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.
On our way to Rawatpara Market, our rickshaw passed by the red sandstone walls of Agra Fort once again.
Near Agra Fort Train Station, our rickshaw entered into the lively streets of Rawatpara.
We found our way towards Jama Masjid, a famous mosque built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter in 1648.
Jama Masjid took 6 years and 5000 workers to finish.
Betel leaves are sold in the Rawatpara Market.
The 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.
After visiting the local eatery, we continued our walk into the market.
We 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.
As expected, there are many shops selling all kinds of personal adornments.
Local craftsmen could be seen everywhere in the market.
From jewellery making to embroidery, handicraft is still popular in India.
Next 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.
Colourful shops in the market.
Everything were either vivid or golden in colour.
Decoration is such a huge part of the Indian culture.
We stopped by the historic Hindu temple Shri Mankameshwar Mandir. Unfortunately the temple was closed when we were there.
Then 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.
Sweet is, of course, hugely popular for the Indians as well.
After a fruitful walk it was about time for sunset watching.
We followed our guide back to the entrance of the market where a 4×4 was waiting to take us to our next stop.
Adjacent to Sariska Tiger Reserve, the ruined fort in the village of Bhangarh is well known in India, not just for its impressive 17th century ruins but for its fame as the most haunted attraction in the country. It is common for visitors with their own wheels to stop by the ruins during the journey between Jaipur and Agra. Some adventure seekers go as far as hiding in the fort and staying the night illegally to challenge their courage when everybody is gone. But they are truly risking their lives as tigers from the nearby reserve have been known for occasional visits in the wee hours.
We spent roughly an hour at the ruins. Knowing that we still had two more places to go after Bhangarh, we had to be disciplined with time management. While many visitors come to Bhangarh for its haunted legends, the site was in fact worth visiting also for its well preserved ruins. Legend has it that a black magician fell in love with the beautiful Princess Ratnavati of Bhangarh. The princess saw through the magician’s wicked plot of tricking her to fall in love with him. The sour consequence led to the magician putting a curse over the entire fort. The troubled fort had since then became deserted and haunted.
We passed by the Hanumaan Temple as soon as we stepped into the site of Bhangarh.
Flanked both sides by ruined stone houses, walking on the main street into the site allowed us to imagine its former glory.
Beyond the street of ruined houses, we arrived at the inner core of Bhangarh.
We were delighted to find a large open space at the heart of the site.
The open space was flanked by a number of buildings, including the Gopinath Temple.
From the open space it was another short walk uphill to the fort complex.
We were delighted to see how well preserved the fort was.
On our way up to the fort, we encountered several groups of local students.
They were really interested in us. Perhaps it wasn’t common for them to see foreigners.
Groups after groups of local students urged us to take them pictures.
The laughter of the school children was a big bonus for our Bhangarh visit.
Looking down to the open space from the fort.
The fort was built cascading up the hill.
Most of the buildings had collapsed after centuries of abandonment.
Monkey were everywhere in the site, especially at the entrance of Somnath Temple.
Local visitors stepping out the Somnath Temple.
Gray langur monkeys are native to the Indian subcontinent.
Before leaving the site, we had encountered several different groups of monkeys, some of which were devouring fruits given by local visitors.
At 6:30 in the morning, we returned to the ghats of Pushkar Lake. The eastern horizon was about to turn yellow. We came to have a final stroll along the sacred water. We regret that we couldn’t spend more time in Pushkar, a place that is meant for slow indulgence for its spiritual qualities. We, however, were making a brief loop of Rajasthan in a rather limited time. Situated between Jaisalmer and Jaipur, Pushkar was a convenient stop in our itinerary. We didn’t come in time to attend the famous camel fair, nor did we hike up the nearby hills or visit the Brahma Temple (no cameras, shoes, leather). Just spending several hours strolling on the ghats turned out to be more than worthwhile for us. Among cities and sites that we visited in Rajasthan, Pushkar stood out as a charming and peaceful destination that truly touched our hearts.
At 6:30, some locals were already lingering at the ghats.
It was interesting to see how a local interacted with a cow.
The forever presence of pigeons at Pushkar Lake.
The sun rose beyond the hills while a dog rested on a ghat with marked 2018.
The adjacent temples had yet come to life. Scattered temple staff and pilgrims arrived at the ghats.
Once again the ghats were covered with a coat of orange glow.
The setting looked magnificent with the morning reflections.
Following the sunlight, we walked over to the west side of the lake.
Every moment could be captured as a peaceful painting of the old India.
Some worshipers were listening to the priest’s teaching at one of the ghats.
At the northwest corner of Pushkar Lake we bid farewell to the sacred water.
We stopped by a tiny cafe called Honey Dew for morning coffee.
Brahma Temple in Pushkar is one of the very few Hindu temple in the world dedicated to Brahma, the creator god in Hinduism.
Robin Jewels is a nice jewellery shop we found online. Before leaving Pushkar, we dropped by the shop and picked up a few pieces. Robin is specialized in silver, brass, gold and gemstones, with their own manufacturing workshop in town.
