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1. The Agra Fort
The great Mughal Emperor Akbar commissioned the construction of the Agra Fort in 1666, A.D. although additions were made till the time of his grandson Shahjahan.
The forbidding exteriors of this fort hide an inner paradise. There are a number of exquisite buildings like Moti Masjid - a white marble mosque akin to a perfect pearl; Diwan-I-Am, Diwan-I-Khaas, Musamman Burj - where Shahjahan died in 1666 A.D. Jahangir's Palace; Khaas Mahal and Shish Mahal.
2. The Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal was built by a grief stricken Emperor Shahjahan as a memorial to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. A world-renowned wonder, Taj Mahal sits pretty on the northern side of this green paradise. It looks the same from all the four sides! The Quranic inscriptions on its four entrances are carved in such subtle increase in size that may appear to be of the same size from top to bottom! Shahjahan invited master craftsmen from as far as Italy and Persia to help design his ambitious tribute to love.
The Taj Mahal is phenomenal not in the beauty alone that shines forth, but in the deep planning and design that went into its making, and the ethereal idea of immortalizing love. Delicate carvings in marble vie with gorgeous pietra dura for attention. Lapis-lazuli, Cornelian, Mother of pearl, Agate and Emerald are inlayed in floral and geometrical patterns in the marble itself. This enchanting mausoleum, on the bank of river Yamuna started in 1631 and it took 22 years to complete with the help of an estimated 20000 workers.
1. Ranthambore National Park
It was once the private hunting grounds of the Kings and Royals of Jaipur. Spread over 392 sq km, the park has steep crags embracing a network of lakes and rivers. The terrain is a blend of impregnable forests and open grasslands. The forest is open deciduous type with Dhok being the most prominent tree. The park can be visited in the morning and evening either by canter or gypsy.
At Ranthambore, tigers are readily observed during daylight, hunting or lazing around, oblivious of jeep load of tourists and their cameras. Apart from tigers, the park has a wide variety of animals, birds and reptiles. One can find Marsh Crocodiles, Hyenas, Leopards, Jungle Cats, Fox and Jackal apart from Chital, Nilgai and Chinkara. Sambhar Deers are the pride of Ranthambore.
The park has more than 300 varieties of avian population including Black Storks, Quails, Crested Serpent Eagles and Painted Storks.
1. Amber Palace
Amber (pronounced Amer) is situated about 11 kilometres from Jaipur and was the ancient citadel of the ruling Kachwahas of Amber, before the capital was shifted to the plains, the present day Jaipur.
The Amber Fort set in picturesque and rugged hills is a fascinating blend of Hindu and Mughal architecture. Constructed by Raja Man Singh I in 1592 and completed by Mirja Raja Jai Singh the fort was made in red sand stone and white marble. The rugged forbidding exterior belies an inner paradise with a beautiful fusion of art and architecture. Amber is the classic and romantic fort-palace with a magnificent aura. The interior wall of the palace depicts expressive painting scenes with carvings, precious stones and mirror settings. In the foreground is the Maota Lake providing a breathtaking vista. Built mainly for the warring enemies as a safe place, the heavily structured walls could defend the residents within the ramparts of the fort.
All means of survival and luxuries for the royal families and the people who were concerned with the functioning of this small kingdom of the Kachhawas were well provided. The Rajputs who had apparently won a small structure passed on by Meena tribes, later on renovated it into the grand Amber Fort. Holding a history as old as seven centuries, this place vibrates with its legendary past. Although many of the early structures have been literally ruined but at the same time, those dating from 16th century onwards are remarkably well preserved by sincere efforts.
1. Fatehpur Sikri
Perched atop a rocky ridge 37 km west of Agra, Fatehpur Sikri came into being four centuries ago when the Emperor Akbar, not yet 28 years old, created the first planned city in Indo-Islamic style. The city was actualised with great energy, but was completely abandoned a little more than a decade later.
