ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Hindu

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 6 (2/3): GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.29

Leaving peaceful Pushkar behind, we took an express train to the capital city of Rajasthan, Jaipur, where we would stay for two nights before moving on to Agra.  Known as the Pink City due to its historical pink buildings, Jaipur is included in the travel itinerary of most foreign visitors as part of the Golden Triangle (the other two cities being Agra and Delhi).  After checking in at our hotel, the first place we visited in the bustling city was the City Palace, the royal residence of the maharaja.  The palace was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1727 as he moved his capital to Jaipur from Amber.  The complex contains beautiful buildings, courtyards, and museums.  We spent half the afternoon in the complex until the palace closed for the day.

DSC_1712The Mubarak Mahal courtyard and the Mubarak Mahal were some of the first highlights of our tour.  Completed in 1900, the Mubarak Mahal was built to receive foreign guests.  It is now converted into a museum.

IMG_0433In complement with Mubarak Mahal, the Rajendra Pol Gate connected the Mubarak Mahal Courtyard with the Sarvato Bhadra Courtyard.

DSC_1720Getting closer to Rajendra Pol Gate, we were amazed by the fine details.

IMG_0442The Sarvato Bhadra Courtyard is dominated by the Sarvato Bhadra Pavilion in the middle, and the Clock Tower at the south side.  The clock was a manifestation of European influence in the court during the Victorian era.  It was made by Black and Murray & Co. of Calcutta.

IMG_2616The Sarvato Bhadra is open at four sides.  It was used It was used as a reception hall for private guests and coronation rituals

IMG_0454 With 1.6m tin height and a capacity of 4000 litres and weight of 340kg, the two sterling silver vessels, Gangajali (Ganges-water urns), were the world largest.  They were made to take the water of Ganges for an England trip of Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II.

DSC_1724From Sarvato Bhadra Courtyard, we could enter Pritam Niwas Chowk, the final courtyard where visitors were granted access.  The yellow Chandra Mahal, the residence of the maharaja, is the centre piece of Pritam Niwas Chowk.

DSC_1741The 7 floors of Chandra Mahal is off limit for visitors.  In Pritam Niwas Chowk, we could only admire the exterior facade of the palace, as well as the beautiful four small gates (known as Ridhi Sidhi Pol).

DSC_1733One of the gates we liked was the Peacock Gate at the northeast.  It represents the season of autumn and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

DSC_1755Motifs of peacock can be find even on the upper floor and roof structure.

DSC_1735Though the most magnificent features of the gate are the five peacocks at the lower level.

DSC_1748The vivid colours and three dimensional gestures of the peacocks were truly amazing.

DSC_1744Another gate we liked was the Rose Gate in the southwest.  It represents the winter season and is dedicated to Goddess Devi.

DSC_1747The Rose Gate is heavily decorated with motifs of rose flower.

DSC_1753The Green Gate at northwest represents the spring season and is dedicated to Lord Ganesha.   The Lotus Gate at southeast, on the other hand, represents the summer season and is dedicated to Lord Shiva-Parvati.

DSC_1764After checking out the four Ridhi Sidhi Pol, we returned to the beautiful Rajendra Pol Gate and Mubarak Mahal courtyard  to visit the museum.

IMG_0480Looking beyond Rajendra Pol, the beautiful Mubarak Mahal stood silently as if bidding us farewell.

IMG_2627Although not completely open to the public, the City Palace offered us a glimpse of the former grandeur of the royal family of Rajasthan.



DAY 5 (3/3): SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.28

We returned to Pushkar Lake just before sunset, hoping to witness any form of religious ceremonies that might be performed.  If we arrived two weeks earlier during the Pushkar Camel Fair, we would probably see large scale aarti and deepdan ceremonies by the ghats.  At the ghats, the air was peaceful and a little cooler than earlier.  We sat down on the steps to enjoy the sunset over the sacred lake.

DSC_1596Sunset was a great time to absorb the peaceful atmosphere of the ghats in Pushkar.

DSC_1597Maybe the presence of fish signify the improvement of water quality?

DSC_1599Deity worshiping might happen anywhere around the lake shore.

IMG_0156Buildings were covered in an orange glow as the sun set.

IMG_2426Nag Pahar (Snake Mountain) and Ratnagiri Hill were highly visible from Pushkar Lake.

IMG_2429Watching the sunset over Pushkar Lake was one of the loveliest moment in our journey.

DSC_1610Given the beauty of the sunset, the number of tourists lingering at the ghats were surprisingly few.

DSC_1615In just a blink of eye the sun sank beyond the buildings on the horizon.

IMG_0194Even the cow enjoyed the beauty of the sunset.

IMG_0214_01A small group of pilgrims and temple staff performed evening prayers at Varaha Ghat.

