Most visitors to India see the Taj Mahal. There is, however, another fascinating site nearby ( 25min drive from Agra)
This is the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri.
Fatehpur Sikri (City of Victory) is an abandoned city, built from red sandstone. A city of yesteryear, today lost in the mists of time. It was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar during the 16th century. Akbar had no heir. He visited holy men to enlist their prayers for a son. He visited Sheikh Salim Chishti, who was living at the village of Sikri, and the Sufi saint prophesied that he would be blessed with a son. When the son was born, Akbar named the boy Salim, after the Saint. This son later became the Emperor Jahangir.
The grateful Emperor constructed this as his capital city and named it Fatehpur Sikri. Later, due to lack of water and unrest in North-West, Akbar had to abandon his capital. The beautiful marble tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti still attract thousands who seek blessings of the revered saint. Women wishing to have children tie small bits of string onto a screen inside the tomb, after they have asked for a blessing form the Saint . When their prayers are answered, they return and remove the string.
. It has been rumoured for centuries that underground tunnels led all the way to Delhi , and Agra.
Fatehpur Sikri is a world heritage UNESO site, and is situated 39km form Agra. There is a small village nearby.
The wide, open square on this site displays perfect examples of Mughal Architecture, and the various buildings around it are all very well preserved.
The most outstanding are the Mosque, and the marble tomb of the Sufi Saint Salim Chishti. Intricate sandstone lattice windows filter the sunlight.
One has to be aware that on arrival, many touts and guides are ready to pounce on unsuspecting tourists. Having a guide is somewhat useful, and some guides have extensive knowledge of the old city. Many of them, unfortunately, have a hidden agenda
This site is definitely a must-see if you are in the Agra vicinity.
One of my nicest memories of the Taj Mahal were the marble floors.
I had never seen such huge white marble tiles outdoors. All around the main building there is a huge terrace tiled with big marble squares. Walking around barefoot is a nice refreshing experience in the heat of Agra's summer. Being stepped by so many barefeet made the marbles incredibly soft, so I enjoyed very much lying down on the floor (see pic) while I watched the people pass by.
Many new travellers to India tend to visit the bigger cities (and that is understandable), and their first experience can be daunting and exhausting. There is so much to see- so many people, traffic & chaos. The heat is draining.
Fortunately, there are many small, very interesting towns and villages that one can get to see, and many are just an hour or two drive out of the big cities.
We have found so many interesting things and places by hiring a car and just getting out of the city. Not only is the countryside beautiful, but one can see how people really live, and rural life is very different from city life.
A good example is driving from Udaipur to Chittor- lovely scenery and in Chittor see the mighty Rajput Fort that is there. It can be done in a few hours.
Ranakpur - with its exquisite Jain Temple complex is 2 hour drive from Udaipur
From Mumbai it is 403km to Aurangabad-(overnight by train) and one can see the awesome Ellora Cave Complex. I highly recommend this- it is one of the most peaceful and interesting places in India.
Most guide books will list side trips. So get out into the countryside- it will clear your head and refresh you.
India is one of the top destinations in the world for adventure sports. Because of its diversity, almost all adventure sport is possible- and in levels of degree that cater for all ages and different levels of fitness.
There is trekking, cycling, gentle hiking, horse-riding, fishing, kayaking, white -water rafting, and skiing in winter.
Camel safaris can be organised in the desert regions, and in certain parts of north-east India elephant treks are available.
So go- do something different. Its a memory that you will always treasure.
Most importantly, get a good guide. I recommed Sanjeev Mehta- (Mohans Adventure Tours) he is one of the very best, and will advise you on any form that you may choose, He will devise and plan a personal trek/adventure for small or larger groups.
2.) Mcleod Ganj : The home to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama & the seat of Tibetan Govt. in exile, situated near the Dhauladhar ranges with a cultural mix of Tibetan & Hindu environment in this region , just walk around this small chaotic hill station is a pleasure in itself. Great food & spiritual sense in the air are enough reason to go there.
