TRAVEL INDIA VOLUME 1
THE FORTS OF
ATOP OF ELEPHANTS
INSIDE LOOK OF TAJ MAHAL
AJANTA ELLORA CAVES
INSIDE LOOK OF THE TAJ MAHAL
QUTUB MINAR TILTING DUE TO SEEPAGE: EXPERTS
ONE OF THE BEST PALACES/ HOTELS TO STAY IN INDIA
AJANTA ELLORA CAVES
DID THE FIRST BATH IN 213 YEARS TAKE THE SHEEN OFF HAWA MAHAL?
TAJ MAHAL AGRA
is one of the
for reasons more than just looking magnificent. It's the history of Taj Mahal that adds a soul to its magnificence: a soul that is filled with love, loss, remorse, and love again. Because if it was not for love, the world would have been robbed of a fine example upon which people base their relationships.
AMBER FORT A m b e r F o r t wa s f r o m turrets of Jaigarh.
first sight of of the
Standing so high up, looking down at the Aravalli ranges stretching to the horizon, my first thought was that it blended beautifully with the mountains. The name ‘Amber’ comes, not from the English word for the colour, but is a derivation of the word “Amba” or the goddess. However, it is pronounced as ‘Aamer’. The spelling varies too, with both usages – Amber and Amer – being quite commonly used. Amber fort was built in the sixteenth century during the reign of Raja Man Singh I. Man Singh was a trusted general of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. He was considered one among the nine gems (Navaratnas) of Akbar’s court.The main approach to the fort is through a series of steps from the front, leading to the Suraj Pol, which is so named because it faces the east, where the sun (suraj) rises. However, there is also a road leading halfway up the hill, from which a ramp takes us straight to the fort. This path leads us through the town of Amer, which seems to have survived the passage of the centuries. The narrow lanes pass by small and big houses, temple spires towering all the other buildings. Thanks to the long line of vehicles along this route, we were unable to stop for a better look. But for those of you who will be visiting Amer, give yourself some time to explore the town. From the looks of it, it must be interesting, with lots of stories to tell! On one side of this courtyard is an impressive set of steps leading to the next part of the palace, and on the right is an unobtrusive paved path leading to the Shila Devi Temple. Interestingly, while the fort is the main attraction for tourists who flock here from far and wide, it is the temple which attracts crowds of locals. While tourists enter the temple for a brief glimpse of the deity, the regulars glare at you for interrupting their heartfelt prayers. The family who accompanied us to the fort told us that they came to the temple often, but it was years since they had seen any other part of the fort. They said the Devi had great powers and that on some special days, the temple crowd far exceeded that of the tourists!
The story of the goddess’ arrival at Amer is an interesting one. as with many other legends, there are two versions here too! The warrior goddess Amba, also known as Kali, is the patron deity of the Rajputs. In fact, as I have mentioned before, the name of the fort, Amer, comes from that of the goddess. As per the first version of the story, when Maharaja Man Singh marched on Bengal, he prayed to the goddess for victory. The goddess blessed him in a dream, and instructed him to worship her image, which he would find in the seabed. After the battle of Bengal in 1604, Man Singh retrieved the idol of the goddess from the seabed as per his dream, and installed it at Amer. The deity is called Shila Devi, since the idol is carved from a single stone, or shila. The second version is from the same period – the battle of Bengal. According to this version, after the victory at Bengal, Man Singh received as a gift, a black stone. This was no ordinary black stone, but the one from the story of Lord Krishna. For those who don’t know the story, here it is in brief. Kamsa was an evil king, and when he heard that his sister’s 8th child would kill him, decided to kill all his sister’s children by dashing them against a black stone. In this manner, he killed 6 of her children. The seventh child miscarried, and the 8th was taken to safety in the dead of the night, and replaced with a girl child. When Kamsa dashed this girl against the black stone, she jumped from his grasp and took the form of the Devi, informing him that his killer had arrived. This 8th child, Krishna, eventually returned to kill Kamsa. The black stone gifted to Man Singh was believed to be this very stone, and he used it well, carving an image of the Devi on it, and installing her at his fort. The silver covered doors of the temple are an impressive sight, and even more impressive is the Ganesha statue carved out of a single piece of coral. This is the biggest idol made of coral that I have ever seen!! Unfortunately, this is the only part of the fort where photography is not allowed. In fact, the guards even stopped me from clicking pics of the entranceway.