IMG_0222Candles were lit and flower petals were scattered into the water during the ceremony.

IMG_0220Although short, the prayer ceremony generated a spiritual ambience no words could fully describe.

IMG_0235The last pilgrim prayed to the twilight as all other worshipers returned into the temple.

DSC_1628Pilgrims and temple priests finishing their last bit of prayers at the ghat.

DSC_1629As light faded, we decided to call it a day.

DSC_1639We left Pushkar Lake from the entrance of mVaraha Ghat.

IMG_0245The market streets behind the ghats were much more lively than the waterfront.

IMG_0248On our way back to Inn Seventh Heaven, we passed by the old Rangji Temple.

DSC_1640At the hotel, we once again headed up to Sixth Sense, the hotel’s rooftop restaurant for a vegetarian meal.

IMG_0264To finish the night, we ordered a Rajasthan vegetarian thali.

DAY 5 (2/3): 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.28

Beyond the vibrant streets of souvenir shops, cafes, and guesthouses, 52 bathing ghats follow the sloping topography, descending down to the sacred water of Pushkar Lake.  Throughout centuries, Hindu pilgrims came to bathe in the sacred water to cleanse their sins and skin diseases, and worship in one of the 500 temples dotted around the lake.  Earliest record of the lake’s existence dated back to the 2nd century BC.  Site modifications over generations, including a dam built across the headwaters of the Luni River in the 12th century, had transformed Pushkar Lake into today’s artificial appearance.  In the Mughal era, religious activities had came to a brief halt and temples were destroyed.  Since then, pilgrims had returned, and temples and ghats had been restored by local rulers.

Today, the government is making effort to improve the water quality of the lake, after pollution and deforestation reduced the water level and killed off most of the fish.  Pushkar is still attracting large numbers of pilgrims, and so as foreign tourists who either come here for the colourful camel fair, or take a break in their Indian tour as they got fatigue of the noises and bustling activities in the cities.  Visitors come to this vegetarian-only and car-free town for its spiritual ambience, or a chance encounter with an insightful guru, or a peaceful rooftop to chill out during sunset, or a few days of yoga classes, or an evening aarti ceremony at a historical ghat, or to simply do nothing and sort out their inner souls while meditating by the water.

IMG_0035It was only a short walk from Inn Seventh Heaven to Varah Ghat.  We took off our shoes compulsorily and walked down the ghat towards the sacred lake.

DSC_1447It was a magical experience to walk from one ghat to another.

DSC_1451Each ghat is unique despite all leading to the waterfront of Pushkar Lake.

DSC_1452Pushkar Camel Fair, one of the largest livestock fair and cultural event in India that attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors, was over just a week or two ago.  After the year’s biggest event, Pushkar looked a little sleepy when we arrived.

IMG_0050Rajasthani pilgrims in their vivid sarees walked by the sacred lake in the afternoon sun.

DSC_1469We had a good time wandering from one ghat to another along the lake’s north shore

DSC_1472No shoes were allowed at the ghats.  It took us a while to get used to walking in barefoot along with the free roaming cows, dogs and pigeons.

DSC_1473Layers of balustrades, stepped plazas, terraces, and bathing pools provide a rich palette of textures to the scenery.

DSC_1504We decided to do nothing for the rest of the day other than strolling along the lakefront.

DSC_1507The shrine on a raised platform at the northwest end of the lake was painted in vivid orange and was visible from all over the lake.

IMG_0057Pigeons and more pigeons.  Bird or animal feeding is considered a good deed to improve a person’s karma according to Hindu beliefs.

DSC_1509The ghats were photogenic under the afternoon sun.

IMG_0122Reflections of passing people on the bathing pools were beautiful.

DSC_1523Especially with the vivid colours of the local sarees.

DSC_1529Local Indians are curious and friendly and love to take pictures with foreign tourists.

DSC_1532It was a delight to see the free roaming cows around Pushkar Lake.

DSC_1559Pigeons were everywhere.

DSC_1562And so as some larger water birds.

DSC_1564Hotel Pushkar Palace has one of the best view in town.

DSC_1569We ended our first ghat walk in mid afternoon and decided to return for the sunset.


DAY 5 (1/3): RANIKHET EXPRESS, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.28

Every day, the mail express train Ranikhet Express covers 1,263km from Jaisalmer in the Thar Desert to Kathgodam in the foothills of the Himalayas.  The express train was also our most convenient way to go from the Golden City of Jaisalmer to Ajmer, where we would transfer to the sacred city of Pushkar.  Worrying that sleeper seats would sold out days before we arrived in India, we purchased our train tickets and seat reservations days before we departed for our journey.  Like many fellow travelers, we had a hard time trying to register at the official Indian Railways website.  We had no choice but to buy the tickets through an online agent.  We chose 12go.asia after some online research.  The ride on Ranikhet Express was our first train experience in India.  We weren’t sure about the validity of our reservations until half an hour before the train departed, when our seat assignments finally appeared on the official website.

