ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Indian

TOUCH DOWN IN NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.05

Day 1 (1 of 1).

Almost all foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka would stop by Negombo, a seaside town less than 10km from Bandaranaike International Airport.  Since many incoming international flights arrive at night, staying the night in nearby Negombo before heading elsewhere is not uncommon.  That’s exactly what we have done, flying in just after midnight and staying the night at Icebear Guesthouse in Negombo.

Situated at the mouth of Negombo Lagoon, Negombo is an important commercial and fishing hub in the west coast of Sri Lanka.  In the 1500’s, Negombo became a Portuguese port for cinnamon trade.  Later came the Dutch who took over the town’s control, and then lastly the British arrived in the 19th century.  The majority of Negombo’s population had converted to Roman Catholic ever since the Portuguese era.  Today, two thirds of Negombo residents still consider themselves Roman Catholics.  With its high concentration of churches, Negombo is sometimes referred to as “Little Rome.”

Unfortunately, St. Sebastian Church in Negombo was under terrorist bombing during Easter service in 2019.  Innocent lives were lost and the town’s tourism was devastated. The negative impact on tourism and other related business could still be strongly felt when we visited in December.  The only souvenir vendor we met on Negombo beach expressed his discontent and anxiety when we politely rejected his offer.  Negombo’s deserted beach, vacant hotels and desperate souvenir vendor reminded me of Dahab in Sinai Peninsula back in 2006 when I visited the famous diving paradise two months after a terrorist bombing that killed 23 people.  Back then, rows after rows of empty beach chaise lounges lined up on the silky sand along the Gulf of Aqaba.  Desperate hotel and restaurant owners waited outside the bus station and approached any foreigner with dirt cheap deals.  Today, there are a whole lot of places around the world solely rely on tourism to generate jobs and sustain the local economy.  Any terrorist attack or natural disaster causing a sudden disruption to tourism would lead to terrible suffering for the locals.  This economic vulnerability may spell unpredictable trouble for any resort town, but can also cause a painful impact for any tourist city like Paris or New York.  Resilience, versatility, social unity and a persisted sense of hope would be vital for recovery and regeneration for any town or city after such mishap.  First came the 26-year civil war and then the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, and now the Easter Bombing of 2019, Negombo is once again on its path of gradual recovery.

01All foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka have to fill out an arrival card upon landing.

02Our flight arrived at midnight.  The airport passenger concourse was surprisingly busy.  We went through customs, bought some Sri Lankan rupees, and purchased two local mobile SIM cards.

06We stayed our first night at the northern strip of Negombo where dozens of hotels and guesthouses dotted the shore of Laccadive Sea.

05Before breakfast at Icebear Guesthouse, we went for a short walk along the beach behind the guesthouse.

03On the wall of Icebear Guesthouse we could still see markings from the Boxing Day Tsunami 15 years ago.

04With the country’s largest concentration of Roman Catholic population, churches and Christian shrines can be seen all over Negombo .

07Looks like another new church is under construction by the beach.

08Not the most exotic beach in Sri Lanka, Negombo’s beach nonetheless provided us a place for a relaxing stroll before moving on to our Sri Lankan journey.

09The beach is popular with locals coming for morning exercises.

10Dogs also take the beach as their playground.

11After the Easter’s bombing, Negombo’s tourism has taken a heavy toll.  There were hardly any tourists on the beach except a few Western couples.

12A traditional fishing sailboat was the most eye-catching feature on the beach, though we had no idea how Tirol related to Sri Lanka.

13A local man stood by the boat waiting for any tourist interested to take a selfie on the boat by paying him a small tip.

14Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit Central Negombo and any of its churches, maybe next time.


SRI LANKA TRIP: 2019.12.05 – 17

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Our most recent travels have been focused on short trips to Japan and South Asia.  These experiences offered us two distinct views of Asia.  In Japan, the minimalist beauty in fashion, food, and architecture, the strong sense of community and respect to local traditions in villages and urban centres, and the Shinto attitude on harmonic coexistence with the nature captivated our admiration.  On the other hand, the pungent spices, mystic incenses, vivid costumes, bizarre rituals, exquisite temples, majestic landscapes, and mythical folklore of Tibet, India and Myanmar offered us some of the last glimpses of truly unique and centuries-long traditions in our ever-changing world.  After an invigorating journey to Hokkaido in early summer, we turned our eyes to the exotic dimensions of South Asia once again.  We picked the “tear drop” in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, as our destination for a 12-day trip.

