India

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in India.

tamil-nadu-featured

Tamil Nadu: Where The Spirit Blesses The Place – India

On the coast of Coromandel
Where the early pumpkins blow,
In the middle of the woods
Lived the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo…

As a child I assumed that these lines by Edward Lear, England’s 19th-century master of nonsense poetry, described a magical home for the Yonghy, his fantastical protagonist. So it was with a shiver of thrill, as at a spell taking effect, that I landed in Chennai, on India’s southeastern shore—the actual Coast of Coromandel. Lear himself visited the city in the 1870s, when it was called Madras.

Lear’s primary modes of transportation then were bullock carts and sedan chairs. I was grateful to be riding in a Toyota minivan steered by my driver, S. Jayapaul Sreenevasan, a gentleman of courtly manners dressed entirely in immaculate white, who navigated the roaring capital of the state of Tamil Nadu with a mixture of nerve and verve. The morning rush hour was thick with traffic, crow calls, and the salty air of the Bay of Bengal.

Tamil Nadu might best be thought of today as a country within a country. Under its charismatic leader, Jayalalithaa Jayaram (who died suddenly last December, plunging the region into political uncertainty), it became one of the stablest and most developed parts of India. Its more than 70 million residents power the third-largest state economy in India, with a gross domestic product of about $130 billion. Yet even as Tamil Nadu has embraced the present, traditional Tamil culture and language, which date back thousands of years, remain vigorously alive. The state’s temples and treasures have long drawn travelers and pilgrims from other parts of India, but they are less familiar to foreign visitors. Because Tamil Nadu has not been as economically reliant on developing a tourism infrastructure as other parts of India, like neighboring Kerala, only now are a number of sleek hotels coming to the state. They provide an ideal way to experience Tamil Nadu’s diverse living history, which includes the monuments of long-ago dynastic rulers, hermetic spiritual practices, and eccentric breakaway communities. From the inscriptions at the burial site of Adichanallur carved in 500 B.C. to the great Meenakshi temple at Madurai where mystic rituals are enacted nightly, there is much to discover, even for frequent travelers to India.

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Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai

As we reached the outskirts of Chennai, Sreenevasan pointed out the shining headquarters of several international tech companies. The buildings looked strangely incongruous beside lagoons and marshes where egrets stalked and bent-backed farmers tended rice paddies, just as they had during Lear’s time.

Sreenevasan and I drove for several hours through a repeating landscape of rice paddies, palm trees, and little villages until we reached the first treasure of the coast, the beguiling town of Pondicherry. Officially Puducherry since 2006 (though I never heard the new name used), it is a languid and floral place, busy with birds and dragonflies, that still reflects centuries of French rule. This is another of Tamil Nadu’s oddities; while Britain colonized nearly all of India, France maintained a few small enclaves on the Coromandel Coast, including Pondicherry, which it controlled from 1674 until 1954. After independence, some Pondicherrians chose to become French citizens. Today, French is less an influence than a mode de vie.

“I think in French most of the time,” said Christian Aroumougam at the Café des Arts, on Rue Suffren. He was born in Pondicherry and educated there and in France, where he ran a yoga school until returning to India to help his parents settle into retirement. “French rule in Pondicherry was not as harsh as British rule in the rest of India,” Aroumougam explained. “They were more tolerant and permissive of local traditions and arts. You have seen the statue of Joseph Dupleix?”

A bronze tribute to Pondicherry’s 18th century governor, grandly dressed in a long coat and riding boots, stands on a plinth by the sea. Like the French street signs, the cuisine of the French Quarter, and the tricolor flying over the consulate of France, it is a symbol of pride in Pondicherry’s unusual heritage.