Qutub Minar tilting due to seepage:
NEW DELHI: Is Qutub Minar going the way of the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Experts are understood to have expressed concern that the monument, which already has a tilt of 25 inches to the southwest, is in danger of leaning further in that direction due to a weak foundation being further weakened by rainwater seepage. Acting quickly, a concerned Archaeological Survey of India has cemented the area around the structure with lime to make it water-tight. It has also set-up six underground ‘water traps’ at a depth of 12 feet to prevent any water from reaching the 10-feet deep foundation of India’s most famous tower. Experts added that the tilt is currently within safe limits but needs regular monitoring. Adding to the problem is the fact that the tower is in a seismic zone. “There were concerns that Qutub Minar’s foundation was being weakened by rainwater seepage. The minar stands on a slight depression which causes rainwater to flow directly to it’s foundation. This apart, the ground around the minar has loose soil which absorbs rainwater. We have now cemented it with limeterracing and no water can come near the monument’s foundation,” said a senior ASI official. The 72.5 metre high Tughlaq-era structure is one of the three world heritage sites in Delhi, the other two being Humayun’s Tomb and Red Fort. According to some historians, Qutub Minar has a ‘natural’ tilt which occurred not when it was built by Qutubuddin Aibak in 1173, but was caused either when the two upper storeys of the monument were later being built or due to an earthquake. Inevitable comparisons with Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa are being made as well. Although intended to stand vertically, the minar began leaning to the southeast shortly after its construction. Experts say its foundation is poorly laid and loose soil around it allowed the structure to tilt.
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Apart from the tilt, the damage to the 13th century monument from rainwater is clearly visible on the surface of the minar. On the southwest side, part of the semi-circular and angular fittings on the outer facade have blackened and huge cracks have developed due to underground water moving up the walls due to capillary action. “The discolouration is clearly visible. We have to ensure that there is no water seepage in the monument’s foundation. Till now, the tilt is within safe limits but it could increase. We will also treat the damaged portions of the Minar,” said a senior official.
QUTUB MINAR NEW DELHI
B u i l t i n t h e e a r l y 1 3 t h c e n t u r y a few kilometres south of Delhi, the red sandstone tower of Qutb Minar is 72.5 m high, tapering from 2.75 m in diameter at its peak to 14.32 m at its base, and alternating angular and rounded flutings. The surrounding archaeological area contains funerary buildings, notably the magnificent AlaiDarwaza Gate, the masterpiece of Indo-Muslim art (built in 1311), and two mosques, including the Quwwatuâ€™l-Islam, the oldest in northern India, built of materials reused from some 20 Brahman temples.
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Officials from ASI, however, insist there is no cause for alarm. “We have taken prompt action to tighten the water channels around the minar foundation. We can’t undo the damage already caused by the capillary action but a weak foundation is common in other monuments like Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Red Fort. It is more of a concern for Qutub Minar because of its great height,” said a senior ASI official.
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According to sources, the tilt was mentioned in ASI reports as early as 1950. In the 1960s, a UNESCO-funded research conducted by a Japanese team submitted a three-volume report on the tilt. A report by archaeologist Zafar Hasan also pointed to the tilt in Qutub Minar, saying it needed to be controlled at the earliest.
H o t e l L e e l av e n t u r e L t d . o p e r at e s T h e L e e l a P a l a c e s , H o t e l s a n d R e s o r t s i n N e w D e l h i , M u m b a i , B a n g a l o r e , G u r g a o n – D e l h i N .C .R . , U da i p u r , G o a a n d K o va l a m
AJANTA AND ELLORA CAVES
BANGLE SELLERS In
a c o u n t r y a s va s t a n d d i v e r s e a s
va r y f r o m r e g i o n t o r e g i o n j u s t a s m u c h a s l a n g u ag e a n d c u s to m s d o
However, one ornament that is used widely all over India is the bangle – whether made of gold or glass, bangles are an inevitable part of a woman’s jewellery, especially during her wedding.
