ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Rajasthan, Agra and Delhi 2018

DAY 8 (5/5): FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2018.12.01

Out of all structures in Fatehpur Sikri, the most imposing building is undoubtedly Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque).  Completed in 1571, Akbar’s impressive grand mosque houses the white marble tomb of Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, and the spectacular 54m tall Buland Darwaza (Victory Gate).  One of the biggest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid of Fatehpur Sikri features a series of chhatris, elevated dome shaped pavilions purely for decoration.  We came just in time to make a brief visit at the mosque before sunset.

IMG_2085From the former royal palaces, we entered the mosque via the Shahi Darwaza (King’s Gate).  At the gate, we took off our shoes and left them with the shoe keeper along with a small fee.

DSC_2438Beyond the Shahi Darwaza, we arrived at a huge open courtyard.

DSC_2466The gigantic Buland Darwaza (Victoria Gate) was built as a victory arch to commemorate Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat.

DSC_2445At 55m from the outside, the Buland Darwaza (Victoria Gate) is considered the tallest gate in the world.

IMG_2111At the back, the Buland Darwaza stepped down to a more human scale towards the  main courtyard.

IMG_2087Opposite to Buland Darwaza stands the elegant white marble tomb of Shaikh Salim Chisti and the red sandstone assembly hall Jamat Khana.

IMG_2092 The Tomb of Shaikh Salim Chisti is considered one of the finest example of Mughal architecture.

IMG_2098The marble cenotaph is popular with Islam worshipers.  Shaikh Salim Chisti was a Sufi saint who blessed Emperor Akbar with his son before he was born.

IMG_2103Worshipers studied religious text at the outer corridor of the cenotaph.  Photography was not allowed inside the cenotaph.

DSC_2456The tomb building is covered all four sides with beautiful lattice.

DSC_2462Showing the direction of Mecca, the central mihrab is covered by a dome.

DSC_2465We paid a brief visit to the interior of the main mosque building.

IMG_2121Splendid marble inlay in geometric patterns cover most of the interior walls.

DSC_2467The principal mihrab situates beneath the great dome of the mosque.

DSC_2477Worshipers gathered at the front porch of the assembly hall Jamat Khana.

IMG_2127There are a number of tombs in the courtyard.

IMG_2086As the sun set below the magnificent sandstone chhatris, it was time for us to return to the parking lot and finished our day’s journey to Agra.

IMG_2156At around 8pm, we finally arrived at Taj Ganj, the district immediately south of majestic Taj Mahal in Agra.  After checking in at our simple guesthouse near the West Gate, we headed out for a quick bite.  We would need to rest for the night and get up early the next day to line up for the sunrise entry into the Taj Mahal before 6am.

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DAY 8 (4/5): THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2018.12.01

Known as the “City of Victory” after Emperor Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat in 1573, Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585, until its abandonment in 1610 shortly after Akbar’s death.  The abandoned Mughal capital makes a great side trip from Agra, where tourists from all over the world flocked to visit probably the most famous attraction in India, the Taj Mahal.  Inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage in 1986, the red-sandstone capital is considered an Indo-Islamic architectural masterpiece.  It is also one of the biggest tourist attractions in India.

It was almost 4pm when we arrived at the huge parking lot of Fatehpur Sikri.  From there, we had to hop on a shuttle bus for a 5-minute ride to the main entrance of the historical site.  The sun was already quite low.  The red sandstone buildings were very photogenic under the late afternoon sun.  However, our visit was quite rush as we only had a bit over an hour to appreciate the historical site.

DSC_2384With four distinctive chhatris on the top, the Diwan-i-khas or Hall of Private Audience was the first building that caught our eyes as we entered the complex.

DSC_2391Emperor Akbar’s Throne Pillar in the Diwan-i-khas contains motifs of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, aiming to incorporate all religions into one for his empire.

IMG_2039Tansen Musical Pond at the centre of Fatehpur Sikri was famous for the platform designated for the legendary musician Tansen.

IMG_2058The green pond provided a pleasant contrast to the red sandstone architecture.

IMG_3328Panorama of Tansen musician pond.

IMG_2046Surrounded by a verandah, the Turkish Sultana’s House is an highly ornate building. Both the interiors and exteriors are beautifully carved with motifs. The house is believed to be the residence of the Turkish Queen Sultana.

IMG_2042The Turkish Sultana’s House is full of intricate carved motifs.

IMG_3305Every single inch of the building is ornately carved.