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La Villa – Pondicherry, India

My base was La Villa, a delightful hotel in a colonial mansion that has been updated with imaginative architectural flourishes, like a spiral staircase leading up to a pool overlooked by elegant rooms. Each evening, I sallied out to join the crowd of flaneurs who stroll Pondicherry’s seafront. We relished the milky-green violence of the Bay of Bengal bursting on the breakwater and the cool of the sea wind. At Le Café, a beach restaurant, students and families drank café au lait and ate dosas while across the road men played boules. They posed with the same meditative hunch, hands behind their backs, that gentlemen throughout France adopt when they fling the steel balls. Between rounds, one spoke briefly to me.

“I worked for the police in Paris for twenty years,” he said. “Of course we care for France. Soldiers from Pondicherry fought for France in Vietnam.”

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Holistic Approach – Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort

Head to the Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort, Palakkad, Kerala, for complete rejuvenation this season.

It’s time you take charge of your health and well-being by balancing your body, mind and spirit. Based on Ayurvedic traditions, the Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort is a pioneer in this age-old science. Offering various treatment programmes like holistic panchakarma, weight loss, stress and strain elevation, pain management, and rejuvenation and detoxifi cation, Kairali has set a new benchmark in the industry.

Relaxation techniques practiced at

Relaxation techniques practiced at Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort

The resort also off ers custom-made treatments for people who are looking to treat specific ailments. Its in-house Ayurveda doctors, trained masseuses, yoga experts and chefs ensure you are completely taken care of. Plus, its 30 villas (spread over 60 acres) give you a feel of being on a holiday as you recuperate.

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Indulge Your Senses – Gateway Resort Damdama Lake

Treat yourself to a weekend getaway at the Gateway Resort Damdama Lake.

Nestled in the lap of the Aravallis, the Gateway Resort Damdama Lake is an ideal destination for those looking to unwind not far away from Delhi-NCR. Spread over 20 acres, the resort will supercharge you thanks to its surreal surroundings and fun activities. You can have a picnic during your stay or participate in adventure sports like wall climbing, rappelling, zip lining, zorbing, air rifle shooting and archery, among others.

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The pool area at ateway Resort Damdama Lake – India

Guests can also experience a perfect mix of international cuisines and authentic home-style delicacies at Buzz, the resort’s all-day diner. Alternatively, you can also treat yourself to signature therapies at its spa. A weekend at the Gateway Resort Damdama Lake will leave you relaxed and rejuvenated.

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Chef Floyd Cardoz Guides You Through Mumbai’s Best Places to Eat

Celebrated Indian–American chef, winner of Top Chef Masters in 2012, and co–founder of The Bombay Canteen in Mumbai, Floyd Cardoz is currently making news globally for his Paowalla restaurant in New York City. But a part of his heart will always beat for Mumbai…

I love food. I travel for food; every trip I take has to be food-centric. My trips to Mumbai are always based on good food. I look forward to old favourites and I always look to discover what’s new. Mumbai has a special place in my heart because it’s where my love for food was born. From the time I was in school to the time I was in college, finding the most amazing bite was always a goal. And, with its melting pot of ingredients, Mumbai is a fun place for me to cook in. I am able to play with the ingredients that I remember as a kid. Going to markets brings these memories flooding back and always inspires me to cook new dishes as well as reinvent the old for The Bombay Canteen menu. Eating at the places on this list also brings back good memories. The best part about these places is that they have been good for years and continue to be consistent in the quality of food they offer.

Sassoon Docks, Colaba

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I love the Sassoon Docks because my father used to take me here when I was a child. It brings back old memories, but I also have new memories being made constantly with every trip I make back here. It is inspiring to see all the wonderful seafood available, which ties in nicely with my philosophy of how important it is to eat different types of fish and how we need to keep it sustainable. Be warned, the smell and crowds can be a bit of a pain, but it’s all part of the experience.

Colaba vegetable market

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I really enjoy visiting this market for its bright, vibrant colours and the fact that it always offers great photo opportunities. I’m quite active on social media, and I enjoy sharing photos of what’s local, and the produce available here lets you capture exactly that. Seasonal vegetables are at the forefront, whether jamuns, love apples, the many varieties of mango, or ponkh (tender jowar or white millet). Ponkh is well known in Gujarat, but most people in Mumbai don’t know what it is or how to eat it. During a very brief period in the winter months come the jowar grains, juicy and tender to be harvested and roasted. At The Bombay Canteen, we highlight and make Indian vegetables the stars of the dish.

