Before dinner, the last activity of our Indian journey 2018 was a guided tour in Nizamuddin Basti, a 14th century community centered around the shrine of the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Despite located just ten minutes of walk from the UNESCO World Heritage site Humayun’s Tomb, the Muslim neighborhood is relatively under visited. From online research, we learnt about the local charity organization, the Hope Project, offers tour of the community for anyone who is interested in the Nizamuddin Basti neighborhood. Found by Sufi teacher, Pir Vilayat Inyat Khan, the Hope Project runs a community health centre, a school, vocational training classes, credit program, etc in Nizamuddin Basti. Through email, we arranged a guided tour of the basti with them. Unfortunately, we were running late by the time we left Humayun’s Tomb. We weren’t sure if our arranged tour was still available. After entering the neighborhood, it took us quite some time to locate the office in the midst of busy lanes. Gratefully, the staff there were willing to take us for a walk, despite the mosques had closed. After the walk in Nizamuddin Basti, we took the metro to United Coffee House at Connaught Place for dinner. We had also dined there on the last day of our trip back in 2016.
The first thing we encountered was the outer wall of Kalan Masjid, also known as Kali Mosque or Large Mosque. The mosque was built in 1370.
We passed by the entrance of the Kalan Masjid, but were unable to enter the complex.
All the lanes in Nizamuddin Basti were busy with people and motorcycles.
Basti residents can find everything they need in their historical neighborhood.
Many locals smiled to us while we toured around the 600-year old neighborhood.
Through the historical gateway, we entered to the forecourt of Chausath Khamba, the tomb complex built by Mughal noble Mirza Aziz Koka in 1623 at the time of Emperor Jahangir.
The forecourt of Chausath Khamba was recently landscaped by the Aga Khan Trust.
The forecourt of Chausath Khamba is frequented by children coming to meet friends and play cricket.
The actual Chausath Khamba is a square shape marble building supported by 64 columns.
The marble hall is divided into 25 bays and covered by 25 domes concealed in the roof structure.
Chausath Khamba houses the tomb of Mirza Aziz Koka, his father Ataga Khan, and other unidentified people.
Adjacent to Chausath Khamba stand the Ghalib Academy and Mazar-e-Ghalib, the tomb of Ghalib, a famous 19th century Persian poet. Our tour with the Hope Project ended at Mazar-e-Ghalib.
On our way out of the neighborhood, the street eateries reminded us that it was almost dinner time.
The monumental and modernist Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque is the centre for the Tablighi network. It was busy with evening prayers as we left the basti.
Due to the Sufi request for divine love, rose is popular among locals.
We followed the main road out towards Mathura Road, where we could walk back to the metro.
We then took the metro to Connaught Place for dinner.
Just like two years ago, we sat down at United Coffee House for their local Indian cuisine.
We sat down at a table on the ground floor and took our time to enjoy the meal and ambience of the restaurant.
Another night flight to return home, another wonderful Indian journey completed. We returned back to the Airport Express Station to pick up our backpacks and hopped on an airport bounded train. This concluded the record of our India 2018 trip.
Similar to the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri, the Agra Fort has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List since the 1980s, making it one of the three must-see attractions in Agra. Known as the Red Fort of Agra, the Agra Fort served as the royal residence of the early Mughal emperors until 1638 when the capital was moved to Delhi. It was constructed during the golden age of the Mughal Empire under two prolific builders: Emperor Akbar the Great and his grandson Shah Jahan. While Akbar is well known for founding the short lived capital Fatehpur Sikri, Shah Jahan is perhaps best known for erecting the most perfect Mughal architecture ever, the Taj Mahal. On the ruins of an earlier fort, Akbar rebuilt the Agra Fort with red sandstone. Akbar’s Agra Fort was completed in 1573 but was later transformed by Shah Jahan into its current mix of red sandstone and white marble buildings.
