Image

Fatehpur Sikri —meanings behind monuments

The popular “golden triangle” road trip needs no thorough introduction to avid travellers. It remains one of the most pursued, deeply enthralling and highly recommended road-trips in India. It covers the broad geographies of Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. People travel miles away from home to fulfil this goal in their bucket list. In 2015, I set out on these routes too and not too far from the city of Agra lies the Fatehpur Sikri fort, in the city of Fatehpur Sikri.

The Fatehpur Sikri fort is more than just a blend of historical monuments and forts. It features among the World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO. It has endless things to reveal if you attentively listen to it but the sad reality is that it has ended up being just an option in travel plans for foreigners. Prior to finalising my itinerary for this road trip, I discussed with numerous travel agencies to understand the options they had to offer. Almost all of them added this place just as a stop over and they expected me to spend roughly an hour there. I was there and I can tell you, it’s not a place to just stop over because you were on the way to another destination. It will be a sheer injustice to the depth of Fatehpur Sikri if you visit this place, just because you were passing by. When you do something, do it well or don’t do it at all. I would recommend you to spend few hours leisurely to explore the length and depth of this breathtaking destination.

The taxis will usually drop you at the downhill area, which is cluttered with hawkers and their stalls. There is no doubt that they will approach you, with the aim to sell their products. I would have advised you to listen to them if the prices were affordable but having been in the shops, I encourage you not to stop by unless you have a budget which you want to waste on items that are sold at cheaper prices in other markets. Pursue your road straightforwardly to the small bus station. Buses are readily available and the fare is very cheap to reach the fort.

KEV_6201.JPG

People will generally advise you not to rent a guide when you are journeying to this place. Even I used to think like this but some places cannot fully be understood without a knowledgeable guide. This applies for Fatehpur Sikri too. If you are merely walking around with your camera to get some pictures of the place and tell people that you have been there, then you may choose not to rent a guide; but is it really purposeful? If you are willing to feel the spirit of the place and understand what it once used to be, then a knowledgeable guide can be of great help. If you look closely at the extreme right of this picture, you’ll notice a group of tourists absorbed in the words of the guide. I found that even Indians chose to be guided. They aren’t wrong in doing so; the historical depth of this place requires this.

KEV_6269.JPG

Apart from the wisdom of guides, the fort is home to numerous small and open education centres where people are taken back to the Mughal era. Through a series of videos, people are able to grasp the significance of what has happened during those ages.

KEV_6260.JPG

 

I remember walking at a very slow pace, gently placing my hands on the monuments around me and trying to feel what this place might once have been.

KEV_6249.JPG

The fine architectures will leave you speechless. Again, do not hurry when you are inside. Explore one place at a time. There’s a lot of meanings behind the monuments.

In the course of my travels, I have come across many people; some carrying countless dreams in their hearts and others wandering vainly to find their dreams but whoever crossed my way had something to give me. They had encounters and experiences to share. They had truths and lies to tell. They had emotions to pour out.

And I was fortunate enough to meet these little angels in the surrounding of the fort. They also had something to give me: their smiles.

KEV_6454.JPG

When you are visiting Fatehpur Sikri next time, you now know how to go about it. 

 

Image

The silence of the Mahakali Caves

“One day, I will walk to these places again to feel who I was once” I whispered this sentence as I stepped out of the breathtaking Mahakali caves. 

Monday, 16 March 2015. I cannot forget this date. I was sitting clueless in my room; in Hotel Comfort Inn, situated at Jogeshwari West, Mumbai. The clock was ticking and time was running out. I had no plans and no idea about where I should go or what I should do. I was alone; trying to figure out how to do justice to my adventurous spirit. The solution didn’t take too long for the bell to ring in my mind. I grasped my mobile phone, connected to the internet and typed in these keywords: Attractions in Andheri. The search results were endless but amidst all the attractions, I felt the divine urge to explore the mystical Mahakali caves located in Andheri East of Mumbai. Centuries back, this Buddhist monastery served as cells for monks. I traveled by a rickshaw from Jogeshwari to the Mahakali caves. It took me approximately 25 minutes to reach there and the fare didn’t exceed INR 150, but it’s advisable to keep an eye on the meter. You cannot completely eliminate the risk of some cunning tampering with the meter.

There is no entrance fee to visit the caves. The place was neither crowded nor were there tourist guides to pester the visitors.

DSC_9923.JPG

At first, I hesitantly walked in but I quickly felt settled and allowed my sheer curiosity to drive me. I could feel the profound silence of the place; cradling me in its divinity.

DSC_9945.JPG

I leisurely walked around; trying to visualise how this place could once have been. I’m pretty sure that even my imagination failed to depict its past splendours.

DSC_9936.JPG

To be one with the holiness of the caves, I proceeded to meditate for some time; something I’d recommend you to try too. The serene ambience blends with the undisturbed silence of the caves; rendering it ideal for meditation.

Meditation

Travelling is not exclusively about crossing geographies; it’s more about transcending our deepest fears and confusions, while being at peace with who we are deep inside. If you are in Mumbai and you wish to pursue a transcendental adventure, in a place tucked away from the hustle and bustle of every day life, then do not think twice: Mahakali Caves is the place.