I was spoilt for choice, and I eventually landed up at this one, which was the biggest in the area, and came back my hands full.... literally!
A cluster of 29 rock-cut caves at Ajanta which date back to the 2nd century BC is a site of great historic importance. The cave walls are adorned with beautiful paintings, sculptures & fresco’s which are believed to be masterpieces of the Buddhist religious art which are reminiscent of the ones found in the caves at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka.
Bangles are considered auspicious, and at one time, it was considered inauspicious for a woman not to wear bangles. I remember my grandfather ruing the fact that I studied at a convent school and couldn’t wear jewellery to school, and that my hands were always bare! I was secretly pleased, because I hated ornaments of any kind! I still do, but over the years, I have developed an affinity for bangles – but only the ones made of glass... and I never take them off! At one time, glass bangles could be found easily... and in various designs, but today, my options are limited. In Mumbai, all I get are decorative bangles, which look great for weddings or special occasions, but are no use for daily wear. Which is why, whenever I am travelling in smaller towns, I always keep my eyes peeled for bangle shops. Like this one at Ambejogai near Nanded.
And then, there are these ‘mobile’ bangle shops... or bangle sellers, who carry delicate glass bangles in wicker baskets on their head, and go from house to house, not just selling the bangles, but also helping the customers wear them! In fact, it is quite a tradition to have the bangle seller fill your hand with bangles...as is done at weddings, and many other occasions. They have a great idea of what will suit you, help you pick the right size, and help you wear bangles which seem too small, fit just right.... and in an aside, it is actually better to wear glass bangles a size smaller, for then they don’t break as fast! It has been a long time since I saw any such door-to-door bangle sellers, but on this trip, I saw quite a few.. especially in buses, where it seemed a miracle that the bangles emerged intact even after the most lurching rides in buses packed to capacity! The only one I managed to click, however, was this one, whom I saw at Shegaon.
The Ellora Cave temples are an epitome of Deccan rock-cut architecture. Over a 2 km long stretch of caves where monks of different religions carved out sculptures with remarkable attention to detail is a spectacle in itself. The largest monolithic here is the Kailasa Temple in Cave 16 - which took 17,000 laborers, 150 years to complete. Both the Ajanta & Ellora caves are an amalgamation of Buddhist, Jain & Hindu sculptures, paintings & fresco’s. This is testimony to the fact that the three religions lived in harmony for a long time.
Ambejogai houses an important temple of the goddess, which is probably the reason there were so many bangle shops there.
While at the Ajanta Caves a short walk from below the Cave 8 & 27; and a further uphill climb takes you to the spot where the British first saw the caves - are the view points to look out for to view the horse shoe shaped gorge.
Aurangabad is home to the World Heritage Site - the Ajanta & Ellora Caves
HOW TO CLEAR INDIA’S AIRPORT SECURITY WITHOUT HASSLE If you are planning to take domestic flights within India – like what we did with Jet Airways f o r f l i g h t s t o U d a i p u r a n d S r i n a g a r, d o n o t e t h a t there are differing practices of airport security clearance and some can be really stringent e.g. the Srinagar airport. I will be sharing in this a r t i c l e o n w h a t y o u c a n e x p e c t f r o m t h e s e c l e a rance processes and how you can make the necessary preparations to clear them without hassle. Th e s e s u g g e s t i o n s a p p l y f o r b o t h d o m e s t i c f l i g h t s within India and international flights out of India. The general security requirements (applicable to any airport around the world) of no firearms and dangerous items in checkedin baggage and no liquid in hand carry baggage, still applies for India’s airports. Only passengers and people with official duties in the airport are allowed into the airport (you will need to show your boarding pass and passport before you enter the airport). In addition to the above, you are required to collect “chops”/stamps on tags for your hand carry bag and stickers for your check-in luggage as part of the security clearance process. I will share more details (with pictures of what you can expect to collect) below. Be prepared to be frisked physically by the airport security staff at the first layer of check as you walk through the metal detector into the secured area of the airport. The frisking can be quite intimate (whether the metal detector goes off or not, you will be frisked) and female travellers will be sent into the “box” with curtains/ doors (like the one in the picture below) where the frisking will be carried out by a female security staff. There are also separate queues for males and females at the metal detector so don’t queue at the wrong one! Pick up a luggage tag for your hand carry bag at the airline checkin counter before you clear the first layer of airport security. You need a tag for each of the hand carry bag you have so if you have 2 bags, you need 2 tags (one on each of the bag). You don’t need the tag of the airline – you just need a tag of some sorts for your bag. Once your hand carry bag clears the first security check, the airport security staff will “chop” or stamp the tag on your bag. Just before you board the plane, the security staff at the boarding gate will need to see the stamped tag. DO NOT LOSE this tag before you clear this security check or you will have to go all the way from the boarding gate to the first layer of security check to get your hand carry bag scanned again.
