79. Take an excursion to Sultangarhi Tomb, New Delhi
Not many people know that India’s first Islamic tomb lies amid grimy construction, stray animals and distant traffic sounds, next to New Delhi’s Vasant Kunj. Built by Sultan Iltutmish in 1231, the monument predates the completion of the more illustrious (and better-known) Qutub Minar. “One of the reasons why it’s relatively unknown is the fact that it is not in close proximity to any other historical region, say, like the Lodhi Gardens,” says Ratish Nanda, conservation architect.
Entry to this monument is free.
80. Visit Shershah Suri’s tomb in Sasaram, Bihar
The Pashtun emperor who had the courage to challenge the might of the Mughal empire and cause Humayun to seek asylum in Iran could rule India only for a short period of five years (1540-45). Among his many achievements are the introduction of the rüpyah and the restoration of the ancient Grand Trunk Road from Peshawar to Kolkata. Not many people realize that his tomb in the obscure town of Sasaram in Rohtas district of Bihar is one of the finest examples of Afghan architecture in India.
Sasaram railway station is on the Grand Chord line of the Indian Railways, connecting Howrah and Mughalsarai. Entry for Indian nationals is Rs5.
81. Visit the Khajuraho temples, Madhya Pradesh
Sacred altar: The imposing Kandariya Mahadeva temple at Khajuraho.(Franck Guiziou/AFP)
Devangana Desai, author of the book Khajuraho, Monumental Legacy(2003), lists three reasons (other than the erotic sculptures, of course) to visit the legendary medieval temples:
u The magnificent curvilinear shikharas (superstructures) of the Kandariya Mahadeva and Lakshmana temples (in the western group).
u The intelligent iconic schemes— for example, the images of planetary divinities around Lakshmana temple that symbolize the myth of Mt Meru.
u The splendid 9ft sculpture of a varaha (boar) opposite the Lakshmana temple with around 650 miniature images of divinities on its body.
82. Take a walk along the promenade in Puducherry
Unlike the arc-shaped Queen’s Necklace in Mumbai, the promenade in Puducherry is a straight line with two bends at the edges. No vehicles are allowed from 5.30pm till late at night, and the place acquires a French boulevard feel. According to Ashok Panda, coordinator of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) and a resident for 45 years, there are many buildings in typical French architectural style, with large windows, columns and open verandahs. Most notable are the old lighthouse, Port Office (now a café), Customs office (now office of the municipality) and the French consulate building.
83. Experience the surge of patriotism at Wagah border, Amritsar
To witness Indo-Pak aggression outside the cricket field. To hear ordinary-looking citizens of either country transform into jingoistic banshees. To see, first-hand, that goose-stepping is alive and well on both sides of the border. To marvel, again, at the precise artistry that ensures both flags are lowered at exactly the same rate, neither higher nor lower than the other at any point. To crowd at the ornate gates after the ceremony, waving and smiling to people on the other side. To wonder at history.
84. Pose for the Taj Mahal photo-op, Agra
Princess Diana was here alone—a statement of her tottering marriage. So were countless other celebrities, more careful about the picture they cut, and hundreds of thousands of non-celebs, uncaring of the pose they struck. Photographers have discovered the exact point where you may stand with your hand in the air to appear as if you’re holding the monument by the spire. Find your spot, cuddle a loved one, frame it for the drawing room.
The Taj Mahal is open 6am-7.30pm, except on Fridays. Entry for Indian nationals is Rs10, for foreign nationals, Rs250.
85. A walk through the Jewish quarter, Kochi
The first Jewish settlers came to this area in the year 1344. Currently, only six-seven households are left and the Jewish population in Kochi is pegged at 33-34. The warden of the Cochin synagogue (the only one where congregational prayers are held; there are seven others in the area), Samuel Hallegua, isn’t too happy with the quiet little neighbourhood being placed on the tourist map. “We, the residents, are disturbed by the tourists some of whom damage the synagogue and the Chinese tiles.” But there seems to be a quiet rectitude and acceptance of this broadcasting of their existence. The Cochin synagogue built in 1568 was incidentally called Pardesi synagogue earlier, since it was supposed to be built by four alien Jewish settlers. Shashikala Nayak, a Bangalore-based homemaker, has been through the street thrice. “The atmosphere is very different. It’s quiet and there are no shops in this area. The spice market, the palace of the king and the Chinese fishing nets are also nearby and the whole stretch can be done on foot,” she says.
86. Embark on an old city walk in Delhi
Bylanes of piety: Savour the old-world charm at Jama Masjid, Delhi. (Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint)
Any city with a longish history can throw up a rewarding walk or two. Delhi has been the capital of numerous empires, and it is possible to pass from one period of history to another a couple of centuries down the line without missing a footstep. Had enough of Shah Jahan after the Red Fort and Jama Masjid? Slip further back into history: Visit Delhi’s only woman ruler Razia Sultan’s purported tomb at Bulbuli Khane. Or brave north India’s largest electrical goods wholesale market to investigate the mansion of Begum Samru. There are also British-era graveyards, beautiful churches and historical gurdwaras. Just save them for a day when you can afford to lose track of time.
87. A stroll down Mall Road, Shimla
It is believed that Lord Combermere, British commander-in-chief of the Indian army who built the road in the 1820s, paid for it from his own pocket. According to historian and Shimla resident Raaja Bhasin, the 5km stretch (with a 2km-long core shopping area) has preserved much of its old character. From buildings done in English county style to well-preserved landmarks such as Gaiety Theatre, Old Town Hall, Municipal Office, Post Office and Indian Coffee House, this purely pedestrian road (the residents have blocked efforts in the past to allow vehicular traffic in the area) is well worth an evening outing.
88. Revisit the horror of Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar
Considering its stature in Indian history, the first thing that strikes you about the grounds is its size. The entrance is as inconspicuous, the attempts at flower borders half-hearted. Yet, Jallianwala Bagh is incredibly atmospheric. Voices drop automatically, even whiny children quiet down. Somebody will point out the well, someone else the pockmarked wall. All you want to do is get out of there asap—and, on your way out, whatever your religious beliefs, you send up a prayer. May their souls rest in peace.
89. Take a peek into India’s Persian heritage at Chini ka Rauza, Agra
Everyone visits the Taj Mahal, but a few adventurous sorts venture as far out of the way as Itmad-ud-Daulah’s tomb, a hidden gem that escapes everyone’s attention. A 30-minute auto rickshaw ride from the Agra station on the banks of the Yamuna river, Chini ka Rauza’s architecture shows no Mughal influence. Mehrdad Ramezan Niya, an Iranian student who’s doing his PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, says that when he saw the blue tiles covering the monument, he felt he was in Esfahan, the centre of Persian Islamic architecture in Iran.
(Text by Arjun Razdan, Sumana Mukherjee, Melissa A. Bell and Aarti Basnyat)