26 October 2016

Emperor Aurangzeb's Grave, Khuldabad, Maharashtra


“I am grown very old and weak. I know not who I am or what I have been doing. I have not done well for the country or its people. My years have gone by profitless. God has been in my heart; yet my darkened eyes have not recognized His light. Every torment I have inflicted, every sin I have committed, I carry the consequence with me. Strange that I came with nothing into the world, and now go away with this stupendous caravan of sin! Alas, life is transient, and the lost moment never comes back. There is no hope for me in the future, and I know not what punishment be in store for me to suffer. Though my trust be in the mercy of God I deplore my sins. Come what will, I have launched my bark upon the waters! Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!”
– Emperor Aurangzeb’s last letter to his son Azam


In the middle of nowhere


The unchallenged reign of Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir (AD 1658-1707) stands forth as such an unprecedented epoch in the annals of Indian history that his own life story practically mirrors the chronicle of the enormous subcontinent for 50 years. 300 years later, he unarguably remains the most despised sovereign, especially for the saffron brigade, so much so that an arterial road in the national capital was rechristened recently in an endeavor to erase his life and times.

And why shouldn’t it be so?

His deliberate reversal of his predecessors’ religious policies towards his non-Muslim and unorthodox Muslim subjects, and his fiercely bigoted discrimination in matters of religious co-existence and taxation and revenue collection remains uncontested. Not only that, he prohibited by royal decree the celebration of Holi and Diwali and the marking of Muharram.

In his famous “Benaras Firman” of AD 1659, he decreed that though no long-standing, legally authorized temple henceforth be demolished or desecrated nor the inhabitant Brahmins be disturbed or persecuted in any way, new temples should not be allowed to be constructed without permission nor should Hindu religious education be disseminated from any shrine. Several temples in Benaras, Sindh and Multan were thus destroyed and Brahmins imprisoned and punished for using them for purposes of instruction.

In AD 1665, he ordered officials in Gujarat to demolish all those shrines, including the famed Somnath temple, which the Governor had previously devastated but Hindus had had renovated or reconstructed. The beautiful stone railings of Keshav Deo temple of Mathura were dismantled the next year since the same were financed by Dara Shukoh. In AD 1669, the Governor of Orissa was obliged to destroy all Hindu shrines that fell in his dominions. Vishwanath and Gopinath temples in Benaras and Keshav Rai temple in Mathura were also totally devastated the same year and mosques raised at their sites.

The ninth Sikh spiritual preceptor Guru Tegh Bahadur and his closest associates were imprisoned, barbarically tortured and decapitated in AD 1675 for refusing to convert to Islam and protesting the anti-Hindu barbarities.

In AD 1679, over 300 temples were destroyed in Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur and Amber – Rajputs resisting the same were brutally slaughtered. Numerous Hindu shrines were also destroyed in Dwarka, Ayodhya and Haridwar.

Not relenting yet, a special “Daroga-i-Beldar” (“Superintendent of Laborers”) was appointed to the armies to oversee the razing to ground of all Hindu shrines encountered on the march through Deccan, Maharashtra, Golconda and Bijapur.


In an unpretentious compound


Though his disastrous religious policy is generally held responsible for the swift downfall of the empire, for the Emperor however it wasn’t merely a matter of personal caprice or earthly gains, but consideration of the Quran's orthodox interpretations which exhort every pious Muslim to exert him/herself to wage Jihad against non-Muslim countries (“Dar-ul-Harb”) to transform them into realms of faith (“Dar-ul-Islam”). To him, the religion of the great majority of his subjects was an abomination and a mischief which he fervently abhorred and considered his sovereign and personal duty before heaven to persecute and, if possible, stamp out through iconoclastic sacrilege, judicial persecution, economic repression, forced conversions and restriction of worship.

But did he ever regret his decisions and proclamations? We know not.

We do however know that until his demise at the ripe old age of 89 years, he remained distinguished for his religious dedication, personal chastity and public austerity. So much so that he willed to be interred not in Aurangabad where rests in eternal repose his beloved queen Rabia-ul-Daurani, but in nearby Khuldabad (“Abode of Eternity”) close to the hallowed mausoleums of 1,500 Sufi philosopher-dervishes including the illustrious 14th-century saints Hazrat Zainuddin Saiyyid Shirazi and Hazrat Burhanuddin Garib (disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah). Not only that, he also refused to appropriate royal funds for personal expenditures, and paid the Rs 14.75 due for the minuscule space where his grave is located from the proceeds of the sale of the prayer caps he hand-stitched and had sold anonymously! Not unsurprisingly, though he also had assimilated Rs 350 from the sale of the calligraphic Qurans he copied, he forbade the use of this money for any personal purpose, simply stating that he’d be answerable to Allah if he had committed any mistakes in the copied renditions and profited from the same.


Such was the unadorned and uncovered grave's austerity that it stunned Governor-General Lord Curzon (officiated 1899-1905) so much so that he immediately requested the then Nizam of Hyderabad to have it enclosed with a delicate marble lattice screen. Vis-à-vis the monumentally magnificent mausoleums of his predecessors, the grave still retains its heartrending simplicity, unpretentiously shrouded only by a scanty layer of grass and stunted herbs like his sister Jahanara Begum’s unembellished tomb in Delhi (refer Pixelated Memories - Jahanara Begum's Tomb). That this is how the exceedingly powerful master of India’s unparalleled wealth, the man whose empire extending from Ghazni to Chittagong and from Kashmir to Karnataka yielded Rs 3 billion annually in revenues (in AD 1700!), decided to be buried is certainly bewildering!

“Though under Earth and throneless now I be, Yet, while I lived, all Earth was under me!”
– C.S. Lewis, “The Chronicles of Narnia”


In an austere grave, rests “the dervish clad in imperial purples”


Stepping through the massive whitewashed gateway and exploring the colossal courtyard of the adjoining mosque, one cannot help feel overwhelmed by the impermeable silences, the terrifying solitariness. Neither birds flutter overhead, nor do the ubiquitous palm fronds whisper their frighteningly eerie secrets. Time, ceaseless elsewhere, seems to have come to an unheralded standstill. In Delhi, the saffron brigade might be restlessly deleting the signs of the Emperor’s existence, but here he appears to have already been irretrievably forgotten! Wonder what he would have made of that!


