Tag Archives: Forts of India

A visit to the Mecca of India- Ajmer

Time has been kind on me yet again bringing me to the right place when the time was right! And this time it was to Ajmer during the holy month of Ramadan. Ajmer-Marwar region was a separate state until it was merged with Rajasthan. At a distance of 130kms by road from Jaipur, it is believed to be the second holiest place in Islam after Mecca. I managed to squeeze in sufficient time from my business trip to venture out in this city and explore most of whatever it has to offer for the traveller in me.

Needless to say that no visit is complete without heading to the Ajmer Sharif Dargah dedicated to the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. We were fortunate to have contacted one of the trustees of the Dargah who managed our entire visit and made it one of envy for most people who struggle to get past the crowds in other seasons. Also, our visit coincided with the 27th day of the Holy month- revered as the ‘Night of Destiny’ in the Islam faith. The Dargah is located at the base of the Taragarh hill atop of which a fort is situated. The view of the entire hill is so beautiful with a township constructed on the steep slopes overlooking the Dargarh. Photography is prohibited inside the Dargarh premises and hence, I wasn’t able to capture most of the things. It’s a welcome move in some places like these and respect the sanctity of the place. Enough is said and written about this place and I wish to cover about the other things this historic town has to offer.

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Breaking the fast at Ajmer dargah Sharif

We were right there on the premises at the time of breaking the day’s fast. After that, we walked the by lanes around the Dargah to explore the best of Ajmer. Not in terms of places but in terms of its lip-smacking street food. With a lot of Mughalai and Nawabi influence and it being the Ramadan season, the best of the spread was available- Needless to say, it is a haven for food lovers. By the time the last ray of the day’s sun had vanished, we were stuffed until our glottis. If you are a history buff and want to find something to feed your wanderlust, you can take a walk to Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra and the Akbar Palace and museum that are located closer to the Dargah. Soniji-ki-Nasiyan is a nice two-storeyed wooden Jain temple that can be visited enroute to Dargah Sharif. If you are at the luxury of time, a quick ride to quick ride to the Mayo college campus can be ended with some peaceful sunset time spent by the banks of the Ana Sagar Lake. But, for me- something else was awaiting!

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The folk singers performing live in the courtyard of the Taj

I was hosted at the Taj- Ajmer gateway for the night, a world in itself to visit and hang around. The drive from Ajmer city towards it outskirts on Pushkar road, through winding roads with the backdrop of the setting golden sun was a picturesque treat after a tiring day of work and toil. All this seemed like only a grand welcome to the beautiful Taj property that’s nestled in the midst of nowhere in the lap of the Aravalis. The sky was dark, when we arrived at this palatial hotel. The entire driveway was lit with dim sodium lamps from the gate through the lounge. A faint outline of the Aravalli hills standing calmly on the backdrop only enhanced its grandeur. It was a warm welcome as the live Rajasthani folk music with the timbre of the Morchang and Khartal resonated from the courtyard. It was a pleasant check-in when the host personally lead me to the room while explaining the delicately chosen wall murals and paintings as we walked through the elegant corridor. Though I was stuffed with Ajmer’s street food, I did manage to make some space for the delectable dinner that I was hosted at the restaurant. With all items seasoned and cooked to perfection, each dish seemed better than the other. With a refreshing dip in the pool, a day was called!

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Top: The courtyard at night Below: the morning view from my balcony

I looked forward for the morning as much as I did for the previous evening! I had set the alarm for sunrise but was woken up rather early by the calls of dozens of feral peacocks that had come from the forest/hills just behind the pool. I opened my balcony doors and voila! It was a magical morning with peacocks dancing in the courtyard and a modestly calm sun peeping out of shadowy grey clouds with the glorious green Aravalis forming a backdrop… I soaked in this special moment as much as I could from my balcony before I realised that it was time for me to pack-up. Finishing up the morning chores and ending my stay with the Taj with a wonderful breakfast spread, it was time for me to say good bye to this beautiful city of Ajmer and this beautiful Taj property- the Ajmer gateway!

Summary:

Must-do: Make a wish by offering the Chadar or the decorated shawl to the deity/tomb at the Dargah Sharif.
Must eats: while the street food and the never-ending list of non-veg dishes are to die for in the month of Ramadan, Kadi Kachori and Soan-Halwa are an all-season recommendations.
Must buys: variety of prayer caps and incense.

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The Street shopping at Ajmer

The land of the singing waves – Tranquebar

East coast road: Destination no.3 for the day.

We alighted the bus at a small junction which seemed like any other fishing hamlet. The bus conductor pointed to a small road to the right and guided us telling “one kilometer ahead is the fort”, and blew the whistle indicating the driver to proceed. My parents looked at my face blinking and I could sense that ‘Where are you taking us?’ question in their eyes.

We walked about half a kilometer and an old arch with finely done Danish art welcomed us to- The land of the singing waves- Tranquebar, the Danish port town also called as Tharangambadi in Tamil.

The entrance arch
The arch at the entrance of Tarangambadi/Tranquebar

Super empty & super clean roads lined by old Danish buildings on either sides made us feel like we were walking in a different country..The Zion church, the Teresa’s convent school, the Danish governor’s bungalow etc.. finally lead us to the fort peacefully nestled on the calm shores of the Bay of Bengal. The moment we got a glimpse of the beach from the fort entrance, we got the link to the name of this quaint little place- Land of tranquil waters (air, land- read it anything that you want) – Tranquebar.

