Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Amritsar and the Golden Temple!

Amritsar, in the north western region of the Indian state of Punjab, (north of New Delhi,) is the spiritual capital of the Sikhs, with Harimandir Sahib, better known as the Golden Temple, their focus of worship and highest veneration. This beautiful monument, with its dome and exterior walls, as well as most of the interior, sheathed in gold plates, is a shimmering piece of marvel "floating" on the sacred lake that surrounds it. Many tourists come away with the impression that it rivals the famed Taj Mahal at Agra.

Both Amritsar, as well as the Golden Temple, has a very checkered history. This region became the bulwark of defense against several invasions of northern India, ironically, both during and after the decline of Mughal power.

After Amritsar was founded by the fourth Sikh Guru, Ram Das, in 1574 and work on the Temple complex started in 1577, the first foundation stone of the Temple was laid by a Muslim saint! But repeated attacks by the Mughals and then the Afghans, through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the fortunes of this place varying, the resilience of these people remained firm and resolute! Link for more details.

As late as the early decade of the 1800s, the first Sikh Maharaja, Ranjit Singh, was the first to succesfully conquer Pashtun lands in present north-west Pakistan, and this put an end to the thousands of years of invasions through the famed Khyber Pass! Even his Muslim subjects held Ranjit Singh in high esteem because of his just rule, and many of his ministers were Muslims. see Link

But this secular attitude was first laid down by Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, who at the age of 30 began proclaiming "there is no Hindu, there is no Muslim!" With the principles that he laid down, his followers gradually became a seperate group, with its own unique identity, religious beliefs, dress code.........with followers drawn from both Hindus and Muslims. Link for Sikhism.

Getting there.....

(from above link: The Raja Sansi International Airport at Amritsar connects Singapore, London, Birmingham, Toronto and major domestic destinations like Delhi, Srinagar and Chandigarh by Air India, Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Air Deccan and several other airlines...........)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Maharana of Udaipur in a rare YouTube Video

my special thanks to cvxmelody, owner of this rare YouTube video:

this is my concluding post for a travel itinerary from New Delhi to Agra, then Dholpur/Gwalior, back to Agra and to Bharatpur and Deeg, then Vrindavan/Mathura, Alwar and Sariska, Jaipur and Samode, Shekhawat region, Bikaner, Nagaur and Khimsar, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and then south east to Udaipur-Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh, Mount Abu(Dilwara Temples-see post below) and Ranakpur.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh, sentinels of Udaipur.

Before Udaipur became capital of the erstwhile princely state of Mewar, the great fort of Chittorgarh was the capital and stronghold of the Mewar kings- see my post below: Udaipur, Palaces and Lakes. and Link

The second "sentinel" of the Mewar kingdom , Khumbalgarh, was built later and is the second great fort of this kingdom. Both forts are marvels of engineering, built on steep hill slopes with walls/ ramparts extending for several kilometers. These awesome forts were very necessary, in defense of the State, because the Mewar kings were one of the few from the Princes of Rajasthan who chose the policy of defiance to all successive Muslim dynasties from Delhi or Gujrat.

Fiercely proud of their very ancient lineage, see link , the Mewar princes considered themselves as defenders of Hinduism and would not give up their defiant attitude. When faced with defeat, mass jauhar, self immolation, by the ladies, and fight to the finish and certain death by the men was their deliberate choice.

These forts thus stand as silent testimony to death and suicide as well as triumph and victory, depending on the fortunes of the Mewars..........see link .

For the history of Chittorgarh fort go to this link and you find a story of great valour, fierce battles, mass suicide and fight to the finish and certain death. Chittorgarh remained the Mewar capital for 834 years, from 734 A.D. when the first ruler of this clan, Bappa Rawal, captured it and made it his capital, and upto 1568 A.D. when the Mughal emperor sacked the fort, and the young Udai Singh escaped. He then made Udaipur his capital.

Chittorgarh fort is famous for the Vijay Khumba, Tower of Victory, built by Rana Kumbha, in 1448, to commemorate his victory over the Muslim forces of Malwa and Gujrat.

Rana kumbha also built the massive Kumbalgarh Fort, named after him- it is some 64 kms north
of Udaipur; this fort was never taken by any invading army and is considered second to Chittorgarh in strategic importance. go to this link for Kumbhalgarh.