We took us a while to narrow down to a few pieces to bring home.
After Robin, we followed the main market street along the north side of Pushkar Lake back to Inn Seventh Heaven.
For a little less than 24 hours, we had a taste of the spiritual side of India in the sacred town of Pushkar.
We checked out the lovely Inn Seventh Heaven and get on a hired car to Ajmer Junction Railway Station.
In an hour or so we would arrived at the bustling city of Jaipur, the capital and largest city of Rajasthan.
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.
It 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.
It was a magical experience to walk from one ghat to another.
Each ghat is unique despite all leading to the waterfront of Pushkar Lake.
Pushkar 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.
Rajasthani pilgrims in their vivid sarees walked by the sacred lake in the afternoon sun.
We had a good time wandering from one ghat to another along the lake’s north shore
No 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.
Layers of balustrades, stepped plazas, terraces, and bathing pools provide a rich palette of textures to the scenery.
We decided to do nothing for the rest of the day other than strolling along the lakefront.
The 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.
Pigeons and more pigeons. Bird or animal feeding is considered a good deed to improve a person’s karma according to Hindu beliefs.
The ghats were photogenic under the afternoon sun.
Reflections of passing people on the bathing pools were beautiful.
Especially with the vivid colours of the local sarees.
Local Indians are curious and friendly and love to take pictures with foreign tourists.
It was a delight to see the free roaming cows around Pushkar Lake.
Pigeons were everywhere.
And so as some larger water birds.
Hotel Pushkar Palace has one of the best view in town.
We ended our first ghat walk in mid afternoon and decided to return for the sunset.
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.
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).
A 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.
Built 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.
The 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.
A group of locals were taking professional photos by the waterfront.
Boating is possible at Gadsisar Sagar. During our visit, we saw one boat occupied by a group of local visitors in the lake.
The chattris (and their reflections) by the shore provided a photogenic setting to the lake.
We decided to walk along the shore for a bit.
We assed by some ghats and decks in front of temples.
No matter how far we went, the chattris near the entrance were often the focal point.
The scenery was peaceful and poetic if we could ignore the trash along the bank.
Apart from pigeons, we also saw a few other kinds of birds at the waterfront.
Just like anywhere else, the dominant type of birds that can live along with humans is always the pigeons.
As time went by, more visitors arrived at the Tilon-Ki-Pol, but hardly any would venture far beyond the entrance area.
Dogs are not uncommon in India, and some of them tend to follow people for a bit.
There are a number of Hindu temples along the shore. They are frequented by local pilgrims.
Where there is Hindu temples there would be “holy men” around.
Upon 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.
We returned to the Jain temples at around 11:30. We took off our shoes and placed them near the entrance before entering the temple forecourt. Just like our earlier visit of Chandraprabhu and Rikhabdev Temple (and possibly the other smaller temples interconnected in the maze-like network), we soon lose track of where we had been or which parts we had yet seen during our visit of Shantinath and Kunthunath Temple. Again temple buildings were interconnected at more than one level. For outsiders like us, it was impossible to differentiate the statues and temple chambers from one another. Except the marble statues of tirthankaras, almost everything were carved in the local yellow sandstone. Temple interiors were filled with grotto like shrines, narrow passageways, exquisite statues, and wonderful dome ceilings of sculpted apsaras (celestial nymphs). On the outside, toranas (ceremonial gateways) and shikharas (towers) packed the forecourt. The rich visual experience was coherent throughout the entire visit as we meandered through the temple complex. Given their compact sizes, it was surprising that we had spent the entire morning just to linger around the seven interconnected Jain temples until lunchtime.
Opening time varies for non-worshipers. We had to wait till 11:30 to enter the Shantinath and Kunthunath temple.
Built in 1536, the Shantinath and Kunthunath were equally impressive to the ones we saw earlier in the morning.
We didn’t come to worship so we stayed outside of the temple altar.
From the torana gate to the inner shrine, everywhere in the temple complex was full of details.
From up close, we could admire the sculpted base of the shikharas (towers).
At one end of the temple, we entered a shrine hall where locals were assisted by a holy man to perform certain worshiping rituals.
The outer facade of the hall was beautifully sculpted with what looked like to be symbols depicting religious stories.
The locals left the hall after they finished their worshiping rituals.
Soon we were all by ourselves to admire the dome ceiling of sculpted apsaras (celestial nymphs) and the other statues in the shrine hall.
Some shrines and their sculpted ceilings were not as well restored.
On the upper level, we came to a quiet area. We had the upper level pretty much all by ourselves.
We took our time to check out the different statues on the upper level.
There were a wide range of statues from human sized figures to the very small ones.
Before we left, fellow visitors finally found their way up to the upper level.
At the upper level, we also encountered a interesting footprint carving on a stone counter.
At the lower level, we spent some time examining the statues of dancing girls with large hoop earrings.
Back out to the temple forecourt, we passed by the exquisite torana one last time. Toranas are sacred gateways common in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples.
Back out at the street, we had one final look at the screened balcony connecting the upper level of the two temples. Near the end of our temple visit, we spent quite some time resting on the balcony seat.