5 WONDERFUL FACTS ABOUT BANGLADESH

Featured5 WONDERFUL FACTS ABOUT BANGLADESH

 

 

Bangladesh, with an ever-rising economy, truly has the potential to be the regional power of South Asia alongside India. Today, although it has a significant poverty, more and more people are being added to middle class every year. Big cities like Dhaka are getting more and more equipped with modern facilities like malls and hotels. Although there can be several stories of its success, here’s my compilation of the wonderful facts of Bangladesh.

  1. Bangladesh is building the third highest building in the world.

The 142 storey, 743 metres high Grand Iconic tower in Dhaka on completion will be the third highest building in the world, after the under-construction Jeddah Tower and Burj Khalifa and the tallest building on the Indian subcontinent. The construction will start in 2018.

An artist’s impression of the Iconic Towers
  1. Bangladesh is a leading textile exporter.

The textile industry is the highest contributor to the exports of Bangladesh, due to a demand for cheap textiles. These textiles are exported to as far as USA, Canada and Europe. Surprisingly, one of my brother’s t-shirts also carried a label ‘Made in Bangladesh’. In 2016, textiles accounted for 86% of the country’s exports.

  1. Although Bangladesh separated from Pakistan which left the country in a devastating state, it is growing much faster than Pakistan.

Today Pakistan is in a miserable state with a dysfunctional democracy, dominance by the military and rebellions for independence in Balochistan and Pak occupied Kashmir. Amidst all this chaos, Bangladesh has managed to retain the image of one of the fastest growing economies. In 2016, Bangladesh grew at 6.92%, faster than India and China and much faster than Pakistan, at 4.7%. Devastated economies like Zimbabwe also grew faster than Pakistan in the same year.

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  1. Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh has the world’s longest beach.

Cox’s Bazar is a town in the south-eastern part of Bangladesh. It has a 120 km long unbroken sea beach, which is the longest beach in the world. Yet, despite its natural beauty, it is not a major international tourist destination.

  1. Bangladesh has some of the most fertile lands and the broadest rivers.

The two broadest rivers of India – Ganga and Brahmaputra merge in Bangladesh to form river Padma. Hence, one can imagine the breadth and the fertility of the soil on its banks. The delta of these rivers is also the largest in the world. The Bangabandhu bridge built on river Brahmaputra is 5.63 km long and the sixth largest in South Asia. These rivers are well suited for fishing, transportation and their soil for cultivating rice, jute, etc.

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Rivers of Bangladesh

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iconic_Towers
  2. https://www.worldfinance.com/markets/bangladesh-textiles-industry-set-global-export-record
  3. http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-pakistan-bangladesh-textiles/textiles-on-the-move-from-pakistan-to-bangladesh-idUKTRE77T11020110830
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_real_GDP_growth_rate
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cox%27s_Bazar
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FIVE INTERESTING GOOD THINGS ABOUT PAKISTAN

FIVE INTERESTING GOOD THINGS ABOUT PAKISTAN
Pakistan is a bad light today after a huge shame by their Permanent Secretary to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi. Ironically, the word ‘Pak’ in Urdu means ‘pure’ and hence, ‘Pakistan’ literally means ‘The land of the pure’. Let us have a look at five good facts about our ‘beloved’ neighbour.

  1. Pakistan is a haven for not only terrorists but also for street food lovers.

One must not forget that although the government is making Pakistan more and more Arabianized, its roots are still Indian. Major cities like Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar have thriving street food lanes. All types of Indian, Persian and Arabian street food is found there. Some of the delicacies are pizzas, bun kebabs, kachoris, samosas, gol gappas, pakoras, jalebis, etc.

Chicken shawarma
  1. World’s second highest peak – K2 is located in Pak occupied Kashmir.