2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War, a devastating conflict between the Sri Lankan military and the rebel force of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or simply known as the Tamil Tigers.  The conflict lasted for 26 years.  15 years have also passed since the horrific 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the natural catastrophe that has devastated the coastal area of Sri Lanka and claimed 35,000+ lives.  In the past 10 years, tourism has boomed exponentially along with the rapid growing economy.  2019 was on track to become another record breaking year for tourist numbers until Easter Day, when Isis terrorists attacked hotels, churches and residences in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, claiming 259 innocent lives.  The incident caused a disastrous blow to the country’s tourism.  The government immediately tightened national security, attempting to restore international confidence.  Despite of the attack, magazines and newspapers remained affirmative to endorse Sri Lanka as a top destination of 2019.  After learning about its diverse attractions, affordability, ease of travel and communication, pristine natural scenery and unique cultural experiences, we were not surprise at all to see why Lonely Planet selected Sri Lanka as their destination of 2019.

As a small country about half the size of England, Sri Lanka has a lot to offer.  We planned for a loop journey starting in Negombo on the western coast, then moved north to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya & Dambulla before heading up to the hill region.  In the hills, we stopped by the historical capital Kandy, took the “world’s most scenic train ride” to the tea plantations near Ella and Haputale.  Leaving behind the hills of Ceylon tea, we ventured into the wilderness of Udawalawa for wildlife safari, and arrived at the beaches of Mirissa and the colonial port of Galle to embrace the Indian Ocean.  Before leaving Sri Lanka, we stopped by Colombo for a delicious crab dinner.  This trip was filled with lovely moments: joining Buddhist pilgrims at the 2300-year-old Bodhi Tree, hiking through Sir Thomas Lipton’s tea terraces, facing eyes-in-eye with elephants and leopard on safari jeep, spotting whales and dolphins in the open ocean, candlelight dining on the Mirissa Beach, not to mention devouring delicious curry and seafood, meeting the friendly and curious local people, and taking in the laid back atmosphere that we could always smell in the air.

1_NegomboOur journey embarked from the beaches of Negombo.

2_Ancient 1At Anuradhapura, we circled the 2300-year sacred Bodhi tree,

2_Ancient 2and visited several ancient Buddhist dagobas (stupas) where pilgrims burned incenses and offered lotus flowers.

2_Ancient 3At Sigiriya, we climbed up a rock opposite to Sigiriya Rock to watch the best ever sunset.

2_Ancient 4Visiting the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy offered us a chance to see the century-old rituals that once symbolized the political and religious power of the nation.

3_Hill 1At Kandy, we stayed at the magnificent Villa Rosa Guesthouse overlooking the Mahaweli River,

3_Hill 2and visited the famous Royal Botanical Garden to check out the large flying foxes.

3_Hill 3“The world’s most scenic train ride” took us up to the hills of tea plantations.

3_Hill 4In Haputale, we followed Lipton’s footsteps for a half day hike.

3_Hill 5In Ella, we were rewarded with the peaceful and lush green scenery.

4_Beach 1Onwards to Udawalawa where we had close encounters with Asian elephants.

4_Beach 2Reaching the south coast at Mirissa signified the final leg of our journey.

4_Beach 3Mirissa offered us moments of relaxation right by the Indian Ocean.

4_Beach 4The seaside resort town is also renowned as one of the world’s top spot for whale and dolphin watching.

4_Beach 5We enjoyed every moments by the sea at Mirissa and Galle before heading north to Colombo.