Tranquebar is still unconquered by the tourist radar. Since, the bungalow turned resort run by Tamil Nadu hotel is the only place to eat or stay for kilometers around, the place is not crowded at any point of time. Except for a handful of fishermen and couples countable on finger tips, it is all you strolling along the calm beach 🙂 This is by far, one of the BEST beaches I have been to along the east coast.

The well maintained fort is now converted into a museum where we got good information about the old port days. An important port between 1600s to early 1900s, the port walls now lie dilapidated, mostly washed away by the tsunami. There is Masilamaninathar temple on the shore, to which some mythological reference is made. The sculptures on the walls and the minaret have been damaged due to sea erosion.

The serene shoreline at Tranquebar
The serene shoreline around the Tranquebar fort

There is nothing much to see around but being there for a few hours fills one’s mind with peace and tranquility. But, I must admit- It is THE PLACE to cuddle up and enjoy the pristine waters on a cool evening. Since, the visit was just a stop over in a long journey, we could not even get a place at the resort there in such short notice. All of us HAD to leave the place with a very very heavy heart asking for some more peaceful time 😦

This place is a DEFINITELY COME BACK for MORE – place on my list.. and I WILL go back for a long weekend. Just lazing around and getting lost in tranquility. Do nothing else..!!

Land of forgotten monuments- Bidar

Karnataka Bundh- The whole city of Bangalore was protesting against the Kaveri water verdict- 32 buses vandalized in the city and all that jazz…

Well… I was away from the entire hustle bustle, Very far away… I was spending time with my mom who was on business travel since the last couple of months.

I left Bangalore on Friday by an overnight bus to one of the least preferred holiday destinations in Karnataka- Bidar. When I reached there after a long journey of 12hrs, I had a roaring welcome in the city, quiet literally..!! An IAF “Hawk” flew past right above my head during their daily flying practice sorties. Right then, I had my first GK (general knowledge) moment of the tour. Bidar has been an important training base since the early 1960’s for the Indian Airforce. Bidar serves as the main base for Hawk AJTs and the Suryakiran HJTs.

Day 1:

My mom received me at the bus stand and took me to the bungalow she was staying at. I freshened up and post a quick breakfast, we headed straight to “the Jharani Narasimha Swami Cave temple”. The myth mentions that Lord Narasimha killed Hiranyakashipu and then proceeded to slay the demon Jalasura who was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva. After being killed by Lord Narasimha, the demon Jalasura turned into water and started flowing down the feet of the Lord Narasimha. Today, devotees have to walk across a cave with water (1.7mts depth) to worship the idol. With bats flying around, roaches swimming with us and dimly lit path to lead us, it was a very nice experience.

Inside the cave- enroute to the Narasimha idol
Inside the cave- enroute to the Narasimha idol

We then drove to our next destination- Basavakalyan, an important site for the followers of the Lingayat community. Enroute, we stopped by the Karanja dam, a small reservoir built across the Karanja river.

The Karanja dam
The Karanja dam

Once, in Basavakalyan- we visited the Basaveshwara temple, 108ft high Basavanna statue, Basavanna Guhe and Akkamahadevi Guhe. Then it was the right turn that lead us to “Anubhava Mantapa”. This is a replica of the ShivanubhavaMantapa- an academy of mystics, saints and philosophers of the ‘Lingayata’ faith in the 12th century. Anubhava Mantapa is often referred as the first parliament in the world.

From there we visited the Basavakalyan fort, sparsely visited apart from a few localities who come there to play cricket. But it is indeed a monument forgotten on the maps. The lights falling on the inner chambers of the fort called for some good photography.

An open air theatre at the entrance of the fort
An open air theatre at the entrance of the fort
A view of Hyder Mahal from the Kadak Bijli Toph view point
A view of Hyder Mahal from the Kadak Bijli Toph view point

Day 2:

We started the day by spending some tranquil moments at the “Nanak Jhira”. This Gurudwara is known for being the second occurence out of the supernatural powers of Guru Nanak. The first one was ‘Sri Punja Sahib’ (Now in Pakistan & strictly prohibited for free visits). Hence Gurudwara Sri Nanak Jhira Sahib is ‘Second Punja Sahib’ of India and hence a very holy site for the Sikhs. The sweet water flowing from a spring is believed to clear one off, all sins.

The Nanak Jhira Gurudwara

The Nanak Jhira Gurudwara

Next, on the list was the Bareed Shahi park. The tombs of the Bahamani rulers lay here. This is small but a nice park maintained just to provide some lung space for morning joggers and evening walkers. This was a neglected piece of history just a year ago and good efforts have been made for its restoration.

The Bahamani tombs
The Bahamani tombs
The Main tomb- At the entrance of the park
The Main tomb- At the entrance of the park

The last and final destination was the Bidar Fort: It is multi-layered fort to say in simple words. It does not have a quantifiable boundary, though a few localites specify some digits to measure its expanse. The entire city is actually within a fort wall which was the area where the citizens lived back during the rulers’ time. The second round of the wall is where the ministers lived. The third and the innermost zone is where today’s tourism is concentrated, the area where the King & the queen lived. This needs a minimum of half a day to explore for a person interested in history, architecture or archeology.

The Royal Residence within the main fort
The Royal Residence within the main fort

Bidar has so much to offer for a backpacker on a tight budget. Apart from the travel distance, everything else is very affordable. Even the entry to all the places on the tourist trail is free. Inspite of it, very few people plan a trip to this district. Maybe because the name pulls down an image of a dry, barren, hot, poor, drought prone etc. What my eyes met here was contradicting my imagination that I had made through what I heard in the media. The city was lush green, raining heavily, clean (at least compared to the cleanest places of Bangalore)…

So, a lesson to take back: Stop imagining how a place would be; go there and see it yourself.