Tharu Sweets Mukhi Bhandar, Khar

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This place is extra special for my wife Barkha, because her father used to take her to Tharu and buy her the mawa cake and boondi laddoo. No matter how short our trip is, we have to visit this place, and I always buy her these two sweets even when she is not visiting with me. I come here on the last day of my trip so the mithai is as fresh as can be when I get home.

The Table, Colaba

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Everything about The Table is great: the food, the ambiance and the service, and its location in Colaba around beautiful architecture. The cuisine is new American, and the chef endorses ‘clean’ cooking. Whether it is the dinner or the decor, everything is fresh; lots of lovely natural light to reiterate the fresh appeal to its customer. What I like most is that, if there is no ingredient for a dish, that dish is taken off the menu for that day or week. One of my favourites here is the Yellowfin Tuna Tataki: the perfect example of good, clean cooking with avocados, tomato gelee and sesame vinaigrette. It’s a great place to catch up with friends or for a date night with your wife or girlfriend.

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Eating in Shillong – Meghalaya, India

Thanks to its colonial past, Continental cuisine is a given in Shillong, but sample local food and you’ll find that it has retained its original flavours, resisting the temptation to be modified for the tourists’ palate. Here’s a round-up of some great places at which to sample a bit of both:

MUNCHIES

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Unless you think trousers that sit below your bum are cool, you might feel a bit out of place at this college hangout. Grab a table upstairs, and relive your college days with delicious, hygienic and affordable fast food. Try the perfectly-seasoned Munchies Special Burger, which comes with caramelised onions, bacon, mayo and lots of cheese. For something light, the Gourmet Maggi, which is loaded with veggies and a generous topping of cheese, is a great pick (00-918974087724; Don Bosco Square, Rani Villa Compound; 10am – 9pm).

CAFÉ SHILLONG

CAFÉ-SHILLONG

Café Shillong, which is part sports bar- part café, takes its music as seriously as its food. Try the khao suey, which is the right consistency of soupy.

The beef momos, which come with fiery chilli chutney and a comforting broth, warm you right up. It also offers a range of coffees, said to be the best in town (00-91-364-2505759; LP Bldg, Laitumkhrah Main Rd, Nongkynrih; 12pm – 10pm).

LEENA’S KHASI DUKAN JADOH STALL

Leena and her daughter have been dishing out delicious local specialties for 30 years at their tiny stall, which offers pork-based tribal delicacies, and buzzes with the hum of gossiping aunties. Although not veggie-friendly at all, its various offerings, such as pig’s head, intestine and liver, are worth a try if you’re open to experimenting. Language might be a barrier here, but friendly customers will help you translate if required.

Try the dohnud – beef liver prepared with loads of onions, garlic, pepper and turmeric. The sharp and stinky chutney, tungrymbai, is made from soybeans fermented for over two weeks – an acquired taste but worth a try! Usually eaten on special occasions, dohkhleh is prepared from the meat around the neck, including the brain, and cooked with a delicate seasoning of ginger, onion, chilli and salt. Next, try dohjem – pig intestines cooked with black sesame seeds, which lends an interesting flavour and aroma to the dish. While the spices used in every dish are similar, each has its own distinct flavor.

TRATTORIA

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The Khasi Special Pork Combo at Trattoria lets you taste various local specialties

This small family-run eatery is another place at which to try local food. With its classroom-style seating, dim lighting and framed poster of The Last Supper, it feels like a cross between a church and a dive bar. Try the Khasi Special Pork Combo, which comes with a variety of specialties, like the famous jadoh, rice stewed with chunks of the pigs innards, or dohsniang-nei-iong, a smoky pork curry cooked with local spices. This place also has something for vegetarians, like the yummy dai-nei-iong, a dal fry with black sesame seeds, or phansdieh, a simple, but delicious deep-fried potato dish lightly seasoned with turmeric (00-919612852889; Police Bazaar Rd; 10.30am – 8pm).