Location: Khuldabad is located 27 kilometers (an hour by car) from Aurangabad. One can hire a private taxi for 12 hours (costs approx. Rs 1,500-2,000) and explore the nearby located fortress-citadel of Daualatabad and the rock-cut caves at Ellora as well on the same day. The highway connecting Khuldabad and Aurangabad is exceptionally well-maintained, however expect vehicular congestion and human overpopulation within Khuldabad itself.
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min (though the whole of the Khuldabad funerary zone will take considerably more)
Suggested reading -
Mausoleums of Emperor Aurangzeb's siblings and other Mughal sovereigns -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Humayun's Tomb complex, Delhi (where is interred Dara Shukoh as well)
  2. Pixelated Memories - Jahanara Begum's Tomb, Delhi
  3. Pixelated Memories - Moti Masjid, Delhi (where is interred Emperor Bahadur Shah “Zafar” II)
Other monuments/landmarks in Maharashtra -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Pataleshwar Temple, Pune
  2. Pixelated Memories - Vishrambaug Wada and Shaniwar Wada, Pune
Relevant links -
  1. Aulia-e-hind.com - Tomb of Great Moghal Emperor Aurangzeb
  2. Double-dolphin.blogspot.in - Aurangzeb's Tomb, Khuldabad
  3. Scroll.in - Article "Was Aurangzeb the most evil ruler India has ever had?" (dated Sep 02, 2015) by Shoaib Daniyal
  4. Wikipedia.org - Aurangzeb
  5. Wikipedia.org - Khuldabad

26 September 2016

Pataleshwar Temple, Pune, Maharashtra


Through many years, at great expense,
Journeying through many countries
I went to see high mountains, I went to the oceans.
Only I had not seen at my very doorstep,
The dew drop glistening, on the ear of the corn.

– Rabindranath Tagore

Among Pune’s inhabitants, only an infinitesimally tiny fraction is aware of the tremendously enthralling monuments that their beautiful city camouflages as derelict mansions, tumble-down edifices and long forgotten shrines. Overshadowed by towering Banyan and Kanak Champa trees of unimaginable antiquity, the very appropriately christened Pataleshwar Temple in fact masquerades as a colossal crater in a secluded corner of a densely-vegetated garden. It isn’t everyday that you look down a hole and find a temple peeping back! (unless if you're in Talakadu! Refer Pixelated Memories - Talakadu, Karnataka)

Dedicated to the “Pataleshwar” (“Lord of the Netherworld”) aspect of Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction, the rock-cut shrine was commissioned some 1,200 years ago during Rashtrakuta Dynasty reign (AD 753-982) but the endeavor never came to fruition as further sculpting was rendered dangerous and eventually entirely abandoned after a fault line was discovered at the back of the sanctum. What remains is a massive underground rectangular cell, forbiddingly dark and damp, supported by thick unembellished pillars, and convincingly reminiscent of the macabre “netherworld” term in its nomenclature.


Forgotten dreams, unfinished missions



The shrine was referred to as “Bhambavade temple” during Maratha reign after the minuscule village it adjoined. The name was corrupted to “Bhamburde” by British administrators and afterwards disappeared from the annals of history as the area slowly mutated into what is now known as Shivajinagar.

Blanketed by disquieting silence, the austerity is disturbing, and a strange terror of being buried underneath the whole enormity slowly creeps in. Even light seems to be frightened of venturing within, restraining itself short of the sanctums, further deepening the foreboding darkness until every shadow ominously merges into the next. Amidst the almost impenetrable gloom, only the polished bronze Shivalinga (the universal rounded-cylinder primordial symbol of Lord Shiva) and the brilliant white marble sculptures of the trinity of Rama, Lakshman and Sita nearby seem aglow with a subdued magnificence.


Glimmer!


Stepping back outside, the most unusual aspect of the shrine is the enormous umbrella-shaped pavilion in the courtyard underneath which reclines the bull-demigod Nandi perennially adoring Lord Shiva, his master.

Contemplating the velvety, vibrant green moss on the rain-drenched rock surfaces, the glistening droplets enchantingly draping the convoluted cobwebs, and the perpetual squish and crunch of sweetly-stinking semi-rotten foliage under my feet on the ground level, I cannot help recall a Kannada verse by the renowned 12th-century scholar-social reformer Basavanna wherein he addresses his personal deity “Kudalasangama Deva” (Lord Shiva) thus –

“Maneyolage maneyodeyaniddano illavo? Hostilalli hullu hutti, maneyolage raja tumbi;
Maneyolage maneyodeyaniddano illavo? Tanuvolage husi tumbi, manadolage visaya tumbi;
Maneyolage maneyodeyanilla, Kudalasangama Deva”

“The master of the house, is he at home, or isn’t he? Grass on the threshold, dirt in the house;
The master of the house, is he at home, or isn’t he? Lies in the body, lust in the heart;
No, the master of the house is not at home, Our Lord of the Meeting Rivers”


Down the rabbit hole!



Location: Jangali Maharaj road, less than a kilometer from Shivajinagar Railway station (Coordinates: 18°31'36.9"N 73°50'59.4"E)
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 45 min
Suggested reading -
More land-submerged temples - Pixelated Memories - Talakadu, Karnataka

06 September 2016

Vishrambaug Wada and Shaniwar Wada, Pune, Maharashtra


For Snehal

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“I’ve watched the sun rise over mountains where no human being has ever trod and seen it go down over cities where every inch of space is filled with people, pushing and fighting each other for life. I’ve given birth. I’ve been in love. I’ve changed beyond expectation. I’ve seen people die in alleyways; seen others survive impossible odds; known happiness and darkness and grief, and the one thing I’m still sure about is that life is mystery; life is change; it’s what my mother called magic, and it’s capable of anything.”
– Joanne Harris, “Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure”


Blink-and-you-miss-it! - Vishrambaug Wada


This is not the first time I’m questioning my fidelity towards my beloved Delhi. I cannot leave her, and yet I cannot always love her either. But Pune, that subliminally resplendent green emerald encircled by towering hills, I fell in love with, and I fell in love in, sincerely and unconditionally, at first sight. Thoroughly drenched in ceaseless monsoon drizzle and enveloped in an impenetrable cloud of fascinating fragrances, delectable flavors and bedazzling sights, I excitedly tasted of the city’s multifarious offerings, never realizing what inescapable charm was it that eternally ensnared me – was it the fleeting handshake, the vividly breathtaking smile that has become imprinted on my retinas, or that simple serving of otherworldly delicious pasta for which remains unexpressed my humble, affectionate gratitude?