First 5 pictures, Chittorgarh Fort, and the rest of Kumbhalgarh Fort.

Chittorgarh Fort, getting there

whereas Chittorgarh fort is situate at Chittorgarh town (see link above), Kumbhalgarh fort stands alone in a region north of Udaipur, hence to reach by road from Udaipur-rentals, public bus, taxis.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Udaipur 2-Palaces panoramas and people!!

Nearly every city in India, Udaipur included, will have this rich texture of majestic buildings, palaces, parks, new residential blocks, not always well planned; and at the same time this mad anarchial kaliedoscope of narrow roads, uncleared garbage, dogs running free, and every kind of vehicle jamming these maze of roads, defying any semblance of road sense and to hell with traffic rules....... and most amazing- huge number of cycles, three wheelers and two wheelers, and in "older" parts of old cities, elephants and camels, donkeys and bullock drawn carts getting their right of way, totally disregarding the "others" right of way, and breaking every rule of traffic brazenly!
And in all this mad confusion, the bravest of the brave I know, the local traffic cop, trying the best he can in the midst of this insane jumble of vehicles, people, animals......................I have very very often seen the poor man walk away!

Its not that Indians have no road sense......... Indians living abroad are good drivers, but do commit errors here, more out of a certain lack of focus, their senses numbed after years of driving in India.

Almost all roads and lanes in older parts of Indian cities were planned before the advent of motorised vehicles and with a far smaller population to contend with.

More people lived in rural areas (this is still true, but with a population of one billion plus and the desire to make rich in cities, most urban areas have a hugh influx of migrants,)

The congestion is made worse by the endless number of shops lining all streets-the planners then felt that close proximity of shops enable the residents living above, in the same building, to shop their needs without going far- your local grocery (and most often more than one,) chaiwalla- (the equivalent of the local pub around the corner- the chaiwalla only serves tea!) your barber- (quick morning shave included!)-the tailor with his Singer sewing machine, cooking ware and utensils shop, the hardware store( paints, hammers nails and tools, wood accessories etc.,)-cycle hire, cooking-gas cylinders retailer, and roadside hawkers, quick snack vendors.......... and with the flair to go with the times, a new crop of shops for TVs, music systems and white goods, a local McDonalds, Pizza Hut, games corner!!!

All this is further worsened by the unplanned digging up of roads to lay new cables (including the new yellow-red-blue internet cables alongside the older electrical and telephone maze.)

And with the noise and cacophony levels reducing only well after midnight, people sleep through in the old dilapidated houses cloistered with narrow balconies, falling walls held by support from adjoining walls of all these close-knit structures!!!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Udaipur, Palaces and Lakes!

The Sisodias, one of the seniormost family of Rajputs, rulers of Udaipur, and the bane of all Muslim conquerors of India- no region put up more fierce resistance of these invaders than Mewar/Chittor/Udaipur.

The ruling family, known as the House of Mewar, "trace" their ancestry to the gods! The origin of the dynasty starts with ADITYA NARAYAN, before creation of the Universe- the second in line being BRAHMA, the Creator and progenitor of the world(!!!) From then on, Marichi the great Rishi, wise man, and then Kashyap, then Vivaswat, (the Iranian Viwanghat- the Iranian Aryans and Indian Aryans being cousins), then Manu, the great law-giver(Iranian Manuschir), then Ishvaku, considered the founder of the Suryavanshi dynasty of Udaipur; then a galaxy of rulers descending from him, Puranjaya who conquers the daityas (the dasyus, original inhabitants of India?), then Anena and Prithu the Righteous Ruler, and later,Purukutsa, to whom the Puranas (that come after the Vedas, ancient scriptures) are revealed. Then Raja Harishchandra, founder of Bharatvarsh, the idea of Bharat-India. The epic Mahabharata states he is raised to highest heaven for his piety and righteousness!!

Still later, Sanger, king of Ayodhya, ancestor of Ram, and mentioned in Valmiki's Ramayana, then Bhagirath, whose devotion brings down the river Ganga!!(An apparant reference the Aryans have reached the Ganges plain?) From Bhagirath-Shruth-Nabh-Sindhudeep-Autayu-Ritupern-Sarvkam-Saudash- Mitrasa (so close to the Iranian name Mithra)-then further 10 generations later, Ram, the greatest hero of Indian epic and beliefs! Ram left his kingdom and roamed the forests of India on one word from his father. Ram is the great vanquisher of evil, personified in Ravana of Sri Lanka (apparantly the Aryans have reached there?) Ram's son Kush and Luv are founders of the Kosala kingdom. Their descendants rule in continious lineage to the great Brahadbal, who takes part in the epic war mentioned in Mahabharata, and Kosala and Magadha are triumphant.