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The Great Stupa – Sanchi, India

Dominating the Hill of Sanchi, India’s best-preserved and most extensive Buddhist site, is the Great Stupa.

Its hemispherical shape is believed to symbolize the upturned alms bowl of a Buddhist monk, or an umbrella of protection for followers of the Buddhist dharma (doctrine). The stupa’s main glory lies in its four stone toranas (gateways), added in the 1st century BC. Their superb sculptures replicate the techniques of wood and ivory carving, and cover a rich variety of Buddhist themes.

BUDDHISM’S ORIGINS AND PHILOSOPHY

The Buddha was born in 566 BC as Siddhartha Gautama, prince of Kapilavastu. Renouncing his princely life, he left his palace at the age of 30 to search for answers to the meaning of human existence and suffering. He spent six years living with hermits, undertaking severe penances and fasts, but found these gave him no answers. Enlightenment finally came at Bodh Gaya, where, after meditating for 49 days under the Bodhi Tree, he discovered that the cause of suffering is desire; and that desire can be conquered by following the Eightfold Path of Righteousness: Right Thought, Understanding, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Concentration and Contemplation. The essence of the Buddha’s teachings is non-violence and peace.

BUDDHIST STYLE

India’s earliest Buddhist monuments were stupas, large reliquaries in which the ashes of the Buddha and other great teachers were interred. Solid throughout, the stupa itself is undecorated and designed to stimulate prayer and represent the path to divine understanding. As Indian traditions spread throughout South­east Asia, the Buddhist stupa reached new heights of complex Buddhist symbolism. Borobodur Temple in Java, with its design and sculpture of the highest order, is probably the greatest monument of this architectural style.

EMPEROR ASHOKA

One of India’s greatest rulers, Ashoka (r. 269— 232 BC) was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, who founded the country’s first empire. The carnage and misery brought about by Ashoka’s bloody conquest of Kalinga (now Orissa) in 260 BC filled him with remorse.

He gave up digvijaya (military conquest)for dharmavijaya (spiritual conquest), and became a great patron of Buddhism, building many stupas, including the original brick stupa at Sanchi. Ashoka was a humane ruler whose edicts on rocks and pillars all over his vast empire record his ethical code of righteousness and nonviolence (ahimsa). He asked his officials to be impartial, just, and compassionate, and his subjects to respect others’ religions, give to charity, and avoid the killing of animals.

Buddha

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Statues of the Buddha meditating, added in the 5th century AD, face each of the gateways.

Four Gateways

These show scenes from the Buddha’s life, and episodes from the Jataka Tales. The Buddha is not depicted in human form, but only through symbols, such as a Bodhi Tree, footprints, or a wheel.

Circumambulatory Paths

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The paths have balustrades carved with medallions of flowers, birds, and animals, and the names of the donors who funded them.

Vedika (Railings)

These are an impressive recreation in stone of a typical wooden railing design. They were the inspiration for the stone railings around Sansad Bhavan, or the Parliament House, in New Delhi.

The Great Stupa and its West Gateway

Enclosing a smaller brick stupa built by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC, the Great Swpa is capped by a three-tiered stone umbrella symbolizing the layers of heaven .

West Gateway

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This animated scene from the Jataka Tales shows monkeys scrambling across a bridge to escape from soldiers.

Chattra (Parasol)

The Great Stupa is crowned by a squared-off platform (harmika), which encloses a triple “parasol” (chattra) atop a mast (yastl).

North Gateway

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Here, Sujta, the village chief’s daughter, offers the Buddha (represented by the Bodhi Tree) kheer (rice pudding) , as the demon Mara sends the temptress to seduce him.