Traversing timelines


My fondest memory, which keeps returning to me as wisps of an enchanting half-remembered dream, is that of “Vishrambaug Wada” (literally, “Leisurely Garden-mansion”). Located on Thorale Bajirao Road immediately opposite the Bank of Maharashtra, the imaginatively embellished triple-storied wooden edifice was commissioned in AD 1807-08 by Peshwa Bajirao II (officiated AD 1796-1818) as his personal residence. Just a glimpse, and astonishingly hypnotic proves to be the subdued flamboyance of the faded red-tinted walls contrasting against the dark coffee overtones of the painstakingly chiseled wooden surfaces, the latter delectably overlaid with exquisite flower-patterned convolutions exaggeratedly slithering and throbbing, incorporating in their midst intermittent floral explosions and tiny alcoves for remarkably life-like parakeets and peacocks to roost in amidst sophisticated smatterings of vegetative arabesques and tender banana-blossom and cypress-tree motifs.


Mounting guard!


Flanked by richly sculpted, terribly vicious monkeys, the intricately detailed, massive wooden canopy (“Meghadambari”) crowning the entrance marvellously appears to be floating of its own volition, supported as it is on eye-catching ostentatious representations of eclectically conceived imaginary beings possessing the head of a dog, the body of a lion, the scales of a fish and the wings of an eagle, the entire abundantly encrusted over with sumptuous floral motifs and geometric bands. On the first floor, the two “Diwan-i-Khas” (“Halls of Royal Audience”), used individually for special state meetings and dance gatherings, have now been transformed into immense museums entitled “Punawadi te Punyanagari” delineating the history and evolution of Pune and its numerous thriving bazaars, thoroughly congested residential locations and invincible fortress-palaces. The luxuriously carved lotus-pillars and the sheer warmth and intimacy of the entire setting unfailingly prompts one to imagine the extravagant opulence of the inimitable halls when they were strewn with evocatively embroidered oriental rugs and further wreathed with magnificent chandeliers and enviable tapestries.


Imagination woven through architecture


Employed successively as a prison, a Sanskrit school, an engineering college and a municipal corporation office since its takeover by the avaricious British East India Co. following the Third Anglo-Maratha War (AD 1818), the ruinous ground floor still continues to accommodate a post office and a dejectedly rundown souvenir shop. Despite being the only royal residence of the Peshwas to have survived the vagaries of nature and the ravages of fires, the passionately ornamented palace has been wretchedly forgotten, even by those who regularly frequent the renowned Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale sweetshop across the road whose famed Bakarwadi (deep-fried spicy-sweet crispy flour rolls) compelled us to spend over an hour and a half in the queue!

Vis-à-vis Vishrambaug Wada, Shaniwar Wada (“Saturday Residence”), the heavily fortified official fortress-palace of the Peshwas, proves to be a disappointment – little else apart from the ruinous foundations of some of the edifices and the awe-inspiringly majestic “Dilli Darwaza” (“Delhi Gate”) was spared by an unexplained fire that continued unchallenged to devastate the wooden palace for a fortnight on February 27, 1828. Nonetheless, the mighty gateway's colossal buttresses and immaculate flanking bastions still continue to arouse disbelief while at the same time conveying stately illustriousness.


Shaniwar Wada - Bajirao Ballal's imposing stronghold


Commissioned in AD 1732 by Peshwa “Thorale” Bajirao Ballal I (officiated AD 1720-40), the original fortress-palace is said to have been seven-storied, though defensive and decorative additions continued to be incorporated by his numerous successors. A highly exaggerated version of the same was depicted in the recently released Bollywood flick “Bajirao Mastani”, though one can glimpse vestiges of the beautiful religious paintings that might have inspired the movie along the interiors of the massive hall surmounting the Dilli Darwaza.

Where not pockmarked by foundation remains (enveloped by wooden railings!), the entire expanse has been transformed into a charming garden complex interspersed intermittently by information plaques. The peripheries of course are dominated by the various substantial gateways including Narayana Darwaza (aka Jambhul Darwaza), Mastani Darwaza (aka Ali Bahadur Darwaza) and Ganesha Darwaza. In its celebrated heydays, the imposing fortress-palace unbelievably accommodated over a thousand inhabitants within its crenelated defenses – why the devastating fires of 1828 were not doused thus naturally begets both incredulous surprise and misgivings of mischief/incompetence.


“Nothing beside remains!”


Not surprisingly, the impressive stronghold is regarded as being haunted on every full moon night by agonizingly grief-stricken cries of “Kaka! Mala vachva” (“Save me, Uncle!”) uttered by the restlessly despondent soul of Peshwa Narayanrao (officiated AD 1772-73), the grandson of Peshwa Bajirao Ballal I, who was barbarically murdered and mutilated upon the orders of his own uncle “Raghoba” Raghunathrao (officiated as Peshwa, AD 1773-74). Spooky! And yet people would undoubtedly always only associate the engrossing citadel with the Kashibai-Bajirao-Mastani love triangle – and why not? Didn’t I too circumbulate the immense peripheries seeking the seductive fragrance of the beloved – only to run into a group of boisterously rowdy school students smoking hastily improvised joints immediately adjacent the spectacularly dominating equestrian statue ostensibly commemorating Peshwa Bajirao I but only in fact succeeding in bringing about reminiscences of Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”!

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”



Forgotten corners!


Which, all in all, of course makes me wonder if the Peshwas, two of whom so delicately embellished this spellbinding city, ever spent their hours ruminating philosophies and reminiscing memories while traversing new cities? Did they too realize, like now I do, that often in life one unknowingly embarks on certain journeys only to eventually apprehend that no matter how frantically one tries, some people, notwithstanding how dearest, one will probably never see again, and some places, notwithstanding how mesmerizing, would never be visited again.

And yet, one also realizes that memories, those ruthless pinpricks stabbing at our hearts in stolen moments of solace, would never let us forget the ones we loved so desperately, even if we wanted to. That we would never want to, of course, somehow always remains unsaid and unappreciated!


