There was once a city called Atlantis, a Utopia which was both highly advanced and its people beautiful and wise. But then these very people became corrupted with their own might. Angered by this, the gods made the city disappear forever, never again to reappear.
Much like Plato’s fabled Atlantis, there was once a paradisaical Utopia nestled in the fertile Punjab plains in northern India. Strategically located halfway between Delhi and Lahore, it was wealthy and beautiful, decorated with some 360 mosques, gardens, tombs, caravansarais, and wells. It minted its own gold and copper coins, trade and industry flourished, and Sufi saints, artists and surgeons converged in its lanes, calling the city their home.
Is this really the work of human hands? That is all I could think as I gazed up at the magnificent rose-pink and dove-grey edifice towering above me. I was in the courtyard of a 12th century Sufi saint’s khanqah and the sight in front of me would not have changed much in the past five centuries. I whispered to myself, lest I break the spell with my own voice: See, how wrong you were!
I have a confession to make, Dear Reader.
When I was putting together my travel bucket list for India, I had decided to demarcate it State-wise. Next to Haryana, I wrote ‘nil’ which translated to: there was nothing to see. Almost as if to prove me wrong, and that too with a vengeance, I got to explore four of its towns in recent weeks, towns which overflowed with historicity, heritage, and charm.
The most recent was Narnaul. Over the course of the day, I traversed stunning monuments spanning a millennium: tombs, stepwells, havelis, gateways, and palaces. The sheer number, their grandeur, and remarkable state of preservation seemed to mock my ignorance. Continue reading →
Early Saturday morning and all of London seems asleep. The only sounds I hear are that of my running feet on their way to the tube station. It is a good few hours to Wells and Glastonbury. And when you leaving in a few days, oh well, sleeping in on a Saturday morning is the last priority on one’s list. 😀
England’s smallest cathedral city, Wells, derives its name from the three wells within its walled precincts, which during the Middle Ages were believed to have therapeutic qualities. Its other key attraction, for nearly a millennium, has been its cathedral [Cathedral Church of St. Andrew], and understandably so. Continue reading →
“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” ~
Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
There are many advantages to travel—it reveals facets of people, places and our world which are often quite extraordinary.
Blenheim Palace is not in the top “things to do” list, and so tends to get sidelined. Which is a good thing, as it is thus, saved from the crowds and plastic commercialism which invariably smothers the real essence of overtly popular places. But what is Blenheim? It is a home, a very grand home of a man who was a statesman, orator, writer and artist, all rolled into one. It is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill—Britain’s most famous prime minister and Nobel Prize laureate for literature in 1953, who also happened to be the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough.
The 300-year-old baroque palace puts Britain’s statesman in a completely different context, amidst ceilings by Nicholas Hawksmoor and stonework by Grinling Gibbons. I had to keep telling myself this was somebody’s “home”! Look at the pictures and you will understand my awe.
When I moved to London last year, York topped my “things to do/ see/ experience” list. And then I got busy studying and travelling to nearer places. But I never forgot York. There is something iconic about York—perhaps attributable to its historic value and the fame of its York Minster. 6 am this morning I was, thus, off to catch my train from King’s Cross station, to keep a promise to myself.
The history of York has been said to be the history of Britain. Dating back to 71 AD when it was founded by the Romans, the city first served as the capital of the Roman province “Britannia Inferior”, and thereafter that of subsequent rulers, namely, the Angles and Vikings. It was also in York, in 306 AD, that Constantine the Great was proclaimed emperor by his troops. A Roman column marks the site; the column was once part of 36 similar ones that supported a great hall in the Roman garrison.
Leeds castle is presently kept as a living house; guests can stay in its bedrooms. Over 10 million people have visited the castle in the last 30 years
Take the prettiest castle and the grandest church in the country and that was my day for today. Yes, I went to Leeds and Canterbury.
By now I can honestly say I have been to most of the castles and churches in England—the important ones, the lesser known ones, those that the guide books rave about, and those that the locals get sentimental and have loads of personal memories attached to ones. And the two I visited today easily qualify as the best of the best. 🙂 Continue reading →
Travelling to places off the beaten path is an exhilarating experience. And yes, there are still such places in England too. Everyone clamours to go to Stonehenge. Which is understandable. It’s pretty fantastic. But there is a site even older and bigger, spread over the rolling meadows that Thomas Hardy repeatedly invoked in his timeless novels set in eastern England. It’s called Avebury. Continue reading →
I am finally visiting the sight people commonly see in their first week in London—I am going to Stonehenge. I wasn’t too sure as to what I ought to be feeling as I made the 90-minute train journey to Salisbury. I had seen too many pictures; heard and read endless reviews, some ecstatic, others disappointed. I could even close my eyes and picture the prehistoric ring of stone slabs, complete with blue or grey skies. It is after all the most popular wallpaper on Windows as well.
Before I took the coach on to Stonehenge, I spent some time at Salisbury also known as New Sarum though nobody ever calls it by this name. I wish I’d had more time in the town whose chief claim to fame is its cathedral which has got to be the most beautiful in the country.
It is also an architectural marvel. Where do I begin? Because of the high water table in the area, the 123 metre high church stands over foundations merely 1 metre deep. The 60 metre hollow spire weighs 6,500 tonnes and is the tallest spire in the United Kingdom and the tallest pre-1400s surviving spire in the world. Designed by Bishop Richard Poore, the cathedral was built over just 38 years (1220-1258) and is a masterpiece of Early English Gothic architecture. The world’s oldest working clock (1386) with no face and which only struck the hours was used in the bell tower till 1789; it now stands in the north aisle. One more fact. The Chapter House contains one of the finest versions of the only four surviving original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta—the very cornerstone of Human Rights. Whew!
I completed my research paper and submitted it this week. I’m not too sure about the logic behind it but I always seem to forget to eat and sleep. So the first thing I did after submissions was refuel, in no specific order, and then I took my camera and wandered off, this time to Winchester.
Winchester is one of those towns which resonates with English history and lots of Williams, Alfred the Great (849-99) and Saint Swithin. The most famous William is William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester (1366-1404) who remodelled much of the cathedral and founded Winchester College. Built on the banks of the river Itchen in Hampshire over the Roman town of Venta Belgarum, Winchester used to be the capital of Wessex and the Kingdom of England. Continue reading →
Warwick is the story of the Old Town with its Tudor houses and medieval church, and Warwick castle, a fantasy land owned by Madame Tussauds. It is also the story of the Earls of Warwick and the Earl of Leicester who were responsible for much of the shape the town took, both architecturally and historically. Continue reading →