History is the face of cultures and traditions of a particular place in a particular era. India, being richly endowed with culture, reflects multiple such historical faces wherein a deep understanding of her age-old traditions and principles can be experienced.
Take a tour of some of the most renowned heritage sites of North and South India.
The spectacular Qutab Minar is a soaring Afghan-style victory tower and minaret, erected by sultan Qutb-ud-din in 1193. Ringed by intricately carved standstone bands bearing verses from the Quran, the tower stands nearly 73m high.
Also read: Unesco World Heritage sites in India: Part 1
Humayun’s tomb seems to float above the gardens that surround it. Built in the mid-16th century by the Persian wife of the Mughal emperor Humayun, the tomb brings together Persian and Mughal elements. Alive with green parakeets, the surrounding gardens contain the tombs of the emperor’s favourite barber and Haji Begum.
This massive fort conjures up memories of the splendour of Mughal Delhi. With a dramatic 18m-high wall, the marble and sandstone monuments here were constructed at the peak of the dynasty’s power, when the empire was flush with gold and precious stones. Shah Jahan founded the fortress between 1638 and 1648. The last Mughal emperor of Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was flushed from the Red Fort in 1857.
Agra’s Taj Mahal rises from the beaten earth of Uttar Pradesh (UP) as it does in dreams, but even the wildest imaginations leave travellers underprepared for that breathstealing moment its gates are traversed and this magnificent world wonder comes into focus. The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631 and was completed in 1653.
Agra has one of the finest Mughal forts in India. Emperor Akbar began construction of the massive red-sandstone fort, on the bank of the Yamuna River in 1565. The fort was built as a military structure, but Shah Jahan transformed it into a palace, and later he was imprisoned in it by his son Aurangzeb in 1658.
This magnificent fortified ancient city, 40km west of Agra, was the short-lived capital of the Mughal Empire in the 16th Century during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Akbar visited the village of Sikri to consult the Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, who predicted the birth of an heir to the Mughal throne.
When the prophecy came true, Akbar built his new capital here.
JANTAR MANTAR, JAIPUR
The Jantar Mantar (the royal observatory) begun by Jai Singh in 1728 resembles a collection of bizarre sculptures. The name is derived from the Sanskrit yanta mantr, meaning ‘instrument of calculation and in 2010 it was added to India’s list of Unesco World Heritage Sites.
HILL FORTS RAJASTHAN
Founded in 1156 by the Rajput ruler Jaisal, Jaisalmar Fort is a living fort, with about 3000 people residing within its walls. It’s honeycombed with narrow, winding lanes which are lined with houses and temples – along with a large number of handicraft shops, guesthouses, restaurants and massage/beauty parlours.
The Fort Palace is a fantastic remote fort, built by Rana Kumbha under whom 15th century Mewar reached its greatest extents. It is perched 1100m above sea level, with endless views melting into the blue distance.
To visit the magical 10th-century Ranthambhore Fort inside the park join the locals who go there to visit the temple dedicated to Ganesh.
Chittorgarh Fort Located between the two villages of Padal Pol and Ram Pol in the north west you can sight some wonderful palaces, towers and temples that remain from its heyday.
NANDA DEVI VALLEY OF FLOWERS
To reach the 87-sq-km Valley of Flowers National Park requires a full-day hike from Govindghat to the village of Ghangaria, less than 1km from the park. Tracks are easy to follow.
KALKA-SHIMLA MOUNTAIN RAILWAYS
When the Kalka–Shimla railway line was constructed in 1903, Shimla’s status as India’s
premier hill station was assured. To this day the town carries echoes of Curzon, Kitchener and Kipling, all of whom spent many years living and working in Shimla.
MONUMENTS OF HAMPI
Set over 36 sq km, there are some 3700 monuments to explore here and the ancient ruins and temples of this World Heritage Site take a day or two to cover. The ruins are divided into two main areas: the Sacred Centre, around Hampi Bazaar; and the Royal Centre, towards Kamalapuram.
MONUMENTS OF PATTADAKAL
Pattadakal, 518km from Bengaluru is known for its group of temples which are collectively a World Heritage Site. Historians believe Pattadakal served as an important trial ground for the development of South Indian temple architecture. Kadasiddeshwra, Jambulinga and Galaganatha temples and Mallikarjuna, Sangameshwara and Virupaksha temples are the main clusters.
GREAT LIVING CHOLA TEMPLES
The kings of Thanjavur, capital of the great Chola Empire, built great monuments especially under emperor Rajaraja I Chola. The World Heritage–listed Brihadishwarar Temple is a living temple and boasts of stunning architecture. Two of the three great monuments of Chola civilisation stand in villages near Kumbakonam: the Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram and
the Gangaikondacholapuram temple. They are wonderful both for their overall form (with pyramidal towers rising at the heart of rectangular walled compounds) and for the exquisite detail of their carved stone.
MONUMENTS OF MAHABALIPURAM
Mamallapuram brings ancient archaeological wonders and coastal beauty together. A wander round the town’s magnificent, World Heritage–listed temples and carvings inflames the imagination. Begin with the twin towers of the Shore Temple and then stop at the Pancha Rathas are low-laying monoliths. Arjuna’s Penance is a tableau carved on a huge boulder and the mandapams scattered over a low-rise rock.
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