Peshwa Bajirao Ballal - The Indian Ozymandias


Location: Shaniwar Wada is located barely 2 kilometers away from Shivajinagar in the heart of the city. Vishrambaug Wada is less than 1 kilometer away on Thorale Sreemant Peshwa Bajirao Road.
Open: All days, 8 am - 5.30 pm
Entrance fees: Vishrambaug Wada: Nil; Shaniwar Wada: Indians: Rs 5, Foreigners: Rs 125
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: Vishrambaug Wada: 1 hr; Shaniwar Wada: 2 hr
Suggestion: Don't forget to purchase the mouthwatering Bakarwadi from Chitale bandhu sweetshop just across the road from Vishrambaug Wada!
Suggested reading -

16 May 2016

Dadabari Jain Temple, Mehrauli, Delhi


“No man can encompass all that is to be known. The wisest among us can hold no more than a mustard seed’s weight of knowledge in his heart. But nevertheless each follower of the path has his own particular understanding, and each person’s understanding has value.”
– Thalassa Ali, “Companions of Paradise” (2006)

The streets blistered and roasted like fiery furnaces and not the slightest draught stirred, while the sun, an insufferable ball of fire in the clear sky, transformed into intense searing white and ceaselessly endeavored to incinerate all existence. It was a day not unlike any other in Delhi’s scorching summer.

Amidst the multitudes of singed brown-green hues of Mehrauli Archaeological Park manifests mirage-like Dadabari Jain temple – dedicated to the erudite Jain mystic-saint Manidhari Dada Gurudeva Sri Jinachandra Suri ji – whose flawless white profile unfailingly soothes dreary eyes and beckons fatigued souls.


Jewel in the wilderness


At the very outset, I insist that only believers read on, and skeptics and cynics skip these few paragraphs.

A prodigious scholar, inquisitive philosopher and excellent social reformer, Sri Jinachandra Suri, born Surya Kumar in AD 1140, is said to have renounced the comforts of conventional life at the tender age of 6 years, and thereafter arduously trained and distinguished himself in Jain religious philosophy and metaphysics.

He compiled numerous scholarly tomes on comparative religious theology and spirituality, and soon afterwards became so illustriously renowned that he was entrusted by Acharya Gurudeva Jindutta Suri ji, his transcendentally accomplished spiritual mentor, with delivering intellectual spiritual discourses on religious mysticism, universal brotherhood and philanthropic magnanimity throughout the country.

Although Acharya Jindutta and he himself had prophesied his arrival and subsequent demise in Yoginipur (Delhi), he nonetheless resolved to temporarily reside in the province to discourse on religious equality, tolerance and amicability upon receiving deferential invitations from the sovereign Raja Madanpal Tomar.


Inviting


During his residence in Yoginipur, he is said to have also commissioned a beautiful temple, dedicated to the legendary twenty-third Tirthankara Parshvanatha (BC 872-772), at the present-day site of the Qutb Complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex).

At the age of 26, prompted by clairvoyant visions only slightly prior to his mournful demise, he resolutely cautioned his emotionally-besieged disciples to not stop his funeral procession anywhere except where they wished to cremate his earthly remains, for if they did they would never be able to relocate his body again. Fatigued and desirous of allowing fellow devotees to pay their last respects and condolences for the demised, the faithful followers carrying the funeral pyre did however stop in the village square and, as portended, failed to move the remains again! Reminiscent of the childish tale of Humpty-Dumpty, subsequently the king’s soldiers, horses and even elephants are said to have failed in their endeavors to budge him, and thus was Dada Gurudeva ji cremated on that very spot and a commemorative shrine reverentially constructed over the consecrated site.


Blinding!


Additionally, it’s said that he had also portended that the sacred site where he’d be cremated shall remain barren for 800 years, and indeed a magnificent shrine was only consecrated here in late 19th-century. Repeatedly embellished and reconstructed since, an intricately ornamented silver-and-glass memorial gracefully protrudes over the hallowed site today, symmetrically enveloped by covered walkways for faithful devotees to circumambulate.

Only a stone’s throw away, the massive central shrine is elegantly fabricated of exquisitely sculpted white marble. Within, the glittering glimmering sanctum is in its entirety composed of a spellbinding agglomeration of meticulously reverse-painted glass shards whose myriad shimmering hues compliment and yet jostle with each other for visual supremacy amidst a whole that remarkably, without being even in the slightest bit incongruous or disproportionate, succeeds in delineating several visual depictions of Jain mythological fables and remembrances of Dada Gurudeva’s enthralling, albeit possibly highly embellished, life and times. As the photographs here testimony, magnificently does the whole chamber metamorphose, upon incidence of even the minutest sliver of sunlight, into an extraordinarily effervescent explosion of vivacious colors.


One from the folklore


Perhaps endeavoring to plagiarize the spatial scheme of the venerable Parasnatha Hill in Jharkhand (at least to me it appeared so!), adjacently has been conceived a large artificial hillock whose constricted veins secure a labyrinthine network of tiny interconnected cell-like sanctuaries, each individually dedicated to Jain mendicant-teachers and Tirthankars (lit., “ford-maker”, omniscient spiritual teachers who attained liberty from the terrible cycle of rebirths and worldly attachment by fierce contemplative meditation, unremitting emphasis on non-violence, and the renunciation of worldly relationships and responsibilities).

Though the shimmering vividness of the shrine’s reverse-painted glass art might be commonplace in most north Indian Jain/Hindu temples, yet given its impeccable history and the singular network of shrines defining the artificial hill, it is surprising that not many are aware of the existence of this multicolored sparkle enveloped within its soothing white cocoon adjacent the perceptibly interminable wilderness of Mehrauli Archaeological Park.


Cherubs, blossoms and wreaths - Unusual for a Jain shrine!


In every direction one turns to are located innumerable medieval monuments and devoutly revered shrines, some world-renowned, others even more disappointingly obscure. The simplistic yet alluring Madhi Masjid is barely a stone's throw away (refer Pixelated Memories - Madhi Masjid). More prominent is Ahinsa Sthal, another Jain shrine, and its neighbor mausoleum of Azim Khan, both constructed upon adjacently situated towering outcrops appealingly overlooking the green-brown expanse of Mehrauli (refer Pixelated Memories - Ahinsa Sthal and Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb). No wonder then amidst this deluge of enthralling ruins and forgotten monuments, the Dadabari is only half-remembered and occasionally frequented.

Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Nearest Metro station: Qutb Minar
How to reach: The temple is located in a nondescript street on the other side of Mehrauli-Gurgaon highway immediately opposite the metro station. If coming by bus, get down at Lado Serai crossing (at the junction of Mehrauli-Gurgaon and Mehrauli-Badarpur highways) and walk for barely half a kilometer to reach the metro station. 
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 45 min

30 April 2016

Fire destroys Delhi’s National Museum of Natural History


“Vritha ahankarshivaya, yathapashyapasoon alipt rahoon, muktapane khanbeerpane va utsaahane, kartavyepalan karnanyalach satvik mehantat”

“The detached and liberated performer, devoid of false ego, endowed with fortitude and insurmountable enthusiasm, unwavering in success and failure, is considered noble.”
– The Bhagavadagita

Tragedy struck Delhi this past week when the priceless treasure horde that was the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) was reduced to a smoldering mass of immense nothingness by a devastating fire.




The indescribable anguish and the surprising outburst of nostalgia, vociferously articulated by the city’s heritage and environment enthusiasts, was considerably more pronounced for Kaustav, my fellow Bio-technologist, and I since it has not yet even been a couple of months that we were standing riveted within the colossal building, in turns enthusiastically admiring the not insignificant collections meticulously arranged within glass cases and acquisitively staring at the scores of preserved flora-fauna specimens which we then heatedly argued about while attempting to classify them according to families, classes and categories learnt back in school (Animalia, Mammalia, Vertebrae…you get the drift). As if it would come alive and charge, the massive preserved rhinoceros standing threateningly at the foot of the staircase leading to the exhibition area too cornered a considerable fraction of our bewilderment.




The brilliantly lit fluorescent displays, the dazzlingly multi-hued butterfly collections seeming so conspicuously fragile, the unbelievably endearing bird specimens, the singularly patterned mollusks, the arrays of taxidermy big mammals, the numerous mesmerizing life-size diorama scenes, and of course the inquisitive-looking leopard sentinel-like staring at visitors from its perch along the ceiling – the loss is literally irredeemable, as if a bright light has become inexplicably extinguished even though it had been catastrophically neglected for so long that little of its magnificence, its magnetism now remained, even though it retained its unparalleled potency for illumination.





Death, in general, and the poignant eulogies that follow undeniably possess the unfailing propensity to elevate even the mundane on to the pedestal of blinding glory. I have no intention of denying that the museum authorities did little to promote its outstanding collections or even to preserve them particularly painstakingly, or that most of the mounted specimens were indeed frustratingly drenched with thick grimy layers of dirt and actually appeared like mottled and unkempt teddy-bears which could not even aspire to compete with the stunning visuals and the enviable narration that, say, National Geographic or Discovery Channel, have to offer today. Yet not unlike most things Indian, the endearing museum excelled not because of the uninterested bureaucracy but despite it, and the loss certainly does overwhelm.




Government authorities, including Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar (under the aegis of whose Ministry of Environment and Forests the iconic museum had been functioning since 1978 from a rented building belonging to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) at Mandi House), have resiliently announced the construction of a grander, considerably better equipped facility near Pragati Maidan, how soon can the same be established and operationalized however remains to be seen. The precise cause of the accidental fire too hasn’t yet been ascertained.



12 April 2016

Sarvamangala Temple, Bardhaman, Bengal


“Om Sarvamangala mangalye, Shive sarvatha sadhike
Sharanye Triambake Gauri, Narayani Namo-stute”

(“The Goddess who perpetually bestows auspiciousness and prosperity on all, I bow to thee
The Goddess who is the consort of Lord Shiva, the possessor of three eyes, I bow to thee”)

For a compulsive traveler, every single city, even the hideously grotesque and the repulsively avaricious ones, camouflage within the folds of their superficial selves iridescent jewels unpretentiously masquerading as the commonplace and therefore remaining implausibly untouched by dreadfully corrosive human presence. Remarkably though, more often than not, it is the smaller forgotten edifices, throbbing with a plethora of folklore pertaining to the city’s mythical origins and their own bewitching origins and construction, which ceaselessly fascinate and entice. Effortlessly do the enthralling outlines of myriads of picturesque landscapes, the tortuously snaking convolvulus of streetscape, and the fantastical silhouettes of monumental edifices become perpetually seared onto one’s retinas for all eternity, so much so that fragmented slivers of these reminiscences unfailingly continue to be recreated sporadically in one’s imagination even years later, especially in conjunction with snatches of soothing music that one played on a particular journey.


Timeless simplicity! - Shrine of the mother Goddess


Consider then my elation when I was recently able to retrieve some photographs from my old laptop that crashed almost a year ago, in the process relieving fond, half-forgotten memories of the ceaselessly pulsating city of Calcutta and its languidly laid-back environs, coupled with the sorrowful realization that among a long list of the monumental cathedrals, minuscule Chinese shrines, unheralded colonial memorials and immense temple complexes that I never got around to penning articles about was the soothingly serene Sarvamangala temple, jewel-like ensconced in a beatifically humble corner of the illustrious district of Bardhaman (Burdwan), whose semi-ruinous architectural conformations, subdued artistic adornments and gorgeous terracotta ornamentation I had spontaneously fallen in love with.

Enveloped within enormous brownish-pink periphery walls that, with their towering Corinthian pilasters, elaborate stucco outbursts of intricate floral flourishes, and gracefully multi-layered semicircular arches delineated by exquisite vegetative scrolls, would not have been out of place in late-colonial Indian palatial edifices (such as the one in nearby Birbhum, refer Pixelated Memories - Hetampur Hazarduari Rajbari), the gorgeous lemon-yellow shrine is existential within its own hallowed square described by a second line of enclosing walls whose entrance way is heralded by two cream-yellow shrines dedicated to the “Chandreswara” (“Lord of Chandra”, Chandra being the moon God) and “Indreswara” (“Lord of Indra”, Indra being the God of thunder and lightning and the chief of minor deities in Hindu mythology) manifestations of Lord Shiva, the God of death and destruction.


A cocoon like no other - The palatial edifice enveloping the shrines


Matchless in their delicate conception and dexterous execution, especially spellbinding are the mesmerizingly sophisticated and meticulously detailed vermilion-red terracotta panels, outstandingly embellishing the twin Bengali-style Shiva shrines and portraying vivid scenes from several interconnected folklores involving depictions of several formidable deities encompassed within a multitude of mischievous and voracious monkeys, an overflowing abundance of rudimentary shrines, a profusion of very attentive parakeets and long-tailed peacocks, and an extravagant excess of excessively flirtatious explosions of multi-patterned floral blossoms.