DAY 10 (2/3): HUMAYUN’S TOMB, Delhi, India, 2018.12.03

Last time when we first visited Delhi, we only had time to see the Red Fort and Jama Masjid.  Similar to last time, we had a few hours of stopover time before flying back to Hong Kong.  After lunch at Khan Market, we spent the day in the area of Nizamuddin, a busy Medieval neighborhood with narrow lanes and community mosques.  The famous Humayun’s Tomb is the biggest draw for visitors in the area.  From the closest metro station Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, it was a ten minute walk to the enormous tomb ground.  Despite the short distance, crossing the dusty roads, walking under flyovers, and finding ourselves towards the right park entrance was not as straightforward as we thought.  Anyhow, we managed to arrive at a rather chaotic queuing scene at the ticket office.

Commissioned by Empress Bega Begum for her husband Mughal Emperor Humayun, Humayun’s Tomb was built in 1569-70 in Delhi’s Nizamuddin East.  Designed by Persian architects Mirak Mirza Ghiyas and Sayyid Muhammad, Humayun’s Tomb was the first large scale structure made with red sandstone. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage, the splendid structure had set a fine standard for latter Mughal architecture, including the Taj Mahal.

IMG_3535After obtaining the admission tickets, we entered the complex of Humayun’s Tomb through a series of gateways and courtyards.

DSC_3038We followed a prominent water channel towards the beautiful sandstone building of Humayun’s Tomb.  Reference to Char Bagh (Four Gardens) of the Paradise in the Koran, the tomb garden is a 30-acre square carved into smaller squares by paths and water channels.

IMG_3539The tomb structure reaches a height of 47m, with obvious influences from Persian architecture.  The entire structure sits on a large platform with a few meters high.

IMG_3550The arch and beam structure together with the use of red sandstone, white marble, and Rajasthani decorations exemplifies the Mughal architecture lasted in India for four hundred years.

IMG_3573The red sandstone and white marble provide a splendid combination of facade treatments and decorations.

DSC_3052Modeled on the Paradise Garden in Koran, the garden is divided into 36 squares by axes of water channels and paths.

DSC_3075Just like a few other attractions, we encountered a large group of school students at Humayun’s Tombs.

IMG_3580Entrance dome of Humayun’s Tomb was decorated with elegant lines.

DSC_3084Much less crowded than the Taj Mahal, visitors could appreciate the solemn interior of the mausoleum.

IMG_3585The main level houses the cenotaph of Emperor Humayun and Empress Bega Begum and also several other Mughal rulers from a later period.  The real graves lie one level before in the basement.

DSC_3093It’s common to see school groups when visiting historical movements in India.

IMG_3592Inspired by Persian garden, the 30 acre tomb garden is subdivided by a network of water channels.

IMG_3561After visiting the interior of the tomb, we circled around the structure on the upper platform.

DSC_3096We returned to the garden at the ground level via one of the four covered staircases.

DSC_3104As we left the complex, the late afternoon sun cast a warm amber tone on the white marble and accentuated the reddish tone of the sandstone.

DSC_3038A final view of the front facade of the building before we left the complex.

DSC_3107Near Humayun’s Tomb, there is another magnificent tomb architecture known as Isa Khan’s Tomb.  Built in 1547 – 58, the octagonal structure is decorated with canopies, glazed tiles, lattice screens, and a prominent verandah.

 

***
Posts on 2018 Rajasthan:-

Day 1: Jodhpur
DAY 1.1: IN TRANSIT TO RAJASTHAN
DAY 1.2: PAL HAVELI & THE OMELETTE MAN, Jodhpur
DAY 1.3: SPLENDOR OF THE SUN FORT, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.4: SUNSET OVER THE BLUE CITY, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.5: SADAR MARKET AND GHANTA GHAR CLOCKTOWER, Jodhpur

Day 2: Jodhpur, Osian, Jaisalmer
DAY 2.1: MARBLE CENOTAPH JASWANT THADA, Jodhpur
DAY 2.2: MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur
DAY 2.3: PILGRIM OASIS IN THAR DESERT, Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian
DAY 2.4: SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer

Day 3: Jaisalmer
DAY 3.1: THE GOLDEN LIVING FORT, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.2: JAIN TEMPLES PART 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.3: JAIN TEMPLES PART 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.4: FORT PALACE, Jaisalmer

Day 4: Jaisalmer
DAY 4.1: RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.2: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.3: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.4: DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.5: LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer

Day 5: Pushkar
DAY 5.1: RANIKHET EXPRESS
DAY 5.2: 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar
DAY 5.3: SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar

Day 6: Pushkar & Jaipur
DAY 6.1: SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar
DAY 6.2: GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur
DAY 6.3: IN SEARCH OF 1860 CARL ZEISS CAMERA, Jaipur

Day 7: Jaipur
DAY 7.1: AMBER FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.2: JAIGARH FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.3: MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
DAY 7.4: PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Day 8: Bhangarh, Abhaneri & Agra
DAY 8.1: ON THR ROAD TO AGRA
DAY 8.2: HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan
DAY 8.3: CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
DAY 8.4: THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 8.5: FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 9: Agra
DAY 9.1: CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.2: AGRA FORT, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.3: RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.4: SUNSET AT MEHTAB BAGH, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 10: Delhi
DAY 10.1: TRAIN 12627, Agra to Delhi
DAY 10.2 : HUMAYUN’S TOMB, Delhi
Day 10.3: NIZAMUDDIN BASTI, Delhi


DAY 9 (3/4): RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2018.12.02

After visiting Agra Fort, we returned to our hotel and waited for the tour guide from Agra Walks.  Recommended by guidebooks, the Heritage Tour of Agra Walks gave us a good opportunity to visit one of Agra’s local market.  For about two and a half hours, we followed our guide Gautam Pratap by car, cycle rickshaw, and on foot into the bustling Rawatpara Spice Market.  Labelled as the “unseen” part of Agra for foreign tourists, the vibrant market scenes left a distinctive impression for us compared to the historical sites, one that was full of colours, fragrant, noises, and life.

IMG_2612On our way to Rawatpara Market, our rickshaw passed by the red sandstone walls of Agra Fort once again.

IMG_2645Near Agra Fort Train Station, our rickshaw entered into the lively streets of Rawatpara.

IMG_2648We found our way towards Jama Masjid, a famous mosque built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter in 1648.

DSC_2906Jama Masjid took 6 years and 5000 workers to finish.

IMG_2679Betel leaves are sold in the Rawatpara Market.

IMG_2682The 185 year old Chimman Lal Puri Wale was one of the highlights of our market walk.  We actually sat down with the guide and sampled some of the tasty puri snacks with three different dipping.

DSC_2911After visiting the local eatery, we continued our walk into the market.

DSC_2917We passed different areas of the market beginning from the textile area.  Many of these busy textile shops store their stocks in the attic above the main area.

IMG_2705As expected, there are many shops selling all kinds of personal adornments.

DSC_2924Local craftsmen could be seen everywhere in the market.

DSC_2928From jewellery making to embroidery, handicraft is still popular in India.

DSC_2940Next we came to a shop selling different ritual items, including garlands made with real money bills for wedding ceremonies.  Despite being a popular local tradition, the Reserve Bank of India actually urged people to stop the custom.

DSC_2947Colourful shops in the market.

IMG_2718Everything were either vivid or golden in colour.

IMG_2723Decoration is such a huge part of the Indian culture.

IMG_2716We stopped by the historic Hindu temple Shri Mankameshwar Mandir.  Unfortunately the temple was closed when we were there.

IMG_2729Then we moved on to the spice section of the market.  Anyone who has experience with Indian cuisine would acknowledge the importance of spices in their culinary traditions.  We did pick up some saffron from one of the shops.

DSC_2959Sweet is, of course, hugely popular for the Indians as well.

IMG_2744After a fruitful walk it was about time for sunset watching.

IMG_2745We followed our guide back to the entrance of the market where a 4×4 was waiting to take us to our next stop.

