Forts of Rajasthan – 4: Kumbhalgarh Fort

It is a cool and crisp February morning at the Kumbhalgarh Fort.

The mild warmth of the winter sun and a gentle breeze make it the perfect weather for exploring it, and the mesmerising panoramic vista tempts me to stop now and then and admire the view. The blue haze of the distant mountain ranges, birdsong and the ringing of bells from the various temples within the Fort complex adds to the general sense of peace and calm all around.

Kumbhalgarh Fort, Rajasthan, Travel, Forts of Rajasthan Though there is some activity in the settlement below and few early bird tourists like me, it feels like the Kumbhalgarh Fort is all mine, and only mine, to explore. As I stop at one point to look at the view once again, I recall how different the Fort looked the previous evening, when I attended the sound and light show.

The sun was setting when I had arrived at the Kumbhalgarh Fort. I had just enough time to buy the ticket, reach the venue, find a seat and switch off my mobile, when the show began with the rather clichéd, but oh-so-effective, voice-over saying, “Main Kumbhalgarh hoon” [I am Kumbhalgarh], setting the tone for the narration of the story of Kumbhalgarh Fort.

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Forts of Rajasthan – 2: The golden fort of Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer Fort, Sonar Killa, Rajasthan, Travel

Model of the Jaisalmer Fort

“I don’t think it looks like an arrow-head,” said the man.

“Well, the audio guide says that it is in the shape of an arrow-head. The guide-book also says so. Maybe we are missing something, “said the woman.

I came upon this couple and their discussion at a courtyard in the palace of Jaisalmer Fort.

As we nodded and smiled at each other, the woman asked me: “So do you think THIS is shaped like an arrow-head?” “THIS” was a model of the Jaisalmer Fort (see the photograph above left).

“I think it looks more like the map of India from where I stand,” I said.

“Ah ! That’s why it looked so familiar,” exclaimed the man. “Well, arrow-head, or map of India, or some other shape, it’s a beautiful fort, isn’t it?”

Now beautiful is not a word I would normally use to describe a fort. But, somehow, this word is very apt for describing Jaisalmer Fort. Built entirely of golden-yellow Jaisalmer stone, the fort is at its beautiful best during sunrise and sunset and can be seen for miles around. It rises like a golden mirage when one is approaching Jaisalmer by road, and at the same time also appears to blend into the desert surrounding it. In other words, it is rather hard to ignore Jaisalmer Fort.

Jaisalmer Fort, Forts of Rajasthan, Sonal Killa, Jaisalmer

The Jaisalmer Fort

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Travel Shot: A view of Greenwich from the river Thames

Sometimes, it takes a larger view for things to fall into perspective. Literally. Viewing the former Royal Naval College in Greenwich (pronounced Gren-itch) from across the Thames was one such experience.

I had spent a lovely day spent at Greenwich as part of a guided walk through Maritime Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of particular interest to me were the two buildings of the former Royal Naval College, which was designed by Christopher Wren, and captured by the famous Italian painter, Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto. Throughout my explorations there, I kept searching for that one view that captured the beauty, simplicity and symmetry of Wren’s design, but in vain.

It wasn’t till I crossed the river Thames to the opposite bank to take the DLR back to London that I realised that I had been searching for Canaletto’s view from the wrong side. When I emerged from the underground foot tunnel, this was the beautiful sight that greeted me.

A view of the former Royal Naval College, Greenwich, from the River Thames

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That trip to Greece !

The Guest Post Series on “My Favourite Things” has contributions by those sharing my interests in travel, books, music, and on issues that I am passionate about. These posts are not always by fellow bloggers, and the guest authors are always those who have interesting experiences to share.

Today’s guest post is by Aditi, who writes about a trip she made to Greece last summer. At that time, she was on a year-long stay in Belgium as a Rotary exchange student from India, and the Greece trip was one of the many organised by the Rotary Club for exchange students in Belgium. These days, Aditi is eagerly waiting to turn 18 and travel to see the Taj Mahal. These days she also prefers not to think about her 12th Std. results which will be declared in a month or so.

Flashback to April 2011. Tenth of April 2011 to be precise.

My bags were packed, my passport and Identity Card were safely put away in my purse. I hadn’t slept the previous night, and yet wasn’t the least bit tired as I was so excited. I was waiting in the living room, impatiently shaking my legs for my host mother to get ready. Why? Because she was going to drive me to Trois-Ponts railway station from where I would take the train to Liège station. And why was I going to Leige station? Because that’s where I was meeting all the Rotary exchange students. Why? Because we were all going on a trip to GREECE !

Did you think that we flew to Greece from Belgium? Actually, we didn’t. We took a bus. Yes, a double-decker bus and then a ship. The road part sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? And actually it was to begin with. But in hindsight it was worth it because all the Rotary exchange students got to bond with one other. And by the end of the trip, we had become the best of friends with each other. I was always happy to be with the other exchange students as I saw myself in all of them. I never thought of myself as just “Indian”. I was Indian, American, Canadian, Australian, Mexican, Venezuelan, Taiwanese, Japanese—all at the same time. And of course, Belgian. Even today, I have a bit of all these countries in me.

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The Taj Mahal: An ode to perfection and symmetry

The Taj Mahal is, without doubt, one of the most talked about, photographed, and written about monuments in the world. From academic critiques on its symbolism or its architecture, to essays on love using the Taj Mahal as a metaphor, to haiku poetry, you have it all.

For Indians, the Taj is a national treasure beyond any other, and for many international tourists the Taj Mahal is India and vice versa. The Taj has inspired countless brands from hotels to tea to inner-wear to tiles to… just about everything. Its enduring legend and its status as one of the 7 modern wonders of the world has ensured that everybody has an opinion on the Taj Mahal, whether they have seen it once, twice, many times, or not at all. :-)

I was in Agra last month and the Taj, not surprisingly, was on my list of sights to see. Though I had never seen the Taj Mahal before, I had an image of what it would be like, and even what it should be like. My mental image of the Taj was also influenced by a lot of unsolicited comments and advice from friends and family members, who had seen the Taj and were keen to share their two bits with me. A sample:

“Taj Mahal is so beautiful and romantic. You’ll love it”

“What? You stay in India and you haven’t seen the Taj? Are you sure you are an Indian?

“Look, Sudha. See the Taj with an open mind. Just empty your mind of all emotions and prejudices of what you think it should be like when you go there. Otherwise, you’ll hate it.

“I didn’t like the place at all. It is over-rated and thanks to excellent marketing it has become what it is today.”

I recall all this as I stand in a queue  with countless others waiting to  enter this modern “wonder of the world”.  Though I tell myself that I should regard this visit to the Taj with an open mind, it is difficult not to be affected by my own prejudices plus the influence of all that I have read about or heard about the Taj.

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Poetry in red sandstone: Fatehpur Sikri

Imagine a city.

A city built entirely out red sandstone and protected by a 11 km wall on 3 sides and a lake on the fourth.

A planned city, perhaps the region’s first, by an Emperor to honour a Sufi saint.

A city whose royal quarters housed the Emperor, his 3 queens, his harem, his favourite minister, and included a mosque, a temple and a giant game board, among many other structures.

A city that was abandoned 14 years after construction began.

A city that is a ghost city today.

A city that was named Fatehabad, but is known today as Fatehpur Sikri.

Imagine that city.

Part of Fatehpur Sikri’s original city wall is visible through the trees

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