K2 is the world’s second highest point after Mt. Everest. The ‘K’ in K2 comes from the Karakoram range. In fact, when one talks about Pakistan, one can’t forget the majestic beauty of the Karakorams and the lakes of Gilgit Baltistan in Pak occupied Kashmir. This mountain also has the second highest fatality rate with every one climber dying out of four who make it. Due to such steep slopes, not many have ventured it as compared to Mount Everest.

  1. All footballs used in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil were made in Pakistan.

Pakistan is the world’s football manufacturing hub. The Brazuca – the official balls of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil were manufactured at Sialkot. In 2014, Sialkot alone manufactured about 40% of the world’s footballs. The story of it being a football hub dates to the colonial times when the British awarded a contract for manufacturing these balls to a local saddle maker.

A manufacturer in Sialkot with Brazucas
  1. Lahore has a metro bus system.

Similar to elevated metro rail in most metropolitan cities in the world, Lahore has come up with a new concept of a metro bus. These buses are similar to BRTS buses in Ahmedabad and a few other cities except that they run on dedicated elevated roads. All bus stops have a proper arrangement for seating and are well equipped with facilities like railway stations. The service was launched in 2014.

  1. Pakistan is the home to world’s oldest and most advanced civilizations – the Harappan civilization.

This isn’t something new but the namesake river of India – Indus flows mainly through Pakistan. The name ‘Hindu’ was also derived from the Sanskrit name of the Indus river ‘Sindhu’. It is also the birthplace of the Harappan civilization and the Indo-Aryans. Today, most of the excavated sites such as Mohenjo-Daro and Vedic universities like Takshashila are located in Pakistan.

Sites of the Harappan civilization

References:

  1. http://locallylahore.com/blog/16-mouth-watering-street-foods-lahore-street-food-king-food/
  2. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdBfFZKwUI1k7TCUQQmb5eg/videos
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K2
  4. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/07/one-city-in-pakistan-produces-nearly-half-of-the-worlds-soccer-balls/373802/
  5. http://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/pakistan-to-produce-world-cup-soccer-balls/article6033687.ece
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7cIgEj-mdQ&t=208s
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lahore_Metrobus

 

TOP 5 GOOD THINGS ABOUT NORTH KOREA

TOP 5 GOOD THINGS ABOUT NORTH KOREA

 

 

While reading the title, you might be thinking what good can this hermit, isolated kingdom do? Does it do anything else apart from nuclear tests, making hydrogen bombs and ballistic missiles? Definitely, yes. Have a look at some of the interesting good facts about North Korea: –

  1. North Korea has 100% literacy rate.

According to the UNESCO, North Korea has the highest literacy rate in the world, at 100%. This means that although their citizens do not get food, it is mandatory for them to be educated, as the norm is, in several Communist countries. In India too, Tripura, which is governed by Communist governments, has a literacy rate of 94%, far better than any macro-state.

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  1. World’s largest stadium is located in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The Rungardo May Day Stadium, or Rungardo 1st of May Stadium in Pyongyang is officially the largest stadium in the world by seating capacity. It has a seating capacity of 114,000. The population of North Korea is about 25 million; hence, about 0.4% of the population can be seated in this stadium at a time. This ratio (seating capacity to population) is probably the highest in the world. The stadium is used for football and athletics events. Pyongyang also has a bunch of other stadiums such as the Yanggakdo Stadium, Kim Il Sung Stadium, etc.

  1. The east coast city of Wonsan has one of the most beautiful and clear beaches.

Wonsan is a historic port city on the east coast of North Korea. It is a famous tourist destination for locals as well as foreigners. It also has beautiful beaches with clear waters. The North Korean government has also proposed to build an underwater hotel to boost tourism here.

