May 22, 2019

Ajmer: Dargah and Beyond

The namaz (prayer time) was over and the road which until that moment was filled with people offering prayers, eased up a little. I still had to rub shoulders and make my way through the crowded road that led to the shrine. I went past numerous shops and stalls selling myriad items such as flowers, caps, fabrics, snacks, sweets, tea etc. A waft of the fresh flowers and incense sticks from the shops took me further ahead to the entrance of Dargah Sharif in Ajmer. While I visited the Dargah as a curious traveller, people around me were there due to their faith in Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.

The city of Ajmer in Rajasthan was earlier known as Ajayameru during the rule of Prithviraj Chauhan. In the 12th century he was defeated by Muhammad Ghori, who took over the region. Ajmer later came under the Mughal rule of Akbar in the 16th century. Despite its history and rulers, Ajmer has for long been popular for Dargah Sharif, which is the resting place of Khwaja Moinudeen Chishti, a sufi saint from the 12th century. Also known as Hazrat Khwaja Garib Nawaz (refers to helper of the poor), the saint was a popular figure in the world of Sufism and was a well travelled preacher. He was a follower of a Chishti saint and came to Ajmer in late 12th century. The revered saint had numerous followers including the Mughal emperors. His death anniversary is celebrated as 'Urs', and pilgrims throng the Dargah to pay obeisance at the grave of Khwaja Moinudeen Chishti during that time.

The Dargah complex which has an intimidating entrance gate, houses quite a few structures such as Akbari masjid, Buland Darwaza, Mehfil Khana, Langara Khana, Sandal Khana Masjid, tomb of Khwaja’s daughter etc.  Jami masjid built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in white marble is also located near these structures. Qawwali, which is a form of Sufi music, can often be seen performed inside the complex. The outer walls of the inner sanctum and ceiling are adorned with gorgeous designs and patterns. The shrine was first built by Mohammad Bin Tughlaq in 14th century and the surrounding structures were added later by various rulers.

Adjacent to the shrine, a narrow alley leads its way up to Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra, which is a 12th century structure with intricate carvings on the outer façade, pillars and ceiling. Built by Qutub-uddin Aibak, it was completed by Iltumish. The seven arched structure has a blend of Hindu and Islamic designs, motifs and carvings. It was earlier a Sanskrit college which was converted into a mosque by Qutub-uddin Aibak.

Away from Dargah Sharif, Soniji Ki Nasiyan is a Jain temple built in mid 19th century with a magnificent red coloured entrance gate. Beyond the entrance gate is a tall mahastambha and then it leads to the inner sanctum of the temple with numerous sculptures of various Jain thirthankaras. The temple also houses a model of the Jain concept of universe made of gold. The numerous miniature models of palaces, chariots, animals and human figures from Jainism look quite impressive.

Ana Sagar is a large lake at the centre of Ajmer which is a major attraction. The 12th century water body is engulfed by Aravalli hills and offers lovely views of the surroundings. The lake also has two gardens- Daulat Bagh and Subash bagh along its banks. A bit away is another artificial water body, Foy Sagar which was built in late 19th century, which too has a beautiful backdrop of the hills.

Taragarh fort which is a hill fort was built by Chauhan dynasty overlooks the town of Ajmer and is one of the other attractions with its majestic views.  Though the display isn’t very impressive, Akbari fort and museum is a gorgeous structure built in typical mughal architecture by Akbar, and is well worth a visit while in Ajmer.

Travel Tips:
  • The Dargah is open from 5 AM to 3 PM and from 4 PM to 9.30 PM everyday.
  • Cameras and bags aren’t allowed inside the Dargah complex.
  • Vehicles have to be parked outside the Delhi gate and visitors have to walk to the shrine. 
  • Non- Jains aren't allowed inside the main shrine of Soniji Ki Nasiyan. However, they have a separate entrance.

How to reach Ajmer:

Ajmer is 131 Kms from Jaipur and 15 Kms from Pushkar. The nearest major airport is in Jaipur. Ajmer railway station is well connected to Jaipur, New Delhi and Ahmedabad with frequent trains.

Food and Accommodation in Ajmer:

There are numerous food stalls near the Dargah, some of which serve delicious biriyani. There are also numerous restaurants outside this area. Ajmer has a wide range of hotels catering to various budgets.