Their descendants, several generations in unbroken line, also rule in Kapilavastu, where GAUTAMA BUDDHA is born into the royal family.

But the royal line continues with Langal, and other famous kings, Gautama's descendants; Sumitra, last king of Ayodhya, is witness to the decline of Greeks in the north-west, the invasions of the Scythians and their slow settlement in Kutch, Kathiawar.

Sumitra's descendant Kanaksen migrates to Saurashtra(!) and finally we have Grahasen, in this long line of Suryavanshi kings. IN 566 AD GUHADITYA, descendant from Grahasen, FOUNDS THE KINGDOM OF MEWAR. Kalbhoj Bappa, 734-753 AD gives fierce opposition to the first wave of Muslim invaders.............

and for several centuries this will be the fate of Mewar/Udaipur....massive battles of valour, and sacrifice, against the Muslims.

Khuman in 753 AD, then Khuman II 823-853 AD, then Khesham Singh 1168-1172 continue their fierce battles against Muslims, and Chittor is the legend of great battles, full scale Jouhar(self immolation by Rajput ladies rather than capture by Muslims) and valour of its rulers.

In 1303 AD Rawal Ratan Singh defends Chittor from Allauddin Khilji, who also covets his beautiful queen Padmini, and after defeat all the women of Chittor, with Padmini, commit Jauhar rather than face dishonour!!

His one descendant Sajjan Singh shifts to the south and is the ancestor of SHIVAJI, founder of the Mahratta kingdom, later the Mahratta Empire.

In Rajasthan, Rana Kumbha 1433-1468 AD is a great builder, the Kubhalgarh fort with 36 klms of ramparts. He again defends Mewar against Sultan Mahmud of Malwa, and is himself a prolific writer and artist. His elder son Ratan Singh and his son, Rana Vikramaditya again face the wrath of the Sultan of Gujarat(1535AD), this time some 13,000 women commit jowhar; fortuanately one prince UDAI is spirited away and he founds the city of UDAIPUR . In 1567 AKBAR sacks CHITTOR AND LAYS IT IN RUINS and the focus of Mewar shifts to UDAIPUR

Legend has it that Maharana Udai Singh came upon a hermit while hunting in the foothills of the Aravalli Range. The hermit blessed the king and asked him to build a palace on the spot and it would be well protected. Udai Singh established a residence there. In 1567/68 the Mughal emperor Akbar captured Chittor, and Udai Singh moved the capital to the site of his residence, which became the city of Udaipur. As the Mughal empire weakened, the Sisodia ranas, and later Maharanas, reasserted their independence and recaptured most of Mewar.

..........................this link gives the full lineage of the Udaipur kings. and this link more on this unique royal line.

more information on Udaipur link

the magnificent panorama of palaces pictured above can be best viewed by staying at the Lake Palace (Hotel,) if you can afford the rates; there are some hotels on the opposite shore of the Pichola lake, and this would be a superb choice to book a hotel room facing the palaces, the lake and the Lake Palace. Tourists who stay elsewhere in the city and visit the City Palace Museum get to view the lake and the Lake Palace from ancient balconies or windows, a limited view somehow! The Maharaja's car collection is a must see, I somehow sneaked inside the south end of the palace complex and "bribed" my way to have a good look; its easy for those who stay at the Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel and other hotels inside this palace complex. I was lucky to catch a glimpse of Prince Arvind Singh, driving his own Jeep, on his way to a forest lodge; he hosts afternoon Tea for his hotel guests. Arvind Singh "shares" the title of Maharana with his elder brother, Mahendra Singh.

The Fateh Sagar lake, north of the Pichola lake (City Palace and Lake palace site), has some superb views of the hills on the other side, and cheap but good eateries lining the shore.

more info here

Udaipur:getting there

100 kms west of Udaipur, at Mt. Abu, the Dilwara temples are a must -link and see my post below on these superb temples in marble. 60 kms north of Udaipur, Ranakpur also boasts of a beautiful Jain temple carved in marble: link