  1. Pyongyang’s underground metro is one of the oldest and deepest in the world.

Ever heard about the Pyongyang metro? It became operational in 1973, one year prior to Seoul Metro. It is about 110 metres deep and claims to be the world’s deepest. It consists of two lines. The trains were imported from Germany, which were formerly used on the Berlin metro. All the advertising was removed and replaced with the photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Puhung station of the Pyongyang metro
  1. World’s tallest uncompleted building is located in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang is a 105-storey unopened hotel in Pyongyang. It is the tallest unopened building in the world. It is also the tallest building in Pyongyang and defines the city’s skyline. The construction began in 1987 but was halted due to a period of economic slowdown. It suffered subsequent delays and was completed only in 2011. As of now, it has not yet been opened.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_literacy_rate
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_states_ranking_by_literacy_rate
  3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/Tripura-beats-Kerala-in-literacy/articleshow/22416019.cms
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_stadiums_by_capacity
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rungrado_1st_of_May_Stadium
  6. https://www.google.co.in/maps/@39.0498023,125.7753243,321m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en&authuser=0
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonsan
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/23/north-korea-plans-underwater-hotel-wonsan-tourist-city
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyongyang_Metro
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryugyong_Hotel

INDIAN RAILWAYS: A JOURNEY FROM STEAM LOCOMOTIVES TO BULLET TRAINS

INDIAN RAILWAYS: A JOURNEY FROM STEAM LOCOMOTIVES TO BULLET TRAINS

 

On 14th of September, the Prime Minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi and that of Japan, Mr. Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone for India’s first high-speed rail project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Well, that’s not a new news. Although the first passenger train was run in India between Bori Bunder in Mumbai and Thane, the first goods train ran much earlier, in 1837, in Madras (today’s Chennai).After 180 years today, the most debated and controversial bullet train project’s work finally takes off. The project is labelled as controversial not by me, but several railway haters across the country; so let us answer their arguments one by one.

 

Argument 1: Why waste $17 billion on a project in a poverty stridden nation?

Answer: India is not paying the entire cost of this project on its own. Almost 80% of the cost will be met with a soft, friendly loan from Japan at the rate of 0.1% per annum, whose repayment will start when the project cost will be recovered. Also, when China started building its HSR, in the 1990s, it also had a significant poverty rate. This project would actually help to alleviate poverty by generating jobs.

Argument 2: Instead of building a new bullet train project, why not improve the existing rail services?

Answer: The point is valid but again, the funding for this project is being done by Japan who won’t give that loan for improving our existing rail infrastructure. The best way to do that, according to me is semi-privatising the Indian railways.

Argument 3: Developed economies like USA don’t have high-speed rail. Why should we invest our time and money in this?

Answer: USA has a substandard railway infrastructure as compared to their economic standards, which is one of the most pathetic in the developed world. Very few lines in USA are electrified. Additionally, the railway only serves a few major cities and no passenger train serves interior states like Wyoming. The domestic transport in USA hence is mostly through the air as the country has excellent airports all over.

Argument 4: The bullet trains will be imported from Japan, so what about ‘Make in India’?

Answer: This is correct. However, only the initial rolling stock will be imported from Japan. Later, the trains will be manufactured in India using transfer of technology from Japan.

Argument 5: Why run a bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad? Why not between major cities?

Answer: The Mumbai – Ahmedabad line is the initial stage and not the only one to be built. There is a plan for a second line between Delhi and Amritsar via Chandigarh. The Mumbai – Ahmedabad line is also expected to be extended till Pune. Finally, when Ahmedabad and Delhi are also linked, we could probably see a full 2000 km high speed railway line between Pune and Amritsar. Today, I also read I TOI about Maharashtra government’s ambitious plan to link Mumbai and Nagpur too!

Argument 6: A bullet train would take 2 hours whereas a plane takes 1 to 1:30 hours. So, isn’t a plane faster?

Answer: Yes, it is. However, we are considering only the inflight time. The time taken to reach the airport, checking in, security check, waiting near the boarding gates and time taken for taxiing takes the total time to almost 4 hours. However, adding the time taken to reach the railway station, waiting, etc. wouldn’t cost more than 3 hours for a bullet train.

Argument 7: The project won’t be profitable.