Image

I was wrong about Kashmir

The temperature betrayed the latitude of the Dal Lake in Srinagar at the wee hours of the evening. I thought the weather would be pleasantly sunny and the water would be lukewarm but the contrary was true; the climate was humid and cold. The lake was so quiet, as if it contained unrevealed secrets confided to it by travelers over the course of time. The little boats (Shikaras) were carrying not only passengers and their luggage, but their stories and their dreams too.

KEV_9091.jpg

I dipped my left hand in the icy and crystal-clear water and quietly listened to the chirping of birds housed by the lake.

KEV_9162.JPG

Nothing else mattered at that moment except the splashing sound of the water as the boat strode through the lake, the air thickening with the fragrance of colorful flowers being sold by cheerful boatmen, the undisturbed houseboats forming the entourage of the lake and the thousand wandering thoughts of my mind.

KEV_9141 (2).JPG

The multicolored  and undisturbed houseboats bear testimony to the disastrous flood that occurred in Kashmir few years back. Each crack has a distinctive story to narrate.

KEV_9219.JPG

There’s a lot of media hype surrounding vacations in Kashmir; associating the country with terror, racism and prejudices.I always thought heaven was somewhere in Kashmir. I was wrong. Having been to this part of the world, I understood that Kashmir is not heaven; heaven is Kashmir. Even the playful ducks can’t resist it.KEV_9237.JPG

I

Image

Good-bye Jaipur

Parting from a cherished place cannot happen without dying a little inside; but beside the burden of the unseen heartache that we conceal in our hearts in such circumstances, we carry also the prospect of nourishing our souls with newness – the colors and contrasts of a soulful city. I walked out with not only my luggage filled with memories but with my heart filled with stories too. The weather outside was so warm and pleasant.

KEV_5977.JPG

The overwhelming love that grew in my heart for Jaipur rendered my departure harder; and I learned again that letting go is vital for safeguarding our inner peace. I closed my luggage in Jaipur but not my heart to Jaipur; and embarked on another road-trip, leading to the magnificent Agra.

KEV_5970.JPG

I encountered so many people and places ― each having a distinct story to narrate.

KEV_5954.JPG

I listened to uncountable stories from people along the road and they all had something to say.

Image

The Snake Charmer of New Delhi

Dreams; I have many and one of those cherished dreams is to journey across the world, connect with people and their stories, and feel their cultures. I never thought I would travel so intensively at this tender age, but it is happening and I am utterly convinced that there is no greater magic than this.

It took me hours to travel from Agra to New Delhi, by road but road trip is the school of life and few hours can impart to travel enthusiasts years of wisdom. On arriving in New Delhi, I was left stunned by how colorful this city is. The colors of the buildings, of the temples and of the markets are so vibrantly contrasting that momentarily glancing at them would do injustice to their prestige. I walked through the streets of this city and looked carefully at everything around me; wearing a smile on my face. The noise of the place had no power to divert my attention because the power of city captivated my heart at the very moment I stepped in.

On walking around and capturing the wonders of the place, I met a snake charmer and indulged in a conversation with him – appreciating his journey of life. Without any hesitation, I requested for the snake to be placed around my neck for a picture to be taken and so far, this remains my best memory from New Delhi.

KEV_7366.JPG

We create our own stories and without undertaking risks while journeying, we create only stories; not great stories.

Image

Being one with the Taj Mahal

9th November 2015 was the date when I, for the first time ever, set my eyes on the magnificent Taj Mahal. I still find it hard to believe that such a monument does exist. The size of the huge white domes, the intricacies of the stunning architecture and the silence of the place; all rendered me flabbergasted. I composed a soulful melody from my wooden flute and became one with the undisturbed Taj Mahal.

KEV_7095 (2).JPG

I will be elaborating further on my journey to the Taj Mahal, in future posts.

Image

On the streets of Jaipur

The streets of Jaipur are not too much occupied, if compared to those of Mumbai though they are not either on two complete extremes. The 7th of November 2015 started with the appreciation of the soothing instrumental music being composed by a gentleman in the hotel’s restaurant. I walked to him, just after having my breakfast, and congratulated him for the soulful performance. There’s no greater feeling than instilling confidence in the heart of an artist.

KEV_5392.JPG

Shortly after the breakfast, I went out to explore Jaipur – the Pink City. The roads are well paved and marked, in the heart of the city. The city is quieter compared to Mumbai.

KEV_5400.JPG

The city lives up to its name, for it offers a pinkish topography that is a feast to the eyes.

KEV_5409.JPG

Here’s a glimpse of the Palace of Winds (Hawa Mahal), which is a prominent tourist attraction in Jaipur. It was built for women of the royal household so as they could observe street festivals without being seen by the outsiders.

KEV_5424 (2).JPG

I noticed also that people refrain from meddling in other people’s affairs. Everyone is busy doing something – from being a road-side astrologer to ruling over a business umpire.