In 1568, Akbar was secure and powerful but he had no son and heir. His search for blessing for the birth of a successor brought him to the Sufi mystic Sheikh Salim Chishti, who lived in Sikri village. The saint prophesied the birth of three sons and soon after was born Prince Salim, later to become Emperor Jahangir. In gratitude for the blessing Akbar decided to create imperial residences in Sikri, which would function as a joint capital with Agra. As a mark of his faith and his recent victories, he named his new city Fatehpur Sikri. Akbar was a keen builder and the plan of Fatehpur Sikri reveals an architectural mastermind at work. Research has proved that it was planned on a definite mathematical grid.
The siting of the Jama Masjid marked the actual beginning of the city which came up around it. The palace courts were laid out parallel to the cardinally aligned mosque and the sequential order of the palaces were emphasised by change in level. The most public space was at the lowest level, while the royal harem was at the highest.
Fatehpur Sikri is built in red sandstone, and is a beautiful blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural elements. The sandstone is richly ornamented with carving and fretwork. Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned 14 years after its creation. A shortage of water is believed to be the reason. Today it is a ghost city, its architecture is in a perfect state of preservation, and wandering through the palaces it is easy to imagine that this was once a royal residence and a dynamic cultural centre.
1. Saas Bahu Temple
The Teli ka Mandir is a 9th century edifice, towering at 100 ft high. This is a Pratihara Vishnu temple of a unique blending of architectural styles. The shape of the roof is distinctively Dravidian, while the decorative embellishments have the typically Indo-Aryan characteristics of Northern India. Also dedicated to Vishnu is the graceful little Sas-Bahu-ka-Mandir, built in 11th century. This temple is one of the greatest architectural marvels situated by Gwalior Fort. The entire temple is covered with carvings, notably 4 idols of Bramha, Vishnu and Saraswati above its entrance door. However, limestone erodes over time, and soon portions of the limestone fell, later spurring conflict as to whether it was a Jain temple or a Hindu temple.
2. The Gwalior Fort
Standing on a steep mass of sandstone, Gwalior Fort dominates the city and is its most magnificent monument. It has been a scene of momentous events : imprisonments, battles and jauhars. A steep road winds upwards to the Fort, flanked by statues of Jain tirthankaras, carved into the rock face. The magnificent outer walls of the Fort still stand, two miles in length and 35 feet high, bearing witness to its reputation for being one of the most invincible forts of India. This imposing structure inspired Emperor Babar to describe it "the pearl amongst the fortresses of Hind." Within the fort are some marvels of medieval architecture. The 15th century Gujari Mahal is a monument to the love of Raja Mansingh Tomar for his Gujar queen, Mrignayani. After he had wooed and won her, so the story goes, Mrignayani demanded that he build her a separate palace with a constant water supply from the River Rai, via an aqueduct. The outer structure of the Gujari Mahal has survived in an almost total state of preservation; the interior has been converted into an Archaeological Museum.
Also built by Raja Mansingh is the Man Mandir Palace, built between 1486 and 1517. The tiles that once adorned its exterior have not survived, but at the entrance, traces of these still remain. There is a charming frieze here of ducks paddling in turquoise waters. Within, the palace rooms stand bare, stripped of their former glory, mute testimony to the passing of the centuries. Vast chambers with fine stone screens were once the music halls, and behind these screens, the royal ladies would learn music from the great masters of the day. Below, circular dungeons once housed the state prisoners of the Mughals. The Emperor Aurangzeb had his brother, Murad, imprisoned, and later executed, here. Close by is Jauhar Pond, where in the Rajput tradition, the 'ranis' committed mass 'sati' after their consorts had been defeated in battle. Though the major portions of the Fort were built in the 15th century, references to this gigantic complex can be traced back to 425 AD. Older than the city is the Suraj Kund within the Fort walls, the original pond where Suraj Sen, or Suraj Pal as he was later known, was cured by the Saint Gwalipa.
