Qila-i-Akbari: The red fort of Agra

October 2011
It is almost noon when I arrive at Agra Fort tired, dehydrated, sunburned and with the beginnings of a headache.

It has been a long day that began before sunrise by queuing up with what seemed like the rest of world to see the Taj Mahal. Then it was onwards to Sikandra through terrible traffic and road rage incidents to see Akbar’s Mausoleum, and finally back to Agra to visit the I’timad-ud-Daulah.

It is hot and dry and the Fort is quite crowded. I’m exhausted and unable to concentrate on what the guide is saying. After about 15 minutes like this, I give up and decide to leave, with the hope that I’ll get a chance to visit Agra again and walk through the Fort gates once more.

Agra Fort, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Travel, Red Fort of Agra, Akbari Darwaza

That chance comes almost 3 years later. :-)

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The Christian mausoleums of Agra

You know that moment when you are looking for something, but end up finding something else? Something you were not expecting to find? Something you didn’t even know you wanted to find? I had one such moment about 10 days back.

I was headed to Agra the next day for a conference and hoped to squeeze in a visit to the Agra Fort. While checking the Fort timings on it’s official website, I came across a link to lesser known monuments in the city. Curious to know more, I clicked on the link and my eyes were immediately drawn to the photograph accompanying the second entry on the page — a red domed structure with four minarets in each corner, not unlike a Taj Mahal, but red in colour.

Roman Catholic Cemetery 2

Wondering which Mughal prince or noble was buried in this very obvious example of Islāmic architecture, I proceeded to read the description. And then read it again just to make sure that what I had read was indeed what I read the first time.

The Red Taj Mahal or John William Hessing’s Tomb was built by his wife in the memory of her husband. If Taj Mahal is known for the love of a husband for his wife, then on the other hand, the Red Taj Mahal is known for the love of a wife for her husband…

This was no mausoleum of a Mughal prince or noble or even a Muslim; this was a Christian’s tomb located in the Agra’s Roman Catholic Cemetery. Reading about this rather intriguing place, I was surprised that I had neither heard of nor come across the Cemetery and the ‘Red Taj Mahal’ before, in spite of having visited Agra in 2011! There was only one way to remedy this. Visit it.

And that’s exactly what I do when I visited Agra earlier this month. :)

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Why I haven’t quit my job to travel !

“Why don’t you quit your job to travel full-time?” is a question that I’m asked quite often.

When I created a separate Contact Page on this blog about 2 years back, it was for a better way to engage with my readers and those wishing to connect with me. Soon, I started getting mails from readers wanting more information about the places I had travelled to or wishing to travel with me in the future; requests for book reviews; invitations to events; PR agencies wanting my contact details for their database; people seeking permission to use my photographs and posts on other sites; people wanting advice on how to start a travel blog and monetise it…

But the most interesting mails come from a group of people who want to know my ‘life story’. In other words, the story of ‘how I quit my job to travel’. This group of people are usually in their early 20s, fresh out of college/university, have never had the experience of working in a job (but hate the idea of a job anyway), and have dreams of making it big in travel blogging / travel writing business. My reply to such mails is usually standard: “that they should read the “About” page on this blog which would tell them that I work full-time, and haven’t quit my job to travel or do anything else”.

The correspondence doesn’t stop here. The next mail usually comes with the question, “Why don’t you quit your job to travel full-time?” or a variation of this. Depending on the tone of the mail and my mood at that time, I either reply with a shorter version of this post or just don’t bother to respond. I know it’s bad practice to not reply but, frankly speaking, I’m fed up with these mails. I’m fed up of replying to people who are convinced that the best way to travel (or do anything in life for that matter) is by quitting their jobs.

