Agra, once the capital of the Mughal Empire during the 16th and early 18th centuries, is one and a half hours by express train from New Delhi. Tourists from all over the world visit Agra not to see the ruins of the red sandstone fortress built by the Mughal emperors but to make a pilgrimage to Taj Mahal, India's most famous architectural wonder, in a land where magnificent temples and edificies abound to remind visitors about the rich civilization of a country that is slowly but surely lifting itself into an industrialized society
The Taj rises on a high red sandstone base topped by a huge white marble terrace on which rests the famous dome flanked by four tapering minarets. Within the dome lies the jewel-inlaid cenotaph of the queen. So exquisite is the workmanship that the Taj has been described as "having been designed by giants and finished by jewellers". The only asymmetrical object in the Taj is the casket of the emperor which was built beside the queen's as an afterthought. The emperor was deposed by his son and imprisoned in the Great Red Fort for eight years but was buried in the Taj. During his imprisonment, he had a view of the Taj.
The dome is made of white marble, but the tomb is set against the plain across the river and it is this background that works its magic of colours that, through their reflection, change the view of the Taj. The colours change at different hours of the day and during different seasons. Like a jewel, the Taj sparkles in moonlight when the semi-precious stones inlaid into the white marble on the main mausoleum catch the glow of the moon. The Taj is pinkish in the morning, milky white in the evening and golden when the moon shines. These changes, they say, depict the different moods of woman.
Different people have different views of the Taj but it would be enough to say that the Taj has a life of its own that leaps out of marble, provided you understand that it is a monument of love. As an architectural masterpiece, nothing could be added or substracted from it.
Jaipur, popularly known as the Pink City, was founded in 1727 AD by one of the greatest rulers of the Kachhawaha clan, the astronomer king Sawai Jai Singh. The pink color was used at the time of making to create an impression of red sandstone buildings of Mughal cities - and repainted in 1876, during the visit of the Prince of Wales. The city is best explored on foot and the adventurous visitor willing to go into the inner lanes can discover a whole new world not visible to the tourist-in-a-hurry.
Places of interest are mainly located within the walled city. The City Palace complex is the most important landmark with its numerous outbuildings, courtyards, impressive gateways and temples. Across the road from the palace is the Jantar Mantar, one of the five observatories built bySawai Jai Singh. A collection of complex astronomical instruments, chisseled out of stone- most of which continue to provide fairly accurate information to this day - is the highlight of this observatory
Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) adjoins the outside of the palace wall. Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the Hawa Mahal is a remarkable structure which overlooks one of the main streets and also provides some excellent views of the city. In the not-too-distant past, ladies of the court found it convenient to watch the activities on the streets below without being observed themselves.
Located just outside the walled city is the sprawling Ram Niwas Garden. The garden houses the majestic Albert Hall Mueseum. Opened in 1887 AD, this impressive building displays a rich collection of paintings, carpets, ivory, stone and metal sculpture among other objects.
These forts, though built at different periods, are so located that they seem to be stringed together.
Set in a picturesque location, Amer is a fascinating blend of Hindu and Mughal architecture. Built in the 16th century by Raja Man Singh, it sprawls on the hillside. Click here to see a panoramic view of the formidable Amer with Jaigarh in the background. Built in red sandstone and white marble, the palace complex has some very interesting apartments, the likes of which are not to be found anywhere else in the country. Jai Mandir, Sheesh Mahal, Sukh Niwas and Ganesh Pole are the prominent areas of interest.
The old township of Amer lies at the foothills of the palace and has an old world charm, a character of its own. Jagat Shiromani Temple, Narsingh Temple are some of the places of interest.
Jaigarh , or the Fort of Victory, is a rugged fort built in 1726. The world's largest cannon on wheels is to be found here. The fort houses a museum and provides some excellent views of the Amer Palace.
It is the first of the three forts. Built in 1734, this fort provides some stunning views of the city down below both during daytime and at night. An open air restaurant-"PADAO" lets you enjoy the panoramic view of the city even as you sip a hot cup of coffee on a pleasant evening !
Nainital, a word that almost brings the cool air with it is a secret hide out of the tourists each year. Situated at an altitude of 1,938mtrs, this dreamland town with its beauteous splendour is one of the most popular tourist resorts of the country. The nucleus of Naini Tal's exquisite beauty is her lake which is a haven for water sports like Yachting, Kayaking, Canoeing and Boating.
The most popular picnic spot in Kumaon, it commands a birds eye view of Naini Tal and the sparkling snow laden Himalayas can be seen in their towering glory from this beautiful spot. It is 5.6-kms from the town and one of the most beautiful treks. The soft cool air, the shade of the tall trees, the songs of the birds, the quaint summerhouse welcomes you.
Also known, as "Tiffin Top" is a memorial to Mrs. Dorothy Kellet built by her husband. It commands an excellent view of the Himalayas as well as the neighbouring countryside. It is 4.3-kms from the town. One can trek or negotiate on horseback.
It affords, as the name suggests, and undesirably beautiful and breath taking picture of the glittering snows. It is the most easily accessible hill top, 2.42- kms from the town. One can trek or go on horse back or by cable car.