 

***
Posts on 2018 Rajasthan:-

Day 1: Jodhpur
DAY 1.1: IN TRANSIT TO RAJASTHAN
DAY 1.2: PAL HAVELI & THE OMELETTE MAN, Jodhpur
DAY 1.3: SPLENDOR OF THE SUN FORT, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.4: SUNSET OVER THE BLUE CITY, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.5: SADAR MARKET AND GHANTA GHAR CLOCKTOWER, Jodhpur

Day 2: Jodhpur, Osian, Jaisalmer
DAY 2.1: MARBLE CENOTAPH JASWANT THADA, Jodhpur
DAY 2.2: MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur
DAY 2.3: PILGRIM OASIS IN THAR DESERT, Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian
DAY 2.4: SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer

Day 3: Jaisalmer
DAY 3.1: THE GOLDEN LIVING FORT, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.2: JAIN TEMPLES PART 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.3: JAIN TEMPLES PART 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.4: FORT PALACE, Jaisalmer

Day 4: Jaisalmer
DAY 4.1: RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.2: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.3: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.4: DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.5: LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer

Day 5: Pushkar
DAY 5.1: RANIKHET EXPRESS
DAY 5.2: 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar
DAY 5.3: SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar

Day 6: Pushkar & Jaipur
DAY 6.1: SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar
DAY 6.2: GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur
DAY 6.3: IN SEARCH OF 1860 CARL ZEISS CAMERA, Jaipur

Day 7: Jaipur
DAY 7.1: AMBER FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.2: JAIGARH FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.3: MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
DAY 7.4: PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Day 8: Bhangarh, Abhaneri & Agra
DAY 8.1: ON THR ROAD TO AGRA
DAY 8.2: HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan
DAY 8.3: CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
DAY 8.4: THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 8.5: FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 9: Agra
DAY 9.1: CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.2: AGRA FORT, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.3: RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.4: SUNSET AT MEHTAB BAGH, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 10: Delhi
DAY 10.1: TRAIN 12627, Agra to Delhi
DAY 10.2 : HUMAYUN’S TOMB, Delhi
Day 10.3: NIZAMUDDIN BASTI, Delhi


DAY 9 (1/4): CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2018.12.02

On the banks of Yamuna River stands one of the world’s most recognizable man-made wonders that has captivated the imagination of people for generations.  Its perfectly proportioned domes, minarets, white marble facades with spectacular stone inlays, represent the utmost architectural beauty and splendid craftsmanship of the Mughal civilization.  The complex immortalizes the eternal love of Emperor Shah Jahan (reigned 1628 – 1658) towards Mumtaz Mahal, whose marvelous tomb complex has become the most famous national icon of India.  This tomb complex is of course the magnificent Taj Mahal, which literally translates as Crown of the Palaces.  The Taj Mahal stands out as the single most important monument that draws travelers from all over the world to India.  Not a mosque or a palace, the Taj Mahal is indeed the final resting place for Queen Mumtaz Mahal and Emperor Shah Jahan.

It would be absurd if we made two visits to India without seeing the Taj Mahal even once.  Fitting Agra into our Rajasthan itinerary and completing the Golden Triangle was easy with the frequent train services between Agra, Jaipur and Delhi.  In Agra, we purposely picked a guesthouse at Taj Ganj, the district right next to the Taj Mahal.  Though not many good hotel options were available in the area, staying at Taj Ganj placed us just a few minutes of walk away from one of the gates of Taj Mahal.  Hoping to experience the golden sunrise at the Taj, queuing at the gate about half an hour before sunrise is a common practice for both foreign and local visitors.

Before the trip, we were a little worry about the restoration work and scaffolding conditions of the Taj.  Since 2016, scaffolding were up at different parts of the Taj for a major cleaning work to restore the original white colour of the marble.  The process had been painstakingly slow.  By October 2018, the cleaning was almost over except the main dome.  It would be a woeful view if the central dome was covered in scaffolding.  Luckily, the authority had decided to delay the cleaning process until the end of the tourist high season, meaning that the Taj would be scaffolding free from November 2018 to April 2019.

DSC_2485After purchasing the tickets at the gate, we queued in the foreign visitor line for about 20 minutes before going through the security check and arriving at the Jilaukhana Forecourt in front of the Great Gate.

DSC_2603Beyond the Great Gate, we arrived at the starting point of the Water Channel.  The channels symbolize the four rivers in the Paradise mentioned in the Koran.  A tint of orange gradually lighted up the east side of the minarets and domes.

DSC_2609We slowly walked to the central pool and platform at the centre of the Charbagh Garden.

