sunder nursery: delhi’s loveliest secret

Red Fort. Check. Humayun’s Tomb. Check. Qutab Minar. Check. A walk through Chandni Chowk. Check … and one gets deluded into believing that Aah, one has seen it all, done it all in Delhi.

Could one be further from the truth?

Delhi’s loveliest secret, hidden from prying tourist hordes, is Dilliwale’s [Delhiites] favourite place to have an uninterrupted yoga session, a picnic with close family and friends, or an organic brunch at a weekend farmers market. All in the company of blooming flowers, hundred-year-old wise trees from around the world, and exquisite Mughal-era UNESCO-listed monuments.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But isn’t that what lovely, best kept secrets look like. 🙂 Continue reading

photo essay: delhi’s red fort, stories told and untold

Behind a pile of impregnable traffic barriers and guarded by the stern-lipped, but polite, Central Reserve Police Force [CRPF] is Delhi’s most prestigious fort, Qila-e-Mubarak, meaning ‘Auspicious Fort’. Or the Red Fort, as the British called it.

Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who designed and built it in 1648 [the same gentleman who built Taj Mahal], would not have been too pleased about the barricades, both human and metal. He was not even happy when his son Aurangzeb built a wall around Lahore Gate, the public entrance.

With a direct line of view from Chandni Chowk to the Diwan-e-Aam [Hall of Public Audience], Shah Jahan argued that the enclosure was like putting a veil in front of a woman’s beautiful face. Continue reading

humayun’s tomb: an ode to destiny’s child

An opiumate and weak general [as popular history would like us to believe] or a gentle ruler determined to regain his lost territories and in fact did. Even if it took him 15 long years in exile racing on horseback through Lahore, Sindh, Rajputana, and Persia.

Were it not for a colossal garden tomb built in his memory by his son, he may well have been forgotten in the dusty pages of time.

This blog post is the story of Indian Mughal history’s most fortunate and unfortunate emperor: Humayun and his enormous resting place in India’s historical capital city, Delhi. Happy exploring! ❤ Continue reading

photo essay: amer, the unesco-listed fort and beyond

“This heaven like place was completed in the Hijri year 1008 [1599 AD], being built in a period of 25 years, having been most meticulously designed and expertly decorated. Just as the heavens should always be laden with rain, so also this stately building, the foundation of the Maharaj’s longevity and wealth, be preserved from any kind of damage.”
~ Excerpt from the English translation of a Persian plaque inside the Zenana, Amer Fort.

Part of the six ‘Hill Forts of Rajasthan’ UNESCO World Heritage Site, Amer Fort rises high above the placid waters of Maota Lake. Its magnificent Rajput-Mughal edifices reminiscent of the power of the Kachhwaha Rajputs and their strategic ties with the Mughal empire. For 128 years, Mirza Raja Man Singh I’s labour of love served as the administrative base and royal residence of the Amber kingdom. That is, until 1727 when Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II decided to move the capital to Jaipur some 15 kilometres away.

Most travellers simply visit the fort, gush in wonder, and leave. But there is more to Amer than just this glorious marvel. Much more, beyond the fort. Continue reading

#3 abandoned fatehpur sikri: 7 reasons why agra should be on every travel bucket list

“Jesus, son of Mary said, ‘The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses upon it. He who hopes for a day, may hope for eternity; but the World endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer for the rest is unseen.'”
~ Persian inscription,
Buland Darwaza, Fatehpur Sikri, 1601

My recollections of Fatehpur Sikri trace back to a family holiday many eons ago. I was 10. I remember being mesmerized as I wandered through the vast, desolate expanses embellished with exquisite stonework. Long fingers of golden sunshine stroked the edifices, setting the scattered, towering, red sandstone walls aflame.

For a 10-year-old it was a surreal place totally removed from all reality as I knew it.

Over the years I would often close my eyes and go back in time to re-emerge starry-eyed about life’s wonders. Amazed about a whole city built by one of the greatest emperors history had known, in honour of a Sufi saint who predicted the one thing he wanted most—a heir to pass on his empire to. Crafted with incredible passion and precision, the emperor Akbar himself oversaw the building of the site from its floor plans to the hand-chiselled columns and doorways to ensure it reflected his secular beliefs and heightened sense of aesthetics. Continue reading

#2 majestic agra fort: 7 reasons why agra should be on every travel bucket list

Sunrise at Agra Fort. Why sunrise ? Why not noon, sunset, twilight … Simple. Because at sunrise, when the warm golden light dapples over the 450-year-old walled Mughal palatial precinct and its deserted sprawling expanses, something close to magic happens. Plus I like mornings. 🙂

Built in the Indo-Islamic architectural style, the bow-shaped Fort with its 70-feet-high bastioned walls facing the Yamuna river, served as the Mughal empire’s military strategic point, as well as their royal residence.