After visiting the Taj, we dropped by Joney’s Place, the local eatery where we had dinner the night before for breakfast. We had a few hours to spare before our walking tour at 2:30pm. Agra Fort was the obvious choice for us. An auto rickshaw brought us to the busy fort entrance in no time. Just like the Red Fort in Delhi, Agra Fort was very popular with local tourists.
Despite served as the royal residence, the Agra Fort appeared like a heavily fortified complex from its exterior.
Inside Agra Fort, Diwan-i-am was the main audience hall in the complex.
Built between 1631 to 1640, the 201′ by 67′ Diwan-i-am was the hall where Emperor Shah Jehan addressed the general public and his guests.
Constructed by Shah Jahan in 1637, the Anguri Bagh (Grape Garden) was used as a vineyard to make wine for the emperor.
Stone colonnade flanked three sides of the Anguri Bagh.
Khas Mahal was built by Shah Jahan for his daughter Jahanara and Roshanara.
Adjacent to the Khas Mahal, covered verandahs and the marble terraces offered visitors a fantastic view of the Yamuna River.
The Musamman Burj is one of the most splendidly crafted buildings in the complex.
While Akbar built his buildings with sandstone, his grandson Shah Jahan preferred white marble just like another of his other project, the Taj Mahal.
Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower with great views of the Yamuna River, was built by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Together with his daughter Jahanara Begum, It was here that Shah Jahan spent his last few years as a captive of his son Aurangzeb.
From here, Shah Jahan spent his final moments on his death bed facing the Taj Mahal, the tomb of his beloved wife.
Tourists love to take pictures against the beautiful marble lattice work. This woman didn’t even notice the approach monkey as she posed for photo.
Known as the Gem Mosque, the Nagina Masjid is a small marble mosque built by Shah Jahan.
Built by Emperor Akbar, the Jahangiri Mahal Palace was the primary zenana to house his Rajput wives. Compared to his grandson Shah Jahan’s buildings, Akbar’s buildings were mainly built with red sandstone.
Jahangiri Mahal Palace is one of the oldest surviving building in Agra Fort and also the largest part in the compound.
A beautiful dome ceiling at the Jahangiri Mahal Palace.
Only 30 out of 500 buildings of the Jahangir Mahal Palace survive to the present. Many had been destroyed by Shah Jahan and later the British.
After the visit, we returned to the main entrance and hopped on an auto rickshaw to return our hotel.
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.
After 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.
Beyond 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.
We slowly walked to the central pool and platform at the centre of the Charbagh Garden.
From 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.
It was a little hazy looking back to the Great Gate.
It 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.
No 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.
After touring the interior, we stayed on the marble platform to check out the minarets and marble facades.
To the west of the Taj stands a beautiful mosque.
To the east, an identical building was used as a guesthouse.
To the north, Yamuna River provides a peaceful backdrop to the Taj.
From the marble platform, we could admire the details of marble carving on the Taj.
Standing face to face to the exterior marble walls, we were overwhelmed by the marble relief and stone inlay.
From 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.
The sun get higher as time passed, and so as the number of visitors.
We circled the Taj to examine its beautiful marble walls before heading back down to the Charbagh Garden.
Back in the Charbagh garden, we could once again admire the overview of the Taj Mahal,
Back at the Central Pool, we took a few more shots of the classic view of the Taj once again.
Visitors continued to pour in from the Great Gate as we were about to leave the Taj Mahal complex.
We passed by the Khawasspuras (tomb attendant living quarter) one last time before exiting the Great Gate.
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.
From 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.
Beyond the Shahi Darwaza, we arrived at a huge open courtyard.
The gigantic Buland Darwaza (Victoria Gate) was built as a victory arch to commemorate Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat.
At 55m from the outside, the Buland Darwaza (Victoria Gate) is considered the tallest gate in the world.
At the back, the Buland Darwaza stepped down to a more human scale towards the main courtyard.