One does not have to climb much, about 4 km and as the name suggests, one feels on reaching the area that the end of the land has really come. Needless to say, the view of the neighbouring hills and valley and the Khurpatal lake is exquisite from here.
One of the earliest buildings as well as churches erected in Naini Tal. It is very close to the Uttaranchal High Court. The site was chosen as early as 1844 and was first opened on April 2, 1848. It is a beautiful church with a marvellous interior and stained glasses on the windows.
The foundation stone of the naini tal government house, modelled after buckingham palace, was laid on April 27, 1897 and the building was completed in March 1900. The architecture of Raj Bhawan has been professionally described as of "the early domestic Gothic style". the house stands upon a plateau, and the combined effect of its environs, the vividly green lawn, grey stone steps and well grown old deodar trees is dignified, peaceful and strongly reminiscent of the English countryside.
11 kms from the town, Kilbury is sanctum sanctorum of bio-diversity and an ideal place for bird watchers and nature lovers for a quiet and peaceful holiday.
11 km from Naini Tal on Ranikhet-Almora road. A beautiful health resort, the T.B. Sanatorium here has treated luminaries like Subhash Chandra Bose and Kamala Nehru, wife of Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru. Also famous for its scenic grandeur and as a hill fruit market.
25 km from Naini Tal, a picturesque town is in the heart of apple orchards. It has an ideal view of the Himalayas with an immeasurable beauty around. Rabindra Nath Tagore and Mahadevi Verma spent a long time here. Besides Mahadevi Verma's house the Arbindo Ashram is another place worth visiting at Ramgarh.
Beyond Ramgarh is Mukteshwar, 51.49 km from Naini Tal. It is the seat of the indian veterinary research institute. In close proximity is the stone " Chauli Ki Jali", dedicated to Lord Shiva where childless couples come to pray for children. Famous for its Himalayan views, from Api-Nampa peaks of Nepal to the Chaukhamba Peak of Garhwal. Mukteshwar darignly overlooks a deep ravine on one side and the beautiful town of almora on the other. It is a heaven for nature lovers and those who have a penchant for spiritualism
The city of Mathura, in Uttar Pradesh, the nucleus of Brajbhoomi, is located at a distance of 145 km south-east of Delhi and 58 km north-west of Agra. Covering an area of about 3,800 sq. km., today, Brajbhoomi can be divided into two distinct units - the eastern part in the trans-Yamuna tract with places like Gokul, Mahavan, Baldeo, Mat and Bajna and the western side of the Yamuna covering the Mathura region that encompasses Vrindavan, Govardhan, Kusum Sarovar, Barsana and Nandgaon.
The land of Braj starts from Kotban near Hodel about 95 km from Delhi and ends at Runakuta which is known specially for its association with the poet Surdas, an ardent Krishna devotee. A long line of picturesque ghats - with their steps leading to the water's edge, arched gateways and temple spires extending along the right bank of the River Yamuna, emphasise the sacred character of the town of Mathura. The birth place of Lord Krishna, "the best known, best loved and most complex of Lord Vishnu's manifestations" - Mathura is today an important place of pilgrimage.
The city of Mathura is located in the western part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, in the northern region of India. It is a part of the great northern plains and is situated on the west bank of the river Yamuna. Mathura is 141 km south of Delhi and 47 km northwest of Agra. The climate of Mathura is extreme and tropical. Summers are extremely hot and winters are cold and foggy. It experiences southwestern monsoon rains from July to September.
An ancient city whose origins fade into the mists of history, Mathura's strategic location at the cross roads of various trade routes - that went westwards to West Asia and the Roman Empire; northwards, via Taxila, Pushkalavati and Purushapur to Central Asia and the Silk Route and eastwards to China - ensured its position as a centre of trade and a meeting point for varied cultures.
By the fifth century BC, during the time of Buddha, it was a major metropolis and the capital of the Surasena Kingdom - one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of the period. Mathura saw its `golden age' during the rule of the Kushanas and the able governance of rulers like Kanishka, Huvishka, and Vasishka, when the arts flourished and economic wealth grew. It remained a centre of power during the Mauryan period, through the enlightened rule of Emperor Ashoka (3rd century BC) to the Gupta era (4th century AD).
According to the Bhagwat Purana, Shri Krishna along with the gopis had danced the Raas on the banks of the Yamuna at Vrindavan. When the gopis felt conceited about Lord Krishna dancing with them, he disappeared from their midst. In the agony of separation from their beloved Krishna, the gopis recalled and enacted his lilas (divine episodes of his life) which in course of time came to be known as the Raaslilas. The Raaslila in its present form is ascribed to Swami Haridas and Shri Narayan Bhatt. Only young Brahmin boys of 13 to 14 years of age can perform the Raaslila. The charming childhood pranks of Shri Krishna constitute the main them of these dramas.