3. Jain Cave Sculptures
Sonagiri means 'golden peak'. Sonagiri is primarily the site of the Digambar sect of Jains. History speaks that King Nanganag Kumar had conquered salvation and was liberated from the cycles of death and life in this very place. Millions of his devotees took his path to liberation. Thus, Jain saints who seek deliverance or practice the paths to nirvana, flock to this place. There are more than 100 temples that magnetize visitors and tourists. The leading temple has an idol of Chandraprabhu in meditation, 11 feet in height. There are 77 striking Jain Temples in the hills and 26 temples in villages. Temple no. 57 on the hill is actually the main temple. It consists of a charming spire. Two other idols of Lord Sheetalnath and Parsvanath are installed beside the chieftain. There is a column of dignity (Maanstambh), 43 feet in height, also a model of Samavsharan. This is a outstanding place known as Laghu Sammed Shikar covering the area of 132 acres, straddling two hills. A pillar of white stone outside the temple is bound to catch one's eye, with its intrinsic carvings; there are 'chatris' (cenotaphs) on three sides of the pillar showcasing images of all Jain Tirthankaras.
4. Jai Vilas Palace
A splendour of a different kind exists in the Jai Vilas Palace, current residence of the Scindia family. Some 35 rooms have been made into the Scindia Museum, and in these rooms, so evocative of a regal lifestyle, the past comes alive. Jai Vilas is an Italianate structure which combines the Tuscan and Corinthian architectural modes. The imposing Darbar Hall has two central chandeliers, weighing a couple of tonnes, and hung only after ten elephants had tested the strength of the roof. Ceilings picked out in gilt, heavy draperies and tapestries, fine Persian carpets, and antique furniture from France and Italy are features of these spacious rooms. Eye-catching treasures include: a silver train with cut-glass wagons which served guests as it chugged around on miniature rails on the tables; a glass cradle from Italy used for the baby Krishna each Janamashtami; silver dinner services and swords that were once worn by Aurangzeb and Shah Jehan.
There are, besides, personal mementoes of the past members of the Scindia family: the jeweled slippers that belonged to Chinkoo Rani, four-poster beds, gifts from practically every country in the world, hunting trophies and portraits. The Scindia Museum offers an unparalleled glimpse into the rich culture and lifestyle of princely India. Open everyday except Wednesday from 10 am to 5.30 pm.
Entry fees are Rs. 40/- for Indian and Rs. 300/- for foreign visitors.
1. The Temples
The architectural style of the Khajuraho temples is very different from the temple prototype of that period. Each stands, instead of within the customary enclosure, on a high masonry platform. Combined with the upward direction of the structure, which is further accentuated by vertical projections, the total effect is one of grace and lightness, reminiscent of the Himalayan peaks. Each of the chief compartments has its own roof, grouped in such a way that the highest is in the centre, the lowest over the portico, a triumph of skill and imagination in recreating the rising peaks of a range. The temples of Khajuraho are divided into three geographical groups: Western, Eastern and Southern.
1. Sarnath Ruins and Museum
2. Silk Weaving Centre
3. Boat ride on river Ganges
1. Asafi Imambara (Bara Imambara)
Also known as the Bara Imambara, it was built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula in 1784 and is one of the architectural wonders of that era. Its central hall is said to be the largest vaulted chamber in the world. Except for the galleries in the interior, there is no woodwork in the entire structure. It has large underground passages which have been blocked up. A staircase from outside leads to a series of labyrinths known as Bhool-Bhulaiyan which is a complicated entanglement of zig-zag pass. Visitors are advised to visit only with authorized guides. Within the compound of the Imambara is the grand Asafi Mosque. Shahi Baoli is another attraction here.
2. Chhota Imambara
Though Popularly called as the Chhota Imambara, the Hussainabad Imambara stands to the west of Bara Imambara. Built by Nawab Mohammad Ali Shah (1837-42), it is more ornate in design with exquisite chandeliers, gilt-edged mirrors, silver mimbar and colourful stuccos which adorn the interiors. A golden dome and fine calligraphy on the exterior of the building makes it a truly exceptional monument of Mughal architecture.
Built for the British Resident during 1780-1800, it was originally a large complex of many buildings. It was the scene of dramatic events during the first war of independence in 1857. The main building overlooks the river Gomti and is surrounded by terraced lawns and gardens. Today, only the scarred ruins bear witness to the turmoil of 1857.