The 12-hour train journey was rather smooth.  We met a local couple from Bangalore.  They had just finished touring Rajasthan and were heading to Jaipur for their return flight down south.  We four shared a First Class compartment for 12 hours until we got off at Ajmer.  In the compartment, we locked the door, took off the lights, and wrapped ourselves in our own cocoon liners beneath sheets provided by the train.  Not sure if it was the rumbling noise or the steady movement of the train, we felt a little sleepy and soon fell asleep.

IMG_9952The manager 1st Gate Home Fusion Hotel arranged us free transport to the railway station.  We arrived at the station about half an hour before departure.

IMG_2279Our online seat numbers finally came out when we arrived at the station. We were a little excited as it was our first time to take the train in India.

IMG_9951The train seemed infinite at both ends.  But first we had to find our 1A car.  We met a young local couple who were looking for the same car as ours (it turned out that they were sharing the same compartment with us).  It took us a while to find the right car.

IMG_9957At about 12:30am, we finally settled at our compartment.  It was a First Class 1A car, with four beds in each compartment.  We took up the beds at one side, and the young local couple took up the opposite side.

IMG_9958The train car was neat and quiet.  We were ready to get some rest during the 12-hour train ride.

IMG_9964The Ranikhet Express ran at an average speed of 42km/h. The journey was rather smooth and we arrived at our destination Ajmer Junction in approximately 12 hours since we left Jaisalmer.

IMG_9968We had some sleep during the night.  In the morning, a young hawker came to our compartment to offer breakfast.  We asked for two cups of chai tea to start our day.

IMG_2333We arrived at Ajmer Junction 15 minutes later than scheduled.  Our “12-hour roommate” bid us farewell before heading back into the train, while we looked for the station exit.

IMG_9972Outside of Ajmer Station, we met the driver from our hotel in Pushkar.  Soon we embarked on our half hour journey from Ajmer to Pushkar, the thousand-year-old sacred city for Hindu pilgrims.

IMG_997313km separated Ajmer with the peaceful sacred city of Pushkar.

IMG_9981We left Ajmer and entered Pushkar Valley in the Aravalli Mountains.  Before leaving Ajmer, our eyes were caught by a group of people carried religious or ceremonial tools heading uphill.

IMG_0014In early afternoon, we finally arrived at Inn Seventh Heaven.

IMG_9999Inn Seventh Heaven centers around a refreshing courtyard.

DSC_1434Our spacious room at Inn Seventh Heaven turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

IMG_9997Outside the window, a festive ceremony was taking place across the street.

IMG_0026After settling in, we walked up to the rooftop terrace of Inn Seventh Heaven.

IMG_0010Relaxing seating were provided all over the common areas of the hotel.

IMG_0017On the top floor, a spiral staircase led us to the rooftop restaurant.

IMG_0022A rooftop restaurant in the midst of the sacred Pushkar was the perfect place to chill out and do nothing.

IMG_0027As no meat was allowed in Pushkar, we had a hearty vegetarian lunch before heading out to the sacred lake.

DAY 4 (1/5): RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.27

Our second day in Jaisalmer began with flagging down a tuk tuk in front of First Gate Home Fusion Hotel to Gadsisar Sagar or Gadsisar Lake, an artificial lake that supplied water to Jaisalmer for centuries.  Just like many places in the desert state of Rajasthan, maintaining water supply has been an essential aspect for the city’s survival.  The peaceful artificial lake was constructed at around 1400 by the Maharaja of Jaisalmer Maharwal Gadsi Singh.  As the years progressed, the lake had also become a place of pilgrimage, and venue for religious festivals and leisure boating.  Temples and shrines mushroomed around the lake, and so as religious statues and the beautiful Tilon Ki Pol (Gate of Tilon) for ceremonial purposes.  Today the lake has become a popular destination for anyone who wants to get away from the noisy streets inside the city walls of Jaisalmer.  In winter, visitors may find themselves with surprise sighting of migratory birds (along with the lake’s more permanent residents: pigeons, dogs, and the large catfish).

IMG_9569A passageway connects Gadsisar Sagar with the main road.  We arrived early in the morning when souvenir stall owners were busy setting up their stalls along the passageway.

IMG_9562Built by Tilon, a famous courtesan, the grand gate Tilon-Ki-Pol is the main gate of Gadsisar Sagar.  The maharaja refused Tilon’s proposal of the construction, but Tilon built the gate while the maharaja was away.  She put a Krishna temple atop the gate so that the maharaja could not tear it down.

