque of Fatehpur Sikri to be built under Salim's supervision.

Salim Chisti Ka Mazar (Tomb of Salim Chisti)

For more pictures on the Mosque Complex of Fatehpur Sikri, click here.

January 25, 2008

Fatehpur Sikri, Palace Complex

Following my Journey to Agra despite reaching there past midnight, I was up early next morning and checked out the place in and around the Mansingh Palace on my own. After breakfast, I hired a vehicle for the full day to discover what Agra and the places around it had to offer.

This was my second visit to Agra, however, it felt good to be going around it again. If not anything else, I wanted to explore again at least the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, and Fatehpur Sikri all three of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

I started with a visit to the Fatehpur Sikri. A city by itself, approximtely 40 kms from the famous Taj Mahal, it was built during the second half of 16th century by the Emperor Akbar. This City of Victory (meaning of Fatehpur Sikri) was the capital of the Mughal Empire for a few years. Brilliant red sandstone available locally was used that gives Fatehpur Sikri much of its lustre.

Akbar planned this city as his capital but shortly after the work was completed, the pristine complex was abandoned. The reason may have been either shortage of water, or water being of poor quality, or, according to other historians, Akbar had to attend to the northwest areas of his empire and therefore moved his capital to Lahore in 1585. However, in 1599 Akbar shifted his capital back to Agra from where he reigned until his death.

Today Fatehpur Sikri is a phantom city but, thanks to the Archaelogical Survey of India, the inner citadel is immaculately preserved. It is now a World Heritage site.

The city is divided into two parts, namely the Palace Complex and the Mosque Complex.

In this post I am posting a few pictures of the Palace Complex, which houses fine specimens of Mughal architecture, that is considered by the experts to be a fusion of Persian (and/or Islamic) and Hindu architecture. This Complex, among others, includes the Panch Mahal and the Anup Talao.

Anup Talao

Panch Mahal

If you wish to view more photographs, they are here.

January 22, 2008

Journey to Agra

The distance from Delhi to Agra can be covered by super fast trains in as little as 3 hours. I travelled to Agra by Intercity, a train that is not fast, let alone super, and it took me more than 5 hours to reach. This happened since I had not made prior train reservation and therefore finding a seat in a fast train on the previous night of a journey is generally almost impossible.

An attempt to reserve such a seat, just a few hours before travelling, was being made from a drab internet cafe that had slow connectivity and no printer. Anyway, I owe my heartfelt thanks to one of my friends who was very helpful that night. He not only managed to make a booking on Intercity on my behalf but also arranged to get a print out of the reservation slip. Where else did he have to go and how he managed to get a hard copy from the printer-less-cafe is still not clear to me, since at one point (perhaps seeing the bored look on my face while he was occupied on the net) he sent me away from that dingy cafe to join other friends who were waiting nearby.

Did I tell you about what a daunting task it was to reach the cafe itself? It looked like it was perched up on an elevated area of a relic of a building that was sure to win the favour of World Heritage Sites, if only someone was in pursuit of an antediluvian monument. To reach that net cafe was like climbing half of Mount Everest.

An old man settled there with a magnificent beard and intriguing looks refused to grant me permission to photograph him. How he managed to scale up there in the first place will be a perpetual mystery to me. I descended and ended up clicking a picture of a few sheep instead. And all these events took place late night after a delicious dinner at Nizamuddin.


So, the next day, when the train I was to travel in finally chugged in (it was delayed to start with), its compartments did not stop at the assigned electronic indicators on the platform, and I blithely sat down on what I 'thought' was my reserved seat. During the journey at one point, watching the locals rush in and rush out into the compartment I was in, like they were playing hide and seek and was nobody's business, I realized I was not in the right seat!

A Vendor on the train

Once I vaguely understood the concept of numbers written outside each compartment from a local traveller (how silly of me not to know that all this time!), I could have carried my little baggage and quickly made a dash to my own reserved seat in between two train stops. That way I could have continued my journey in style with comfort-seeking tourists and other high-handed category of people (no, I'm not one of them) that travel only on reserved seats.

However, I decided against it as the present arrangement gave me an opportunity to mix with the locals and it was pretty engaging to interact with them. There were times though when I wished the place wasn't as noisy, and it was then that my MP3 promptly came to my rescue. Anyhow, time passed by fairly quickly and I especially took delight in chatting up, and at times giggling at ludicrous jokes, with a small group of college students and did not want to trade those moments with anything else then.