Opposite to Buland Darwaza stands the elegant white marble tomb of Shaikh Salim Chisti and the red sandstone assembly hall Jamat Khana.
The Tomb of Shaikh Salim Chisti is considered one of the finest example of Mughal architecture.
The 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.
Worshipers studied religious text at the outer corridor of the cenotaph. Photography was not allowed inside the cenotaph.
The tomb building is covered all four sides with beautiful lattice.
Showing the direction of Mecca, the central mihrab is covered by a dome.
We paid a brief visit to the interior of the main mosque building.
Splendid marble inlay in geometric patterns cover most of the interior walls.
The principal mihrab situates beneath the great dome of the mosque.
Worshipers gathered at the front porch of the assembly hall Jamat Khana.
There are a number of tombs in the courtyard.
As 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.
At 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.
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.
As the eastern terminus of the former Silk Road, Changan (now Xian) of the Tang Dynasty was a melting pot of different cultures and religions. A number of Middle Eastern and Central Asian religions entered China during that time, some of which had survived and remained strong even today. Dated back to many centuries, Xian’s Muslim Quarter and the Great Mosque revealed an interesting cultural fusion that is not commonly seen in other parts of China. Xian’s Great Mosque is the largest mosque in China. The buildings in the traditional courtyard complex were mainly constructed in the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368–1644). Earlier religious complexes, Tanmingsi and Huihui Wanshansi, were established on the same site dated as far back as the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
Our taxi dropped us off at one end of the Muslim Quarter, where we began our brief meandering through the crowded Muslim market streets and alleyways before reaching the Great Mosque. From the first glance, the mosque looked very similar to a traditional Chinese courtyard complex, consisting of houses, pavilions, pagodas, gardens, and courtyards. We took our time to wander around the courtyards. As we looked closely at the building decorations, we could find Islam functions and design elements incorporated in the traditional Chinese architecture, with the most obvious being the Arabic inscriptions on walls. The entire complex faces west towards Mecca. Artefacts related to Chinese Islam were on displayed in some of the buildings that were open to visitors. However, the largest prayer hall at the far end of the complex was restricted for Muslims only. We could only peek through the doors to have a glimpse of the colourful carpets and delicate wooden screens in the hall, where worshipers would have prayers sessions. It was interesting to see the fusion of Islam and Chinese design elements combined into one single complex. Before sunset, we left the Great Mosque behind for our last designation in Xian, the Ming city walls.
We entered the Muslim Quarter from the main market street.
There is still a significant population of Muslims in Xian.
Cars, motorcycles, and people packed the main market street.
The market street of Xian’s Muslim Quarter is a good place for people watching.
An awfully tall steamer in front of a local eatery.
A street vendor put different topping on a local dessert called “jing gao” which is a steamed glutinous rice cake.
A wonton vendor managing her charcoal stove.
Lamb skewers vendors could be seen everywhere.
The entrance gate of Xian’s Great Mosque.
The interior of an old study room looks very much like a traditional Chinese house, but all the paintings and calligraphy on displayed were Islam related.
Islamic components were incorporated in the Chinese architecture.
The mosque complex is made up of a series of courtyards.
“Examining the Heart Tower” in the third courtyard.
The main prayer hall at the far end of the complex.
Richly decorated pendant lamps at the veranda of the main prayer hall.
Peeking inside the main prayer hall.
Wooden clock and timber screens of the main prayer hall.
Leaving the Great Mosque behind, we exited the Muslim Quarter from another end of the market street.
It was approaching supper time when we left the Muslim Quarter, and the food vendors were all geared up for their night of business.