Answer: There were similar criticisms on the metro projects until people realised their worth. Also, a majority of the travellers would be rich businessmen who wouldn’t have many problems with the fare system. The trains will also halt at intermediate stations, some of them being huge cities like Surat and Vadodara, to make it more profitable.

Argument 8: We already have an unsafe railway system. What if there are accidents with the bullet train?

Answer: Shubh shubh boliye! There is a track of zero accidents on bullet trains in Japan and since the same technology is used in India, there won’t be any technical fault provided the trains and tracks are well maintained and drivers drive sensibly.

Argument 9: Mumbai and Gujarat are prone to severe flooding in the monsoon. Won’t this affect the trains?

Answer: The track is fully elevated and hence just as the metro, water logging won’t affect its services.

There are several advantages to this project, some of which, according to me are: –

  1. Use of renewable energy (electricity) for high-speed transport, at a speed comparable to air travel. Recollect that aeroplanes run on expensive petrol.
  2. Decreasing the load on the conventional railway line which could be used more for transportation of goods in a future manufacturing economy.
  3. Japanese technology would be subsequently used to manufacture high-speed trains in India.
  4. Currently, only 3-4 nations (Japan, China, France and Belgium) have trains running at more than 320 km/h. India would soon join this ivy league.

New technologies are inevitable. Haters will always criticise it. Some people had also questioned the usage of computers, mobile phones, internet, IoT, self-driving cars, etc. citing irrational reasons of losing jobs, robots taking over the world and several fake predictions of their own. It is best to accept new technologies and move on. After all, technologies change humans, they create our future!

THE CITY OF TAJ

THE CITY OF TAJ
This city needs no introduction. The heading of the article and featured image are self-sufficient to understand whom I am talking about. Being the capital of the Sultanate of Delhi for a while and the Mughal Empire, this city has witnessed several historic events including the establishment of the empire by Babur, construction of the Taj Mahal or the escape of Shivaji Maharaj. For years, until the British rule, Agra was one of the largest and most important cities in the Indian sub-continent. However, the origin of the city is much before the Sultanate of Delhi. It has been mentioned in the Mahabharata. The name Agra is derived from the Sanskrit word Agravena, meaning border of the forest.Both of the important monuments in Agra, the Agra Fort as well as the Taj Mahal are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Ibrahim Lodi, the last ruler of the Sultanate of Delhi ruled until 1526 when he was defeated by Babur in the battle of Panipat. Thus, the Mughal Empire was established with Agra as its capital until Akbar moved it to Fatehpur Sikri and brought it back to Agra in 1598. Fatehpur Sikri is about 36 km from Agra and has been described at THE ABANDONED CAPITAL.

The Agra Fort was built by a Rajput king, Raja Badal Singh. Sikander Lodi, the second last Sultan of Delhi built the mosques and palaces. The fort was constanly renovated by Akbar, as well as Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan built monuments out of white marble, and destroyed some of the previous ones for building his own.

As you enter the fort and turn right, you enter the main residential complex which includes the durbar hall, kitchen, etc. Moving further inside, you find the monuments built by Shah Jahan in white marble, for his daughters, his wives and himself. He also built the Meena Masjid, entirely from white marble. These marble monuments are studded with gems and stones brought from all over the world, from as far as Belgium, Iran, etc.

 

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The durbar hall

 

 

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One of the rooms in the fort

 

 

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Rooms built by Shah Jahan out of white marble

 

 

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A Masjid built by Shah Jahan: Notice the gems embedded in white marble

 

In the last years of Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb imprisoned him inside Agra Fort where he could see the Taj Mahal he built along the Yamuna river.

 

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Shah Jahan spent the last years of his life here after being imprisoned by Aurangzeb

 

 

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The Taj Mahal, as seen from the Agra Fort

 

In the siege of 1857, the British East India Company fired a cannon at the fort, which is still visible today.

