the 6 untold treasures of vadodara

Friend: “You’re going to Vadodara. Wonderful idea! There is a lot to see in the city. After all, it is the cultural capital of Gujarat.”
Me: “Nice. So what do you suggest I visit and explore?”
Friend: “The Lukshmi Villas Palace is an absolute must!”
Me: “Ok, will do. What else?” [As I jotted it frantically in my notebook in anticipation of being hit by a barrage of to-do-things]
Friend: “The museum attached to the palace is another must do.”
Me: “Ok, got that down too. And?”
Friend: “Hmmm. Oh well. I don’t know. But there is a lot. Hey, it is the cultural capital. But I don’t know…”

Yes, that is it with Vadodara, earlier known as Baroda. Though it is publicly acknowledged as the cultural capital of Gujarat, its attractions are neither documented nor publicised. At least not enough and one cannot be blamed for wondering if they even exist. Continue reading

champaner—the muslim part of the champaner-pavagadh unesco world heritage site

Fairy tales often start like this, don’t they: Once upon a time there was a fearless, virtuous king who had dreams of conquering an invincible fortress perched on a hill. His father and grandfather had time and again attempted to defeat it too, but to no avail.

The tale I am writing about continues like this: The brave king was Sultan Abu’l Fath Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah I, ruler of the Gujarat Sultanate and great-grandson of Ahmed Shah I, founder of Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 1411. The invincible fortress belonged to the Kichchi Chauhan Rajputs on Pavagadh.

Calling himself “Sultan al-Barr, Sultan al-Bahr” meaning “Sultan of the Land, Sultan of the Sea,” history knows him as Mahmud Begada. The name “Begada” was derived from his winning two gadhs in his lifetime, namely Pavagadh and Junagadh. Continue reading

pavagadh—the hindu part of the champaner-pavagadh unesco world heritage site

I have a book titled Speaking Stones World Cultural Heritage Sites in India which I must confess is my most prized possession. Coming to terms these past few months with some harsh realities on death and the transience of life, I reached out to the hard bound volume on my bookshelf to see what I could add to a wish-list to make come true.

The pages opened, almost as if urged by some mysterious calling, on Champaner-Pavagadh. Truth be told, I had never heard of the place before. But it was nearby and seemed doable over a few days. A friend pointed out the weather was all wrong for the rendezvous: “No one travels for pleasure to Gujarat in May when temperatures are soaring at 43 degrees.” The little voice in me said, “Who cares about the heat. Remember life truths!” 🙂

And, thus, one fine early morning, I found myself boarding a train to Vadodara, my base for my explorations. What I learnt and saw and experienced in the ensuing days far outweighed my expectations. But I run ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. Continue reading

global travel shot: champaner, a 500-year-old indo-saracenic poem in stone

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“Look up, at the ceiling.” I am broken from my reverie, as I drift through a forest of 172 stone pillars, by my guide Manoj’s voice prodding me to halt in my tracks and raise my eyes, heavenwards.

High up, inside a dome above the main mihrab is the most exquisitely carved sculpture I have seen to date. And I find myself gasping in awe. Is this for real? I am not too sure what stuns me more. Its immense size, the fineness of the swirling leaves, or its incongruous placement—I am in a 500-year-old mosque in Champaner in Gujarat, 50-odd kilometres outside Vadodara, and the sculpture is Hindu-Jain in style and content. Continue reading

praha, the royal bohemian city of 500 spires—photo essay

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One of my wanderings in Central and Eastern Europe was through Prague—or Praha in Czech—the economic, political, and cultural centre of Central Europe for most of its 1,100 years of existence. Generally acclaimed as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it is after London, Paris, Istanbul, and Rome, the fifth most visited European city.

An overnight train from Budapest in a dark, panelled, velvet-clad train compartment took me to the “City of a Hundred Spires” [based on the count of a 19th Century mathematician]; a statistic which has now increased to 500 spires piercing its ethereal skyline. Praha was left largely untouched by the second World War unlike other European cities since Hitler made it a Nazi Germany protectorate in 1939. The result is a precinct pulled straight from the pages of a mythical past: Those that are romanticized and reminiscenced about, and are a treasure trove of art and architectural styles. Continue reading

36 hours in krakow

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Krakow is my last stop as I travel through Central Eastern Europe.

The royal capital of Poland, the city is unlike any other I have visited. And yes, this may well sound clichéd, but its past justifies the claim. The Old Town with its Jewish Quarter and Auschwitz II-Birkenau were one of the first to go on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Pronounced “Krakuf” in Polish, the medieval city of Krakow is straight from a mythical tale replete with dragons and princes. According to legend the 1,000-year-old city was founded by Krakus, a Polish prince who slayed the evil Wawel Dragon, and went on to build his castle and city over its lair on Wawel Hill by the banks of the River Vistula.

A set of bones of a pleistocene creature hangs over the Wawel Cathedral entrance. I am told they belong to the dragon and “The world will come to its end when the bones will fall on the ground.” Continue reading