IMG_2049With influences from Hindu and Muslim cultures, the buildings of Fatehpur Sikri showcase some of the best examples of Mughal architecture.

IMG_2056The well preserved Fatehpur Sikri looked like a large empty shell made with red sandstone.

IMG_2060The structural skeleton of the buildings looked neat and surreal.

DSC_2415Chhatris, the elevated, dome shaped pavilions, are commonly found in traditional Indian architecture.  They serve mainly for decorative purpose.

DSC_2425Built in 1571, the Birbal’s House accommodated the two senior queens of Emperor Akbar.

IMG_2064Beyond the Birbal’s House, we reached the long colonnade of the Lower Haramsara.

DSC_2422The colonnade of the Lower Haramsara.

DSC_2423Many historians believe the Lower Haramsara was used as a stable for camels and horses.

DSC_2430Adjacent to the Lower Haramsara is the Jodha Bai Palace, the complex constructed for the Hindu queen.  Hindu motifs such as lotus flowers and elephants could be found at the magnificent Jodha Bai Palace.

DSC_2433A pleasant courtyard can be found at the centre of Jodha Bai Palace.  For security purpose, only one single guarded entrance was provided for the complex back in the old days.

IMG_2075We exited from the main entrance of Jodh Bai’s palace to find our way towards Jama Masjid, the famous Friday Mosque of Fatehpur Sikri.


DAY 8 (3/5): CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan, India, 2018.12.01

In 2012, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy had come to closure with The Dark Knight Rises.  In this final chapter of the trilogy, there was a remarkable scene where Christian Bale (Batman) escaped from a terrifying underground prison.  That underground prison was actually shot in Rajasthan, at Chand Baori of Abhaneri.  Consisted of 3500 steps over 13 stories, and with a depth of about 30m, Chand Baori is one of the biggest stepped wells in India.  The oldest parts of Chand Baori date back to the 8th century.  For centuries, the well served as a community water cistern outside of the monsoon months.

We have long been fascinated by the beautiful stepped wells of India.  Visiting Chand Baori of Abhaneri was one of the first attractions we selected for our travel itinerary.  Despite visitors can no longer walk down the well, seeing the well from the top edge is still more than worthwhile to appreciate its ancient engineering marvel and sheer beauty of the stair arrangement.

01We arrived at Chand Baori before 1pm.

02It wasn’t the best time of the day to appreciate the shadow of the stairs.

03But the sheer grandeur of the stepped well was really overwhelming.

04One side of the well is occupied by a temple and resting spaces for the royal family.

05The intricate carvings of jharokhas (windows), balconies and rooms reveal the significance of Chand Baori in the medieval time.

06Like many attractions in India, pigeons are inevitable at Chand Baori.

07Details of the architecture.

08Dressed in blue, the staff of Chand Baori stood out from the earthy background.

09Full view of Chand Baori.

10Full view of Chand Baori.

13Full view of Chand Baori.

11The scale of Chand Baori is truly amazing.

12The 3500 steps of the stepped well constitute a surreal picture as if an etched painting by Maurits Escher.

14Similar to Bhangarh, Chand Baori was popular with local school groups as well.

15Without protective railings, the stepped well can be dangerous when the place becomes too crowded.

16The staff in blue really stood out at the stepped well.

18The entire stepped well was like an open air museum.

19There was a small Hindu shrine at the exit of the stepped well.

20Panorama of Chand Baori.


DAY 8 (2/5): HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan, India, 2018.12.01

Adjacent to Sariska Tiger Reserve, the ruined fort in the village of Bhangarh is well known in India, not just for its impressive 17th century ruins but for its fame as the most haunted attraction in the country.  It is common for visitors with their own wheels to stop by the ruins during the journey between Jaipur and Agra.  Some adventure seekers go as far as hiding in the fort and staying the night illegally to challenge their courage when everybody is gone.  But they are truly risking their lives as tigers from the nearby reserve have been known for occasional visits in the wee hours.

We spent roughly an hour at the ruins.  Knowing that we still had two more places to go after Bhangarh, we had to be disciplined with time management.  While many visitors come to Bhangarh for its haunted legends, the site was in fact worth visiting also for its well preserved ruins.  Legend has it that a black magician fell in love with the beautiful Princess Ratnavati of Bhangarh.  The princess saw through the magician’s wicked plot of tricking her to fall in love with him.  The sour consequence led to the magician putting a curse over the entire fort.  The troubled fort had since then became deserted and haunted.

IMG_1165We passed by the Hanumaan Temple as soon as we stepped into the site of Bhangarh.