The story of the Agra Fort is the story of three of its Mughal emperors—their resolute ambition, blinded passion, and romantic love is emblazoned over the red, intricately carved sandstone and translucent marble edifices. The story has been recounted countless times in Indian history books, movies, and music. Agra Fort lets one relive it, in what was once their home, in the company of its memories.

The emperors were Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan. Continue reading

#1 poignant taj mahal: 7 reasons why agra should be on every travel bucket list

“The world believes it was built by love but reading Shah Jahan’s own words on the Taj, one could say it was grief that built the Taj Mahal and it was sorrow that saw it through till completion.”
~ Aysha Taryam, The Opposite of Indifference: A Collection of Commentaries

This last week I travelled to Agra. I was keeping a promise to myself to revisit the city at a slower pace, in a more mindful way. It was my 4th visit. Needless to say, my previous ones were of the mass-produced variety.

The universe, weaving its magic in my favour, decided to back me on my plan and gave me one of my most memorable and beautiful travel experiences ever. I did not use any guide. I merely read up a lot, and wandered around the sites a lot more, often seating myself at a quiet spot or another to absorb the place at leisure. May I suggest you do the same? Live Agra’s treasures. Don’t just visit them.

In this post I am uploading a series of pictures of the Taj Mahal, easily Agra’s biggest attraction, taken from 7 am to 12 noon [yes, I was there for five hours 🙂 ], and some basic context one needs to know. I hope it inspires you to let your soul and feet revel in the 350-year-old monument, like mine did. They will both thank you, profusely. Continue reading

top 15 memorable things to do in jerusalem, capital of the holy land

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
If I do not remember you,
If I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
~ Psalm 137:5-6

For those who have made Jerusalem their home and those who find their way to it, across the seven seas, this verse sums up perfectly what the city in the Judaean Hills means to them.

One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem is a holy city for all three monotheistic Abrahamic religions. Over the millennia, these three religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—have all laid claim to the city as theirs. So have civilizations, empires, and kingdoms. It has been razed to the ground at least twice, laid siege to 23 times, captured 44 times, and attacked 52 times. Yet, through it all, it has survived. And always, been madly loved.

The current walls which surround the Old City date back to 1538 AD and were built by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent. Inside its walls, the city is divided into four quarters: the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters, and that’s the way it has traditionally been. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jerusalem is also on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Both Israel and Palestine consider it to be their capital.

Complicated? There’s more. Three Jerusalems comprise Modern-day Jerusalem. The Old City. West Jerusalem [the new city]. And East Jerusalem [the annexed city]. Pilgrim or traveller, the fact is, Jerusalem with its eclectic mix of heritage and sights, needs to be visited at least once in one’s lifetime.

There are countless unique experiences only to be had in Jerusalem because of its volatile history and spiritual role in the scheme of things. This is by no means an exhaustive, exclusive list. But these are my top 15 memorable things to do list! 🙂 Continue reading

travel diaries: unravelling west bank’s area ‘a’

Was it Area A, B, or C. I struggled to get my head around them as the highway wound its way through all three, one into the other in a convoluted mix. At each crossroad and Area juncture there were checkpoints galore. Israeli soldiers behind bullet-proof glass and on watch towers pointed their guns at every vehicle and person that passed by on the road.

“Sit still please and no pointing.” Our Arab driver insisted as we slowed down at each checkpoint. I was torn between ducking under the seat and staring at the soldiers in warped fascination. Before I could decide, we had moved on. Only to be met by another checkpoint and red road signs.

“This road leads to Palestinian Village. The entrance for Israeli citizens is dangerous.”

“This road leads to Area ‘A’ under the Palestinian Authority. The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives and is against the Israeli law.”

Area A turns out to be a string of typical Middle Eastern cities with markets, mosques, and a well-worn homely feel. To get from one to the other though, one needed to travel through the war zone highways. Makes for a difficult commute if one had to do intercity travel on a regular basis. Continue reading

the unesco-listed ‘great living chola temples’ of tamil nadu

The lady next to me, wrapped in a fuchsia pink sari and fragrant white jasmine flowers tucked into her plait, gently tugged her ears and patted her cheeks repeatedly. This was accompanied with murmured mantras under her breath. There was absolute love and wonder in her eyes as she stared at the gigantic lingam in the ancient sanctuary in front of us. I turned around and lo behold, everyone around me was doing exactly the same!

So as not to look downright ignorant or disturb the others, I asked the busy priest in hushed tones what the gesticulations meant. He replied with a bemused smile and booming voice, “They are praying.”

Of course.

Nothing has changed in the temple towns in Tamil Nadu. Neither the rituals, mantras, towering granite edifices, or the hand gestures. A thousand years ago when the Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur was built by King Rajaraja Chola I, the devotees most likely stood just like this, pulling their ears and tapping their faces. Every cell of their beings focussed on the lingam, and through it on Brahman, the universal fundamental Hindu truth. Continue reading