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- PIC­TURES Nis­hant Jhamb Animals · Zoology · Arts · Travel · Wildlife · Biology · India · UNESCO · New Delhi · Simla · Himalayas · Chandigarh · Jantar Mantar · Jaipur · Karnataka · Madhya Pradesh · Bhopal · B. R. Ambedkar · Uttar Pradesh · Kanpur · Rajasthan · Rajasthan · World Heritage Committee · Sanchi · Khajuraho · Sayyid Qutb · Hyundai Motors India Limited · Ellora Caves · Ashoka · Gautama Buddha · Chandela · Bharatpur

In a be­fit­ting fi­nale to the Her­itage Drive, we seek peace in the sanc­tity of Sanchi, get awestruck by the magic of Kha­ju­raho, go bird­watch­ing in Ke­o­ladeo Na­tional Park and fi­nally come home to the Qutb Mi­nar. Sim­ran Ras­togi rem­i­nisces the end of an epic tale

We didn’t know this be­fore we started this fea­ture but are well aware of it now. There’s a rough list of stand­ing of how his­to­ried and cul­tur­ally sig­nif­i­cant a coun­try is. In­dia is among the very top of that list of coun­tries, with 35 World Her­itage sites cer­ti­fied by UN­ESCO. We can now, with con­fi­dence, at­test. We’ve been half­way across the coun­try - and there isn’t a pol­ished way to put this - get­ting our own minds blown by 14 of those World Her­itage sites, from his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant mon­u­ments to nat­u­ral won­ders to the ear­li­est signs of mankind, even.

Start­ing from Delhi and the Happy Move - Save Our Her­itage ini­tia­tive by Hyundai In­dia, we re­dis­cov­ered Hu­mayun’s legacy at his tomb, be­fore try­ing to catch a train with a 100-year old legacy in Shimla. The trail past the rails led us to what many con­sider to be the birth­place of the mighty Hi­malayas, in the Great Hi­malayan Na­tional Park.

Back in the plains, we got a crash course - first in the Modernism school of ar­chi­tec­ture at the Capi­tol Com­plex, Chandigarh - then in naked-eye astron­omy at the Jan­tar Man­tar in Jaipur. From there we trav­elled to the lit­tle-known Cham­paner Arche­o­log­i­cal Park, an ex­am­ple of Hindu-Mus­lim ar­chi­tec­ture and the transi- tion across rul­ing dy­nas­ties. Mov­ing fur­ther south, we got to the en­gi­neer­ing mar­vels that are group of caves at Ajanta and El­lora (some say alien tech­nol­ogy had to have been in­volved!), which though sep­a­rated by a hun­dred kilo­me­tres, per­fectly il­lus­trate the tran­si­tion of re­li­gious in­flu­ences across cen­turies - Bud­dhist to Hindu to Jain. Fi­nally, at the south­ern most point of our jour­ney, we ac­tu­ally wit­nessed the con­flu­ence of north and south In­dian tem­ple ar­chi­tec­ture at the Pat­tadakal ru­ins in Kar­nataka.

From there, we en­tered Mad­hya Pradesh which is a trea­sure trove of World Her­itage sites, in­clud­ing the old­est signs of hu­man life at the Bhim­betka rock shel­ters. Ar­chae­ol­o­gists es­ti­mate that the small thumb­sized in­dents in the walls of the caves here are over a mil­lion years old! And fur­ther, that those in­dents or cupules ac­tu­ally pre-date any other form of rock art by sev­eral thou­sands of years. That puts it at the time­line of Homo erec­tus, the grand fa­ther to Homo sapi­ens (well, us hu­mans) and the di­rect de­scen­dants of the apes! From Bhim­betka’s signs of early, early man, we move on to the other end of the spec­trum. A species that is alive and well – the Homo touris­tus. As we find out at the next des­ti­na­tion, the group of Bud­dhist mon­u­ments at Sanchi. Not a sig­nif­i­cant dis­tance from the cap­i­tal of Bhopal, the Creta made short work of the trip.

The right time to visit Sanchi is ear­lier in the day than we did, to es­cape the heat and packs of loud and some­times ob­nox­ious ex­am­ples of afore­men­tioned touris­tus species. Not to men­tion to be able to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the sig­nif­i­cance and seren­ity of the first Bud­dhist stupa in the coun­try.