4. Rumi Darwaza
The 60 feet high Rumi Gate was constructed under Nawab Asafl-us-Daula in 1786. It is said to be identical in design to an ancient portal at Constantinople. Its uppermost part consists of an eight faceted chhatri, approachable by a staircase.
Gajner is an incomparable jewel in the Thar. It was built by the great Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner on the embankment of a lake with a generous dose of flora and fauna. Basically a hunting and relaxing lodge, the maharaja and the family shared their passion with their exclusive guests and hosted exotic holidays for them. Around the palace is a thick forestation that encourages the guests to go for a simple walk admiring the migratory birds in winter like imperial sand grouse, antelopes, black bucks and the animal species that wander around in the form of Nilgais, chinkaras, deers etc. The hotel is spread over a large area, and the ambience around is as raw and authentic as it was before.
It is an unassailable fortress, which had never been conquered. Built in 1593 A.D. by Raja Rai Singh, one of the most distinguished generals in the army of Emperor Akbar, the fort is a formidable structure encircled by a moat.
The main entrance to the fort is Karan Pol [gate] that is facing east. Next to it is the Suraj Pol meaning the sun gate. In the fort complex are some magnificent palaces like Anup Mahal, Ganga Niwas and Rang Mahal or palace of pleasure. The Har Mandir is the majestic chapel for the royal family for worshipping their gods and goddesses. These palaces, constructed in red sandstone and marble, make a picturesque ensemble of courtyards, balconies, kiosks and windows dotted all over the structure. The premises also house a museum, which has an array of rich collection.
1. Mehrangarh Fort
Perched on a 150 m high hill its sprawl is the most formidable and magnificent fort in Rajasthan. Rao Jodha founded it in 1459 but subsequent rulers of Jodhpur have also added to it over the centuries. A meandering road leads to the from the city 5 kms below. Battle scars of canon ball hit by attacking armies of Jaipur can still be seen on the second gate. To the left is chhatri of Kirat Singh Soda, a soldier who fell on the spot while defending the fort against the armies of Amber. There are seven gates, which include Jayapol meaning victory built by Maharaja Man Singh to commemorate his victories over Jaipur and Bikaner armies.
Fatehpol also meaning victory gate was built by Maharaja Ajit Singh to mark the defeat of Mughals. The palm imprints still attract devotional attention and are covered by vermilion paste and paper-thin silver foil.
1. City Palace
City Palace towers over the Pichola Lake. Maharana Udai Singh initiated the construction of the palace but successive Maharanas added several palaces and structures to the complex but retained remarkable uniformity in the design. The entry to the Palace is from the Hati Pol, the Elephant Gate. The Bari Pol or the Big Gate brings you to the Tripolia, the Triple gate. It was a custom to weigh the Maharaja under this gate in gold and silver, which was distributed to the populace. It is also now the main ticket office. Balconies, cupolas and towers of the palace give a wonderful view of the lake. Suraj Gokhada (or the balcony of the sun) is where the Maharana would grant public audiences mainly to boost the morale of the people in trying times. The Mor Chowk is the Hindi name of peacock square and is named after a vivid blue decorative glass peacock on the wall.
The main part of the palace is now preserved as a museum displaying a large and diverse array of artifacts. As we go down the steps from the entrance is the armoury museum exhibiting a huge collection of protective gears and various kinds of weapons including the lethal two-pronged sword. The City Palace museum is then entered through the Ganesh Deori. This leads to the Rajya Angan or the royal courtyard. This is the spot where Maharana Udai Singh is said to have met the sage who advised him to found a city here. The rooms of the palace are superbly decorated with mirror tiles and paintings. Manak Mahal or the Ruby Palace has a lovely collection of glass and mirror work while Krishna Vilas displays a rich collection of miniature paintings. Moti Mahal (the pearl palace) has beautiful mirror work and the Chini Mahal has ornamental tiles all over. The Surya Chopar (the sun square) depicts a huge ornamental sun symbolising the sun dynasty to which the Maharajas and their ancestors belonged. The Bari Mahal is a central garden giving a view of the city. Some more beautiful paintings can be seen in the 'Zenana Mahal' (the ladies chamber). Then, there is the Lakshmi Chowk which is a beautiful white pavilion.