 

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The spot where the cannon fired by British East India Company landed

 

The Diwan-i-aam was the hall of the public audience. When Aurangzeb invited Shivaji, it was this place he was made to stand, behind the mansabdars, i.e. the military commanders. Shivaji took this as an insult and offended Aurangazeb. Thus enraged, he ordered Shivaji to be put to house arrest. Realising this, Shivaji made up a plan and escaped Agra Fort hiding in a basket of sweets. The Diwan-i-aam is constructed in such a manner that the king’s view won’t be blocked, even if viewed from any angle. Thus, no pillar here obstructs the king’s view.

 

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The place where Aurangazeb used to sit in the Diwan-i-aam

 

 

 

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Front view of the Diwan-i-aam

 

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Corner view of the Diwan-i-aam: Notice that the king’s throne could still be seen and no pillar blocks the view

 

Notice the resemblance of the diwan-i-aam to the set used in the set of the TV serial Raja Shivchhatrapati:


Many squirrels are found at the Agra Fort as well as the Gwalior Fort and the Taj Mahal. I got the opportunity to click a good photograph of one of them who was searching for something in my camera’s bag.

 

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A squirrel at Agra Fort

 

 

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The Indian tricolour at the Agra Fort: This was also special because it was the Independence day when we visited

 

 

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A yellow coloured pond skater found in Agra

 

 

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A memorial of Shivaji outside the Agra Fort

 

Let’s move on to the Taj Mahal now. For those who aren’t familiar, it was built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan’s third wife, who died during the birth of her fourteenth child. The Taj Mahal was completed in the year 1643. It has three entrance gates – east, west, and south. The Taj is open on all days except Friday, with Friday being meant for Muslims to offer prayers in the mosque.

 

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The Taj Mahal

 

Map of the Taj Complex (mytravelname.com)

The entrance to the Taj is built from red stone and there are two mosques on either sides of the Taj. The Yamuna river flows just behind the Taj. The gardens in front of the Taj are known as Charbagh.

 

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The main entrance to the Taj Complex
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Sunset at Taj Mahal
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The Yamuna river and the Mehtab Bagh
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One of the mosques on the sides

 

Inside the main chamber, there are two tombs – one of Mumtaz and the other of Shah Jahan. Wait for a second, those tombs are just to deceive the visitors – they are fake! The real ones are in a lower chamber. The Taj Mahal complex also has an archaeological museum.

The area in and around the Taj is kept pollution free. Visitors’ vehicles are not allowed near the actual building. If you wish to enter from the East Gate, you need to park the vehicles at Shilpgram, about a kilometre from the gate. Golf cars and battery operated buses, manufactured by BHEL are the only public transport vehicles to transport tourists from Shilpgram to the East Gate.

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The e-rickshaw or golf car by Agra Development Authority near the East Gate, Taj Mahal

 

So as you might be wondering, there are dark sides to the Taj Mahal too. Let us talk about them one by one.

Littering due to shoe covers

Everyone is required to remove their footwear before entering the main mausoleum. Hence, shoe covers are provided at INR 10 at the ticket counter, so that one can proceed without removing their footwear. If you didn’t get what I meant to say, you can refer the image below. There are two people wearing those covers on their shoes. However, after leaving from the mausoleum, people take out those covers and thus, these covers often lie on the ground, which pollutes the land near such an important wonder of the world. This rubbish keeps on littering and accumulating and it seems that nobody is responsible for punishing such offenders or spreading awareness about their acts, although armed police officials are deployed everywhere.

 

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Littering due to shoe covers

 

Acid rains

Acid rains pose a danger to the Taj in today’s world. The refineries at nearby Mathura release hazardous gases like SO2 into the atmosphere which get mixed with water vapour and condense to form dilute acids. As the Taj is made up of marble (calcium carbonate – CaCO3), it reacts with this acid to form calcium sulphate and thus degrades the Taj. Indicators showing the current levels and permissible levels of such gases are installed in one of the corner minarets.