With a foun­da­tion laid by Ashoka the Great, the Sanchi site that now en­com­passes mul­ti­ple stu­pas, tem­ples and pil­lars started out as just a low-level stupa made of brick and a mono­lithic pil­lar, to serve as a rest­ing place for the mor­tal re­mains of Bud­dha. At the top of the now-fa­mous Ashoka pil­lar sat a mo­tif you’ll prob­a­bly recog­nise. Yes, a larger-than-life sized ver­sion of the Ashoka pil­lar on our cur­rency, is cur­rently in a mu­seum at Sanchi while only the base of the pil­lar re­mains on site. This stupa num­ber 1 was then later en­larged, stair­ways added and the fa­mous carved gate­ways or toranas erected.

The carv­ings you’ll see here de­pict scenes from the life of Bud­dha ac­cord­ing to the Jataka tales and it’s worth the while to hire a guide to ex­plain the scenes in de­tail. For ex­am­ple, there’s the Ma­hakapi-Jataka tale where Bud­dha’s rein­car­nate was as a mon­key king. Now, the moun­tain that the Bod­hisattva or mon­key king and his fol­low­ers called home was also home to the most de­li­cious fruit in the land - and one of those fruits hap­pened to find its way by ac­ci­dent to a lo­cal king, who im­me­di­ately or­dered his army to go out in search of this fruit. When they fi­nally found the

WE HAD CROSSED OVER

INTO THE DOU­BLE DIG­ITS OF HER­ITAGE SITES, WITHIN A COU­PLE

OF DAYS EN­TER­ING MAD­HYA PRADESH

fruit on the moun­tain of mon­keys, they at­tacked the mon­keys with their ar­rows. In a mer­ci­less dis­play of hu­man greed, chas­ing them fur­ther and fur­ther up the moun­tain till they had no place else to es­cape to. The Bod­hisattva, how­ever, laid his body out from the top of the moun­tain to an­other peak and thus gave his fam­ily and fol­low­ers a way out. Bat­tered and bruised af­ter the or­deal, the mon­key king lay on the verge of death. The (hu­man) king recog­nised the self­less ef­fort and asked why he sac­ri­ficed his life for the lives of his sub­jects. To this the Bod­hisattva replied, “O king! Ver­ily my body is bro­ken. But my mind is still sound; I up­lifted only those, over whom I ex­er­cised my pow­ers for so long.” With this the Bod­hisattva died in peace. Now, imag­ine this and count­less more morals in sculp­tures and you get the idea, as to why Sanchi stupa makes for a great ed­u­ca­tional visit, with the right guid­ance.

The Her­itage Drive had crossed over into the dou­ble dig­its of her­itage sites vis­ited, quickly go­ing past the dozen mark, within just a cou­ple of days en­ter­ing Mad­hya Pradesh. The state also boasts of what is eas­ily some of the best roads in the coun­try, with vast, open land­scapes to take in as you travel them. The only caveat be­ing the herds of cat­tle on the road you’re likely to come across be­fore, af­ter and dur­ing every vil­lage you cross. The na­tional high­way plots a course across lot of vil­lages and given the sen­si­tive na­ture of any­thing cow-re­lated nowa­days, a lot of our driv­ing was with a light right foot and a heavy hand on the horn.

MP’s last trea­sure for us ac­tu­ally high­lights a long for­got­ten side of our cul­ture, that per­haps most out­siders know our coun­try for. But it’s only spo­ken about in hushed tones at home.

Kha­ju­raho is well re­garded as hav­ing some of the most in­tri­cate tem­ple art in the world. These tem­ples were built be­tween 950 and 1050 AD by the Chan­dela dy­nasty, amongst date and kha­jur trees and that’s where the name comes from. Orig­i­nally a group of 80-plus tem­ples of Hindu and Jain faiths, only a frac­tion re­main af­ter hav­ing been ran­sacked by Mus­lim in­vaders or over­run by veg­e­ta­tion.

Now, you’re more likely to find touts wav­ing copies of the Ka­ma­su­tra at you than date palms. At least we did, from the mo­ment we parked the Creta and set off to­wards the ticket counter. As al­ways, we highly rec­om­mend ask-

ing for a guide, though they are on the ex­pen­sive side com­pared to the other her­itage sites we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced, prob­a­bly down to the ex­change rate of the Bri­tish pound, cur­rency of the seem­ingly pre­dom­i­nant tourist here. Two Rs 500 notes should get you the ser­vices of a guide who will point out the sig­nif­i­cance of the sculp­tures along the walls, as

well the par­tic­u­larly ex­plicit ones, if you ask nicely.

The most fa­mous are the erotic sculp­tures on the out­side walls of the west­ern group of tem­ples. There are var­i­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tions to the carv­ings. Some say it rep­re­sents leav­ing be­hind lust and de­sires be­fore en­ter­ing the tem­ples. Re­in­forced by the fact that there are no carv­ings of sex in­side them. Oth­ers view the im­agery as an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Hindu philoso­phies that say nir­vana can be achieved when one is done with the plea­sures of a worldly life. In some in­stances, the tantric be­liefs can also be clearly de­rived.