Tourists of all kinds are everywhere. For me, it's the joy of mingling with locals that is unmatchable.

Anyway, after many more stops at several local stations and a few more insipid incidents, I was finally approaching the end of that journey that tried to test my patience unsuccessfully. But for the freezing cold, I was not exactly deterred. By the time the train reached Agra, it was almost midnight. Fortunately, before leaving, at the last moment I had arranged prior booking at a hotel in Agra knowing well that I would not stay in Delhi for long.

So, at around midnight, after bravely fighting off the touts, brags and bluster at the Agra railway station and following a bone-chilling ride in the auto from the railway station through the icy winds, fog and sleet, it was a relief to reach Agra's Mansingh Palace and I was delighted to bask in its comfort and luxury after a long and interesting journey to Agra.

This post has been inspired by Priyank in his comment here when he asked me to write "the stories" and not just post pictures.

January 21, 2008

A Walk in the Clouds

I wake up, stretch and yawn
Wonder how this day did dawn
Out of the strange bed I leap
Through the curtain out I peep

No visibility, nothing much seen
Quite an expected dull scene
Everything around is a blur
But I will not let this deter

A new day, new place, I soar
In no time I'm ready for outdoor
As I hear the morning bells chime
I wish to walk, run, and also climb

Delhi today enveloped in mist
Feel great wading through its midst
Shades of white, gray and pastel
I sense as if cast in a magic spell

Through meadows and garden
By the grounds of Pragati Maidan
Along the still solid old red fort
A symbol of bygone day's forte

To the Parliament and India Gate
And the Raj Path that's so straight
The complex where Presidents dwell
With kids at Akshardam temple as well

Just like the day's peeping sunlight
With joy and peace in my heart
I take delight on this cold misty day
So does my camera clicking away


January 17, 2008

Reminiscing on 2007 Travels - Part II

Following Part I, here are the other places that I travelled to in the Year 2007. These are travels of last month to Agra and Jhansi of Uttar Pradesh, and the rest of the places in Madhya Pradesh.

I started off from the capital city of Delhi and then explored the wondrous medieval city of Agra;

An evening at the Taj Mahal

and then proceeded to the historically important Bundelkhand region of Jhansi.
A part of Jhansi Fort

After that, I proceeded to explore quite a few enchanting places of Madhya Pradesh including:-
  • intriguing Gwalior, with its magnificent Forts and rich culture;
Man Mandir Palace

  • the charming palaces of Datia;

Painting on the ceiling of the Datia palace

  • the romance of the enchanting palaces and temples of Orchha;
View from Sheesh Mahal

  • the delightful Alipura Palace now converted into a hotel;


  • the awe-inspiring temples of Khajuraho;

Adinath Temple of the Eastern Group

  • the marvellous national park of Ken Ghariyal;

100 feet deep canyon of about 5 kms granite near seasonal Raneh Falls

  • the thrill of Panna national park and its tiger reserve;

A tree house near Ken River Lodge

  • the exciting Bandhavgarh and its wildlife sanctuary filled with exotic flora and fauna;

An elephant ride to explore the forest, also to seek the Royal Bengal Tiger

  • the beauty of Bedaghat where the River Narmada flows;

Tranquil Narmada along the marble rocks

  • the same Narmada cascading powerfully at another location of Bedaghat;

Dhuandhar Falls

  • the historically important cultural capital of Madhya Pradesh, Jabalpur;
Balancing rocks
  • the verdant jewel of the Satpura hills, Pachmarhi hill station;

A scene on the way to Pachmarhi

  • Religiously important to some, Bhojpur along the lovely river Betwa;

Incomplete Bhojeshwar temple

  • the historic rock-shelters and paintings of Bhimbetka;

On the way to view the rock paintings
  • the sunrise hills and rock-cut architectural caves of Udaygiri near Vidisha;

A cave cut from rocks on top of the mountain

  • the famous Buddhist monuments of Sanchi;
A section of the great Stupa through carved decorated gateway

  • and the romantic city of lakes, Bhopal.
Bada Talab just before sunrise during an early morning stroll

The Madhya Pradesh journey was followed by more travels, via Mumbai, to reach in time to celebrate Christmas with my extended family at two of my favourite places, Goa and Mangalore, and to ultimately board a flight back from the metropolitan city of my state, Bangalore.

A good year for a travel enthusiast. What do you think?

Now let me see what 2008 has in store.