We left for a ten-day tour on the 31st of October, from the college itself. It was to be a very long and hectic tour, and hectic it was! The itinerary was a very interesting one, with many architectural wonders packaged in one. We were not able to see all the items on the itinerary due to certain unseen factors, but we covered most of it. The first city we visited was Gwalior, MadhyaPradesh, most famed for its splendid fort, and also the fourth largest city in the state. We reached the city in the evening and reached the Gwalior fort, the top-most point in the city, just in time for the sound and light show.
The show narrated the history of the fort, making the audience imagine the glory as well as the despair throughout its history. It narrated the story of how the fort went from being a Rajput stronghold, to the entry point into the Mughal Empire, and then remained as a reminder of the Maratha strength.
The Gwalior fort by day is much more imposing at the first glance, due to its high battlements. But, as one reaches the MaanMandir (built in the 16th c AD), the palace of the much admired Raja Maan Singh Tomar, they forget all previous forebodings! This dazzling edifice in sandstone, decorated with blue tiles and colours (some accounts describe that earlier it had red, green and yellow decorations too), is also said to be an engineering marvel. The six storied palace, with three basement floors is planned around two internal courtyards, with a gallery overlooking them. A periscope type lighting system is employed for lighting the basement interiors. A cooler in the form of fan blades over a water body, behind a khas screen was also adopted in the time of MaanSingh. It is said that a telephone line was also installed from the palace to the base of the rock! I enjoyed going around the palace, trying to conjecture how it must have been when it was full of life and activity.
The Saas-Bahu temples, in the fort complex itself, but predating the MaanMandir, are a pair of beautifully and intrinsically carved temples, though not in use today. It is built in the nagara style of temple architecture, with a stellate-type plan. The exquisite shikhara as well as the interiors fill the viewer with admiration and respect for the people responsible, and be grateful to have been able behold this majestic sculpture.
The lofty, Teli ka Mandir (said to have got its name due to donations made by the telis), is yet another temple within the complex which should not be missed. This is a combination of the northern and southern styles of architecture, called the Valabha mode. It is unlike any temple with the absence of any mandapa or antarala. It is highly decorated from the outside, though very dingy and plain inside.
Another site within the fort, though at the base of the massive rock, is the palace of Maan Singh’s ninth queen, Mrignayani, called the GujariMahal. The palace, says the popular story, was built to resemble a village landscape, to make the gujar Mrignayani feel at home. Such a feeling is brought in by incorporating large outdoor spaces and pitched roof buildings resembling the zhopdi of the villages, though completely made of stone, ever-lasting, much like the king’s love for his queen.
The Tansen place, containing the large tomb of Tansen’s mentor MohammadGhaus, is an architectural wonder, mainly due to its many patterned jaalis. Tansen’s tomb, a much smaller structure, is constructed behind. This was planned such by the legendary singer himself, as a show of respect for his guru.
Outside the fort complex, we saw the celebrated chhatris on the Jadhav property, a commemorative building of the Marathas. This too is skillfully engraved with symbolic sculptures on arches, columns and any other surfaces available. The rest of the property has recently been renovated and converted to a heritage hotel, managed by Neemrana Hotels.
The Scindia reign was also long and strong over Gwalior, which is evidently seen through the glory of the couple of palaces that we could visit in the city. One of them is the MotiMahal, the older residence, resplendent in its scale, now converted to government offices. The newer one is the JayVilasPalace, most of it still retained as a residence, while about 30 percent converted into a museum, recounting the grandeur of the Scindia history. The overall structure, as well as the furniture showcased within create awe at the luxury and the richness of the royal family, and almost make me wonder as to what they did in their previous lives to deserve such comfort?
In Agra, UttarPradesh, the second city on our programme, we were lucky enough to see the magnificent Taj by the first light of the morning. It was a magical experience, to see it in this manner. We were still more fortunate to have been able to see it by the sunset too.
The splendid Taj Mahal seems to change its appearance almost by the hour! Its huge scale is intimidating, so is the number of people that seem to come everyday to pay their respects to this amazing monument, considered a symbol of love, the world over. The love and devotion with which the craftsmen must have worked can only be vaguely conjectured!
The Agra Fort, considered as one of the best forts of the Mughal Empire, is situated nearby, on the banks of the river Yamuna. Constructed of red sandstone and, later marble, this is a magnificent vision, as well as a splendid journey within its confines. It is steeped in history, since having been the abode of Humayun, as well as Akbar the Great.
Akbar built another fort of Fatehpur Sikri, fashioned on the style of the Agra Fort.
Wandering about the citadel I felt extreme awe at the extreme thought even in the minute details throughout. It is not very hard to imagine it full of life, after seeing the rendition of the story of Jodha-Akbar in the movie! Akbar, besides being considered a great ruler, was also considered a master-builder. He himself started the construction of his tomb at Sikandra, a little distance away from Agra. The mausoleum is just as imposing as the legendary emperor is thought to have been.
Another marvel, near Agra, is the burial place of Itmad-ud-Daula, father of the well known Empress NurJahan. It could have been a miniature of the Taj, but for the absence of the large dome. Its brilliant walls are inlaid with coloured stones, which make it appear as if a painting from afar.
On our way to Delhi, we stopped by at Mathura, to pay our homage at the birthplace of Lord Krishna.
We were to stay in Delhi for two and a half days, which definitely isn’t enough time to be able to see the whole of Delhi, owing to its large distances and perpetual traffic problem! But, we were able to see a few key structures. Numerous dynasties have built upon the soil of Delhi, calling it their own, fortifying it, making it their capital, and naming it as they saw fit. Today, Delhi is an amalgamation of all these previous capitals, some inhabited, some deserted. It is amazing to note how Delhi has developed on the ruins of many shattered dynasties, each leaving their mark in one way or the other.
The Qutub complex is one such example. Even within the complex itself, one finds the mark of several generations of sovereigns, the Minar itself built during three generations. Different kinds of stones and carvings help in classifying the periods broadly, in most cases. The complete complex is mainly in ruins, except for the Minar and the Alai Darwaza.
Another such place is the Red Fort. Though largely built by Shahjahan, a few additions were undertaken later. This is largely modelled on the Agra fort, with the architect making a few changes on his own. We reached the fort after it was dark, and hence couldn’t see much besides the light and sound show, which didn’t seem to reach our expectations, though it did convey most of its history.
Humayun’s tomb is considered as another monument, to have achieved architectural excellence, by its architect, Akbar. Standing in front of it, it made me seem small, insignificant. It has now been restored, though it definitely doesn’t reach the glory of its day.
The Connought Place thought of as the heart of New Delhi, does not fail to dazzle visitors by its white, colonial-style architecture. Today, it has been converted into something like the bazaar.
The India Gate, nearby, doesn’t let us forget the great sacrifice of countless men for the security of our wonderful country.
One of the modern monuments built in the city is the Baha’i, or the lotus temple. It is the house of worship of the independent world religion, all-encompassing in its scope. The architect, Mr.FariburzSahba, tried to combine the various cultures of India as one. He came upon the lotus, which is significant, more or less, in all the known faiths.
The city, being very rich in architectural heritage, also boasts of several cultural developments. One such place is the Delhi Haat, where the crafts, arts as well as the delicacies of the entire nation come together! Another cultural site is the huge Pragati Maidan. It also houses an art and craft village, where outdoors as well as interiors is incorporated to recreate history, as well as the rich rural landscapes. Delhi is of course quite well known for its dense and rich street markets, where one can find everything they need. One such market we could explore was that of Karol Baugh.