Within the congested central enclosure, gracefully preceded on two of its adjacent sides by huge pillared congregation halls (“Natamandir”) rises the vertically pronounced, vibrant yellow central shrine, its nine soaring spires (“Navratana”) towering above every other edifice, religious or functional, within the sanctified complex.

In the immediate vicinity of the gateway exist three more subsidiary shrines, dedicated to different manifestations of Lord Shiva. The central sub-shrine, surmounted by five fluted spires (“Pancharatna”) and intermittently adorned with tiny terracotta tiles depicting mythological deities, mythical entities, celestial dervishes and angry sages amidst fantastical smatterings of convoluted floral flourishes is considerably better preserved vis-à-vis the considerably constricted side-shrines flanking it whose tiered tapering roofs have become atrociously weather-blackened and whose remarkably decorated terracotta-studded exterior surfaces, where not painfully crumbling to imperceptible dust, have ruinously withered to unspeakably horrible brown-black smudges.


Withered to disintegration - One of the interior Shiva temples


Enveloped with thick layers of brightly colored, glittering glimmering embroidered clothes and festooned with expensive gold jewelry, housed in the sanctum of the central shrine is a tiny, shimmering black stone sculpture of the eighteen-armed Goddess Durga, a fierce manifestation of universal feminine energy, astride her powerfully muscled lion and piercing the body of the formidable buffalo-demon Mahishasura with her intimidatingly long trident.

Arguably, the minuscule sculpture was either surprisingly revealed from within the Damodar riverbed or was accidentally discovered in a lime kiln around the year 1740, and the local feudal lord Rajadhiraj Zamindar Raja Chitrasena Roy (officiated AD 1740-44) immediately commissioned the construction and ornamentation of the unsophisticated temple around it. It is conjectured in popular folklore that the revered Goddess had miraculously appeared in his dream and foretold her manifestation in this black stone which, enshrined and venerated, shall protect the Raja's territories from the ferociously barbaric slaughter and plunder unleashed over AD 1741-51 by the impressively maneuverable cavalry forces (“Bargir”) of Maratha ruler Raghoji Bhonsle I of Nagpur.

Another theory however contends that the beautiful shrine was actually commissioned by the devout Maharaja Kirtichanda Roy (officiated AD 1702-40) in AD 1702. His prodigious successor Raja Chitrasena Roy merely further magnified and embellished it when he assumed power.


History for the fanatics - A Hindu Goddess who protects Hindu subjects of a Muslim sovereign from Hindu plunderers!


It is believed by some that the shrine coincidentally exists at the site of the “Shakti Peetha” (“Seat of Primordial Feminine energy”) where Goddess Sati’s navel fell following the terrible destruction of Daksha’s sacrifice. I copy verbatim from previous blog posts (refer links enumerated at the end of this article) for elucidation of the mythology and historiography encompassing the Shakti Peethas –

The Shakti Peethas’ perplexing origin has its convoluted roots in ancient history's numerous tales where myths and legends conspire alongside hard facts to generate a picture of inexplicable phenomena and locations. Hindu legends recall the ritualistic sacrificial worship (“yagna”) commissioned by the mythological emperor Daksha in which his own angelic daughter Sati (Shakti) and her husband Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction, were unwelcome. Sati, though requested not to go by Lord Shiva but persuaded by an unremitting love for her father and maternal family, nonetheless reached her father’s abode only to be faced with an unrelenting onslaught of merciless abuses and insults heaped upon her all-powerful husband, as an anguished consequence of which she committed suicide by jumping into the ceremonial fire; dangerously enraged and unnervingly grief-struck, Lord Shiva picked up Goddess Sati’s lifeless body in one arm and his frightening trident in the other and began the frenzied “Tandava Nritya” (celestial dance of destruction). The entire world was on the brink of irrevocable destruction when all the Gods and deities collectively invoked Lord Vishnu, the Hindu God of life and preservation, who used his “Sudarshana Chakra” (spinning disc weapon) to cleave Sati’s body into 51 parts since an infuriated Shiva had vowed not to stop his terrible dance till Sati’s body existed. Each of the sacred spots where these 51 hallowed parts fell came to be sanctified as an auspicious “Shakti Peetha” where an intent worshiper channeling the said energy would be endowed with immeasurable intellectual and spiritual prowess.


Mythology elucidated in terracotta - Panels adorning one of the exterior Shiva temples


Following the post-independence abolition of the Zamindari system of revenue administration, the then Maharaja Uday Chanda Mahtab (officiated 1941-55) constituted the Sri Sarbamangala Trust Board in the year 1954 for meeting the expenses of the maintenance, conservation and restoration of the shrine as and when required. The long expanse of periphery wall near the Natamandir is entirely tessellated with a grossly unsightly array of small black-and-white marble plaques eternally commemorating charitable pecuniary contributions undertaken by reverential devotees – so much for philanthropy!

In the intervening distance rises a massive tree encircled by tiny clay toys and wreathed with shimmering garlands, deep red religious threads, marigold flowers, and iridescent glass bangles – votive offerings perhaps for the preternatural folk deity Seetla (hideously ugly but kindhearted Goddess of fevers, skin sores, pustules, and several infectious diseases of skin and blood, including chicken-pox) to cajole her to spare the children the terrible epidemics and punitive sufferings. Yes, even in 21st-century too there are such unbelievable primeval incarnations of the mythological mother Goddess in currency!


Contemplation - Looking into the Natmandir


Who would have thought that the glimpse of this ancient tree in this semi-rural locale in distant Bengal would bring to me half-remembered memories of half-understood traditions from over a decade and a half ago when my grief-struck mother affectionately carried me, chicken-pox inflicted and fever-inflamed, to the local temple near our residence to propitiate the primordial Goddess! And who would have thought that I would here regret that my children would probably never know of these hypnotic legends and mysterious folk deities, except perhaps in confused half-forgotten tales such as these my own?!


Twin sentries - Chandreswara and Indreswara, the exterior Shiva temples

Location: Approximately a kilometer and a half from Bardhaman railway station.
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
How to reach: The shrine is accessible via the street emanating from Curzon Gate (refer Pixelated Memories - Curzon Gate). The route is pretty straightforward and locals can easily guide one to the shrine. Walk/avail an auto/rickshaw from Bardhaman railway station/bus stop.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Relevant links -
Other landmarks located in Bardhaman -
Suggested reading -

01 April 2016

TB Day – Operation ASHA, Delhi



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“My brother kneels (so saith Kabir) to stone and brass in heathen-wise,
But in my brother’s voice, I hear my own unanswered agonies. His God is as his Fates assign;
His prayer is all the world’s – and mine.”
– Rudyard Kipling, “Kim” (1901)

Negotiating one’s way through the immense flood of humanity and indifferent cattle ceaselessly streaming the claustrophobic narrow meandering streets delineating the oxymoronic urban village of Tehkhand in south-east Delhi, it is explicably easy to fathom why communicable diseases spread with such diabolical intensity in Indian subcontinent.