2. Crystal Gallery
Situated in the Fateh Prakash Palace, it has a breath taking collection of crystals. These were ordered by Maharana Sajjan Singh from F & C Osler England but could not live to see them because of his untimely death. The crystal items include tables, sofa sets, dining tables, dressers, fountains and even beds besides a whole array of washing bowls, decanters and perfume bottles. There is also an exquisite jewel studded carpet.
3. Fateh Prakash Palace
The Fateh Prakash Palace, the grand heritage palace hotel of the HRH group represents the authentic royal luxury at its best. The warmth of royal hospitality greets you as you walk along the corridors lined with large paintings of the Mewar School that flourished through the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.
The lake facing suites in the turrets are suitably appointed with four poster beds and period furniture, festooned with maroon velvet curtains and delicate silk tassels. It's a legacy kept alive since the early decades of the twentieth century when Maharana Fateh Singh (period of reign: 1884 - 1935) used to be the royal occupant of this palace. Till date the formality of royal occasions are maintained.
1. Dinosaur Fossil Park
1. Ajanta Caves
In all, total 30 excavations were hewn out of rock which also include an unfinished one. Out of these, five (cave no. 9, 10, 19, 26, and 29) are chaityagrihas and the rest are viharas. In date and style also, these caves can be divided into two broad groups. The earliest excavations belong to the Hinayana phase of Buddhism of which similar examples could also be seen at Bhaja, Kondane, Pitalkhora, Nasik, etc. In total, 5 caves at Ajanta belong to this phase, viz., 9 & 10 which are chaityagrihas and 8, 12, 13, & 15A which are viharas. These caves are datable to the pre-Christian era, the earliest among them being Cave 10 dating from the second century B.C. The object of worship is a stupa here and these caves exhibit the imitation of wooden construction to the extent that the rafters and beams are also sculpted even though they are non-functional.
The world famous paintings at Ajanta also fall into two broad phases. The earliest is noticed in the form of fragmentary specimens in cave nos. 9 & 10, which are datable to second century B.C. The headgear and other ornaments of the images in these paintings resemble the bas-relief sculpture of Sanchi and Bharhut.
The second phase of paintings started around 5th - 6th centuries A.D. and continued for the next two centuries. The specimen of these exemplary paintings of Vakataka period could be noticed in cave nos. 1, 2, 16 and 17. The variation in style and execution in these paintings also are noticed, mainly due to different authors of them. A decline in the execution is also noticed in some paintings as indicated by some rigid, mechanical and lifeless figures of Buddha in some later period paintings. The main theme of the paintings is the depiction of various Jataka stories, different incidents associated with the life of Buddha, and the contemporary events and social life also.
Has the well known Bodhisattva Padmapani which is a wonderful portrayal of tender compassion. A gentle figure holding a lotus delicately in one hand. In the same cave is the golden figure of Avalokiteswara, elaborately adorned. The women, nymphs, princess and attendants are elegant and beautifully attired. Here also is a lively panel of dancing girls and musicians.
There is a detailed panel of Queen Maya's dream, of the white elephant which was interpreted by royal astrologers to mean the birth of an illustrious son. The row upon row of Buddhas, can be seen in this cave.
An elegant Vihara with an inscription that mentions the king and his minister who had the cave built. Here a towering Buddha sits preaching. He is flanked by attendants with fly whisks.
There is a flying apsara in a fashionable embroidered turban and splendid jewellery.
The arched chapel window set in an elegantly simple facade, is repeated in an elaborate frontage with its complete Chaitya and a slender votive stupa enclosing a standing Buddha at the far end. Of particular note is a sculpture of a seated Nagaraja with his consort and female attendant.
The sculpture is elaborate and beautiful though the painted frescoes are incomplete.
It is worth walking away from the caves in order to look back on to the horseshoe gorge. The ingenuous water cistern system can be seen which must have provided water for the monks and their visitors. Ajanta was on the ancient trade route leading to the coast so there must have been considerable activity and many visitors. Nobody really knows what life was like in those times and visitors can interpret the past as they wish, which is perhaps yet another secret charm of Ajanta.
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