South Gateway

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The Wheel of Law, seen here being worshiped by devotees, symbolizes the Buddha.

Detail of Architrave

The intricate carving on the architraves is the work of wood and ivory craftsmen hired to carve the stone.

East Gateway

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A scene here shows a royal retinue at the palace of Kapilavastu, the Buddha’s home before he renounced his princely life.

Salabhanjika

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Supporting the lowest architrave of the East Gateway is a sensuous, voluptuous tree nymph, gracefully positioned under a mango tree.

THE JATAKA TALES

Th e Buddha’s past lives are retold in this large collection of fables, in which an animal or bird often takes the part of the Buddha. The fables had great religious, moral, social, and cultural significance.

KEY DATES

2nd century BC: The Great Stupa is built at Sari chi by Emperor Ashoka.
1300s: With the decline of Buddhism in India, the Great Stupa falls into disrepair.
1818: The Great Stupa, is “rediscovered” by General Taylor of the Bengal Cavalry.
1912-19: The Director General of Archeology in India excavates and then restores the site.
1989: The Great Stupa is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Fatehpur Sikri – India

Built by Emperor Akbar between 1571 and 1585 in honor of Salim Chishti, a famous Sufi saint of the Chishti order, Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal empire for 14 years. One of the best examples of a Mughal walled city, with defined areas and imposing gateways, its architecture is a blend of Hindu and Islamic styles, and reflects Akbar’s secular vision as well as his type of governance. The city was abandoned, some say for lack of water, in 1585, and many of its treasures were plundered. It owes its present state of preservation to the efforts of Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India and a great conservationist.

THE JAMI MASJID AND SALIM CHISHTI

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The exquisite, white marble tomb of Salim Chisti

Towering over Fatehpur Sikri is the grand open mosque Jami Masjid. Its vast congregational area has monumental gateways to the east and south. The 177-ft (54-m) Buland Darwaza, a triumphal arch, was erected by Akbar to mark his 1573 conquest of Gujarat. The spiritual focus of the complex is the tomb of Sufi mystic Salim Chishti. Ever since Akbar’s childlessness was ended after the saint’s prediction in 1568, his tomb has attracted thousands, particularly childless women in search of a miracle. Visitors make a wish, tie a thread on the screen around the tomb, and return home confident that their wish will come true.

AKBAR THE GREAT

The greatest emperor of the Muslim Mughal dynasty, Akbar (r. 1556-1605) was a brilliant administrator and an enlightened ruler. Just 14 years old when he ascended the throne, his first task was to consolidate and expand his fledgling empire. His most significant move was the political and matrimonial alliances he formed with the Hindu Rajputs. However, it was his policy of religious tolerance that truly set him apart. Akbar was fascinated by the study of comparative religion and built a special “House of Worship” in Fatehpur Sikri, where he often met leaders of other faiths.

LORD CURZON

One of colonial India’s most flamboyant viceroys, Lord Curzon (1859-1925) believed British rule was necessary to civilize “backward” India. He introduced sweeping changes in the education system, but he is remembered most for his role as a conservator of Indian monuments. Lord Curzon was responsible for the restoration of a vast number of Hindu, Islamic, and Mughal buildings, among them the gateway to Emperor Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra, Agra Fort, the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri, the Jain temples at Mount Abu, and the Taj Mahal. In 1905, due to a difference of opinion with the British military commander-in-chief, Lord Kitchener, Curzon returned to England. By the time he left, he had achieved sufficient legislation to protect India’s historic buildings, and set up an organization to conserve them.

Diwan-i-Aam

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This large courtyard with an elaborate pavilion was originally draped with rich tapestries and was used for public hearings and celebrations.

Turkish Sultana’s House

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The fine dado panels and delicately sculpted walls of this ornate sandstone pavilion make the stone seem like wood. It is topped with an unusual stone roof of imitation clay tiles.

Anoop Talao

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This pool is associated with Akbar’s renowned court musician, Tansen, who, according to legend, could light oil lamp with his magical singing.