IMG_9551_01The sky was a little grey despite it was out of the monsoon season.  We were delighted with the overcast weather as there was hardly any shading trees along the waterfront.

DSC_1095A group of locals were taking professional photos by the waterfront.

IMG_9565Boating is possible at Gadsisar Sagar.  During our visit, we saw one boat occupied by a group of local visitors in the lake.

IMG_9580The chattris (and their reflections) by the shore provided a photogenic setting to the lake.

DSC_1131We decided to walk along the shore for a bit.

DSC_1137We assed by some ghats and decks in front of temples.

DSC_1147No matter how far we went, the chattris near the entrance were often the focal point.

IMG_9598The scenery was peaceful and poetic if we could ignore the trash along the bank.

DSC_1150Apart from pigeons, we also saw a few other kinds of birds at the waterfront.

DSC_1164Just like anywhere else, the dominant type of birds that can live along with humans is always the pigeons.

DSC_1176As time went by, more visitors arrived at the Tilon-Ki-Pol, but hardly any would venture far beyond the entrance area.

DSC_1203Dogs are not uncommon in India, and some of them tend to follow people for a bit.

DSC_1214There are a number of Hindu temples along the shore.  They are frequented by local pilgrims.

DSC_1215Where there is Hindu temples there would be “holy men” around.

DSC_1224Upon leaving Gadsisar Sagar and Tilon-Ki-Pol, a street musician caught our attention.  He asked us our name and used one of our names in his singing performance.



DAY 3 (1/4): THE GOLDEN LIVING FORT, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.26

Known as the Golden Fort due to its yellow sandstone, the Jaisalmer Fort is also famous as a living fort with its 2000 inhabitants still reside within its walls today.  With 99 bastions along its fortress wall, a series of Jain temples and a splendid palace for the Rajput royal family, Jaisalmer Fort alone is already a worthy reason on its own for travelers to venture 776km west of Delhi into the Thar Desert.  We had two full days in Jaisalmer, and planned to spend the entire first day at the fort.  In the fort, there are attractions, restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, and a series of narrow lanes that would keep us busy for hours.

Some visitors would choose to stay the night at the fort.  We decided not to do so due to the vulnerability of the ancient structure in coping with the negative impact caused by mass tourism.   Studies in recent years discover that Jaisalmer Fort is in fact in danger of crumbling from inside.  Many suggest the poor water supply and sewage systems hastily installed in the past 30 years and the water leakage from these systems into the fort foundation is the main threat for the fort, a sandstone structure that has withstood sandstorms and earthquakes for over 1000 years.  Built as a desert structure in 1156 by King Rawal Jaisal, the structure of Jaisalmer Fort is particularly sensitive to water.  The increase of regional rain in recent years and number of tourists staying inside the fort have made the matter worse.

01It was only a 5 minute walk from our hotel to the main gate of the fort.  From the parking lot, we could see part of the fort palace and the entry watch tower.

02Beyond the watch tower we gradually moved uphill through a series of gates into the interior of the fort.

03A series of four main gates: Akshya Pol, Ganesh Pol, Suraj Pol, and Hawa Pol formed the entry procession and defense network for Jaisalmer Fort.

04Tourism has given the fort a second life in the modern time.

05Through the last gate Hawa Pol (Gate of Wind), we would soon arrive at Dussehra Chowk, the main square in the fort.

06Cow at Hawa Pol Gate.

07Dussehra Chowk, the main square of Jaisalmer Fort, is flanked by exquisite buildings.  This square was also the main arrival point for camel caravans back in the medieval times.

08The most imposing structure at Dussehra Chowk is undoubtedly the royal palace.

09Passing by the entrance to the palace, we decided to first visit the Jain temples (with limited opening hours) in the morning and left the palace for the afternoon.

10We spent the entire day at the fort.  As the day went by, more and more visitors arrived at the Dussehra Chowk.

11From Jain temples to the palace, we spent much of the day wandering around the narrow lanes in the fort.

12Around 2000 inhabitants still reside in the fort today, despite some buildings have been converted into hotels, cafes and souvenir shops.

13Further away from the main attractions, we encountered a more domestic side of the fort.

14Hindu images and touristic ornaments appear here and there in the small lanes in the fort.

15Henna is popular among tourists coming to Rajasthan.

16Lakshminath Temple is a famous Hindu temple in the fort.

17After visiting the Jain Temples and royal palace, we went up to one of the 99 bastions.  One Western tourist was playing a guitar, while several others sat along the edge of the fortification to enjoy the view of Jaisalmer.

18From the bastion, we could see our hotel First Gate Home Fusion, including the rooftop restaurant and the balcony of our room.

19After a long day of touring, we walked back down the same route where we came up in the morning.

20The imposing view of the palace from the parking lot would stayed long in our memories.