bhimbetka—the prehistoric rock art wonders of india

Every time I think I am “different” as a generation or a nationality, I am reminded of how alike I am to my ancestors and to those in other geographies. There is nothing unique about me. Nothing at all. But it is not really such a bad thing at all—this commonness or ordinariness of human existence—for it creates a bridge which spans time and space.

Okay, let me explain. I too record my life around me because I am consumed by a need to do so. And so did my prehistoric ancestors. I too express my joys and fears, and so did they. And so do you, dear reader, sitting in another city, another country. And so did your prehistoric ancestors in South Africa or France or the USA.

When looking at it from today’s digital lens, it comes as no surprise. But when one sees it from a stage set 10,000 years ago, it is a wonder how prehistoric people in disparate communities around the globe were expressing themselves in a similar way, using the same forms and tools, no matter where they lived and whom they were with. And we, in 2018 are to a large extent, the same as them. Continue reading

photo essay: buddhist sanchi, stories told and untold

Sanchi. The little town in the heart of Madhya Pradesh had been calling out to me since as far back in time as I could remember. From before I moved back to India. Before I even knew the immensity of its import in the bigger scheme of things.

I would fantasize wandering around the 2,300-year-old Buddhist stupa built by Ashoka the Great, in the company of birdsong and golden rays of sunshine. It epitomized all my soul was constantly hungering for: a space which was closer to nirvana. Don’t get me wrong. I am a hard-core city person. I love the rat race, of ambition and success. But within a mantle of purpose and intention. Of meaning and depth. Sanchi, I believed could help me put the pieces, which I knew as my “life,” into some semblance of balance. For is that not what Gautama Buddha preached about. The Middle Way.

After many a planned trip crumbled to dust as a result of life’s unpredictability, I finally found myself this past month on a rickety bus, driving through ripened wheat fields. I was on my way to ancient Sanchi. Continue reading

incredible gujarat: from 4,400-year-old lothal to 120-year-old utelia

I was first introduced to Lothal on my visit to Dholavira, another five millennia old Harappan site across the white salt pans of Kutch in Gujarat. Multiple references had been made to it: of Lothal’s significance in the bigger scheme of things in the Indus Valley civilization and the incredible finds unearthed from its excavations.

Now at Lothal three years later, as I sat under a tree in the deserted site, the sun bounced off the satin-silk waters of the dock lined by 4,400-year-old sun-dried bricks. I could almost hear the banter between the dock-hands in the 24th Century BC as they loaded and unloaded the boats with bags full of carnelian and steatite beads, ready to set out for distant lands beyond the seas. Over the distance of time, traders, both rich and poor, in the nearby market haggled with buyers using stone weights and gold discs based on the first ever instance of the decimal system. In the intersecting narrow side lanes, little children played with clay animal figurines, marbles and cowries, punctuated with gleeful peals of laughter. Continue reading

#6 colossal sikandra: 7 reasons why agra should be on every travel bucket list

After getting all sentimental at Shah Jahan’s expression of love for his beloved, departed wife and marvelling at the artistic nuances of Nur Jahan’s token of devotion towards her doting parents, I am ready to be bowled over by Sikandra, Akbar’s tomb for his own self.

Here was a monument made by, and for, one of India’s greatest rulers—befitting his stature and achievements. I wondered what it was going to be like. Continue reading

#5 roman catholic taj mahals: 7 reasons why agra should be on every travel bucket list

Whilst Shah Jahan was building the Taj Mahal as an ode to his beloved wife, the European Christians in Agra were creating their own fairy-tale like mausoleums in a cemetery dating back to Akbar’s time. Not perhaps on the same scale, they are however, no less delightful in carved red sandstone, yellow basalt, and whitewashed plastered walls. These tombs in Agra’s Roman Catholic Cemetery are the resting places of initially the Armenian Christians in the 1600s and, thereafter, of other European Catholics in the city. Continue reading

#4 itimad-ud-daulah’s poetic tomb: 7 reasons why agra should be on every travel bucket list

There is no one more fascinating in Mughal history than the Persian father-daughter duo Mirza Ghias Beg and Mehr-un-Nissa. Posterity knows them as Itimad-ud-Daulah and Nur Jahan.

A classic tale of riches to rags and back to riches, Mirza Ghias Beg was a defamed nobleman from Tehran, Iran who decided to try and change his fortunes in 16th Century Mughal India. Robbed on his way, he reached Akbar’s court penniless, but was quick to rise the ranks to earn himself the title Itimad-ud-Daulah or Pillar of the State, and even become the grand vizier in Akbar’s successor, Jahangir’s court.

His daughter, meanwhile, was abandoned at birth by her parents, fraught with poverty, in Qandahar, Afghanistan on 31 May, 1577 on their way to India. She was returned to their home the same night by a stranger who decided to take the family under his wing.

Beautiful, fearless, hot-tempered with nerves of steel, she fell in love with Jahangir, the Emperor Akbar’s son when she was eight years of age. But it was only after a 14-year bad marriage—widowed, 34, and with a child—that she re-entered his life to become his 20th and last wife in 1611. He bestowed upon her the title Nur Jahan, Light of the World. In the ensuing years, Jahangir spent his life intoxicated by opium and alcohol, smitten by her beauty and brains. She, on the other hand, became the most powerful woman in Mughal history and ruled the empire for 16 years from behind the veil. Continue reading