May 16, 2019

Temples of Osian

The nondescript village of Osian might not have turned eye balls of tourists and travellers despite being in Rajasthan. However, the temples of Osian have garnered the attention of pilgrims who have been visiting them for years. The temples are scattered across Osian with narrow alleys leading to them. While a couple of them are functional, most of them remain in a neglected and dilapidated state. These clusters of temples are sometimes referred as Khajuraho of Rajasthan due to the intricate sculptures and carvings.

Records suggest that Osian has been an inhabited village since the Gupta dynasty when the town was a stopover for travellers on caravans and camels. Osian prospered during the rule of Gurjar Pratihara kings who built numerous temples in the period between 8th and 12th century. Jainism too had its strong presence during that period and it is believed that there were hundred Jain temples in Osian during that era. Presently there are only 20 Shaivite, Vaishnavite and Jain temples in Osian.

Sacheeya Mata temple at the centre of the village is one of the most prominent functional temples in the region. The deity here which is an incarnation of Durga is also known as Shri Osiya Mataji. The temple was built in the 9th century by Parmar King, Upendre. A fleet of steps with multiple entrance gates and carvings lead up to the shrine. The main hall of the shrine has exceptional art work across the ceiling and pillars.

Another living temple in Osian is the Jain temple dedicated to Mahaveera. While the idol is made from mud, milk and a coat of gold, what stands out here are the intricate sculptures and carvings. The temple also has multiple shrines with carvings that depict life stories of various Jain deities. 

Surya temple dedicated to Sun is another attractive temple in Osian. Built in the 10th century, the temple probably has the most extensive carvings across all temples in Osian. Though the main shrine doesn’t have any idol, there are idols of various Hindu gods sculpted on the outer walls and pillars of the temple. The temple remains in a neglected state.

Peepla temple located nearby is similar to Surya temple in architecture with numerous carvings across its exterior. This temple too is devoid of any idol and is shrouded by shrubs.

The first set of temples one gets to see upon entering Osian are the Harihara temples which are in a neglected state and remains closed. However, one can go in and gaze at more carvings and stone art. The outer façade of these 8th century temples has lovely works. Another excellent art work can be spotted on the ceiling.

How to reach Osian:

Osian is 68 Kms from Jodhpur, the nearest major city. Jodhpur is well connected to other parts of the country by rail and flights. One can either opt for a taxi or take a bus from Jodhpur to reach Osian.

Food and Accommodation:

There are a few small vegetarian restaurants and dhabas near Sacheeya mata temple. Accommodation options are limited and it is recommended to stay at Jodhpur and take a day trip to Osian.

May 13, 2019

Om Banna Temple, Rajasthan

India has always been known over centuries for its culture, heritage and beliefs. The country has numerous shrines and temples dedicated to various deities. One of the interesting temples in India is Om Banna Temple, near Pali in Rajasthan, where the deity is a motorbike. Referred as Bullet temple, the shrine attracts people from surrounding regions and also travellers who are on this stretch between Jodhpur and Udaipur.

The motorbike which has a registration- RNJ 7773 was owned by Om Singh Rathore or Om Banna. In early 1990s he met with an accident and died on the spot, while the motorbike fell into a nearby ditch. Next day the police took the bike away to the station for further enquiries. Surprisingly, the next morning, the bike went missing from the police station and was found at the place of accident. Though the authorities took it back to the station and emptied the fuel, the same sequence was repeated again for a couple of days and the motorbike returned to the spot of accident every morning. Locals found this to be mysterious and the news spread that the bike had magical and spiritual powers. A temple was built to worship the bike and has ever since been quite popular with locals and people from neighbouring villages. Travellers and tourists too stop here to pay obeisance to this unique shrine. 

Presently the motorbike is encased in a glass box and is a popular attraction for travellers apart from being a shrine. Visitors offer flowers, red threads, incense sticks and coconuts to get blessings. Some even offer small bottles of alcohol. It is believed that people who pray here have a safe journey on their way ahead.


The temple is located 23 kms from Pali and 46 Kms from Jodhpur.

May 7, 2019

Mandu: Lost in Time

Dilapidated structures narrated numerous stories of kings and queens, lush green landscape looked picturesque, lakes shimmered during the day, tall baobab trees induced the feel of a far away land and the fort walls took me deep into history. That’s Mandu, which has been hailed by many as one of the most romantic destinations in India. I do adhere to that statement as Mandu seems like lost in time and reeks of nostalgia. It’s a place one would want to go back and stroll through again and again. Teeming with architecture, Mandu come alive during the monsoon, which is an ideal time to visit. The pale coloured decrepit monuments against the backdrop of verdant greenery and voluptuous water bodies paint a mesmerising frame when it rains in Mandu. Mughal king Jehangir summed up Mandu in the best possible way- “I have never seen a place that has such a pleasant climate and attractive scenery as Mandu in the rainy season”.