Stolen diamonds

Some of the walls of the Taj and its marble plinth were studded with diamonds and gems, which were later stolen by local thieves during the decline of the Mughal Empire and owing to poor maintenance. The slots of these gems can still be seen.

Black Taj theory

There are theories that Shah Jahan wanted to build a Black Taj Mahal for himself after building the white ones for Mumtaz. Some black marble stones found at Mehtab Bagh, on the opposite side of Yamuna support this theory. However, modern excavations state that these stones were blackened white stones and not originally black, thus opposing the theory. Hence, no Black Taj exists as of now.

Tejo Mahalaya theory

Historian P. N. Oak, in his book Taj Mahal: The True Story, claims that the Taj Mahal was originally a Shiva temple, called Tejo Mahalaya, built in 1155 CE. He claims that it was built by the Rajput king Jai Singh I. Some of the lotus designs found inside the Taj and radiocarbon dating of a few stones also support this theory. It is believed that the word ‘Taj Mahal’ is a corruption of this word used by Shah Jahan.

There is a unique kind of soda which is found here, in North India, known as Goti soda, found in a codd-neck bottle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codd-neck_bottle). Its mouth is sealed with a marble instead of a cap. It is opened by pushing this marble inside the bottle. It was patented and named after British soft drink maker Hiram Codd.

 

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Goti soda near Taj Mahal

 

Reaching Agra

Agra (Taj Mahal) is about 220 km from New Delhi via the Yamuna Expressway, which has been now extended till Lucknow. The National Highway 46 connects Agra to Mumbai via Gwalior, Indore, Dhule, Nashik, etc. Agra also lies on the North South Corridor, i.e. the Srinagar Kanyakumari Highway, which was revamped as an almost freeway in the Golden Quadrilateral Project.

Agra has several important railway stations, such as Agra Cantt., Raja ki Mandi, Idgah Agra, Agra Fort, Yamuna Bridge, etc. Mathura, an important junction is also very close to Agra. There are several trains that ply between Agra and Delhi (including India’s fastest train – Gatimaan Express) and Agra and Bengaluru/Hyderabad/Vizag/Chennai (such as several Rajdhanis). In comparison, fewer trains ply between Agra and Mumbai. One of them and the fastest is the Nizamuddin LTT AC SF Express which runs once a week.

 

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Delhi Hazrat Nizamuddin – Mumbai LTT AC Superfast Express at LTT

 

As of today, Agra has a small military airport which is also used for public transport. Not many airlines operate here. However, a new greenfield airport, the Taj International Airport is proposed to be built at Jewar, about 146 km from Agra and has been granted an approval by the Union Government.

A few words on my hotel… Although till date I haven’t named my hotel, this time I specifically chose to name it – Orient Taj Hotels and Resorts, Fatehbad Road (https://www.makemytrip.com/hotels/orient_taj_hotels_and_resorts-details-agra.html). That’s because in about INR 9600 for two days for two rooms, you get a plethora of facilities such as a badminton/tennis court, indoor games, swimming pool, gym, complimentary breakfast, etc. It also has a huge lawn and paved walkways for walking and jogging. The hotel is designed in the Mughal architectural style and its buildings are named after several emperors and their wives of the Mughal dynasty. Therefore, I would definitely recommend this hotel for your visit to Agra. MakeMyTrip gives you a cheap deal for the same.