Foreigners are also required to register themselves at the Foreign Registration Counter upon arrival and departure to and from Srinagar airport. Do not forget this step!
Some airports can be very big eg New Delhi airport where there are travellators after travellators – you might need 10 – 15 minutes walk at a leisurely pace from the main airport area (where all the shops and restaurants are) to reach your boarding gate so do plan for some buffer time if you plan to eat and shop at the airport. Of course, with such a long walking distance – if you lose your tag on your hand carry bag and didnt realise it until you are at the boarding gate at the last minute, you might just miss your flight.
You will need to fill in some basic info of who you are e.g. name, gender, nationality, home address and what you are doing here in Srinagar and where you are staying in Srinagar. You will only need to fill up one form for your group of travellers i.e. if you are travelling with 2-3 friends, the group only need to submit one form. Remember – you need to register when you arrive and when you depart. Fill up your foreign national registration form (departure) before you arrive at the airport to skip the queues of foreigners getting their form. Get your arrival and departure forms at the counter upon your arrival.
Most airports e.g. Udaipur and Srinagar require your luggages to be scanned before you check them in. After scanning these luggage and the luggage are good to go, airport staff will paste a security-cleared tamper-proof sticker (see picture below – the picture shows a sticker that has been broken; it should be intact before you checked in) at your luggage zips or any point of entry to your luggage. You will be turned back at the airline check-in counter (you have to get a new sticker by re-scanning your luggage) if you don’t have these stickers on your bag or if these stickers broke (as a result of you opening your luggage after scanning the luggage). However, staff of some airports might not actively remind you to scan your luggages prior to check-in and then you will see a mad scramble for the scanning machine at the entrance of the airport when travellers realise the need to get these stickers on their luggage. If you are not sure, ask the airport staff if you need to security-scan your checked-in luggage.
There are 4 layers of security clearance at Srinagar airport – each of which involves long queues: 1st layer: Clearance of vehicle driving towards the airport; Clearance of travellers and all their bags. This process will take up the most time – be prepared to get caught in a jam for 45 minutes and above, depending on the traffic. You will need to alight with your bags and send them through a huge scanning machine. You will go through a metal detector and then frisked. Collect your bags and board your vehicle after this station. 2nd layer: Clearance of travellers and all their bags just before you enter the airport. This is where you get your sticker for your checkedin luggage. After this layer, register your departure with the foreign registration counter. Do note that there is typically a very long queue going into the airport so set aside 20 – 30 minutes for this stage.
The above pointers cover the very basics of security clearance procedures in India’s airports – domestic and international as at 25 November 2012. Do check with the airport staff if you are unsure and if there are any other new procedures being introduced. Security clearance at Srinagar airport comprises a lot more procedures, queues, checks, stamps etc. For most India’s airports (international or domestic), you need to be at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight departs so that you can clear security in time. However, for Srinagar airport, you need at least 3-4 hours before your flight because of the increased security measures. The Indian army and air force maintains a very strong military presence at Srinagar airport – in fact the airport also seems to double as an air force base. Thus photography is strictly not allowed during any plane’s takeoff, taxiiing and landing at the airport. If in doubt, don’t take any photos of military persons or installations in and around the airport.
