No less than three World Heritage Sites can be found in the area of one of India’s most famous cities Agra. It is home to breathtaking Taj Mahal, magnificent Red Fort and the neighbouring ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri. Taj Mahal is famous all over the world for its spectacular white-marble architecture and is one of India’s most visited landmarks. This magnificent mausoleum was commissioned by the grief-stricken Emperor Shah Jahan, as a particularly grand memorial to this beloved third wife Mumtaz Mhal, who died during the birth of their 14th child. Construction of Taj Mahal started in 1632 and was completed after 25 years, with help of more than 20,000 workers, including architects from Europe. Not far from Taj Mahal, on the other side of the River Yamuna stands splendid Red Fort. It is said that in one of the octagonal towers of the fort, with a fine view of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son and spent his last days gazing at the tomb of his beloved wife. The third of Agras Heritage Sites also has very interesting history. Legend has it that Emperor Akbar despite having harem of nearly 800 hundred women and several wives, was without a male heir. With the hope to get a son he longed for so long, he made a pilgrimage to Fatehpur Sikri to meet the Muslim Saint Shaikh Salim Chisti. At last by the blessings of the Salim Chisti, Jodha Bai, one of the queens of Akbar, bore him a son. Out of the gratitude of the Saint Emperor moved his capital to Fatehpur and named his son Salim.
Category Archives: India
Agra, capital of India under the Mughals and home to three designated World Heritage Sites, from magnificient Taj Mahal and massive Red Fort to beautiful abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri. Along with Delhi and Jaipur, Agra is the third apex of the famous “Golden Triangle”. But this amazing city situated on the banks of holy river Yamuna is not only a tourist attraction. It is also a huge urban organism without real “centre” but with disorienting maze of streets and bazaar districts that stretches across well over twenty square kilometers. It is also 20th most polluted city in India with a population of nearly 1,7 million people. Let me take you for a walk around the streets of Agra.
Varanasi is one of the seven holy cities of India, symbol of spiritualism, philosophy and mysticism, also known as Kashi and Benaras. In Hinduism it is widely believed that those who die and are cremated here get an instant gateway to liberation from the cycle of births and re-births. Varanasi lies on the banks of Ganges, holy river with power of washing away all of one’s sins. It is said that, whatever is sacrificed and chanted here or given in charity reaps its fruits thousand times more than those good deeds performed at other places. It is also believed that three nights of fasting in Varanasi city can reap you rewards of many thousands of lifetimes of asceticism. Varanasi is also said to be more than 3000 years old, which makes it the oldest city of the world. It is city of temples and Ghats. The latter are the most popular pilgrimage spot of Varanasi and are centers of learning, music and… bathing. You don’t believe me? Have a look at some of the pictures in the gallery above.
“Bodh Gaya is the place where Gautama Buddha attained unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment. It is a place which should be visited or seen by a person of devotion and which would cause awareness and apprehension of the nature of impermanence” Seat of Enlightenment, The Diamond Throne, Vajrasana.
According to legend, Siddhartha visited Gaya before attaining enlightenment and becoming a Buddha in year 500 BC. He sat under Sacred Fig for continuous seven days of meditation untill he reached state of supreme enlightenment. About 250 years later, the Buddhist Emperor, Ashoka visited the site and decided to build the Mahabodhi Temple. According to the tradition, Ashoka, besides establishing a monastery, erected a diamond throne shrine at this spot with a canopy supported by four pillars over a stone representation of the Vajrasana, the Seat of Enlightenment. The Mahabodhi Temple and the sacred Bodhi Tree became a place of pilgrimage not only for the Buddhists but also for the Hindus as it is widely believed that, Lord Vishnu gave Gaya, a celestial being, the power to absolve the sinners and to raise them to heavens. Since nineteen-fifties, Bodh Gaya has been developed as an international place of pilgrimage and Buddhists from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Burma, Tibet and Japan built their temples within walking distance of the Mahabodhi. The site now attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world each year. With all that said, I must admit that unfortunately for me I was not awaken nor enlightened and during my stay in Bodh Gaya I had slightly disappointing impression that I’m in some kind of Disneyland for Buddhists.
Once the capital of the Chandela Dynasty, today Khajuraho is a little village fare, fare, fare away… It is famous for the sophisticated erotic sculptures on the beautiful spaceship like temples. Those are divided into three groups: Western, Eastern and Southern. Unfortunately only 22 temples of the original 85 remained to this day. The Temples of Khajuraho were dedicated to Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and the Jain Tirthankaras and were built between 950 and 1050 a.d. Chandela dynasty was believed to be the descendants of the Moon God himself however by the time the last temple was completed they had already lost its glory. Khajuraho was the capital of the Chandelas for a brief period but for most of the part, it was just their religious center. There are many theories regarding the sculptures adorning mysterious Khajuraho temples. Some believe these temples were centers of tantrik mysticism, which regards sex as an important part of human development and the attainment of the Absolute. Others thought that they were constructed to lure men and women back to the family and worldly life from the strict practices preached by the Buddha that were gaining favor with people of that time. Although local tribals and villagers regularly used the temples ever since they were constructed for worshipping, T. S. Burt, the British engineer who discovered the temples in the mid-19th century found the Khajuraho sculptures extremely offensive. Why he was so shocked by his discovery? See for yourself in the gallery above.