 

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A view of the hotel Orient Taj
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The reception lobby

 

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Interiors of a room

 

 

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Notice the Mughal styled architecture in the above images

 

At its peak, i.e. at the end of the 17th century, the Mughal empire constituted about 25% of the world’s GDP. Yes, almost quarter of the GDP of the world came from the Mughal empire alone! This is because it comprised of the modern-day territories of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. And of course, there were no other gigantic powers such as the USA then! The Mughals also had a great military strength, which they needed to crush frequent rebels in Afghanistan, by the tribes living there. Taliban wouldn’t have dared to come up in their presence. Probably the US military must learn a few lessons from them. Though the Mughals were incapable of defeating the Marathas, it was because of the inability of the successors of Aurangazeb and not the strength of their empire. If his successors would have been as able as him, an undivided India would probably still be under Mughal dominance; probably a somewhat softer version of Saudi Arabia in South Asia. Well, that would have positive as well as ill-effects, but the rise of fall of empires is regular. The Sultanate of Delhi rose, fell to the Mughals, the Mughals fell to the Marathas, who fell under the British East India Company, which was replaced by the British Raj, and finally the Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. However, this cycle should now stop as we are quite a stable democracy. Although this often happens in the modern age in countries like Libya (2011), Iraq (2003), USSR (1991), Iran (1979), etc., it won’t happen with us and by God’s grace, must never happen. Do visit Agra to remember the Mughals and their glory, while respecting the sovereignty and integrity of the Republic of India. Several movies such as Taj Mahal (1963) and Mughal-e-Azam (1960) have also been made to spread awareness about their legacy. Presenting you a beautiful song from the movie Taj Mahal:

THE ABANDONED CAPITAL

THE ABANDONED CAPITAL
In the 16th century CE, after Akbar emerged victorious against Chittor and Ranathambore, he shifted his capital from Agra to a new city to the south-west of Agra near Sikri. Sikri was then a small village and Akbar renamed it to Fatehpur Sikri, where Fatehpur means ‘victorious’. It was also built to honour the sufi saint Salim Chisti, whom Akbar greatly revered. However, it was abandoned later, in 1585 due to the exhaustion of a small lake which supplied drinking water to the city. Even today, the splendid monuments lie in complete isolation and resemble a medieval ghost town. The monuments now display the grandeur of the Mughal Empire during Akbar’s reign. Today, Fatehpur Sikri is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Fatehpur Sikri is about 36 kilometres from Agra Cantt. Railway station on Agra-Jaipur Road. There are two complexes here – Jodhabai complex and the Mosque complex located adjacent to each other.

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Agra Cantt. railway station to Fatehpur Sikri

All monuments here are made up of red stone. The Jodhabai complex has palaces and residences of the ministers, such as the Diwan-i-khas (hall of private audience), Birbal’s house, Panch Mahal, etc. Let me describe a few important ones here. The Jodhabai complex has an entry fee of INR 40 per adult and provides you with audio guides at INR 118 in English. This is much cheaper than the charges of human guides, which cost you around INR 450 per group.

Diwan-i-khas

The Diwan-i-khas is the place where the cabinet meetings used to be conducted. It gives an appearance of a double storeyed structure from outside. It has a central pillar with intricate geometric floral designs. Some say that this hall was also used for the weighing ceremony of the emperor and princes on new year’s day.

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The central pillar of Diwan-i-khas
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The Diwan-i-khas

Panch Mahal

This is a five storied structure which every upper floor smaller in the area and the number of columns than its lower ones. No two columns here look the same. It is decorated with a royal chhatri on the top and it has 176 columns in all.

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Panch Mahal

Sunahara Makan (Maryam’s mansion)

This mansion was built for Hamida Banu Begum, Akbar’s mother, who was given the title ‘Maryam’ by Akbar. Elder women were given importance in the Mughal culture. It was profusely embellished with paintings, and is hence, also known as Sunahara Makan.

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Maryam’s mansion

Jodhabai’s Palace

This palace was built for Queen Jodha, the wife of Emperor Akbar.

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Jodhabai’s Palace

Diwan-i-aam

This was the hall of public audience. This is the place where the emperor and the courtiers used to interact with the common public and is hence, located at the boundary wall of the complex.

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The Diwan-i-aam

Apart from these, the Jodhabai complex has a mint, pond, the royal treasury, a board of pacchisi (a Mughal game like Ludo), a girls’ school, etc.