On a scorching summer morning, the scene is fairly reminiscent of Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno”. Flanked on either side by unbelievably overpopulated, multi-storied residential buildings whose ground-floor facades have been transformed into cramped cubbyhole shops and confectioneries, the obnoxious-smelling streets, deplorably pockmarked or shrouded with thick carpets of dog and cattle excreta with astonishing frequency, overflow along the peripheries with absolute black putrid sewage. Unparalleled in their irritability, an incalculable number of flies violently flicker around, and yet their all-enveloping presence does not in the least hinder the tiny impoverished children, their straw-colored hair and dust and slime-ensconced faces reflecting terrible tales of starvation and poverty, from carelessly running about in the accumulated filth and grime.

Unremarkable among a row of similar inconsequential buildings is an insignificant little clinic crowned by several cardboard information panels, one of these identifying it as an Operation ASHA DOTS center, another vibrant violet one announcing adherence to RNTCP.


Last-mile Delivery to the BoP


Endeavoring to eradicate Tuberculosis (TB) from the world over, Operation ASHA (OpASHA) is a Delhi-based non-profit, non-government organization operational in India and Cambodia, with third-party replication in Uganda, Dominican Republic, Peru and Kenya. Additionally, medications, care and counseling are also provided to underprivileged patients suffering from hemophilia, diabetes and HIV-AIDS.

Why Tuberculosis?

The statistics are horrifying – according to World Health Organization (WHO), of the 9.6 million people globally diseased with TB in the year 2015, a staggering 2.2 million were in India. Of these, over 330,000 died, that is, two deaths every three minutes, which is the approximate time required to read this article!

More people die of TB-related complications in India than in countries like Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia and China. What is however most perplexing is that the disease is totally curable, and the medicines are available free of cost from any government hospital/dispensary. More distressing is the absolute failure of medical health workers to get patients to adhere to the RNTCP-DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short-course) treatment regime whereby a patient has to consume the specified drugs for 6-8 months in the former’s presence (thus, directly observed).

Default in treatment can have the TB bacterium transform into Multidrug resistant (MDR) which, at its current rate of manifestation, shall prove to be the scourge of the developing world if unchallenged.

By employing Biometric eCompliance and electronic medical recordkeeping (EMR) systems consisting of android phones and fingerprint readers, OpASHA has succeeded in reducing default rate to less than 3% vis-à-vis 60% reported by governmental bodies and other NGOs, and that too by spending less than 19 times the capital invested by the latter.


Fighting Tuberculosis worldwide


Slightly within the physical peripheries of Tehkhand village is located the aforementioned OpASHA’s community DOTS centers, its inconspicuousness an additional advantage for the distressed patients trickling in intermittently throughout the day since they are often forced to maintain secrecy about their medical condition as a consequence of the severe social stigma associated with the disease.

Every 24th March, recognized as TB Day throughout the world, Tehkhand thunders with the slogans of several score OpASHA volunteers who march the constricted and clogged streets armed with starkly functional placards and posters stating “We want zero TB deaths” and mentioning the numerous indicators associated with the deadly disease.

This year, Dr. Sengupta, Delhi District TB Officer (DTO), too joined in and further expounded on the disease’s symptoms as well as the ill-effects of the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. Patients and counselors from OpASHA’s Tehkhand centers, volunteers from the village, OpASHA office staff and officials from the government TB departments joined in to help make the event a success and disseminate knowledge about the disease and, most importantly, the complete effectiveness of its cure.


#zeroTBdeaths

This article and the ones that’ll follow germinate from the realization that knowledge about this horrendous disease and its catastrophic consequences is still abysmally low, even among many highly educated and remarkably accomplished individuals with whom we, the OpASHA staff, interacted, and we need to rectify this immediately.

Your help too counts! To know more, visit opasha.org.

16 March 2016

Mehtab Bagh, Agra, Uttar Pradesh


“Herding in India is one of the laziest things in the world. The cattle move and crunch, and lie down, and move on again, and they do not even low. They only grunt, and the buffaloes very seldom say anything, but get down into the muddy pools one after another, and work their way into the mud till only their noses and staring china-blue eyes show above the surface, and then they lie like logs. The sun makes the rocks dance in the heat, and the herd children hear one kite (never any more) whistling almost out of sight overhead, and they know that if they died, or a cow died, that kite would sweep down, and the next kite miles away would see him drop and follow, and the next, and the next, and almost before they were dead there would be a score of hungry kites come out of nowhere. Then they sleep and wake and sleep again, and weave little baskets of dried grass and put grasshoppers in them; or catch two praying mantises and make them fight; or string a necklace of red and black jungle nuts; or watch a lizard basking on a rock, or a snake hunting a frog near the wallows. Then they sing long, long songs with odd native quavers at the end of them, and the day seems longer than most people’s whole lives, and perhaps they make a mud castle with mud figures of men and horses and buffaloes, and put reeds into the men’s hands, and pretend they are kings and the figures are their armies, or that they are gods to be worshiped. Then the evening comes and the children call, and the buffaloes lumber up out of the sticky mud with noises like gunshots going off one after the other, and they all string across the gray plain back to the twinkling village lights.”
– Rudyard Kipling, “The Jungle Book” (1894)


Spot the cattle! - Mehtab Bagh perspectives


Although no longer the glittering capital of the vast subcontinent, Agra, quintessentially languid and laidback, has eminently served over the centuries as the magnificent epicenter of several empires, its most remarkable transformation manifesting itself during the glorious reign of Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar (ruled AD 1556-1605).

On a sweltering bright afternoon not many days past, contemplating the enchanting bluish-white outline emanating opposite as if straight from a fascinating fairy tale, I wordlessly stood on the very perceptible edge of the painstakingly manicured “Mehtab Bagh” (“Moonlit garden”) only a few short steps away from the lethargically slithering narrow stream of Yamuna, the meandering “black river” of mythology, while the great ball of fire in the sky ruthlessly scorched the majestic expanse of passionately constructed sepulchers, imaginatively ornamented fortress-palaces, and thoughtfully designed pleasure garden complexes, each relentlessly seething with its own enormous share of historically diverse folklore, amidst an unbearably parched landscape composed almost entirely of vividly blazing red sandstone.