IMG_3210Flanked both sides by ruined stone houses, walking on the main street into the site allowed us to imagine its former glory.

DSC_2277Beyond the street of ruined houses, we arrived at the inner core of Bhangarh.

DSC_2224We were delighted to find a large open space at the heart of the site.

DSC_2273The open space was flanked by a number of buildings, including the Gopinath Temple.

DSC_2222From the open space it was another short walk uphill to the fort complex.

IMG_1190We were delighted to see how well preserved the fort was.

DSC_2227On our way up to the fort, we encountered several groups of local students.

DSC_2235They were really interested in us.  Perhaps it wasn’t common for them to see foreigners.

DSC_2243Groups after groups of local students urged us to take them pictures.

DSC_2247The laughter of the school children was a big bonus for our Bhangarh visit.

DSC_2238Looking down to the open space from the fort.

DSC_2254The fort was built cascading up the hill.

IMG_1194Most of the buildings had collapsed after centuries of abandonment.

DSC_2259Monkey were everywhere in the site, especially at the entrance of Somnath Temple.

IMG_1207Local visitors stepping out the Somnath Temple.

IMG_1215Gray langur monkeys are native to the Indian subcontinent.

DSC_2280Before leaving the site, we had encountered several different groups of monkeys, some of which were devouring fruits given by local visitors.

 


DAY 8 (1/5): ON THR ROAD TO AGRA, India, 2018.12.01

240km of travel distance, almost ten hours on the road including three major sights we stopped by along the way: Bhangarh (ruins), Abhaneri (stepped well), and Fatehpur Sikri (historical capital).  Hiring a car from Jaipur to Agra provided us the flexibility to make detours in the countryside at the eastern edge of Rajasthan.  After a week in the desert state, it was time for us continue en-route to complete the “golden triangle” of Jaipur, Agra and Delhi.  Our hired car was booked through Jaipur’s Arya Niwas Hotel.  The driver for the day turned out to be experienced and gentle.  The journey was smooth and rather comfortable despite we ventured into villages and sights away from the main expressway.  Throughout the journey, we passed by villages and farms, giving us an opportunity to see another side of Rajasthan away from historical palaces and fortresses.

IMG_1113Always wearing his flat cap, our driver  was experienced and gentle.

IMG_1134We passed by a village dominated with small stone carving workshops.

IMG_1138Colourful clothing of local Rajasthan women often stood out from the otherwise earthy background.

IMG_1151Along the dusty road, we passed by numerous makeshift petrol filling facilities for motorbikes.

IMG_1236An eye-catching motorbike and a woman with a marvelous outfit standing confidently looked as if a scene from a sci-fi movie.

IMG_1241No matter in cities or the countryside, street food remained popular among the locals.

IMG_1245Disregarded of their age, local Rajasthan women always cover themselves with clothing in vivid colours.

IMG_1283In rural India, cars and trucks are often utilized to their limits.

IMG_1288Throughout the day, we constantly crossed path with an elevated expressway under construction.

IMG_1414Local woman.

IMG_1453In conversation.

IMG_1459Simple hair salon.

IMG_1492In rural India, dried cow dung are commonly used as fuel.

IMG_1620Locals embarking on a motorbike journey.

IMG_1748Occasional sighting of camels on the expressway reminded us that we were still traveling in the desert state.

IMG_1832Shared tuk-tuk or auto rickshaws are everywhere.

IMG_1885Wheat, barley, pulses, sugarcane, oilseeds, cotton, tobacco, mustard, rapeseed, soy bean are some of the main crops in Rajasthan.

IMG_1927End of school day.

IMG_1933Construction site of a multi storey concrete building.

IMG_2022The smiles and laughter of Rajasthani locals would live long in our heart as we left the desert state for Agra.


DAY 7 (4/4): PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.30

Standing at the edge of the City Palace of Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal was part of the women’s chambers of the former royal palace.  Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the sandstone facade with a honeycomb of latticed bay windows is the most recognizable building in Jaipur.  The splendid facade is actually the back side of the palace building, where royal ladies were able to watch the activities and occasional festival events on the street through one of the 953 small windows.  Today, the five-storey palace building is open to visitors.  With narrow stairways and passageways and shallow rooms, the top three floors can get a little crowded during the tourist high season.

All tourists in Jaipur would take pictures of the famous facade from the main street, while not every one would actually visit the building interior.  We were curious to experience how it might feel to peek back at the main street through one the small windows, and thus decided to pay a brief visit of the palace.  Finding the entrance of Hawa Mahal required a bit of research.  Entered through a retail side street, we arrived at a back lane where the real entrance and ticket office of Hawa Mahal were located.

