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.
With 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.
Emperor 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.
Tansen Musical Pond at the centre of Fatehpur Sikri was famous for the platform designated for the legendary musician Tansen.
The green pond provided a pleasant contrast to the red sandstone architecture.
Panorama of Tansen musician pond.
Surrounded 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.
The Turkish Sultana’s House is full of intricate carved motifs.
Every single inch of the building is ornately carved.
With influences from Hindu and Muslim cultures, the buildings of Fatehpur Sikri showcase some of the best examples of Mughal architecture.
The well preserved Fatehpur Sikri looked like a large empty shell made with red sandstone.
The structural skeleton of the buildings looked neat and surreal.
Chhatris, the elevated, dome shaped pavilions, are commonly found in traditional Indian architecture. They serve mainly for decorative purpose.
Built in 1571, the Birbal’s House accommodated the two senior queens of Emperor Akbar.
Beyond the Birbal’s House, we reached the long colonnade of the Lower Haramsara.
The colonnade of the Lower Haramsara.
Many historians believe the Lower Haramsara was used as a stable for camels and horses.
Adjacent 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.
A 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.
We exited from the main entrance of Jodh Bai’s palace to find our way towards Jama Masjid, the famous Friday Mosque of Fatehpur Sikri.
Before returning to 1st Gate Home Fusion Hotel, we dropped by Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli, another famous haveli in Jaisalmer. The haveli was built for Diwan Mohata Nathmal, the chief minister of Jaisalmer who served between 1885 – 1891. The haveli was supposedly built by two architects, Hathi and Lulu, who happened to be brothers. Each brother started building the mansion’s from a different facade, and thus the two sides are said to carry subtle differences if looked closely. Unlike Patwon Ki Haveli, Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli is not a museum, nor is it open to the public. Visitors like us can only reach as far as the entrance courtyard that was flanked by a few souvenir shops selling miniature paintings. After a brief stay, we took a leisure stroll back to the hotel. Wandering in the busy market streets of old Jaisalmer and seeing all the vibrant interactions of the locals was a delight. Such delight would left us pleasant memories of the Golden City before we moved on to our next destination by night train.
Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli is considered to be one of the grandest haveli in Jaisalmer.
The two yellow sandstone elephants of Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli are iconic representations of Jaisalmer’s splendid architectural carvings.
Visitors can only go as far as the entrance courtyard of Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli.
After stopping by at Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli, we wandered a bit in old Jaisalmer to find our way back to 1st Gate Home Fusion Hotel.
In the maze like network of small streets, we passed by two stone workers who were preparing stone blocks from a pile of local yellow sandstone.
At a street intersection, a group of men gathered for some sort of discussion at a beautiful veranda.
Shops lined on both sides of small market streets. Cows were free to roam around on the streets (and shops).
It was strange to see cows roaming freely on the streets while some ended up becoming leather goods in shops.
Despite the remote desert location, fresh vegetables were sold in abundance.
It was late in the afternoon and there were only two vendors left at this market square.
Most shops were completely open to the streets, including these tailor shops.
Just like other places in Rajasthan, garments of vivid colours were always the most popular among locals.
For snacks, sweet pastries seemed to be the way to go.
Cakes with sharp colours and sweet flavour: Indian style.
We passed by the popular Bhatia Sweets near the first gate of the fort. Both locals and foreign visitors gathered here for their regional sweets ghotua laddu, kalakand, etc.
We returned to 1st Gate Home Fusion Hotel near the fort, where we had dinner at the rooftop restaurant again. Despite we had already check out of our room, the manager let us stay at the massage room until it was time for us to leave for our midnight train.
DAY 4 (4/5): DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.27
From our guidebook we picked Saffron Restaurant for lunch. Situated on the leafy rooftop of Nachna Haveli Hotel, Saffron Restaurant offers an atmospheric venue away from the busy lanes of Jaisalmer. The building complex is owned by the Nachna family. They are direct descendants of Maharawal Jaisal, the founder of Jaisalmer. The Nachna Haveli was partially converted into a heritage hotel in 1996.
We entered the Nachna Haveli Hotel through a elegant gateway.
Beyond the gate, we arrived at a sleepy and lush green courtyard.
Comfortable seating adjacent to the courtyard offers visitors and guests a great place to escape from the afternoon heat.
We were told to go upstairs to the roof for the Saffron Restaurant.
Compared to the dusty and often busy street outside, the leafy and tranquil rooftop of Saffron Restaurant felt like a paradise to us.
At Saffron, it was a big surprise to find that film shooting was going on at part of the rooftop. It was a scene of causal talk between a mother and daughter while hanging the laundry.
After lunch, we went to check out the guidebook recommended handicraft shop Desert Handicrafts Emporium.
Desert Handicrafts Emporium is owned by LN Khatri, a knowledgeable historian and folklorist of the Thar region.
After purchasing two embroidered pieces, Mr. Khatri led us to his Thar Heritage Museum. With a decent collection of artefacts and antiques from various desert villages.