Mandu is spread over a flat hilltop in Madhya Pradesh, a few hours’ drive away from Bhopal. Overlooking the Malwa plateau and Nimar plains, Mandu lies cosily nestled in the Vindhya ranges at a height of more than 2000 feet above sea level. Though inscriptions state that Mandu existed as early as the 6th century, the town flourished under the Parmar kings in the 8th century. It changed many hands later and was ruled by Gurjar kings, Khilji dynasty and Mughals. More fortifications and structures were built during these years. While a few structures still stand tall and intimidating, most of them are in a crumbling state. Mandu is also known for its legendary love story between Rani Rupmati and Sultan Baz Bahadur. The monuments have been segregated as Royal enclave, Village group, Sagar talao group and Rewa kund group.

The road that leads up to Mandu meanders through a couple of large fort entrances offering a glimpse of the architectural ruins that lie ahead. While most of the fort walls have crumbled over the years, a few entrance gates still stand tall and intimidating. Delhi gate is the grandest of the lot with its beautiful arched entrance. Bhangi Darwaza, Alamgir Darwaza and Kamani Darwaza are some of the other fort entrance gates. Baobab trees which are native to Africa and rare in India are found across Mandu. Baobab trees are popular for their weird shapes as they resemble an inverted tree with its bloated trunk and scrawny branches. The fruit it bears is known as Mandu ki imli (Mandu’s tamarind), and are pretty large in size.

Delhi Gate

Kamani Darwaza

Baobab trees

Rewa Kund group is known for Roopmati pavilion, which stands atop a hillock overlooking the Nimar plains. The love story of Rani Roopmati and Baz Bahadur is legendary in Mandu. Roopmati was a shepherdess who was in love with Sultan Baz Bahadur and they got married. She became the queen of Malwa after her marriage. Roopmati’s pavilion was built by Baz Bahdur so that Roopmati could have a view of the river Narmada. However, the love story had a tragic end as Roopmati was abandoned by Baz Bahadur when he was attacked by Akbar’s general. Baz Bahadur died in the battle and Roopmati consumed powdered diamonds to poison herself to death. The pavilion has a nice walkway with carvings on one chatri (umbrella shaped covering), and has numerous carved arches beneath it. Views from the pavilion and chatris are gorgeous with the expansive valley of lush greenery sprawling way below. Amidst the greenery lies the palace of Baz Bahadur, with a lovely garden surrounding it. The palace was built in early 16th century and Baz Bahadur took a liking for it because of its proximity to Roopmati pavilion. The palace has numerous arched pillars, large entrance doors, courtyards and a small pond in the centre. Adjacent to Baz Bahadur palace is the serene Rewa kund, a sacred pool.

Roopmati Pavilion

Baz Bahadur palace

Rewa Kund

Sagar Talao which is the largest water body in Mandu looks gorgeous during sunsets and in the monsoon season when clouds float low above the serene lake. Apart from the local fishermen who are often seen fishing here in the morning and evening, the lake is also home to birds such as storks.

Sagar Talao

The water also lends its name to the group of monuments near it. Most of the structures in the Sagar Talao group are in a dilapidated state and some even have creepers all over them. Dai Ka Mahal which translates to wet nurse’s palace has lost most of its structure over the years. However, the red stoned structure still has a few arches remaining. There is a tomb nearby which is on a raised platform. Though worn out, the interiors of the tomb still look attractive. Dai Ki Choti Behan Ka Mahal which is similar to Dai Ki Mahal is in a crumbling state, but has a few arches which give a glimpse of how beautiful the structure was in its prime. Carvan Sarai located nearby was built in mid 15th century and is a large inn with a huge courtyard. Malik Mughith’s mosque might have very little left of its original structure, but its beautiful arches, turrets, corridors, intricate carvings and designs are beautiful, and one can easily envisage the gorgeous structure from the 15th century.

