Friday, 2 May 2014

... Crouch With Tigers, Hide With Dragons: Fortified with Red Sandstone & Minerals

Today was a long day, mostly thanks to traveling Tordi Sagar to Agra via Jaipur but with two stops to see two significant sites. Thank heavens for my trusty iPod and ability to fall asleep sitting upright! There's just something right about traveling along an Indian road with Adam Ant's "Goody Two Shoes" on full blast......

About 95km from Jaipur is Abhaneri (also known as Aabhaneri). This location is well known for its beautiful baoris (step wells) at Chand Baori and the Harshat Mata temple. Chand Baori is a stunning piece of architecture that looks like a geometric optical illusion with hundreds of steps down to a green coloured water well. Around 60ft deep, it has 11 visible levels of zigzagging steps. The palace surrounding it is crumbling somewhat and now appears to house bats and pigeons. Abhaneri is supposed to have been established by Raja Chand. Many believe that Raja Chand was in fact Raja Bhoja, a celebrated king who ruled over the Gurjar Kingdom in the 9th century. Abhaneri was earlier known as Abha Nagri or the city of brightness.

The Harshat Mata Temple dates to the 9th century and today only portions of this ancient shrine remain, like the sanctuary walls, terrace and sections of the columned mandapa (fore chamber). The walls have carvings in which are images of other deities and I was surprised by the quality given that much of this temple is in ruins. These images indicate that the temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu, the Creator of the Hindu trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer. Some of the better panels have been shifted to the Archaeological Museum, Amber and the Central Museum, Jaipur. It was worth a quick look at despite the searing heat.

About an hour and a half outside of Agra is the fortified ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri, the now deserted former political capital of the Mughal Empire under the reign of Akbar the Great (1571-1585). It was eventually abandoned due to lack of water. The building material predominantly used is red sandstone, quarried from the same rocky outcrop on which it is situated. In its day, Fatehpur Sikri shared its imperial duties as a capital city with Agra, where a bulk of the arsenal, treasure hoards, and other reserves were kept at its Agra Fort for security. During a crisis, the court, harem, and treasury could be moved to Agra, less than a day's march. This massive site is very well preserved and thankfully there's enough places to take refuge in the shade as it was over 45 degrees when I arrived. There is some really beautiful architecture and plenty of interesting history (worth getting a proper guide who can tell you all the significant points that are of interest).

Ignore the touts and scam artists who were out in full force. Remember, the only thing that is free in India is air, and there's probably someone somewhere that would try charging you for that!

After having likely lost half my weight in sweat and as a crazy thunderstorm began, it was then onto the Muslim city of Agra, the city that is best known as the site of India's most famous landmark.....

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