3rd layer: Clearance of travellers and their hand carry bags. This is where you get your stamp for your tag on your hand carry bag. After you submitted your foreigner national departure forms and checked-in your luggages, you will proceed to the stage where you will need to clear your hand carry bags. Do note that at Srinagar airport, hand baggage is generally not allowed – you are only allowed to carry your cash, jewellery, electronic items and other valuables. You will be frisked here. Your bags will go through the normal scanner (but you will not get your stamp on your tags here) and then your bags will again be subject to a physical check where the staff will run his fingers along your laptop keyboard and ask you to turn on your camera to show that these electronic items are not shells hiding something else. After you clear this physical check, you will get the “precious” stamp on your hand baggage tag.
4th layer: Clearance of travellers and their hand carry bags at the boarding gate. At the boarding gate, you will again be frisked and your hand carry bags’ tag checked and the contents of the bags subject to another round of physical checks. Once you passed this stage, you will be allowed to board the plane. As you can see, the security clearance process at Srinagar airport is quite tedious and time-consuming so plan to be at the airport early and pack smart so that you can clear the security easily. For other airports around India, just take note of the type of stickers and tags and stamps you need to collect and you should be able to clear airport security smoothly. Jet Airways has introduced a 4-coupon “ONE FARE PASS” booklet to facilitate convenient travel on Jet Airways and JetKonnect flights in regional domestic markets. The ONE FARE booklets will contain 4 coupons which will be applicable for travel in both Premiere and Economy Class on domestic flights that are less than 750 km in distance. Each Premiere ONE FARE PASS booklet cost 49,216 Indian rupees inclusive of all taxes. The Economy Class ONE FARE PASS (Jet Airways and JetKonnect) booklet cost 19,606 Indian rupees inclusive of all taxes for Jet Airways, and 17,254 Indian rupees inclusive of all taxes for JetKonnect. The 4 coupon One Fare Pass will be valid for sale from November 21 to March 31, 2013. Travel validity is six months from the date of issue. This Pass is valid for travel from Delhi to Udaipur and Delhi to Srinagar routes so if you are planning a trip to Srinagar and Udaipur, this should help to achieve some savings and convenience for you. Do note that this Pass is available for sale only in India.
Did the first bath in 213 years take the sheen off? A c o n t r o v e r s y h a s n o w e r u p t e d after Jaipur’s 213-year-old iconic monument Hawa Mahal was washed for the first time two days ago. The clean-up drive, aimed at washing off pigeon droppings and removing stains deposited over the years, has damaged the structure at places and caused the famous pink colour to chip off. It is felt that cleaning by fire tenders that release water at high pressure was responsible for this.
effort had been made in the past to clean it with dry cloth in vain. Therefore , it was cleaned with water. The dirt was cleaned without weakening the plaster or fading the colour. The water was sprayed by a fire tender. The fire safety officers themselves supervised the exercise to avoid any damage. The water was sprayed through a small pipe and not through the ones used to douse fire.” TNN Besides, the officers of the archaeology and museum department were present during the cleaning,” Zafar said.
This was done as part of preparations for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2012. The monument, which is almost symbolic of the Pink City, was built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799. The clean-up drive, aimed at washing off pigeon droppings and removing stains deposited over the years, has now created a controversy since it has damaged the structure at places and caused the colour to chip off. “Around five years ago, Hawa Mahal had been coloured with Khamir,” Zaffurullah Khan, circle superintendent, archaeology and museums, said. Zaffurullah Khan, circle superintendent, archaeology and museums, said, “However, pollution and bird droppings had dirtied it. An
Hawa Mahal was built with the aim of enabling the ladies of the royal household to watch everyday life and royal processions in the city without being seen by others. It has 953 small casements, each with tiny latticeworked (jali) pink windows, small balconies and arched roofs with hanging cornices.
While some opine the monument has lost its sheen due to washing, others feel Jaipur being a tourist city the monuments here should get proper maintenance and not just be spruced up to impress the NRIs.
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