There is more to Kha­ju­raho, with five broad cat­ego- ries of sculp­tures found across the 22 tem­ples here. The erotic sculp­tures make up roughly ten per cent of the over­all but prob­a­bly rake in the most crowds. But, hey, if it helps put this oth­er­wise small town on the map, so be it. In fact, of all the World Her­itage sites we’ve vis­ited, Kha­ju­raho is the only one for which an air­port has been con­structed, with in­ter­na­tional con­nec­tiv­ity that would put tier two cities to shame.

Leav­ing be­hind Mad­hya Pradesh meant cross­ing over into Ut­tar Pradesh and we heard some of the roads weren’t in the great­est con­di­tion. So into the Creta’s on­board nav­i­ga­tion went the clos­est big city, Kan­pur, while we let the sys­tem fig­ure out the quick­est route to get to Agra, which hap­pened to be on the ex­cel­lent Taj Ex­press­way. Ex­cited to be able to once again set the Creta in its tall sixth gear, per­fect for quick high­way speeds, a quick con­fir­ma­tion from our maps app was all we needed to set off to­wards the erst­while Bharat­pur bird sanc­tu­ary, re­cently re­named the Ke­o­ladeo Na­tional Park.

Just at the bor­der of Ra­jasthan and Ut­tar Pradesh, sits one of the largest sanc­tu­ar­ies for our winged friends. And one of In­dia’s only UN­ESCO World Her­itage sites that at­tracts al­most as many pho­tog­ra­phers as it does birds.

In the in­ter­est of preser­va­tion of the bio-di­ver­sity,

EROTIC SCULP­TURES MAKE UP TEN PER CENT OF THE OVER­ALL BUT PROB­A­BLY

RAKE IN THE MOST CROWDS

Sev­eral her­itage sites un­der the ASI have moved to a code-scan­ning sys­tem, stream lin­ing en­try af­ter you pur­chase tick­ets. One of the first tem­ples you’ll see when you en­ter the west­ern group is ded­i­cated to Shiva’s rein­car­nate as a boar, while other tem­ples are ded­i­cated to Vishnu

KHA­JU­RAHO (Mad­hya Pradesh) Since 1986

Cri­te­rion Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of re­li­gious ac­cep­tance, zenith of In­dian tem­ple art

in­tegrity Tem­ple bound­aries en­com­pass all ex­ca­vated struc­tures, one tem­ple an ac­tive site of wor­ship

Pro­teC­tion Against en­croach­ment from lo­cals, tem­ple ar­eas well­guarded and po­liced, no des­e­cra­tion of struc­tures Much of the erotic art can be found on the walls of the Kan­dariya Ma­hadev tem­ple. Kama, or plea­sure, is one of the four goals of life ac­cord­ing to Hindu be­liefs, lead­ing one closer to Mok­sha, or re­birth, also rep­re­sented in the sculp­tures. As you climb closer to the in­ner sanc­tum, the carv­ings de­pict more safe­for-work scenes

the only trans­port al­lowed is rick­shaws though lo­cals can be seen on two wheelers. Ap­par­ently, the route through the park is a short­cut for chil­dren head­ing to and from school! While there is the ques­tion of con­ve­nience, a frag­ile eco-sys­tem such as this must have more strin­gent mea­sures in place.

Also, it seems that some In­dian tourists need to be con­stantly re­minded that birds don’t like loud laugh­ter - most other tourists don’t ei­ther, when a pic­ture of an elu­sive species gets ru­ined by said bird get­ting spooked and fly­ing off.

We were told by our guide/rick­shaw puller given the sea­son and time of day (rainy and mid-af­ter­noon), we’d be lucky if we spot­ted any­thing at all. Lucky for us, an un­sched­uled re­lease of wa­ter to the ar­ti­fi­cially main­tained wet­lands the pre­vi­ous day meant a re­turn of sev­eral winged species.

From our gar­den va­ri­ety para­keets, bul­buls, ducks, to herons, storks and more, the species we spot­ted still re­mains a mere frac­tion of the to­tal. The best time to visit is in win­ter. This is when the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered Siberian Crane makes its 8,000km flight from Siberia to Ke­o­ladeo. The sanc­tu­ary re­mains one of the only win­ter­ing spots for the rare species. Un­for­tu­nately, we couldn’t wait around for cooler weather. We were now on the home stretch.