One of the most interesting display was a Gyan Chaupar (meaning ‘Game of Knowledge) game, which sometimes can be referred as the Snake and Ladder game. The game has been around in India since the 2nd century. It is a game that involves educating people about religious vice and virtue.
Displays at the Thar Heritage Museum are grouped in such a way that visitors can easily learn about the specific life and work of various kinds of people in the Thar Desert.
Opium was popular in Rajasthan in the old days. Khatri’s museum designates a corner to display the artefacts used for opium smoking.
Mr. Khatri’s father was actually a ghee collector in the Thar Desert. A number of old ghee containers are on display.
The displayed items in the museum reflect a bygone era of the Thar Desert.
Embroideries with gold and silver threads are popular in villages of the Thar Desert.
Vintage black and white photographs in the museum convey a romantic sense of the bygone Rajasthan.
Mr. Khatri was kind to show us around and talked about the highlights of his collection. The visit offered us a thorough glimpse of what life was like back in old Rajasthan.
DAY 4 (3/5): ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.27
Over to the left below the archway, we paid the admission and stepped into the other haveli that was open to public. Known as Kothari’s Patwa Haveli, this beautiful mansion was restored and converted into a museum by the government. Despite all five havelis look similar, distinctive arches, gateways, mirror works, wall paintings, and architectural carvings differentiate each haveli from one another. To our surprise and slight disappointment, the restored interiors of Kothari’s Patwa Haveli actually looked quite new and polished. Much of the haveli had became a museum with artefact and antique furniture displays.
Kothari’s Patwa Haveli is located at the beginning of the lane where the building bridges across to form an archway.
Admission tickets were sold by a staff sitting across the lane from the entrance of Kothari’s Patwa Haveli.
After a flight of stair, we reached the level right above the lane archway. From there, we came close to see the ornate carvings of the balcony.
From the window above the archway, we gained a unique view of all five mansions of the Patwon Ki Haveli.
No matter how many times we had seen the splendid craftsmanship of sandstone carvings in Rajasthan, we were still overwhelmed by the sandstone carvings of Kothari’s Patwa Haveli.
The multi-level Kothari’s Patwa Haveli centers around a internal courtyard.
Today, the internal courtyard is occupied by a textile and embroidery shop.
The staff carefully laid out the blankets and textiles for their customers.
The museum displays occupy the upper levels of the haveli. We basically circled around the internal courtyard through a series of interconnected rooms.
One of the first room that we encountered was set up as a dining room.
The living room was one of the best restored spaces at Kothari’s Patwa Haveli, with colourful murals and fine pieces of furniture.
Antique furniture, music instruments, and clocks were on displayed in the living room.
Each important room in the haveli has a unique ceiling design.
The colourful and gold murals of Jivan Vilas was one of the highlights of the haveli. Again the restorations looked fresh and vivid that the sense of history was completely gone.
An antique Chaupar/ Chopat game was on display on a vintage rug. This game had been played in India since the 4th century.
From the roof terrace, we had some good views of the surrounding neighborhood.
As well as the lane that lined in front of the mansions of Patwon Ki Haveli.
After touring Patwon Ki Haveli, we exited the lane through the archway and found our way to the Saffron Restaurant for lunch.
Standing on the Trikuta Hill, the Golden Fort of Jaisalmer has withstood the sandstorms and wind of the Thar Desert for 800 years. Bathed in a honey glow under the setting desert sun, visitors often describe the Golden City of Jaisalmer as the picture-perfect castle of A Thousand and One Night. The spectacular Jaisalmer was once a significant trading city frequented by camel caravans on the ancient Silk Road. Today it is an UNESCO World Heritage site and the westernmost destination for visitors coming to Rajasthan. Beyond the desert to the west is the Indian border with Pakistan. Many come to Jaisalmer by the 18-hour train service from Delhi to cover the 780km distance. We chose to take a flight from Delhi to Jodhpur, and then a hired car from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. After a brief stop at Osian, by the time we reached our hotel at Jaisalmer it was already after dark.
We checked in at First Gate Home-Fusion, a historical haveli converted hotel, at around 19:30.
Our pleasant room was on the upper floor with a pleasant balcony.
After checking in, we went up to the rooftop restaurant at our hotel.
Situated near the first gate of the fort, the rooftop restaurant of our hotel offers gorgeous views of the iconic fort.
Specialized in Indian and Italian cuisine, we ordered a combination of both for our first dinner at Jaisalmer.
From the balcony of our hotel room, we patiently waited for the sunrise at the east horizon.
Below our balcony was a quiet side street of small guest houses.
On the street, dogs, cows and local residents passed by our balcony every so often.
From the balcony we enjoyed the spectacular sunrise for two days in a row.
For two days in a row we witnessed the same little girl fed the street dogs while on her way to school.
Soon after sunrise, locals in colourful dresses came out to clean the street.
At the other side of the balcony, we also enjoyed a splendid view of the fort.
Under the rising sun, the yellow sandstone of the fort was illuminated in a golden glow.
Sunlight penetrated into our room through a tiny window.
Outside our room, sunlight also spilled into the hallway through high windows.
After breakfast, it was time for us to step out and explore the magnificent Jaisalmer.