1.) Varanasi : The oldest, continuously surviving civilisation ( & city ) in the world. Varanasi is situated in the heart of Hindu cow belt region of India, it is famous for the Ghats ( banks ) of River Ganga & a holy city for Hindus all over the world. It’s a chaotic city, filled with cows, hotels, yoga centres & temples here & everywhere all vying for a spot on the holy Ganga. You’ll find a snake charmer, a palmist, internet centre, hindu saint & a thug all jostling for some Karma in this holy city. This place takes everyone by surprise & to some extent symbolises the very essence of India.
Ladakh : the most amazing place I have ever been to in India & around the world till now, its different topography & landscape takes your breath away. Reaching Ladakh from Manali or Srinagar is half the fun filled with adventure. The Manali to Leh road built in 1970’s purely to effectively counter Chinese threat to Indian sovereignty over Kashmir and to make alternate road to the Ladakh district other than Kashmir is most treacherous road journeys in the world, almost 500kms long road takes you through the highest passes in the world & is a highly militarized zone. But once there its well worth all the pains, Leh is the highest altitude capital district in the world, Leh city airport is the highest altitude airport in the world. This region will take you by surprise, if you have not been here you have been no where. Go… Go ….
If you are given peace and quite by the Souvenir sellers, the Rickshaw wallahs, and the myriads of others who want your time and your tourist rupee. Wlak along the Yamuna River from the fort. To get a very different view of the Taj Mahal.
Even though the Taj Mahal is beautiful up close. Its also incredible from afar too.
Do check it out.
Head with a Cobra Sculpture...... Hmmmm? What do you think? Could it be someone's incarnation of Shiva.
These fantastic Little Beach is 22 km north of Panaji. In the Small Indian State of Goa. Vagator beach is about half way up the 30 km coastline stretch of Northern Beaches of Goa that covers the most popular hotspots of Goa and India tourism. Its a hop, a skip and a jump to the north of the This party Beach.
Vagator by day is more salubrious and laid-back than Anjuna. Relatively secluded, The Three little beaches that make up Vagator are situated on the crescent shaped Caisua bay, along the Chapora river basin, in the shadow of the ruins of Chapora Fort.
Vagator is one of the most beautiful beaches of Goa, and India, laying on inviting sandy coves, between coconut palm shaded rocky headlands. Generally peaceful, in peak season it attracts day-trippers, and during the night typically boisterous Goa beach parties are a regular feature, especially at Disco Valley between Vagator and Little Vagator, and at Banyan Tree, east of Vagator. Not to mention, The Hill Top above Little Vagator Beach. Fun Fun Fun.
On the cliff above Little Vagator Alcove offers delicious location, ambiance and food & drinks. Restaurants in Vagator dish up tasty seafood, continental dishes, health foods and fruity shakes.
Little Vagator and Ozran (Spaghetti Beach) are two gorgeous small Goa beaches just south of Vagator. Ozran is nestled at the bottom of a palm-covered cliff. Both have been discovered by youngsters on a Goa holiday seeking beaches in Goa to call their own. It has thus become a Frisbee type hangout. This is where You'll find the sculpture here of Lord Shiva on a rock, created by a long-stay visitor.
Give Vagator a Go. Its a Fantastic Little Beach.
There is no better way to see the Rural Indian life than by train. Because India rail crosses India like a spiders web, it passes different kinds of scenery, often giving us the chance to witness farming practises, beautiful scenery, amazing architectural examples, incredble bridges and the stops at the stations are wonderful too.
In india the railway station is unlike others you'll find in the world. Indian Railway Stations are full of life, with Chai Wallahs, Samosa sellers, shoe shiners, beggar boys, porters, railway workers, and of course passengers all off descriptions, littering the Railway platforms, with shouts, bustle, smells and sights to behold. Its a carzy mish mash of comings and goings, that had me as a New Zealander utterly enthralled.
rail travel is the most convenient way of travelling if you are travelling on a budget. The types of class available are 1st class, AC 2tier, AC 3tier, 2nd class sleeper & chair car. The 1st class being phased out being converted in to AC 2 tier/AC 3 tier (recently being introduced in some of the trains).