KEV_5447.JPG

 

 

Image

The Birla Temple of Jaipur

I visited the Birla Temple (also known as the Laxmi Narayan Temple) in Jaipur on the 6th of November 2015. This majestic temple was constructed during the year 1988 by the Birla Group of Industries and it is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his consort, Lakshmi. I was surprised by the crowd that traveled from all around the country to visit the Birla Temple. This made it quite difficult for me to get pictures of the temple without people in the frame but this was not to the detriment of my photo-collection; the human element adds more meaning to pictures too.

KEV_5321 (2).JPG

The evening light on the white marble of the temple rendered it captivating and this scenery was harmoniously blending with the serenity of the place.

I could not leave that place without posing for a picture.

KEV_5327 (2).JPG

I don’t think it’s only faith that inspires people to visit the Birla Temple; the soothing environment and the little conversations that foster camaraderie inspire people too.

Image

Hello Jaipur

Jaipur, founded by Jai Singh II in 1727, is a flamboyant city boasting itself of its enthralling history. I smiled to myself on gazing through the plane’s window as I landed in Jaipur, on the 6th of November 2015 at 12:35 p.m.

KEV_5284 (2).JPG

The Jaipur International Airport is not that crowded and hence, I could easily and quickly complete all the necessary procedures before stepping out of the airport. I had a different picture of the airport but my presumption deceived me. I was quite impressed by the infrastructure of the place at a first glimpse of it.

KEV_5293 (2).JPG

It was hard to digest the fact that I was eventually in Jaipur – the Pink City, and I would whisper words to persuade myself that I was undeniably there. It took me more than an hour to reach the hotel but I have no complaints about it, for the distance offered me the opportunity to admire the city at twilight.

KEV_5297 (2).JPG

Each and every road conceal and reveal so many things – from the sacrifice of a father to the history of a city.

KEV_5303 (2).JPG

I stopped at the Birla Temple (originally known as the Lakshmi Narayan Temple). It is located below the Moti Dungri Fort. It remains intricate to put into words the serenity that filled my heart while walking in the direction of this marvelous temple built in pure white marble. I spent nearly an hour at this place; photographing the temple and meeting the locals around the place.

KEV_5308 (2).JPG

I then proceeded to the hotel where I had a nice dinner and a well-deserved rest.

KEV_5379 (2)

I slept quite early on that night so as to be fresher for a full day city tour on the next day.

Image

Off the beaten path: From Lonavla to Mumbai

Discovery in itself has no end. The day was drawing to a close but not the discovery. I spent some time writing in my travel journal about so many things – from moments that made me to recollections that marked me. A hot cup of tea stood loyally by my side. I then took a walk in the compound of the hotel where I was staying. The temperature outside was in the double digits – roughly 26 degrees. For a Mauritian traveler, this is not surprising. After hours of travelling and discovery, I slept like a baby; knowing that the next day would be filled of adventures and as such, this would require a high level of energy.

I chose to have breakfast at the hotel as I knew I would have hours of road trips and I would be eating on the streets. I was hence keen to taste the contrast in the hotel’s foods and the street foods.

For breakfast, I had the most popular dish of Lonavla – the Misal Pav. The Misal is a spicy curry made of beans and the Pav is the bread roll.  The dish is usually topped with onions, coriander and other ingredients. Along with the Misal Pav, I ordered an uttapam (a thick pancake made of several ingredients and toppings) and a glass of fresh juice. The food was delicious and the service was impeccable. I even made a small video of an interview that I conducted with the staffs; where they briefly explained the recipe of the Misal Pav and how to consume the dish.

KEV_5029 (2).JPG

Soon after the breakfast, I embarked on another fulfilling road trip to Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport – to catch the plane for Jaipur. But, I could not leave without taking a picture with some of the cheerful staffs of the hotel.

KEV_5045 (2).JPG

The destination is nothing without the journey but the journey without the destination can still be everything. I came across a huge herd of sheep on the road of Lonavla. This can be a nuisance to drivers who are used to high speed but it remains a feast to the eyes of travelers. I stopped and captured the moment through my lens.

KEV_5080 (2).JPG

The way back to Mumbai is as enriching as treading the way to Lonavla. The roads do not cease to teach. I stopped at Khandala for a small cup of tea and had the opportunity to interact with the locals.

KEV_5086 (2).JPG

At the early hours of the morning, the countryside seems to be under the magic spell of the pristine light coming all the way from the sky.

KEV_5126 (2).JPG

I stopped by a roadside restaurant (commonly known as Dhaba) to buy the popular sweets of Lonavla – Chikki. The Dhaba is so beautifully tucked away from civilization.

KEV_5168 (2)

I purchased the Chikki from this good lady who did not hesitate to pose for a quick picture.

KEV_5183 (2)

To my surprise, I even found a little temple next to the Dhaba. The temple is guarded by a priest. I crawled inside the small cave to reach the other extreme.

KEV_5159 (2).JPG

As usual, I spent time interacting with the people because that is the best way to absorb the culture of the place.

KEV_5165.JPG

The road trip continued. The curvy roads and dark tunnels soon began to fade. Mumbai then appeared in the frame.

I boarded the plane after some hours and flew for Jaipur; carrying memories from Lonavla in my heart.