Glimpses of Shekhawati

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. ― William Blake

Here are a few preliminary glimpses of my Rajasthan trip and my travel through the Shekhawati region (North-Eastern part of the state) – will post more details later. “Rajasthan” literally means “Land of Kings”, hence decided to check out a few affordable palaces and experience the “royal” life 😉 🙂

Before Independence, there were many small independent princely states in this region and each state had it’s own fort or palace. All these states were later integrated into India after Independence. Some royal families have converted their forts or palaces into hotels, and guests can get a peek into their heritage, traditions and history.

Many towns in this region fall on the ancient “Silk Route” (old international trade routes), and were home to a lot of wealthy Marwadi merchants. These traders built magnificent “havelis” (mansions) to showcase their wealth. However after the (silk, opium and spices) trade declined, many of them moved to Calcutta or Bombay, abandoning their mansions. A few descendants have restored and preserved their ancestral homes, and they are the main attraction in this area. All have distinct architecture and beautiful frescoes and paintings in them.

It was an enchanting experience to stay in these palaces and visit the havelis on the Silk Route and feel transported back in history 🙂 🙂 On some days we were the only guests in the palace, and almost felt like we owned it!! In addition, the people of this region are very warm, friendly, hospitable and proud of their culture, so I ended up having a truly wonderful trip!

 

Neelkanth Temple

Neelkanth temple inside Kalinjar fort is so amazing, it’ll awaken the sleeping poet inside you. This temple was unlike any I’ve visited – its really ancient but still working. It had a very magnificent and giant statue of Lord Shiva carved onto a fort wall! A really mysterious, beautiful and spiritual place…..a veritable delight for an art historian.

Kalinjar Fort

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Panna Tiger Reserve is on the way from Khajuraho to Kalinjar Fort.

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Panna Hills

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Road leading to the hilltop fort.

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First view of fort.

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Ruins of a nobleman’s house.

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Banke Bihari temple ruins.

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Eager kids wanting a photograph 🙂

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Stairs leading to Neelkanth temple.

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Eerie ancient tree inside fort.

This day last year, I was at Kalinjar fort in Banda district of UP, which is 3 hrs from Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh) 🙂

The road to this fort passes through some incredibly lovely scenery and many idyllic and picture perfect villages. There were beautiful green fields in the shadow of the Panna hills, rows of colorful huts and bullock carts. The rural scenes were so enchanting that we wanted to stop and wander about, but couldn’t because we had to reach the fort before it closed.

This historic fort was used by the Chandelas and many other dynasties. Sher Shah Suri met his death here in 1545. It’s very rich in history, but there’re hardly any tourists because of it’s isolation and the absence of hotels nearby. Also, no tourist guides to take you around or explain things. Nevertheless, the place had a lot of charm because it was desolate, calm and mysterious, and we wished we had reached there earlier to explore more of it. It was also remarkably clean and well kept, probably because not many people visit and litter the place.

We saw some locals going to visit the Neelkanth temple inside the fort. We followed them but almost decided to skip it because it seemed like a steep climb and it was getting dark. However, luckily we went ahead and it was an out of the world experience! This temple had some of the most impressive carvings I’ve seen. There was a huge and impressive sculpture of Shiva on a rock adjacent to the temple. In front of the temple there was a one storeyed yagna mandap, but apparently, it used to be seven storeys high, before an earthquake destroyed it!

There’s a freshwater pool in the rocks right above the temple and water is said to drip continuously onto the Shiv Ling. The whole place was utterly mesmerizing and spiritual. Here are some photographs of the fort, will post pics of Neelkanth temple in a later post..

Vancouver Views

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Photographs I took in Stanley Park, at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It’s surrounded by the sea and is supposed to be one of the most beautiful parks in the world. The views from it are simply mesmerising.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, couldn’t stop clicking 🙂 🙂

 

Visit to Jhansi

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Entrance to fort.

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One view of the fort

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Panch Mahal – a five storeyed building where the queen had meetings with her army generals. It has some secret exits.

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Bhavani Shankar cannon – one of the cannons in the fort.

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Place where the queen used to have her “Durbar” before the British took over the fort.

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View of Jhansi from the fort. The green stadium is “Dhyanchand stadium”. The famous hockey player Dhyanchand was from Jhansi.

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Ganesh temple in fort, where the queen was married.

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Amod Bagh – garden where she spent spare time with her friends.

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The point in the fort from where she jumped on horseback and escaped, when it was surrounded by the British.

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Rani Mahal, where the queen lived till she was widowed. She shifted to the fort, after the king died.

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Durbar hall in the Rani Mahal.

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The pillar in Rani Mahal, sliced by the queen with her sword in anger, when she heard about the British attack. She is supposed to have shouted “main apni Jhansi nahi doongi” when she swung her sword.

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Painting of Jhansi Rani in the museum.

It was a great experience to visit Jhansi and remember the story of the great queen who fought against the British. Her real name was “Manukarnika” and she was renamed “Laxmi Bai” when she got married to the king of Jhansi – Gangadhar Rao, when she was only 13.

Manu was supposed to be very valiant and talented in the art of warfare. But, after she lost her only child and husband, the British asked her to vacate the Jhansi fort under the “Doctrine of lapse” and accept a pension, which she refused.

Rani Laxmi Bai played an important role in the first war of independence in 1857. However, thanks to traitors, she was finally forced to kill herself to avoid being captured by the British, when she was only 23 😦 😦  (The British claim that they killed her during battle, in their version of history)

Had read about her long back in school, but forgotten most of the history. Our guide was very good and retold the story very well. He also suggested that we should visit the Jhansi museum and Rani Mahal, which were very good.

Jhansi is now a dusty (due to stone crushing industry) city, but the Mahal, fort and museum are well maintained. Hotels in Orccha – about half an hour away, are much better places to stay. If interested, you can stay in Orccha and make a day trip to Jhansi. Our guide narrated the famous Hindi poem praising her valour “Jhansi ki Rani” for us. Here’s one verse from it:

झाँसी की रानी (Jhansi Ki Rani) – सुभद्रा कुमारी चौहान (Subhadra Kumari Chauhan)

इस स्वतंत्रता महायज्ञ में कई वीरवर आए काम,
नाना धूंधूपंत, तांतिया, चतुर अज़ीमुल्ला सरनाम,
अहमदशाह मौलवी, ठाकुर कुंवर सिंह, सैनिक अभिराम,
भारत के इतिहास गगन में अमर रहेंगे जिनके नाम.
लेकिन आज जुर्म कहलाती उनकी जो क़ुर्बानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वो तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी.

Valley of Fire

 

Photographs of the ‘Valley of Fire’ state park in the US state of Nevada, an hour from Las Vegas. The park was named thus because it has beautiful red sandstone formations, that often appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun’s rays. This park is very popular for photography and film shooting. Many scenes in the movie “Total Recall”, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger were shot in the Valley of Fire.

However, my first visit turned out to be quite an eerie experience! Thanks to the summer heat (above 42 Celsius) when we drove into the park, we realized that our’s was the only car and we were the only (crazy) people inside the park. We saw no human being even at the entrance, since the ticketing was automated.

The unusual landscape was beautiful, but felt unreal and scary like a science-fiction set, especially since it was desolate 😦 😦  So after driving for about 10 minutes, we stopped and clicked some quick pics, took a U turn and drove right out….probably missing some really spectacular scenery ahead…..

Hope to venture into it again sometime during better weather.