Some guff: The trains usually run at a speeds of between 60 km - 130 km per hour depending on the type of trains e.g. Passenger train, Superfast trains, Shatabadi train (the fastest among all these, covering only some of the destinations). For all the major destinations superfast trains are running and the same are being recommended if you are ready to spend the night on a train.
I recommend spending a night on the train. As a tourist you owe yourself the experience. It was a wonderful way to learn about local food, attractions and just speaking with the locals was excellent. Travelling overnight by train aslo subtracts from Hotel bills. I am an absolute advocate of killing two birds with one stone; in this case travelling and accommodation.
Jami Masjid is one of the largest mosques in India. Built in 1571 A.D., it is the most scared building in Fatehpur Sikri and has, therefore, been built on the highest point. The mosque has a vast courtyard. Towards the corner on the right side, is the Jammat Khana hall and next to which is Zenana Rauza, the Tomb of the Royal Ladies.
Originally it was built in red stone and was later faced in marble by Jahangir. It's lattice screens are the most intricate and beautiful in the world.
Jama Masjid is beautifully decorated with paintings, inlaid stones, carvings and glazed tiles. The building comprises of pillared Dalan, a beautiful 'Chhajja' and the 'Chhatri' on the roof. The main Iwan of the building is rather simple and contains a central arch with geometrical designs.
The siting of the Jama Masjid marked the actual beginning of the city which came up around it. The palace courts were laid out parallel to the cardinally aligned mosque and the sequential order of the palaces were emphasized by change in level. The most public space was at the lowest level, while the royal harem was at the highest.
Jama masjid Agra
There are several historical places to see in the town. The main being the palace complex and the Friday mosque (Jama Masjid). Towering gateway of the mosque is fittingly called the Buland Darwaza. There are the two tombs of the saint, the white marble one erected by Shah-Jahan, and the original red sandstone one of Emperor Akber. There are government information plaques near all the monuments.
Emperor Akbar, the greatest of all the Mughal rulers, had no heir. In a desperate attempt, he beseeched the saint Salim Christi at Sikri. Through divine grace, an heir was born and the emperor, in the grand manner of all true emperors, decided to dedicate a magnificent city in honour of the saint.
As I mention in my "Colorful Festivals" Tip, I recommend that you spend a little time learning about Hinduism before your visit to India. So much of what happens everyday in India involves 900 million people's relationship and practice of Hinduism.
My wife bought a book while we were in India entitled HINDU GODS AND GODDESSES, and it added a lot to our look and understanding of day-to-day sights. Suddenly, we were able to identify what was being said by the many colorful murals you'd find on private dwellings, at hotels and such. And when we'd come across one of the many humble shrines throughout the country, it made us feel a little closer to local culture to know which God or Goddess a particular shrine may be honoring.
There are also some magnificent Hindu temple structures throughout the country. As is the case with most world religions, visitors to holy shrines are generally welcome, assuming that they are respectful and civil in their visit. Given the opportunity, I would very much suggest that you take an opportunity to visit a few of India's temples, it'll give you a deeper feel for the country's soul.
The photo accompanying this tip was taken in Mathura, which is "almost" a suburb of Agra. There's only a bit of "space" between the two cities as you drive on what I think I remember as NH1 (National Highway 1). Mathura has a special point in Hindu faith, as it is the hometown/birthplace of Lord Krishna, THE most identified and revered God of Hinduism.
Vizag (renamed Vishakhapatnam) is a city in the eastern coast of the country, and said to be one of the world's fastest growing cities. The city's topographically blessed with endless stretch of sandy beaches and low hills, secluded coves and winding creeks. These make Vizag a very scenic city.
Historically, too, the city is endowed with a rich past. It is named after the Hindu God of valor, Vishakha. It is believed that in the 2nd century B.C. a Hindu king built a monument to Vishakha, which has long since been washed away by the tides of the Bay of Bengal.
Economically, the city is a fast becoming a choice of industries, thanks to its good natural harbor, which when further developed should give Madras (now Chennai) port a run for its money as the main gateway to Southeast Asia and beyond to China and Japan.