DSC_2624From the Central Pool, the majestic Taj Mahal looked beautiful and poetic under the early morning sun.  No tourist brochure or travel literature could do justice on conveying the true beauty of the marble architecture.  We were grateful for not seeing any scaffolding on the Taj, and could see clearly all the major components of the iconic building: four minarets, five domes and an octagonal central structure.

DSC_2648_01It was a little hazy looking back to the Great Gate.

DSC_2655It was a huge relief to see the Taj scaffolding free.  We slowly walked towards the main tomb structure to pay a brief visit of the interior.

DSC_2681No photography was allowed inside the tomb, where the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan were on display.  Their actual resting place is off limit to the public below the main deck.

DSC_2682After touring the interior, we stayed on the marble platform to check out the minarets and marble facades.

IMG_2336To the west of the Taj stands a beautiful mosque.

DSC_2713To the east, an identical building was used as a guesthouse.

IMG_2339To the north, Yamuna River provides a peaceful backdrop to the Taj.

IMG_2367From the marble platform, we could admire the details of marble carving on the Taj.

DSC_2684Standing face to face to the exterior marble walls, we were overwhelmed by the marble relief and stone inlay.

DSC_2724From the grandeur of the minarets to the splendid carvings and stone inlay of the marble walls, Taj Mahal is truly an amazing man-made wonder.

DSC_2689The sun get higher as time passed, and so as the number of visitors.

IMG_2393We circled the Taj to examine its beautiful marble walls before heading back down to the Charbagh Garden.

DSC_2744Back in the Charbagh garden, we could once again admire the overview of the Taj Mahal,

IMG_2432Back at the Central Pool, we took a few more shots of the classic view of the Taj once again.

IMG_2444Visitors continued to pour in from the Great Gate as we were about to leave the Taj Mahal complex.

DSC_2752We passed by the Khawasspuras (tomb attendant living quarter) one last time before exiting the Great Gate.

 

***
Posts on 2018 Rajasthan:-

Day 1: Jodhpur
DAY 1.1: IN TRANSIT TO RAJASTHAN
DAY 1.2: PAL HAVELI & THE OMELETTE MAN, Jodhpur
DAY 1.3: SPLENDOR OF THE SUN FORT, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.4: SUNSET OVER THE BLUE CITY, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.5: SADAR MARKET AND GHANTA GHAR CLOCKTOWER, Jodhpur

Day 2: Jodhpur, Osian, Jaisalmer
DAY 2.1: MARBLE CENOTAPH JASWANT THADA, Jodhpur
DAY 2.2: MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur
DAY 2.3: PILGRIM OASIS IN THAR DESERT, Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian
DAY 2.4: SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer

Day 3: Jaisalmer
DAY 3.1: THE GOLDEN LIVING FORT, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.2: JAIN TEMPLES PART 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.3: JAIN TEMPLES PART 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.4: FORT PALACE, Jaisalmer

Day 4: Jaisalmer
DAY 4.1: RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.2: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.3: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.4: DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.5: LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer

Day 5: Pushkar
DAY 5.1: RANIKHET EXPRESS
DAY 5.2: 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar
DAY 5.3: SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar

Day 6: Pushkar & Jaipur
DAY 6.1: SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar
DAY 6.2: GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur
DAY 6.3: IN SEARCH OF 1860 CARL ZEISS CAMERA, Jaipur

Day 7: Jaipur
DAY 7.1: AMBER FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.2: JAIGARH FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.3: MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
DAY 7.4: PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Day 8: Bhangarh, Abhaneri & Agra
DAY 8.1: ON THR ROAD TO AGRA
DAY 8.2: HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan
DAY 8.3: CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
DAY 8.4: THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 8.5: FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 9: Agra
DAY 9.1: CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.2: AGRA FORT, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.3: RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.4: SUNSET AT MEHTAB BAGH, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 10: Delhi
DAY 10.1: TRAIN 12627, Agra to Delhi
DAY 10.2 : HUMAYUN’S TOMB, Delhi
Day 10.3: NIZAMUDDIN BASTI, Delhi

 


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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Posts on 2018 Rajasthan:-

