Thursday, 21 December 2017

Agra to Ranthambore

We only stayed one night in Agra, then it was off to Ranthambore. The fog had come down heavy overnight. This was the view from the car as we set out. I spoke before about how hectic driving is in India - now add a blindfold! 

We had a couple of stops to make on the way. The first was Fatehpur Sikri. This is a red sandstone city founded in 1571 by Mughal Emperor Akbar. Our guide explained that he had three main wives: one Muslim, one Hindu and one Christian, and that he built the largest palace in the complex for his Hindu wife because she bore him a son. The architecture of the entire complex includes Christian, Muslim and Hindu motifs. An interesting reminder of harmony in today's polarised world.

As you enter the grounds, there's a stone to the right of the path, which was apparently where Akbar the Great crushed criminals with his elephant. Execution by elephant was all the rage back then. Seems a bit unfair on the poor elephant.

Panch Mahal

Pool, once filled with sweet-smelling perfume.
Musicians would play in the centre to entertain the court.
It is truly a Game of Thrones palace made all the more eerie by the fog, which grew thicker by the minute. This is the public chamber where the king would listen to pleas and complaints. His nine advisors would stand at each corner to dispense wisdom before issuing his judgement from above.

This was the temple in his Hindu wife's palace, which was once dedicated to Krishna, but now all of the statues and ornaments have been stripped.


There was even a special structure where the palace soothsayer would sit and dispense fortunes.

We even stopped by the treasury for a game of hide and seek. The king built his palace with games interwoven in the design. His coffers were disguised as shelves in the walls of the treasury, and those walls were separated by slim corridors so that the women of the harem could slink between them whilst he tried to find them. It was surprisingly effective. But nothing could hide us better than the weather. We should have dropped breadcrumbs to find our way out.

As we were leaving, we visited the Tomb of Salim Chishti, a 16th century Sufi saint credited with prophesying the king a son after years of trying. The son was named Salim, after the saint. Hit tomb is built entirely of white marble. Inside, he rests beneath a structure covered entirely by tiny disks of mother of pearl. Devotees believe he has the power to grant three wishes. The first two pictures are from Wikipedia as it was a little too misty for us to take them. The second two are of the marble screens inside.

We took a tuk-tuk back to the car and headed off on the start of our eight-hour drive across India towards Ranthambore. Thankfully, the fog started to lift as we drove and by the time we reached the halfway point, we could see the Hindu temple across from the service station.

This was the car we were travelling in. In Goa, all tourist cars had a red circle on the side saying tourist vehicle. Ours wasn't quite that obvious, but it did have the name of our driver written on a yellow panel at the back, which was extremely useful as all the tourist cars look identical and it can sometimes be tricky to find yours. In Goa, I mostly did it by looking for the Ganesha on the dashboard. Ganesha is the elephant-headed god and the 'remover of obsticles', each car had one that was slightly different, which made it easier to distinguish.

A while later, we made another pit stop. This time at Chand Baori in Abhaneri.

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Honestly, I think this was my favourite part of the tour. Like Agra Fort, it was so unexpected. I had no idea what we were going to see. When we saw it, it was incredible.

You enter via a shrine to Hanuman, where I got myself tilakad again.

Then you round a corner, and you start to see something strange...

Then you look down...

And across.

When you think about building palaces and forts, you naturally think about building upwards, but at Chand Baori, one of the oldest palaces in India, they decided to build down. It is the largest, deepest step well in India. During monsoon, the waters apparently rise to the lower balcony of the palace, and local people still gather there to swim on festivals. The idea was that each triangular set of steps would accommodate one family, with a good view of the royal family in the palace.

I was just completely enthralled by this place. So very unique and cleverly built. There were a large array of rescued relics around the covered walkways, depicting Durga, Ganesha, Lakshmi and the apsaras, among others. The site itself is dedicated to Hashat Mata, the goddess of joy and happiness.

Just down the street from Chand Baori are the ruins of Marshshat Mata Temple, which was torn apart by Islamic invaders in the 10th century. However, there were still people worshipping there when we arrived, and it was apparently a ritual to wash at Chand Baori before visiting the temple.

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There were quite a few racy depictions, including one figure grabbing another figure's ample bosom, and a lingam - with chipmunk.

I really enjoyed this stop off. There were far fewer tourists than the other sites we'd been to, so it felt calm, and we had time to walk around and take everything in. It really was such a special site. I've never seen anything like it. As Dad pointed out, there's something reminiscent of the Aztecs or Mayans in Chand Baori's design, as though someone had inverted Chichen Itza.

With the sun sinking over the horizon, it was on to Ranthambore.

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