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.
After obtaining the admission tickets, we entered the complex of Humayun’s Tomb through a series of gateways and courtyards.
We 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The red sandstone and white marble provide a splendid combination of facade treatments and decorations.
Modeled on the Paradise Garden in Koran, the garden is divided into 36 squares by axes of water channels and paths.
Just like a few other attractions, we encountered a large group of school students at Humayun’s Tombs.
Entrance dome of Humayun’s Tomb was decorated with elegant lines.
Much less crowded than the Taj Mahal, visitors could appreciate the solemn interior of the mausoleum.
The 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.
It’s common to see school groups when visiting historical movements in India.
Inspired by Persian garden, the 30 acre tomb garden is subdivided by a network of water channels.
After visiting the interior of the tomb, we circled around the structure on the upper platform.
We returned to the garden at the ground level via one of the four covered staircases.
As 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.
A final view of the front facade of the building before we left the complex.
Near 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.
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.
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 (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.
DAY 4 (2/5): ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.27
Below the Golden Fort of Jaisalmer, the town flourished in the Medieval times as merchants and desert caravans brought considerable amount of activities and wealth into this remote city at the heart of the Thar Desert. Nowhere else is more convincing than Patwon Ki Haveli to see the legacy of these wealthy merchants. Built in the first half of the 19th century, Patwon Ki Haveli was the oldest and largest haveli (grand mansion) in Jaisalmer. Guman Chand Patwa, a renowned trader of his time, commissioned the construction of five multi-storey townhouses for his five sons. Splendid wall paintings, mirror mosaic, and most ostentatious of all, the amazing sandstone carving on the building facade, have made the haveli an icon for the city comparable to the Golden Fort. One operated by the government and the other privately owned, two out of five havelis are open for the public today. The first haveli we visited was the privately owned mansion located at the right side of the row.
The Patwon Ki Haveli occupies a narrow lane which can be entered at either end. We entered the lane through a beautiful archway.
Upon entering the archway, we were in awe of the intriguing stone carving on the haveli facade over our heads.
Above the archway, the Patwon Ki Haveli extends over to the opposite side of the pedestrian lane.
Along the lane, there were two open spaces across from the Patwon Ki Haveli for us to stand back and admire the beautiful sandstone facade.
Moving closer to the haveli, the balconies and facade details looked stunning.
If we looked closer, we could see the slight differences between each house.
We walked by a house with its doors opened for visitors. It turned out that this was the privately owned haveli opened to the public.
Once stepped into the entrance vestibule, we were immediately overwhelmed by the richly decorated interiors.
At the core, we could look up the lightwell to appreciate the height of the building.
Walking up the haveli, one of the first rooms we encountered was the fascinating private Hindu temple. Though small, the intriguing details of the temple interiors revealed the beautiful craftsmanship of the old Rajasthan.
Across from the small temple facing the street, another small chamber was ornately decorated with paintings and carvings.
Singing from a child musician mingled with laughter from tourists could be heard through the balcony windows.
Another level up were a series of vacant rooms. Small windows for communication and tiny wall niches for candles allowed us to imagine what the space would be like a century ago. Despite there were no furniture and paint restoration, we highly appreciated the vintage and authentic feel of the interiors.
Occasional wall paintings gave a touch of vivid colours to the generally yellowish sandstone building.
At the top level we reached what looked like to be the master bedroom with large windows facing the Jaisalmer Fort on one side.
And balconies looking down to the lightwell on the other side.
A door from the master bedroom led us to a small chamber with an attic and another small room.
We reached the roof terrace near the end of the visit. The view of Jaisalmer Fort was quite amazing.
After a fruitful tour of the old mansion, we walked downstairs and returned to the entrance vestibule, where a beautiful peacock feature guarded the house for decades, welcoming and bidding farewell to visitors.
While surveying the area near Trikuta Hill, outcast prince of the Bhati kingdom Rawal Jaisal met a sage named Eesul, who mentioned a prophesy of Jaisal’s Yaduvanshi clan would one day establish a kingdom here. Inspired by the encounter, Rawal Jaisal established his kingdom and capital city at the Trikuta Hill and called it Jaisalmer based on his own name. Built by Rawal Jaisal in 1156, the 7-storey Fort Palace was the former royal residence of the rulers. We got an official audio guide for our visit. Though there were a number of rooms under renovations when we were there. Perhaps the time was a little late, not too many tourists were around in the palace. Not as monumental as its counterpart in Jodhpur, the Palace was nonetheless a unique element of Jaisalmer Fort that no tourist coming this far into the Thar Desert should miss.
The sati handprints mark the entrance of Jaisalmer Fort Palace. Sati handprints were made by widows of the king who committed self-immolation when their husband passed away in ancient times.
The ornate balcony was the focus of the first courtyard we entered in the palace complex.
From a window on the upper level, we could have a close look at the exquisite detail of the balcony and palace facade.
The Rajasthani heritage of elaborated carvings can be seen all over the palace.
Some of these amazing stone carvings were gifts to the maharaja. This one is placed in the king’s bedroom as an interior decoration.
Stained glass is commonly used in Rajasthani palaces.
From a roof terrace, we enjoyed a “maharaja”‘s view of the fort’s bastions and the yellow sandstone city of Jaisalmer below Trikuta Hill.
The yellow tone of the city presents the perfect scenery of what a picturesque desert oasis.
Not all rooms were completely restored, but even without the original furniture, the wall tiles and wooden carvings were delights for the eye.
Some original furniture were on display behind protective glass.
The king’s bedroom opens to a beautiful courtyard where musicians and dancers would provide pleasant entertainment.
The king’s entertainment courtyard was intimate in scale and finished in beautiful floor and wall tiles.
Some palace balconies offer magnificent views of the city below.
Towards the end of our tour, we passed by a physical model of Jaisalmer Fort, offering us a good opportunity to have a better understanding of the fort layout and places that we had visited throughout the day.
It was late in the afternoon and there were hardly any tourists left in the fort.
Without audio guide and map handout, touring the Jaisalmer Fort Palace would be like walking in a maze.
Near the end of the walk, we passed by quite a few empty chambers.
The detailed ornaments of the palace offered us a glimpse of the beautiful sandstone carving of Jaisalmer. In the following day, we would continue to explore the ancient city for other amazing works of local stone craftsmen.