Rani ni Vav: The queen of stepwells

Rani ni Vav, Rani ki Vav, Queen's stepwell, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Incredible India, Gujarat, PatanIt is around 10.30 in the morning when I enter the Rani ni Vav (or the Queen’s Stepwell) complex at Patan. It’s a sunny with bright blue and cloudless skies.

I take this as an auspicious sign for I have been rather unlucky when it comes to viewing stepwells. Be it at Hampi, Champaner or Lonar, the wells were full of water when I visited these places and I could not see the step-like feature of the wells. So keenly aware I am of my ‘luck’ with stepwells that I cannot help asking the person selling entry tickets to the monument, if there is water in the stepwell. I get the reassuring reply that the water supply dried up a long time back and the step well is dry.

So it is with a spring in my steps and a smile on my face that I enter the complex. Manicured lawns and well laid out pathways welcome me, and I pass a photo shoot and coy couples hiding behind bushes on my way to the Rani ni Vav, which is a short walk from the entrance.

Soon the stepwell is visible or rather a fenced off rise and depression is visible and it is only when I am almost upon it that I see steps descending into the stepwell. I have picked up a booklet from the ticket office on the Rani ni Vav and settle down on the topmost step to read and familiarise myself with the history of the stepwell.

Rani ni Vav, Rani ki Vav, Queen's stepwell, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Incredible India, Gujarat, Patan Continue reading

The Ellora Caves: A showcase for Indian sculptural art

You know what they say about saving the best for the last? Well, Ellora Caves doesn’t believe in that !

The first thing that visitors to Ellora Caves see after entering the complex is its most famous monument right in front of them. It is the monument that writers have written paeans about, the monument that is a photographer’s delight, the monument that leaves visitors awestruck, and the monument that everyone knows as Kailasa Temple, but is officially known as Cave 16.

When I walked in after buying my entry ticket and saw the richly carved entrance to the cave, familiar from so many photographs, I actually rubbed my eyes in disbelief !

Ellora Caves, Sculptures, Indian Art, Aurangabad, UNESCO World Heritage Site

The entrance to the Kailasa Temple or Cave 16

My impulse was to explore Kailasa first, but better sense prevailed. Tempting as it was to explore Cave 16, I decided to begin with Cave 1, which was a short distance away. It turned out to be a good decision for if I had explored the Kailasa Temple first, I would probably not have seen any of the other 33 caves at Ellora!

Once again, as it happened at the Ajanta Caves and then at Daulatabad Fort, no guides were available when I Ellora Caves at noon, one day in December 2013. There was also no literature on Ellora available at the ticket office. But, as I found out later, the information boards placed outside each cave provided adequate information.

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Ajanta Caves: Where all the fine arts converge

The world-famous, rock-cut Ajanta Caves is one of those places where background reading or research doesn’t help. At least, it didn’t help me.

Prior to visiting the caves in December 2013, I had read up on the best time to visit, the must see paintings in the caves, etc., but my first look at the Ajanta Caves spread out before me like an arc, and I forgot all that I had read. So, when I walked into Cave 1 and saw the shimmering painting of Bodhisattva Padmapani (see photo below), I was surprised and delighted. Arguably, the best known Ajanta painting, I was as surprised and delighted as the 3 villagers who were standing next to me, and who had perhaps neither seen a picture nor read anything about the Ajanta cave paintings before.

Ajanta Caves, Buddhist paintings, Murals

Bodhisattva Padmapani

The Ajanta Caves is also one of those places, which has been very difficult to write about. More than a year and countless drafts later, I finally wrote this post — my nth attempt. I have written it with the full knowledge that it does not do justice to what I saw and experienced. Hopefully, the photographs in this post will try to convey what my words cannot. Continue reading

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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Old Goa: Of churches, a ruin, a museum and Google Maps

Old Goa, Se Cathedral, Goa, Travel, Velha Goa, UNESCO World Heritage SiteIt is nearly 5 pm when we (my friend and I) decide to call it a day at Old Goa or Velha Goa. We have spent a wonderful day in this culturally and historically significant part of Goa by exploring some of its monuments and also a museum.

As we walk out of the last of the monuments we have visited, I switch on my cell phone to call DJ, the driver of the car we have hired for the day to come and pick us up. (I had switched it off earlier in the day when we were dropped outside the first of the monuments we were to visit that day). My phone pings notifications furiously and to my surprise, I see notifications for 16 missed calls and 12 text messages — all from DJ.

When I call him up, DJ almost faints with relief. “Oh Madam, I thought something had happened to you.”

“What made you think so?” I ask him, surprised. “I did say that we would call you once we were done for the day.”

When DJ picks us up, he repeats how relieved he was to see us and asks if we saw all the monuments in Old Goa.

“Of course not ! It’s impossible to see all of them. We visited 6 monuments and 1 museum.”

DJ actually stops the car and turns around to stare at us. ‘You spent 8 hours and saw only 6? I have brought people here who have done all the monuments in less than 2 hours and then headed to the beach.”

I just shrug. As we drive off, I can sense DJ’s puzzled gaze at us. A gaze that seems to ask just what we did we do the whole day in Old Goa?

Are you also curious about my day in Old Goa and what I did there? Well then, read on… :)

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Forts of Rajasthan – 5: Chittorgarh Fort

It’s a hot and dusty day in February and the mid-day sun is relentless as is the perspiration that trickles down my back. And yet, I feel cold and shiver as if some one has walked over my grave.

I am at Chittorgarh Fort, the erstwhile capital of Mewar, and at the site that was once the cremation ground for members of the royal family. The site is also known as the Mahasati Sthal as this is where widowed queens would commit sati. According to the guide, from the vast quantities of ash found at this site, this is also where at least one of the three jauhars — ritualistic mass suicide through immolation committed by women and their young children in the face of certain defeat to Muslim invaders — that Chittorgarh Fort has witnessed happened.

Chittorgarh Fort, Mewar, Travel, Rajasthan, Forts of Rajasthan, UNESCO World Heritage Site

The high raised platform in the background is where sati used to take place and when jauhar took place at this site, the entire ground turned into one vast burning pyre

Death before dishonour is a code that all Rajputs — men and women — lived by. While for men this meant dying in battle; for women, this translated into jauhar instead of being captured by the Muslim invaders. Available literature and ballads say that as the jauhar ritual began, the men would dress up in saffron clothes and ride out to fight their final battle and into certain death.

I feel an immense degree of sadness mixed with revulsion as I listen to the guide describing the jauhars. Though my eyes close automatically as if to keep out the horror, my mind conjures of images of this description and devastation. I try to recollect my day at the Fort in an attempt to divert my mind.

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