Impressively conceived by the exalted Emperor Shihabuddin Muhammad Shahjahan (reign AD 1627-57) and deliberately sited in close geographical and contextual relationship with the otherworldly breathtaking Taj, his unparalleled magnum, the immaculately landscaped garden complex, with its colossal octagonal fountain and riverside pavilions, is the conspicuous source of seductive legends conjuring the tyrannical Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir (reign AD 1657-1707) contemptuously scuttling his formidable father’s extravagant idea of commissioning a flawless “Black Taj” at that very site wherein would've been interred his mortal remains.


Sculptural orgasm!


“That it was Shah Jahan’s intention to duplicate the entire scheme of the Taj, by the erection of another mausoleum in black marble to enshrine his own remains, on the opposite bank of the Jumnan and to connect the two by a bridge, seems fairly well established. Tavernier, the French traveller and trader, who visited the Mughul court during the regimes of both Shah Jahan and Aurangzebe stated that the former emperor “began to build his own tomb on the other side of the river, but the war which he had with his son interrupted his plan, and Aurangzebe, who reigns at present, is not disposed to complete it.”… Whether this monarch even with all his vast resources could have carried out such an extravagant and spectacular project will never be known, but that he had the vision to contemplate it is an indication of the unlimited extent of his architectural ambitions.”
– Percy Brown, British art critic-scholar-historian-archaeologist,
“Indian Architecture, Volume II: Islamic Period”

Owing to the blistering heat, an unending, irregular column of cattle-herds, their directionless drifting animals appearing unbelievably minuscule vis-à-vis the gargantuan shimmering mausoleum opposite, defined the sole human presence except for the company of two mirage-like CISF guards diligently and discernibly doing the rounds. The unexciting atmosphere seemed to be monotonously alive with all the intermittent noises that, taken together, make one big uneventful silence – the drowsy drone of uninterrupted afternoon wind and the consequential soundless whispers carried amidst flailing fronds of dry grasses brushing against each other, the rustle of something alive in the undergrowth, and the occasional shrieks and chirrups of birds diving and swooping acrobatically and singing paeans of inextinguishable love to each other.


Is it a cliche to say “Waah Taj”?


The symmetrically designed garden was probably existential, by another name, as a tiny constituent of the gargantuan “Hasht-Bihisht Bagh” (“Eight Paradises' garden”) laid by Emperor Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (reign AD 1526-30), Emperor Shahjahan’s great-great-grandfather. Afterwards, it passed into the compensatory “jagir” (land grant in lieu of military service) of Raja Man Singh Kacchwaha of Amber (Jaipur) who bequeathed it to his grandson Mirza Raja Jai Singh from whom it was regally purchased eventually for horticultural development as visualized by Emperor Shahjahan.

The tenderly-maintained immensity was severely submerged by the torrentially brimming river in AD 1652 and, owing to continuous flooding, was afterwards grievously abandoned, incomprehensibly forgotten and contemptuously relegated to being existential as a mere pitiable sand-submerged, weed-shrouded mound interspersed with ruinously devastated corner-towers. Nonetheless, its erstwhile prestige miraculously survived for centuries in local mythology and eventually metamorphosed into its being the fabled, albeit historically unacknowledged, site of the mythical “Black Taj”.

It was excavated by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1993-94 and thereafter subjected to meticulous architectural and horticultural restoration. The archaeological remains, although minuscule, are interesting – expansively hemmed in by soaring corner octagonal towers (of which only the south-eastern one survives) and enveloped by presently near-indiscernible pleasure pavilions and exquisitely planned lower pools, there existed near the riverfront a gigantic octagonal pool with twenty-four fountains embedded within it. Through the center of the sprawling garden ran a large ornamental water channel surrounded by fragrant flower beds and thick carpets of vibrant green grass. Near the extremities have been discovered ruinous remains of extensive waterworks and storage tanks.


Sigh! No moonlit views now!


The mesmerizing view experienced on full moon nights would have been unrivaled – creating beautiful illusions of shimmering waterfalls, water would have perennially cascaded into stepped lower pools whose sides are perforated with small arched niches in which, it's said, were placed slender white candles picturesquely appearing like twinkling stars in obdurately dark nights. The soothing gurgle of gently falling water and the enthralling fragrance and subdued blue-white iridescence of night-blooming jasmine flowers would have completed the fascinatingly dreamy scene.

Incomprehensibly, despite its sterling reputation, the beautiful garden is very nominally advertised by the ASI and UP tourism, and it remains, for reasons only explicable to the authorities, one of Agra's little known secrets, a virginal patch nearly untouched by tourists and locals alike, when it should have been among the magnificent city's crowning glories. And I was there, endeavoring to imagine what the matchless emperor witnessed.


A solitary visitor


Location: The garden is situated on Yamuna riverbank immediately across from Taj Mahal. Road distance between the two is 7.5 kilometers.
How to reach: Although the road network is very well-connected to the garden and surrounding urban villages, public transport facilities are near negligible, especially for the return trip, since only the rare tourist heads this way. One can avail a shared auto-rickshaw from Agra Cantt. Railway station or Agra Fort for Bijli-ghar crossing (Rs 15/person either way) and from there avail a shared auto-rickshaw, again for Rs 15/person, for Yamuna ghat (or simply “Ghat”) on the other side of the river. From here, auto-rickshaws charge Rs 50 till Mehtab Bagh, however the price quoted would generally be several times this figure and one is compelled to bargain. It is advisable to book the auto-rickshaw for a round trip which will cost Rs 150, inclusive of the waiting time.
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset (ticket window closes 30 minutes before the sunset)
Entrance fees: Indians and SAARC country nationals: Rs 5; Others: Rs 100. Free entry for children up to 15 years of age.
Agra Development Authority (ADA) toll-tax (applicable on all days except Fridays): Indians and SAARC country nationals: Rs 10; Others: Rs 500 (remains valid (only for foreigners) for an entire day and can be presented at other major monument complexes too).
Photography/Video charges: Nil/Rs 25 respectively
Time required for sightseeing: 45 min
Relevant Links -
Another monument located on this side of the river - 
Pixelated Memories - Itimad-ud-Daulah's Tomb
Suggested reading -