Day 1: Jodhpur
DAY 1.1: IN TRANSIT TO RAJASTHAN
DAY 1.2: PAL HAVELI & THE OMELETTE MAN, Jodhpur
DAY 1.3: SPLENDOR OF THE SUN FORT, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.4: SUNSET OVER THE BLUE CITY, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.5: SADAR MARKET AND GHANTA GHAR CLOCKTOWER, Jodhpur

Day 2: Jodhpur, Osian, Jaisalmer
DAY 2.1: MARBLE CENOTAPH JASWANT THADA, Jodhpur
DAY 2.2: MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur
DAY 2.3: PILGRIM OASIS IN THAR DESERT, Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian
DAY 2.4: SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer

Day 3: Jaisalmer
DAY 3.1: THE GOLDEN LIVING FORT, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.2: JAIN TEMPLES PART 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.3: JAIN TEMPLES PART 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.4: FORT PALACE, Jaisalmer

Day 4: Jaisalmer
DAY 4.1: RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.2: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.3: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.4: DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.5: LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer

Day 5: Pushkar
DAY 5.1: RANIKHET EXPRESS
DAY 5.2: 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar
DAY 5.3: SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar

Day 6: Pushkar & Jaipur
DAY 6.1: SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar
DAY 6.2: GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur
DAY 6.3: IN SEARCH OF 1860 CARL ZEISS CAMERA, Jaipur

Day 7: Jaipur
DAY 7.1: AMBER FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.2: JAIGARH FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.3: MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
DAY 7.4: PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Day 8: Bhangarh, Abhaneri & Agra
DAY 8.1: ON THR ROAD TO AGRA
DAY 8.2: HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan
DAY 8.3: CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
DAY 8.4: THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 8.5: FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 9: Agra
DAY 9.1: CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.2: AGRA FORT, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.3: RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.4: SUNSET AT MEHTAB BAGH, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 10: Delhi
DAY 10.1: TRAIN 12627, Agra to Delhi
DAY 10.2 : HUMAYUN’S TOMB, Delhi
Day 10.3: NIZAMUDDIN BASTI, Delhi


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.

 

***
Posts on 2018 Rajasthan:-

Day 1: Jodhpur
DAY 1.1: IN TRANSIT TO RAJASTHAN
DAY 1.2: PAL HAVELI & THE OMELETTE MAN, Jodhpur
DAY 1.3: SPLENDOR OF THE SUN FORT, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.4: SUNSET OVER THE BLUE CITY, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.5: SADAR MARKET AND GHANTA GHAR CLOCKTOWER, Jodhpur

Day 2: Jodhpur, Osian, Jaisalmer
DAY 2.1: MARBLE CENOTAPH JASWANT THADA, Jodhpur
DAY 2.2: MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur
DAY 2.3: PILGRIM OASIS IN THAR DESERT, Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian
DAY 2.4: SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer

Day 3: Jaisalmer
DAY 3.1: THE GOLDEN LIVING FORT, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.2: JAIN TEMPLES PART 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.3: JAIN TEMPLES PART 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.4: FORT PALACE, Jaisalmer

Day 4: Jaisalmer
DAY 4.1: RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.2: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.3: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.4: DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.5: LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer

Day 5: Pushkar
DAY 5.1: RANIKHET EXPRESS
DAY 5.2: 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar
DAY 5.3: SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar

Day 6: Pushkar & Jaipur
DAY 6.1: SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar
DAY 6.2: GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur
DAY 6.3: IN SEARCH OF 1860 CARL ZEISS CAMERA, Jaipur

Day 7: Jaipur
DAY 7.1: AMBER FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.2: JAIGARH FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.3: MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
DAY 7.4: PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Day 8: Bhangarh, Abhaneri & Agra
DAY 8.1: ON THR ROAD TO AGRA
DAY 8.2: HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan
DAY 8.3: CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
DAY 8.4: THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 8.5: FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 9: Agra
DAY 9.1: CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.2: AGRA FORT, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.3: RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.4: SUNSET AT MEHTAB BAGH, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Day 10: Delhi
DAY 10.1: TRAIN 12627, Agra to Delhi
DAY 10.2 : HUMAYUN’S TOMB, Delhi
Day 10.3: NIZAMUDDIN BASTI, Delhi