Our 14th and fi­nal stop lies in the heart of Delhi. The en­tire Qutb com­plex is a UN­ESCO World Her­itage site. The mi­nar or minaret is a 73m tall tower made of sand­stone and mar­ble. That makes it the high­est brick minaret in the world. At its base is the Quwwatu’lIs­lam mosque, the first mosque to be built in In­dia. It

LUCKY FOR US, AN UN­SCHED­ULED

RE­LEASE OF WA­TER TO THE AR­TI­FI­CIALLY MAIN­TAINED

WET­LANDS THE PRE­VI­OUS DAY MEANT

A RE­TURN OF SEV­ERAL WINGED SPECIES

Ei­ther park out­side the gate, or at one of the two lodges in­side the park bound­ary. Rick­shaw

pullers are very knowl­edgable about the species here and don’t cost much for the four hours worth of bird­ing knowl­edge they im­part. With­out which, this cap­tion would read ‘cute owl 1 and cute owl 2’ in­stead of ‘cute col­lared scops owl and cuter In­dian scops

owl’. We also spot­ted this sin­is­ter look­ing mon­i­tor lizard, mul­ti­ple par­rots, herons and mag­pie robins apart from ma­jes­tic storks

and swans KE­O­LADEO NA­TIONAL PARK (Ra­jasthan) Since 1985

Cri­te­rion Rep­re­sents im­por­tant area of preser­va­tion of bio-di­ver­sity, win­ter­ing grounds for en­dan­gered species

in­tegrity Much of orig­i­nal area un­der pro­tected bound­ary, del­i­cate bal­ance of flora-fauna pre­served

Pro­teC­tion Mo­tor ve­hi­cles pro­hib­ited but lo­cals are not sub­ject to rule, strictly no hunt­ing al­lowed

is said that the or­na­mented shafts ac­tu­ally come from the Hindu tem­ples that were once de­mol­ished to con­struct the mosque, lead­ing back to the con­flict­ing sto­ries about the Qutb com­plex’s ori­gins.The Qutb Mi­nar is per­haps the most ac­tively pro­tected site, with sev­eral signs re­mind­ing tourists to re­spect the vicin­ity.

When it comes down to it, we’ve seen that the UN­ESCO World Her­itage site tag lends more cred­i­bil­ity to a mon­u­ment. Even with­out, with the liv­ing his­tory les­sons we have scat­tered all across our coun­try, more ef­forts should be taken to pre­serve and con­serve the cen­turies that have gone be­fore us.

With any luck, our next Her­itage Drive can cover the re­main­ing her­itage sites that too de­serve more than their mo­ment in the sun.

THE QUTB MI­NAR IS PER­HAPS THE MOST AC­TIVELY PRO­TECTED SITE,

WITH SEV­ERAL SIGNS RE­MIND­ING TOURISTS TO RE­SPECT THE

VICIN­ITY. Built to com­mem­o­rate Qutbu’d-din Aibak’s storm­ing of Delhi, the tallest tower stood as a tall re­minder of vic­tory of the first Is­lamic dy­nasty in the re­gion. Other sto­ries say it was con­structed for prayer calls. Idol wor­ship is not per­mit­ted in Is­lam, so the walls of the sur­round­ing struc­tures carry verses from the Qu­ran carved into it as dec­o­ra­tion. The area also houses the first mosque in In­dia - the Quwwatu’l-Is­lam, ac­tu­ally com­mis­sioned be­fore the minaret

QUTB MI­NAR (Delhi)

Since 1993 Cri­te­rion Old­est mosque in north In­dia, tallest brick minaret in the world

in­tegrity All fu­ner­ary build­ings con­tained within bound­ary area

Pro­teC­tion Strict guard­ing of her­itage struc­tures from tourists, ef­forts made to pro­vide mod­ern ameni­ties like Wi-Fi on the site

 ??  ?? Carved gate­ways look fa­mil­iar, that’s be­cause the lions stand­ing guard are also on the crown of the Ashoka pil­lar, since re­moved from the site. And in turn, the Ashoka pil­lar and chakra de­sign are recre­ated on every sin­gle In­dian cur­rency note! Early...
Carved gate­ways look fa­mil­iar, that’s be­cause the lions stand­ing guard are also on the crown of the Ashoka pil­lar, since re­moved from the site. And in turn, the Ashoka pil­lar and chakra de­sign are recre­ated on every sin­gle In­dian cur­rency note! Early...
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 ??  ?? Case in point, the Creta’s ground clear­ance got us through the worst that our coun­try’s post-mon­soon roads could throw at us
Case in point, the Creta’s ground clear­ance got us through the worst that our coun­try’s post-mon­soon roads could throw at us
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