DSC_1796The splendid facade of Hawa Mahal is the most recognizable building in Jaipur.

IMG_0880To enter the building, visitors must find their way into the back alleyway where the main entrance is located.

IMG_0881Through a series of doors and gateways, we arrived at the primary courtyard of Hawa Mahal.

DSC_2129A feature water fountain dominated the primary courtyard of Hawa Mahal.

DSC_2132We had little interest on the water feature.  Instead, our primary aim was to check out the small windows and the views from the top two levels of the palace.

DSC_2135We walked up a level at a time.  Colourful stained glass windows were everywhere, providing a pleasant visual effects for the interiors.

DSC_2141While many small windows were locked up, some were opened for visitors to check out the street views.

DSC_2148It wasn’t difficult for visitors to imagine the elusive lives of the royal ladies behind the small windows.

DSC_2152The ramp tower led us to the top floor.  From the top floor, we could enjoy the view back into the royal palace.

DSC_2165The pink facade of Hawa Mahal matches perfectly with shops across the street.

DSC_2168There was another courtyard complex connected to the Hawa Mahal on the ground level.

IMG_0905Looking straight down the iconic facade was a little frightening.

IMG_0906Across the street, restaurant patios lined up on the roof and top terraces for anyone who might have the time and mood to sit down with a drink, and take in views of the romantic sunset and iconic facade.

IMG_0921Stairs and hallways on the top floors were really narrow.

IMG_0929By the time we reached the top level it was almost sunset time.

DSC_2179Before leaving Hawa Mahal, we found our way to check out a corner pavilion at the terrace level.

IMG_0980We stopped by a rooftop cafe across the street to enjoy the sunset scenery of the iconic Hawa Mahal.

IMG_1002Before the sun disappeared below the horizon, flood lights at the base of Hawa Mahal were turned on for the night view.  We bid farewell to Hawa Mahal and returned to the Peacock Restaurant for our final dinner in Jaipur.

 


DAY 7 (3/4): MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.30

In 2010, Jaipur’s astronomical experiment ground, Jantar Mantar, with what many referred as the “world’s largest sundial” was inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage.   The world’s largest sundial Vrihat Samrat Yantra was said to provide time with an accuracy of 2 seconds.  Built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1734 as one of the five Jantar Mantars (Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Ujjain, Mathura) in India, Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar was used to observe the movement of the sun, moon and planets, and compile astronomical tables.

We are no astronomical experts, but were curious to check out the 18th century observatory.  Even without any astronomical knowledge, the splendid instruments can be appreciated purely for their physical beauty and historic values.  From Amber Fort, it took us a while to bargain with different tuk tuk driver to take us back with the same price that we paid in the morning.  In Jaipur, we get off at the entrance of Jantar Mantar, directly across the street from the City Palace.

IMG_0825The moment we entered the compound, we were immediately overwhelmed by the sight of the huge sundial, Vrihat Samrat Yantra.

DSC_2065Right by the entrance, we started from something much smaller, the Unnatamsa Yantra, an instrument to measure the altitude of celestial bodies.

DSC_2071After several smaller instruments, we arrived at the biggest of them all, the Vrihat Samrat Yantra.

DSC_2083With 27m (88 ft) in height, Vrihat Samrat Yantra literally means the “king of all instruments”.

DSC_2094Its shadow moves visibly 1mm per second.  Its face is angled at 27 degrees, the latitude of Jaipur.

DSC_2099Rashi Valaya Yantra is comprised of twelve gnomon dial to measure ecliptic coordinates of stars and planets.

DSC_2101They were also used to measure the coordinates of the 12 constellations.

IMG_0857A small piece of artwork indicates the corresponding constellation.

DSC_2067All instruments were made of stone and marble, with astronomical scale marked on a marble lining.

DSC_2117It must be delightful to witness the gentle movement of shadows across the astronomical scale.

IMG_0858Planet study was also a popular subject at Jantar Mantar.

IMG_0862The last instrument we encountered was Jai Prakash Yantra.

DSC_2105Jai Prakash Yantra is consisted of two bowl shaped marble slabs with inverted map of the sky.  it allows astronomers to move inside the slab to measure altitudes, azimuths, hour angles of celestial bodies.

IMG_0871The nearby Kapali Yantra is also consited of two sunken bowls with a map of the heaven carved on the bowl.