Pillar in the Diwan-i-Khas

The central axis of Akbar’s court, supported by carved brackets, was inspired by Gujarati buildings.

Panch Mahal

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This sandstone, five-story open pavilion, overlooking the Pachisi Court, is where Akbar’s queens and their attendants savored the cool evening breezes. Its decorative screens were probably stolen after the city was abandoned.

Ankh Michauli

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Sometimes identified as the treasury, this building has mythical guardian beasts carved on its stone struts. Its name means “blind man’s buff.”

Diwan-i-Khas

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This hall, used for private audiences and debates, is a unique fusion of different architectural styles and religious motifs.

Khwabgah

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Akbar’s private sleeping quarters, with an ingenious ventilation shaft near his bed, lie within this lavishly decorated “Chamber of Dreams.”

Pachisi Court

This is named after a ludolike game played here by the ladies of the court.

TANSEN

A musical genius, the legendary composer musician Tansen was Akbar’s Master of Music and one of the “nine jewels” in his court. He developed an exciting new range of melodic modes, or ragas.

KEY DATES

1571: Construction of Emperor Akbar’s new capital at Fatehpur Sikri begins.
1576: Tlie 15-story triumphal arch Buland Darwaza is built by Akbar.
1585: Fatehpur Sikri is abandoned by Emperor Akbar.
1986: Fatehpur Sikri becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Taj Mahal – Agra, India

One of the world’s most famous buildings, the Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631. Its perfect proportions and exquisite craftsmanship have been described as “a vision, a dream, a poem, a wonder.” This sublime garden-tomb, an image of the Islamic garden of paradise, cost nearly 41 million rupees and 1,100 lb (500 kg) of gold. About 20,000 workers labored for 12 years to complete it in 1643.

MUGHAL STYLE

Mughal buildings, whether built of marble or red sandstone, assert their exalted, imperial status. The Mughal emperors were great patrons of the arts, literature, and architecture and their rule established a rich, pluralistic culture, blending the best of Islamic and Hindu traditions. Their greatest contribution to architecture was the garden tomb, raised on a high plinth in the centre of a charbagh garden. Decorative elements, such as perforated pits (screens) — used extensively for privacy and ventilation – refined inlay work and cusped arches gave Mughal buildings an ethereal grace that offset their massive size. Other features include chhatris (domed rooftop pavilions) that were adapted from Rajput architecture, and minarets that gave symmetry to the buildings.

THE PARADISE GARDEN

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The hallmark of Mughal landscape design, the paradise garden was introduced by Babur (1483-1530), the first Mughal emperor, who yearned for the beauty of Ferghana, his Central Asian homeland. Based on Islamic geometric and metaphysical concepts of design, the charbagh was an enclosed garden divided into four quarters by raised walkways, water channels, and sunken groves. Water, the source of all life, was the central element, and the intersecting channels met at a focal point that contained a pavilion for the emperor, who was seen as a representative of God on Earth.

THE TAJ MAHAL’S DECORAtiON

It is widely believed that the Taj Mahal was designed to be an earthly replica of one of the houses of paradise. Its impeccable marble facing, embellished by a remarkable use of surface design, is a showcase for the refined aesthetic that reached its zenith during Shah Jahan’s reign (1627—1658). The Taj Mahal manifests the richness and wealth of Mughal art, as seen in architecture, garden design, painting, jewelry, calligraphy, and textiles. Decorative elements include ornamental jails, carved panels of flowering plants and calligraphic panels, as well as floral motifs in pietra dura, a Florentine mosaic work technique said to have been imported by Emperor Jahangir.

Calligraphic Panels

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The size of the Koranic verses in creases as the arch gets higher, creating the subtle optical illusion of a uniformly flowing script.

Tomb Chamber

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Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph, raised on a platform, is placed next to Shah Jahan’s. The actual graves, in a dark crypt below, are dosed to the public.

Pietra Dura

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Inspired by the paradise garden, intricately carved floral designs, inlaid with precious stones, embellish the austere white marble surface to give it the look of a jeweled casket.

Marble Screen

The filigree screen, daintily carved from a single block of marble, was meant to veil the area around the royal tombs.

Dome

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The 144- ft (44-m) high double dome is capped with a finial.

View of the Taj Mahal

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The Taj Mahal complex is bounded on three sides by red sandstone walls. At the far ends of the complex, there are two grand buildings, the western one is the Taj Mahal mosque.

Four Minarets

Each 131 ft (40 m) high and crowned by an open octagonal pavilion, or chhatri, the minarets frame the tomb, highlighting the perfect symmetry of the complex.

Lotus Pool

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Named after its lotus-shaped fountain spouts, the pool reflects the tomb. Almost every visitor is photographed sitting on the marble bench here.

Charbagh

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The quadrilateral garden was irrigated with water from the Yamuna River.

Pishtaq (porch)

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Recessed arches provide depth, while their inlaid panels reflect the changing light to give the tomb a mystical aura.

Dome Interior

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The dome is actually double-skinned; the interior dome, barely a third of the height of the outer skin, is visible from inside the main chamber, and is separate from the dome visible from outside.

MUMTAZ MAHAL

Arjumand Banu (later Mumtaz Mahal) was the emperor’s favorite wife. She accompanied him on all his campaigns and died in 1631, while giving birth to their 14th child. They were married for 19 years.

KEY DATES

1632: Work on the Taj begins, following the death of Mumtaz Mahal.
1643: The thousands of artists and craftsmen complete the work on the Taj.
1666: Shah Jahan dies and is laid to rest beside his queen.
1983: The Taj Mahal is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2001: The Taj Mahal Conser­vation Collaborative starts to restore the grounds.

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The Golden Temple – Amritsar, India

The spiritual center of the Sikh religion, the Golden Temple was built between 1589 and 1601, and is a superb synthesis of Islamic and Hindu styles of architecture. In keeping with the syncretic tradition of those times, its foundation stone was laid by a Muslim saint, Mian Mir. The temple was virtually destroyed in 1761 by an Afghan invader, Ahmed Shah Abdali, but was rebuilt some years later. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, ruler of Punjab, covered the dome in gold and embellished its interiors with lavish decoration during his reign.

The Holiest Shrine

The Sikhs’ holiest shrine, the Golden Temple complex is actually a city within a city, with a maze of lanes protected by 18 fortified gates. The main entrance is through the northern gateway, the Darshani Darwaza, which also houses the Central Sikh Museum and its collections of paintings, manuscripts, and weapons. From here, steps lead down to the Parikrama (marble pathway) encircling the Amrit Sarovar (“Pool of Nectar”), after which Amritsar is named, and Hari Mandir (“Temple of God”), the golden-domed main shrine. Several holy sites line the Parikrama, including the Dukh Bhanjani Ber, a tree shrine said to have healing powers and the Athsath Tirath, representing 68 pilgrim shrines. The Parikrama continues to the Akal Takht. The complex includes the Guru ka Langar — a free kitchen symbolizing the caste-free, egalitarian society the Sikh gurus sought to create.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh

One of North India’s most remarkable rulers, Maharaja Ranjit Singh (r. 1790-1839) established Punjab’s first Sikh kingdom by persuading rival chieftains to unite. A military genius, his strong army kept both the British forces and Afghan invaders at bay by making Punjab a prosperous center of trade and industry. A devout Sikh, the one-eyed Ranjit Singh was an enlightened ruler who liked to say, “God intended me to look at all religions with one eye.”

Sikhism

With their characteristic turbans and full beards, the Sikhs are easy to identify. Sikhism is a reformist faith, founded in the 15th century by Guru Nanak. It believes in a formless God. It is also called the Gurmat, or the “Guru’s Doctrine,” and Sikh temples are known as gurdwaras, literally, “doors to the guru.” Nanak, the first of a series of ten gurus, chose his most devout disciple as his successor. The tenth and last guru, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), reorganized the community as a military order, the Khalsa, to combat religious persecution by the Mughals. He gave the Sikhs their distinctive identity and the Khalsa’s five symbols — kesh (long hair), kachha (underwear), kirpan (small sword), kangha (comb), and kara (bracelet)—that all Sikhs are obligated to wear.

Lower Wall

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This is made of white marble.

Guru Granth Sahib

guru-granth-sahib

Covered by a jeweled canopy, the Holy Book lies in the Durbar Sahib (“Court of the Lord “) .

First Floor

The marble walls have pietra dura inlay and decorative plasterwork bearing animal and flower motifs covered in gold leaf.

Hari Mandir

hari-mandir

The holiest site for Sikhs, this three-storied temple, decorated with superb pietra dura, is where the Holy Book is kept during the day.

Dome

golden-temple-dome

Shaped like an inverted lotus, the dome is covered in 220 lbs (100 kg) of gold donated by Ranjit Singh in 1830.

Darshani Deorhi

darashi-deorhi

This gateway provides the first glimpse of the temple’s inner sanctum. It has two splendid silver doors and sacred verses carved on its walls.

Causeway

causeway

The 200-ft (60-m) long marble causeway is flanked by nine gilded lamps on each side, and leads to the temple across the Amrit Sarovar.

Amrit Sarovar

amrit-sarovar

The pool where Sikhs are baptized was built in 1577 by Ram Das, the 4th guru.

Akal Takht

akal-takht

The seat of the supreme governing body of the Sikhs, this houses the gurus’ swords and flagstaffs, as well as the Holy Book at night.

Sheesh Mahal

The Hall of Mirrors, on the top floor of the Hari Mandir, has a curved bangaldar roof, and its floors are swept with a special broom made of peacock feathers.

Guru Parab

The festival of Guru Parab celebrates Guru Nanak’s birthday on a full Moon night in late October-early November (date varies). It is particularly spectacular at the Golden Temple, which is illuminated by thousands of lamps.

Key Dates

589-1601: The Golden Temple is constructed,, under the care of the Sikhs’ 4th guru, Arjan Dev.
1760s: Muslim Afghans attack the Golden Temple and raze it to the ground on several occasions.
1776: The Khalsa (Sikh Commonwealth) rebuild the Golden Temple.
1830: Maharaja Ranjit Singh adorns the temple’s dome with gold.
1984: The temple is damaged during Operation Blue Star, undertaken by the army to flush out extremists.
2003: The Punjab govern­ment funds an extensive project to beautify the area around the Golden Temple.

Explore The Cultural Side Of India

MYSURU DASARA – For 10 days every year, Mysuru magically transforms itself from a laid-back town to a bustling, joyous and vivid centre of life during the famous Mysuru Dasara. The entire town turns into a pageant of splendour, custom, tradition, pomp and show, with gaiety, music, dance, and frolic, and a bit of the contemporary thrown in. At the heart of this is the Mysuru Palace which is not only decorated and lit up but is also where the scion of the erstwhile royal family holds a traditional darbar and many concerts are hosted each day.

MYSURU DASARA

MYSURU DASARA

Elsewhere in the city, there are sports contests, wrestling matches, theatre, music and folk dance performances, a huge fair on the exhibition grounds, adventure activities, flower shows and food melas, and a host of other activities. The spectacle culminates in spectacular fashion on Vijayadashami with the Jambu Savari, a long procession with elephants, mounted police, vintage cars and floats, and ends with a torchlight parade at nightfall.

CHITRA SANTHE – This is street art at its best. For a whole day, on a Sunday in January, the road in front of Karnataka’s premier art institute, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat, in Bengaluru is closed to traffic and artists from all over the country display their work. There is possibly nothing like this anywhere else as thousands of artists—professional, amateur, hobbyists and part-time—get a single platform to showcase their talent. Lakhs of visitors arrive to savour this open-air display.