Dai ki Mahal

Tomb near Dai ki Mahal

Dai ki Choti Behan ka Mahal

Dai ki Choti Behan ka Mahal

Malik Mughith's mosque

Beyond the lake and the tall Baobab trees lies Nilakantha palace, home to a Shiva shrine built by a governor of Mughal emperor, Akbar. Chor Kot enroute Nilkantha palace is a small fort which is in shambles and was occupied by thieves in earlier times. Near Chor Kot lies a tomb and a mosque built from red stone with domes and arched entrance doors. Ek Khambha Mahal is another nice tomb located nearby which too has domes and arched entrances. Chappan Mahal, a short distance away has now been converted into a museum. Darya Khan’s mosque is known for its numerous arches and is a popular attraction in Mandu. Darya Khan’s tomb next to the mosque has beautiful works and carvings on it. Sarai Kothari, Roja Ka Maqbara and Somvati Kund are some of the other structures nearby.

Nilkantha palace

Tomb and mosque near Chor Kot

Ek Khamba mahal

Chappan mahal

Darya Khan's tomb

The town of Mandu is a small one with a main road running across and a square with numerous shops around it. The prominent structure in the middle of the square is Jami Masjid, which was built in mid 15th century. The mosque which is modeled on the great mosque in Damascus was started by Hoshang Shah Gori and completed by Mahmud Khalji. The magnificent structure has beautiful carvings, painted enamels, domes, arched pillars and a large courtyard. Adjacent to the mosque lies the marble edifice with the tomb of Hoshang Shah built in Afghan style architecture with lattice works, domes and arches, but devoid of carvings. The ruins of Ashrafi mahal opposite the mosque was built as a madrasa, a school of Islamic learning during early 15th century by Hoshang Shah. A fleet of steps that lead up to the entrance foyer is what mostly remains now apart from the arched corridors on the ground floor. It also had a victory tower which was built to commemorate the victory of Mahmud Khalji, but very little of that remains at present. Ashrafi mahal also houses the tomb of Mahmud Khalji.

Entrance gate of Jami Masjid

Jami Masjid

Hoshang Shah's tomb

Ashrafi mahal

The most stunning structure in Mandu is Jahaz Mahal (Ship Palace), which is a part of Royal enclave. Flanked by two large ponds, Kapur Talao and Munja Talo on either side, Jahaz Mahal looks like a ship at sea. The sprawling garden adjacent to Jahaz Mahal further accentuates the charm of the place. The best time to visit this place is early in the morning when the structure is bathed in the glowing morning sun and looks gorgeous. It was built in the 15th century by Ghiyas-ud-din-Khalji as a large palace. Jahaz mahal which is made from red stone has numerous pavilions, domes, arched entrances, and a nicely designed pool. The lower floor of the double storeyed structure has numerous arched pillars and long walkways. History also states that the mahal once hosted the Mughal king, Shah Jahan and the whole palace was lit up to welcome him. Adjacent to the Jahaz Mahal is Hindola mahal (Swinging palace), an audience hall adorned with beautiful arches, latticed windows and slopping side walls. Behind this is Champa Baoli, most of which are in shambles. Champa Baoli has numerous hamams, underground rooms, large arenas and much more. Beyond these lies Jal Mahal on Munja Talao. The ramps that lead into the tank are a major attraction here. The dilapidated structure has very little left of it at present.  Taveli Mahal has been converted into a museum with a nice display of carvings and sculptures collected from across Mandu. In one corner of the Royal enclave lies the ruins of Gada Shah’s palace, most of which have been lost over time. Gada Shah was a 16th century chieftain whose shop is another intimidating but dilapidated structure which stands just outside the royal enclave. Though more than half of the structure has fallen, whatever remains look grand. Adjoining this is Ujala Baodi, a stepped well with a chatri. 

Jahaz mahal

Kapur Talao

Hindola mahal

Hindola mahal

Champa Baoli

Jal mahal on Munja Talao

Jal mahal

Gada Shah's palace

Gada Shah's shop

Gada Shah's shop

Ujala Baodi

Mandu seems like a town that has been stuck in the 16th century. A languorous stroll through Mandu's lanes reveal its history which is dipped in architecture and romantic stories. One can easily visit all these places over two or three days at a slow pace.

How to reach Mandu:

Mandu is located in Madhya Pradesh, 88 Kms from Indore. The nearest airport and major railhead are in Indore. There are regular buses plying from Indore and Bhopal to Mandu. It is recommended to hire a taxi to reach Mandu from Indore or Bhopal.

Food and Accommodation in Mandu:

There are restaurants across Mandu, most of which serve vegetarian cuisine. Mandu has numerous hotels which are in the mid range category. 
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