This is the famous temple of Gopala Bhatta Gosvami. Radharamana means "one who gives pleasure to Radha", and is one of the many names of Lord Krishna. The seva puja of Radharamana was established in 1542, after the Deity self-manifested from a saligram-sila. Also kept iin this temple is the wooden sitting place (hoki) and shawl (chaddar) or Lord Chaitanya, that He gave as a gift to Gopala Bhatta Gosvami. There is no deity of Radharani in this temple, but a crown is kept next to Krishna signifying Her presence.
This is one of the oldest temple of Vrindavana and was completed in 1627. After Emperor Akbar's visit to Vridavana in the year 1570, he gave permission for four temples to be built by the Gaudya Vaisnavas, which were Madana-mohana, Govindaji, Gopinatha and Jugal Kisore. It is sometimes called the Kesi ghata temple, as it is located next to this ghata.
This is the place where Lord Krishna killed the Kesi demon who appeared in the form of a gigantic horse and then took His bath in this very same ghata. This is also very famous bathing place in Vrindavana. An arati to Yamuna Devi is held here every evening.
This South Indian style temple was built by the wealthy Seth family of Mathura in the year 1851, and is dedicated to Lord Sri Ranganatha or Rangaji - a form of Lord Vishnu lying down on the Sesa Naga (celestial serpent). This temple has a traditional South Indian gopuram (gateway) and is surrounded by high walls. It is one of Vrindavana's largest temples. Once a year a grand car festival (Ratha Yatra) is held known as Brahmotsava, during the month of Chait (March - April), this festival lasts for 10 days.
The Dwarkadish Temple, built in 1814, is a popular temple in the center of town. This is the most visited temple in the center of town. This is the most visited temple in Mathura. This temple is managed by followers of Vallabhacarya. Once you enter this temple from the street, it is fairly interesting architechually and there is a lot of activity inside. It is located in the eastern part of Mathura, not far from the Yamuna River.
Holi is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Phalguna (Feb-March). Holi in Braja is celebrated for several days, at different places around Braja, before the actual day of Holi.
People throw colored powdered dye and colored water on each other. This is joyfully celebrated in Braja, especially at Varsana, Nandagram and Dauji. In Varsana the festival includes colorful processions with music, song, dance, and some boisterous scenes around the temples. If you go to these festivals you should expect to be totally covered in dye and never to be able to use the clothes that you are wearing again, at least until next year's festival. This is celebrated at the same time as Gaura Purnima.
Varsana Groups of visitors go around in small and large groups here. In the afternoon gopas (men) from Nandagram come to Varsana and play Holi with the local gopis (women) of Varsana. The women hit the men hard with 2 ½m (7ft) long bamboo staffs. The men have shields which they protect themselves with. During this time local songs are sung. This festival is celebrated on the ninth day of the month of Phalguna (Feb-March).
Nandagram The day after the Holi festival at Varsana, Holi is celebrated in Nandagram. The gopas (men) from Varsana come to Nandagram to play Holi with the gopis (women) there. The flag of the Larily Lal Temple in Varsana is carried in an elaborate procession to Nandagram. At this time the residents of Nandagram attempt to capture the flag, but their attempts are foiled. After this, women play Holi with bamboo staffs. This festival is celebrated on the tenth day (dasami) of the month of Phalguna (Feb-March).
Phalen On the full moon night in Feb/March a huge bon-fire is burned. One of the local priests walks through the fire unscathed. One story about Holi is that Prahlada Maharaja refused to worship his father and wanted to worship his father's enemy, Lord Vishnu instead. His father's sister Holika, who was immune to being burned, sat with the boy in a big fire. Prahlada's devotion was so great that Holika was burnt to death and Prahlada was unharmed. The Holi festival at Phalen re-enacts this event.
Vrindavan, just 15 km from Mathura, is another major place of pilgrimage. It is noted for its numerous temples - both old and modern. The name Vrindavan evokes the playfulness and lovable characteristics of Shri Krishna. This is the wood where he frolicked with the gopis and tenderly wooed Radha.
Vrindavan today, is noted for its numerous temples. The most important are:
The Madan Mohan Temple located near the Kali Ghat which was built by Kapur Ram Das of Multan. This is the oldest existent temple in Vrindavan today. The temple is closely associated with the saint Chaitanya. The original idol of Lord Madan Gopal was shifted from the shrine to Karauli in Rajasthan for safe keeping, during Aurangzeb's rule. Today, a replica of the image is worshipped at the temple.
The Banke-Bihari Temple built in 1864 is the most popular shrine at Vrindavan. The image of Banke-Bihari was discovered in Nidhi Vana by Swami Haridas, the great Krishna devotee, belonging to the Nimbarka sect.
The famous Radha Vallabh Temple set up by the Radha - Vallabh sect, has the crown of Radha-Rani placed next to the Shri Krishna idol in the sanctum.
The Jaipur Temple which was built by Sawai Madhav Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur in 1917, is a richly embellished and opulent temple. The fine hand - carved sandstone is of unparalleled workmanship. The temple is dedicated to Shri Radha Madhav.
The Shahji Temple, another popular temple at Vrindavan, was designed and built in 1876 by a wealthy jeweller, Shah Kundan Lal of Lucknow. The deities at the temple are popularly known as the Chhote Radha Raman.