A wedding in Agartala. My reason for the last India trip. First time in the north-east part of the country. Suitably excited.

Wedding excitement aside, there are always sunrises to chase and palaces to paddle to. Scenic lake inside the college campus, great spot for landscapes and pre-wedding photo shoot (did both!). Would’ve liked to venture out further north and east, but for now, this will have to do.


Sunrise at College Tilla Lake


Before the wedding party could wake up, I was perched on their terrace, enjoying the views and the stillness

Ma and I spent a day out of town, driving up to the Neermahal and back. Agartala feels more of an extension of Bengal than the exotic “northeast” of my imagination, but hey, the wedding and the company all made up for it!


Our day of sightseeing at the Rudrasagar lake


Approaching the Neermahal


Maharaja Bir Bikram was inspired by a palace in Jaipur, and built this one in the middle of the lake


Life is a boat…


Yes, it is!


Lake. Tree. Sky.


Live for the Golden Hour!

Palatial Splendour

Among the most impressive buildings in Mandu are the Royal Palace complex with its Jahaz Mahal and Hindola Mahal, plus all those water storage and filtration systems that Chetna described in an earlier post

Jahaz Mahal is named such because it is an enormous structure set amid two lakes, and appears to float over the water, or must have, once upon a time. I don’t have any picture that represents it such. The architecture is stunning though, with its water channels, rooftop pools, and even a provision for fountains, all coming from rain water!


Hindola MahalThe other interesting building is the open-to-sky Hindola Mahal. Our guide told us tales about how the princesses would swing in their saawan ke jhule (during the monsoons) and the king would arrive on his elephant, be deposited on his royal seat at the upper level to admire the women. Creepy that sounds! I didn’t know whether to believe him, but it does make a good story! As it happened, he (the guide) walked off in a huff because we weren’t paying 100% attention as a group, and the kids were having fun, scampering around, catching frogs. Whatever!

People and poses Hindola Mahal


More fun aspects of the royal palace were the “air-conditioned” underground levels (we couldn’t enter those), all water-cooled, and the hamam (baths) with their hot & cold water features. As well as the elegant corridors and channels that carried water everywhere.

 Mid morning, at the peak of a hot day, with teeming crowds, probably wasn’t the best time to visit this place, and I do wish I’d been able to spend some more time exploring here!


A Study Tour to Banten

One fine Sunday morning, a bunch of us from the Indonesian Heritage Society set out to nearby Banten for a tour. This is part of our Forts, Ports and Palaces study group, which is as fun as its name.

Banten is about an hour’s drive from Jakarta, and in its heyday, was one of the reasons for the Dutch supremacy in the archipelago. According to one account, when the Mataram empire wanted to fight the Dutch in Batavia (now Jakarta) to gain control of Java, Banten, their rival, did not support them, and the Dutch won that battle, and eventually over generations succeeded in establishing themselves all over. During that period, Banten lost its own shine, and is now not even a shadow of its old self, as even the palaces have been long destroyed, leaving almost nothing off their heritage structures. Yeah, I’ve been studying.

There’s a tiny but interesting museum that shows some of the town’s former glory, primarily their water pipeline system (in pictures only) that would filter water from the reservoir and reach the palace in purified form. They also have a few remnants from the palace structure

Banten Banten

The karaton or palace was razed by the Dutch but the grounds have been preserved as a heritage site.

Sunday is market day in the village, and most of the folks seem to like to hang out at the masjid near the market. There were hordes by the sultan’s graves, on the minaret, all over the masjid, in the heat, just having a good time.

After the sultan was banished from the old palace, he built a second one nearby, which was also subsequently destroyed.

Besides the palace ruins, we also saw a little of the port, and a Chinese temple (the best preserved structure) across what used to be the Dutch garrison.

There’s not much to see, in terms of checkbox for being there and doing that, but some food for thought on how a large kingdom could come to this state.


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Orchha, the Jewel of Bundelkhand

What’s an India holiday without catching up with at least half a dozen remarkable heritage structures, and a lot of colour! I was able to pack in quite a few on the too-short stay at Jhansi, in which we spent half a day exploring Orchha. Just a 30 minute drive on good road, and we entered this historic town built by the Bundelas, now situated in Madhya Pradesh. Our first stop was the Ram Raja Mandir, and I had an eyeful of holy men and all that’s clichéd about India.

Reva, Sara & I went further into the Chaturbhuj Mandir next door, while the oldies and the baby opted out. The legend is that this temple was built for Rama, but the queen had a dream that Rama did not wish to reside there. Hence Chaturbhuj is empty, and Rama is worshipped as a king at the Ram Raja Mandir. Chaturbhuj offers very interesting views of the fort complex, particularly the Jehangir Mahal. It’s an arduous climb to the top, through narrow, dark and steep stairs, but so worth it.

The sun beating down at midday makes it very uncomfortable to be outdoors. Our family, by this time, gave up all pretence of being adventurous, and left it to Reva and me to traipse through the very elegant Jehangir Mahal, while they relaxed in the cool restaurant, enjoying their lassi. The palace was built by the king to impress Jehangir, son of Mughal Emperor Akbar, since flattery and sycophancy was the norm in those days, as it often is now! No denying the beauty of the building though.

We missed visiting the Laxminarayan Mandir, but did stop at a smaller temple and the Chhatris by the riverbank.

There’s so much more to see in Orchha. We just have to go back there!