Things to see in Vizag:
Hailed as the richest and best sculpted shrine, it is situated on top of an 800-ft hill within the Eastern Ghats range.
It's a massive rock, 358 mts jutting out into the sea.
While a no match for the beaches of Southeast Asia, the unique Indian character found on the shoreline (read: fisherfolks and their wives in colorful saris, a naval submarine museum, etc.) is a treat by itself.
How to get there:
Indian Airlines has flights to this city from Mumbai and New Delhi. Daily train and bus service to Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh's capital is also available.
the picture here shows women collecting water from the Village collective well. Notice they are sitting about talking as well. I think despite the heavy work, its a good opportunity to catch up on the village gossip. The men we saw, were down the road, hearding and hobbling camels. It looked like they were getting ready for a trek.
Running around the Thar desrt is Incredible its full of interesting little villages and towns. Kuldhara & Khabha (Medieval Deserted village of Paliwal Brahmins) are very interesting not only do they have loads of camels, but out here years ago 84 villages were abandoned by Paliwal Brahmins overnight. Both Kuldhara & Khabha are about 18 to 30 kms. South West of Jaisalmer and Kuldhara 5 kms. of the same road. The ruins of Kuldhara & Khabha exhibit the architectural, excellence of those times, which was buried under dunes till recently.
A region of small towns, Shekhawati is primarily known for its havelis or mansions richly ornamented with frescos, which range from the sacred to the secular, and from sublime to, at times, seemingly ridiculous. The Marwari merchants of Shekhawati, who had ventured out to new emerging commercial centers of India, built these mansions. With the growing prosperity of Marwaris came the spirits of one-upmanship, and each sought to outdo the other with the lavishness of his haveli. As a result of the ensuing competition, Shekhawati, today, has gained worldwide fame as the open-air art gallery, having the largest concentration of frescos in the world.
I was lucky enough to see a young Fresco artist at work.
I was stumbling around Old Goa one day with my camera. I walked down some old roads past an old, ill kempt Viceroy Arch and roads threatening to be overgrown when I came to this church, all alone by the river. There was no-one there. I was all alone to enjoy the white washed Interior, the marvellous Statues of the Apostles, the beautiful dome, and the fantastic 15th Century Portuguese Italian Style paintings adorning the walls. What a find.
OK some guff: St. Cajetan is built of laterite blocks, which were lime plastered. The façade, havs two towers on either side to serve as belfry, and has Corinthian columns and four niches in which are kept the statues of the apostles.
The main body of the church is Greek cross with a nave ending in an apse and aisles marked by four massive piers faced by Corinthian pilasters. The ribbed vaults of the nave and aisles are of varying height and are coffered with different floral designs. The two-ocatgonal rooms on either side of the main altar serves as the sacristy. There are six altars. The main one is dedicated to our lady of divine providence. These altars are profusely carved and gilded in Baroque style. The altars also have paintings on canvas of the Italian school, some depicting scenes from the life of St. Cajetan. The niches running along the sides of the vault have wooden statues of saints.
The church was built by Italian friars of the Order of Theatines who were sent by the Pope Urban III to preach Christianity in the kingdom of Golconda. As they were not permitted to work there they settled down in Goa in 1640. They obtained the site in 1655 by a Royal order and the church was built in the 17th century.
This most-impressive of forts stretches across 36 kilometres (!!!) of the Aravali Mountains and was never conquered, for reasons which become apparent the instant you set eyes on it.
Located about 60 kilometres north of Udaipur, the Kumbhalgarh Fort is pretty difficult to reach without private transportation (ie. a hired taxi and driver). Its "inaccessibility" meant that we were the only visitors the day we were there, although there is a small village inside the ramparts, so we weren't alone.
The road from Udaipur is not smooth and it takes longer than you would think to reach it. For this reason, I would not try to fit in both Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur in one day. . .you won't do justice to either one. Instead, spend the better part of a day exploring the fort at a leisurely pace (there are a number of temples inside as well as the extensive ramparts with phenomenal views), then stay at a hotel near Ranakpur, and begin the next day with the phenomenal Jain temples.
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