Our posts on 2016 Xian and Jiuzhaigou:
DAY 1 – NIGHT ARRIVAL, Xian, China
DAY 2 – QIN EMPEROR’S TERRACOTTA ARMY, near Xian, China
DAY 2 – BIG WILD GOOSE PAGODA (大雁塔), Xian, China
DAY 3 – HAN YANG LING MAUSOLEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – SHAANXI HISTORY MUSEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – GREAT MOSQUE (西安大清真寺) AND MUSLIM QUARTER, Xian, China
DAY 3 – MING CITY WALL, Xian, China
DAY 4 -FIRST GLIMPSE OF JIUZHAIGOU (九寨溝), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 5 – ARROW BAMBOO LAKE (箭竹海), PANDA LAKE (熊貓海) & FIVE FLOWER LAKE (五花海), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – PEARL SHOAL FALLS (珍珠灘瀑布), MIRROR LAKE (鏡海) & NUORILANG FALLS (諾日朗瀑布), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – LONG LAKE (長海) & FIVE COLOURS LAKE (五彩池), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – RHINOCEROS LAKE (犀牛海), TIGER LAKE (老虎海) & SHUZHENG VILLAGE (樹正寨), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 6 – ASCEND TO FIVE COLOUR POND (五彩池), Huanglong (黃龍), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 7 – FAREWELL JIUZHAIGOU & XIAN, China
After having a quick lunch, we hopped on a tuk-tuk to reach our next destination, Jama Masjid. The driver dropped us off on Esplanade Road at the east entrance, one of three gateways into the complex. We climbed up a long flight of stair to reach the level of the main courtyard and east gate. At the entrance gate, we took off our shoes and paid a “camera fee”. It was late afternoon and the sun was behind the mosque and its 40m minarets, casting long shadows onto the ground of the main courtyard. It was not the best time of the day for photo shooting but we still found this red sandstone & marble building magnificent despite signs of deterioration.
Built between 1644 to 1658, Jama Masjid is the largest mosque in India. The Mughal architecture was built out of marble and red sandstone, with two minarets, three domes, a prayer hall, three sides of covered colonnade, and an open courtyard that can accommodate 25,000 worshipers for prayers. Because of the afternoon heat, there were not many people staying in the vast open ground in front of the prayer hall. Most people took shelter under the covered colonnade surrounding the courtyard. There was a large rectangular fountain in the courtyard outside of the prayer hall for ablution. Without our shoes on, we could feel the burning heat from the stones under our feet. We followed the path made out of a fabric to reach the semi-opened prayer hall. Without interrupting other people, we picked a quiet corner and sat down on one of the 899 bordered marble slabs (marked for worshipers) to absorb the atmosphere. Sitting by an open bay facing the courtyard, we saw a group of enthusiastic young children helping a senior staff to wash the courtyard floor. Under the scorching sun, the children seemed to be the most energetic people in the courtyard. They ran around the courtyard, chasing each other and the pigeons. It was their laughter and giggling that made us feel more at ease in this unbearable heat.
The magnificent architecture of the east gate, flanked by the covered colonnades.
The south gate and one of the two 40m minarets.
The prayer hall with its three domes and two minarets.
There are 899 marble floor slabs inside the prayer hall defined for worshipers.
One of the worshipers at the prayer hall with the courtyard beyond.
The east gate, fountain and the main courtyard.
People sat around the fountain for ablution.
Worshipers inside the semi-opened prayer hall.
The ground was constantly washed with water by staff.
Visitors with shorts and sleeveless tops had to cover up their bodies with fabrics provided at the entrance gate.
The path paved with cloths leads to the east gate.
Pigeons gathered at the main courtyard where a large patch of yellow grains were scattered. The birds were constantly scared away by children.
We could hear the kids’ laughter as they successfully chased off the pigeons.
A boy running across the courtyard in front of the prayer hall.
Close up of the running boy.
Another boy running in the main courtyard.
The defensive wall and watch towers of the Red Fort didn’t seem to be far away from Jama Masjid.
There were many people gathered around the east gate where we entered the building. When we entered the mosque, there were people offered to safe guard our shoes for a little money.
View of the payer hall from the cover colonnade.
We exited the mosque through the west gate. The grandeur of the steps with the domes and minarets beyond was breathtaking.
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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi