Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Agra...The empire city of the mughals...

{{ This is in continuation of my previous post on our travelogue to Delhi }}

If you have great interest in history and are an admirer of monuments and forts then Agra has lot in store for you. It is a small city with just a few tourist attractions yet it is the place where one of the seven wonders of the world, The Taj Mahal, is. Five of us (Anand, Archan, Anoop, Yogesh and Myself) had a nice day at Agra and it was indeed a nice experience to see the Taj.

We started off from Delhi pretty early in the morning in a Qualis cab and we left Delhi outskirts before sunrise. Agra was approximately 200 KM from Delhi and it took just 3 hr 15 mins to reach Agra as it was in the morning and the highway was free. We just had one pitstop in the journey where we refreshed ourselves with some chaaya and coffee. Baaluwala roaming around with bear, doing some tricks with it and begging for money was a common sight here in these areas.

The first place we visited at Agra was "Akbar ka Sikandar" (aka Sikandra Fort). This is the tomb of Akbar supposedly built by Akbar himself. As he was skeptical about whether his descendents will build a monument for his tomb, Akbar made sure that he had one by building it himself well in advance ;) . It was a nice big place with lots of monkeys, deers etc. We had some photo sessions here and pushed off to our next destination.

I was anxious to see the Taj, as I was waiting for reality to unfold my imaginations built in my mind about the Taj Mahal. The cab has to be parked some half-a-km before the Taj entrance and from there no oil-driven vehicle is allowed to proceed. There were battery-driven auto rickshaws and they came as a package with a guide for Taj mahal. The guide was a knowledegable chap and he briefed us about the history involved in the building of Taj. The entrance to Taj is a high raising which has 22 domes on top of it , 11 on each side. "They represent the 22 years which was the time it took to build the wonder", the guide told. Mumtaz was the dearest of the three wifes Shahjahan had and it was in her memory that he built this wonder. He has infact built some memorials to his first two wives also, but they were just some unattractive,insignificant structures in the front of the Taj entrance. We took lots and lots of photo here in Taj as we climbed to the first floor to see the mock-ups of Shahjahans and Mumtaz' tombs.

The next one is the group photo which we took sitting on the "bench" (There is literally a biiiig queue waiting for their turn to sit on this bench and take a snap with the Taj in the background).

This is a nice couple I saw at the first floor of the mahal. They were enjoying the beauty of the Taj with Yamuna in the backdrop. Managed to sneak in a snap of them ;)

We had Lunch at a decent hotel there. We were hungry so the real taste of the food didn't matter a lot. Our next destination was Agra fort and we reached there at around 12:30. Again we caught hold of a guide right from the parking lot and he had loads and loads of history to tell us while roaming about in the Agra fort. The first thing he showed us was a huge bath tub which was used by those yester year rajas to bath. He took us to a mahal which was supposed to be the bedroom of Shahjahan and Mumtaz. It was a beautiful place with a fountain (not functioning now though) in the middle of a building which hosted 362 servant maids of Shahjahan. The photo below is the one which we took sitting in the parliament of the mughals from where Taj mahal can been seen on the backdrop.

The guide then took us inside the Sheesha mahal (Glass Mahal) inside which it was full of glasswork along with some tablas mounted on the walls. It was total dark inside and the guide used a candle light to demonstrate the sparkle of the room. It had some fountains etc in the middle, which was supposedly used by Shahjahan for some perverted activiities ;)

It was almost 2Pm by the time we finished Agra fort and Fatehpur Sikri trip looked like a risk for a moment as Anand, Archan and Anoop have the reception to attend in the evening. But we were not in any mood to miss it, so here we start a 37-km drive to Fatehpur Sikri, the second capital of Moghal empire.

It was a hour drive to Fatehpur sikri and history says that Akbar built Fatehpur sikri as a backup to his kingdom fearing that his sons will destroy the empire. He infact had it as a capital of his empire for sometime before he was forced to get back to Agra due to severe water crisis. There is a worship place inside the sikri and tourists today donate some amount to perform worship according to the customs. We bought some saree kinda stuff from the vendor and offered our reverence to the place. The most-famous historic place "Buland Darwaza" is here and we started back to Agra after getting some snaps with the Darwaza in the background.

We reached Agra at around 5 and me and Yogesh got down at Cantt Railway station before the cab started back to Delhi. After having some light tiffin at the RS, me and yogesh went for a shopping spree in Agra. Thanks to a pestering rickshaw-wala, we went to the Govt Handicrafts showroom and it had all the important things to buy at Agra. I bought a bamboo silk saree for my mom and a Taj mahal marble-model for home. Yogesh got some rugs and sarees for his home. We then bought the Agra special pethas from a nice sweet shop (supposedly the main shop which is famous for the pethas), and then got back to RS.

It was a nice journey in a 3rd AC coach and we reached hyderabad safe and sound after a much-satisfying 3 day escapade to Delhi and Agra.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Expedition to Delhi, the glorious City...

For long, I was waiting for an oppurtunity to visit this beautiful capital city of India as I have heard about its rich heritage and historical glory. It finally happened this November as one of my team mate, Mayuri Diwan, invited us for her marriage with Anuj (also works with us here in Microsoft) at Vasundhra Garden, Vasanth Kunj, New Delhi on Nov 12th. So here goes my travelogue of the beautiful 3 days I spent in the city...

Day 1 (11th Nov 2005) : No wonder Delhi is the capital city of India...
{Hyderabad Airport -> Delhi Airport -> Guest House -> New Delhi RS -> Connaught Circle -> Palika Bazar -> Guest House}
I travelled alone to Delhi on this cool Friday morning in an Air Sahara flight which left Hyderabad at 9:45 am and reached in time at 11:45 am at Indira Gandhi Terminus,Delhi. Had a nice flight,and I was able to see the Lotus Temple and FerozShaw Kotla Stadium from on board the plane before it landed. Mayuri arranged for a nice cab for picking me up from the Airport and I had my first glimpse of the Delhi roads, traffic before the Maruti Omni reached the DRDO guest house at Qutab Institutional Area. The guest house was a nice facility and I chillaxed a bit before I was invited by the Guest house warden for Lunch. Nice simple Lunch it was and I was fully charged for the evening expedition.
I had to go to the Railway station for cancelling a couple tickets and I planned to finish that first. That guest house had a big road/tourist map of Delhi and I understood the overlay of few of the places of Delhi just by the first look at it. Caught an auto from the Guest house and in fact I explained to the autowala that this railway station is near Connaught Circle (thanks to the map at the Guest house), when he himself wasn't sure of it. During this auto drive I saw a few important places of Delhi like NCERT, IIT Delhi, AIIMs etc. The real glamour was when he drove through the Raj path. That stretch looks awesome with this majestic Rashtrapati bhavan and India Gate.

I reached the Reservation office at the ND station and it was a really huge hall with 50 counters for reservation/cancellation of the rail tickets. But still I had to wait for nearly one and half hour to get my work done and this was the least interesting part of the whole trip.

My next stop was the famous Connaught Circle, which is the big shopping area at the heart of the city. That was really a huge circle, but it was so interesting for me that I came round the circle for 3 times. I had no intention to shop and that kept me rolling on an on without a single stop at any shop. The Palika bazaar is an interesting place. I can call it the temple of piracy, as you can get any illegal, custom-evaded, pirated, unauthorised, spoof-branded items on earth there. It is the helm of bargain buyers and bargain margin is unimaginable there. Basically the shopkeeper starts off with Rs.500 for an electronic good and can come down upto Rs.50 if have the time and energy to bargain. I remained a window-shopper here also, amidst calls from the shopkeepers advertising lucrative offers.

Day 2 (12th Nov 2005): The city of grandeur...
{Lotus Temple ->Greater Kailash->Qutb Minar->Chattarpur Temples->Akshardam Temple->India Gate->Raj Path->Parliament->Mayuri Anuj Marriage at Vasanth Kunj}

This morning Yogesh and Anoop joined me after they landed at Delhi in the Air Deccan flight. We had breakfast and started off to the Lotus Temple (Bahai Temple). The Lotus temple, which is based on the Bahai faith is an architectural marvel in itself. We were on the right time to that place and we participated in the morning prayers of the temple. Bahais preach unity of God more than anything else - and the prayer had hymns/slokas/verses from different religions.

Our next destination was the shopping arcades at the Greater Kailash. We roamed about this place and got a nice gift for Mayuri's marriage. After this shopping we got back to the Guest house and waited for Anand and Archan's arrival there.

With Archan joining us for the afternoon, we booked a cab for roaming about in Delhi and we got a nice chap who didn't look like a chaffeuer. He was just another funky looking fellow of the city and seems this is how cab-drivers in Delhi look like ;) . But the nice part was we had a guide in him and he seemed to know places in Delhi well. We went to Qutb minar first and finished it in just an hour or so.

Form there we went to the Chattar pur temple - the HiTech City of Temples. That is basically a big stretch of temples on both sides of the highway. Sky high Trishuls, Hanuman statue etc were the interesting pieces here. Most of the idols there were life-sized and were made of pure gold. Below is the couple of snaps which I took there...

We started off to Akshardham temple from there. It was no less than an wonder... Way too artistic and aesthetic, this place looked like heaven on earth. The great depth and detail of artistic work on the walls and ceiling of the temple is astounding. I'm running out of superlative adjectives to describe the beauty of this place. There was a tight security vigil and scrutiny at this place as this was very recently inaugurated and there was a terrorist attact at the Gujarat Akshardham Temple. The sad part was that we weren't allowed to take our cameras inside and had they did that we would have definitely ran out of our camera memory there itself. Such was the grandeur and beauty of this temple complex.

Now comes the important places to see in the capital city of India - India Gate and the Rajpath. By the time we reached India gate it was almost 6:30... So we lost that day-view of the India Gate. But nevertheless, we had a nice view of the India Gate which hosts the 'Amar Javan Jyoti'. After spending some time at the India gate, where our official photographer Anoop practised all his photographic skills to zoom-in to the Amar Jyothi and the Army-Navy-AirForce Flags, we went for a drive through Parliament building. When we tried to capture the Parliament building in our cameras from the other side of the road, a few armed security ppl caught hold of us and asked us to trash the photos. After this we got back to our guest house to get ourselves ready for the wedding.

The wedding happened at a place, which has almost 20-30 wedding gardens in the same locality. That made the reach to the place the toughest one, with jam-packed traffic on the roads. But we managed to reach the place almost in time for the Barhaat. The wedding garden was decorated beautifully and richness showed in every aspect of the wedding. There was a dance at the entrance as part of this barhaat and this is the first time I'm seeing a typical north indian marriage live.

The major attraction of the marriage was the splendid variety of pure vegetarian food they had to serve for the guests. It was like 'Name a vegetarian food on earth and here you have'. Soups, Mocktails, North/South Indian, Chat items, Corn, Fruits, Italian, Continental, Chinese, Rajasthani, Marathi, Punjabi.... thus started the list... It would be the toughest job on earth to list all the food items made available there, as the food item variety outnumbered the number of people who attended the "well attended" marriage. Tremendous stuff... Amazing... I have a video of the food counters there. Jus a photo here...

I was dressed in a marron colored Kurtha for the evening. We presented the couple with gifts and pushed off at around half-past-midnight.

Day 3 (13th Nov 2005): Plunge into the Mughal history at Agra...
{Akbar ka Sikandar->Taj Mahal->Agra Fort->Fatehpur Sikri->Agra Cant RS}
(( It is getting toooo lengthy here... Let me blog this separately as a big entry with the photos of THE TAJ. ))