I’m so fed up that I decided to write a blog post on “why I haven’t quit my job to travel”. Another reason for writing this post is because the Internet is full of articles and blog posts on how people have quit their jobs to travel or do ‘something meaningful’ (just do a simple search and you’ll know what I mean). There are hardly any articles on why one doesn’t have to or want to quit their job in order to travel or do ‘something meaningful’. In fact, I have come across only one such article so far. This post is a teeny-weeny attempt to correct that imbalance of perception.

There are many reasons, big and small, as to why I haven’t quit my job to travel; I’ll only share the three main ones here.

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The old world charm of Fontainhas: My third guest post

Raghav of the Traveling Ticker asked me for a Guest post more than a year back. And though I agreed to write one, I could not find a topic suitable for his blog. Till I visited Fontainhas in Goa last year.

Fontainhas is a charming little area in Panaji, Goa, known for its traditional Portuguese style colourful houses. Though I would have loved to spend more time there, I could only manage an hour walking its many lanes and delighting in its unique architecture. Needless to say, I fell in love with Fontainhas.

I sent of the post and accompanying photographs to Raghav yesterday, who posted “The old world charm of Fontainhas” on the Traveling Ticker short while back. Do click on the link or the collage below to read my impressions of Fontainhas.

And you will let me know what you think of Fontainhas, won’t you? :)

Fontainhas, Goa, Travel

Please click on the picture to read the full post

An afternoon in Aldona

It is after 3 in the afternoon when I arrive at the outskirts of Aldona, a village in North Goa. I have driven down from Ponda after a visit to the temple at Tambdi Surla and am headed to Aldona for a backwater cruise. Yes, you read right. A backwater cruise in Goa. Yes, Goa. :)

I first read about the backwaters of Goa in this post by my fellow blogger Shivya. I was intrigued and had tucked away this piece of information in the back of my mind, not knowing that I would be headed to Goa myself in a few months. So, when I reached Goa it was only natural that I got more details from Shivya about the backwater cruise she had written about.

Enter Roberto Amaral. He’s the guy who conducts the backwater cruise, is the owner of Cancio’s House (a Bed & Breakfast place) at Aldona, and Skipper of the Lady M Luxury Yacht Charter in Goa. When I speak with him to book the cruise, Roberto is kind enough to suggest other places to visit in the vicinity — the Corjuem Fort near Aldona and also the centuries-old St. Thomas Church at Aldona. I take Roberto’s advice and head first to the Corjuem Fort.

Aldona, Corjuem Fort, Noth Goa, Portuguese Fort Continue reading

The temple and the forest

A long, long time ago a temple was built in a forest.

The temple was on the banks of a perennial stream and at the foot of a hilly portion deep inside the forest. The man who built it was the administrator of the region, and a minister in the court of the king who ruled the land. The temple was not big or grand in size, but was rich in detail. The main deity in the temple was the man’s ishta devta, Shiva or Mahadeva in the form of a lingam.

For some reason, the temple remained known only to the man, his soldiers and the people who lived in the forest. This turned out to be a good thing for when the invaders came to the area intent on destroying places of worship, the temple was spared as they weren’t aware of it. The man and his soldiers had to flee the region, never to return again and with this, the temple entered a into a state neglect and disrepair as there was no one to maintain it.

Centuries passed. The forest claimed the temple as its own and a thick undergrowth added to the temple remaining hidden, ensuring that nobody knew what lay within save snakes and other animals that had made the area their home. Subsequent invaders to the region did not even enter the forest.

And then one day, in the not too distant past, something happened. A bold or maybe a lucky explorer or perhaps just someone who lost his way in the forest came upon the temple or rather its ruins. He informed the authorities concerned who immediately set out to uncover it. It wasn’t an easy task, but once the trees and undergrowth were cleared it was to reveal a temple like no other in the Goa.

The Mahadev Temple of Tambdi Surla turned out to be quite a discovery and studies dated it at 12th/13th century making it the oldest temple in the state. A visit to the temple last November underscored everything that I have described this temple to be.

Mahadev temple, Tambdi Surla, Goa, Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary Continue reading