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Interior designs on the walls

The other complex – mosque complex houses the Jama Masjid, Buland Darwaza, tomb of Salim Chisti, etc. Entry to this complex is free of cost; however, it is too crowdy inside. The Buland Darwaza opens to the residential village of Fatehpur Sikri.

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Entrance to the mosque complex

While reaching Fatehpur Sikri from Agra, all vehicles are parked at the Gulistan parking and CNG buses take tourists to the Jodhabai and mosque complexes. They charge only INR 10 per person, which is pretty cheap.

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Black pigs at the Gulistan parking lot

After serving as the capital from 1571 to 1585, Akbar abandoned Fatehpur Sikri and moved the capital to Lahore for a brief period, before shifting it back to Agra in 1598. Despite being the capital for a very short period, Fatehpur Sikri witnessed great events such as the proclamation of Din-i-Ilahi, a religion founded by Akbar by merging the best parts of different religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, etc. Several ministers of Akbar, including Birbal were followers of this new religion. Not only did Akbar tolerate other faiths but he also encouraged constructive debates among them. All these discussions took place at the Ibadat Khana at Fatehpur Sikri. In today’s modern world, Akbar sets a true example of a secular leader in Islamic countries. Although Akbar is infamous for rampaging several regional kingdoms, it is also equally true that he was a man of principles and the ‘real’ king for his subjects. His life has been recorded in his official biography, the Akbarnama, composed by one of his navaratnas, Abul Fazl, as Akbar was himself illiterate. In the brief period of stay at Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar gave the true message of secularism to the world.

Abul Fazl presenting the Akbarnama to Akbar (Wikipedia)

This great Mughal Emperor was illiterate; he could neither read nor write. However, that had not stopped Akbar from cultivating the acquaintance of the most learned and cultural poets, authors, musicians and architects of the time – relying solely on his remarkable memory during conversations with them.

– Indu Sundaresan

THE CITY THAT FELL AND ROSE AGAIN

THE CITY THAT FELL AND ROSE AGAIN

An ancient folk tale talks about a king who was cured of leprosy when a sage offered him water from a sacred pond. To repay his deeds, the king constructed a massive wall atop a hill which has been revered for its strategic location since then. This fort, which later became a huge sprawling city with a population today, with a population of about Latvia or Gabon. This is Gwalior, the fourth largest city in Madhya Pradesh, India.Gwalior is not a prominent and is an often-underrated tourist destination. The city has fallen and risen to several kingdoms from the Chandelas, Tomards, Sultanate of Delhi, Mughals, Marathas and British East India Company, and was a stronghold of the Maratha clan of Shindes (Scindias). The city has everything to offer for history lovers. The most magnificent monument of the city, the Gwalior Fort, itself houses several monuments and buildings built during the ancient and medieval ages.

Map of the Gwalior Fort; source: Wikipedia

There are no historical pieces of evidence as to who built this fort; however, as per the legend, it was built by King Suraj Sen Pal in the 3rd century CE. The fort houses several monuments, of which the important ones are: –

  1. Chaturbhuj Temple
  2. Man Singh Palace
  3. Gujari Mahal
  4. Vikram Mahal and Karan Mahal
  5. Jahangir Mahal and Shah Jahan Mahal
  6. Jauhar Kund
  7. Suraj Kund
  8. Saas Bahu ka Mandir
  9. Teli ka Mandir

Chaturbhuj Temple

The Chaturbhuj Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu (also known as Chaturbhuj) and it is said that the first written evidence of the numeral zero is found here. It falls on the ascending walkway to the interiors of the fort.

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The Chaturbhuj Temple

Man Singh Palace

The fort’s north eastern entrance has a stunning stone gate after which you enter the fort’s palace complex. The most important and largest of these palaces is the Man Singh Palace or the Man Mandir Palace. It was built by the Tomar king Man Singh in 1508. It has a ground floor and the rest is underground. The palace interiors are carved with several architectural styles. In the underground floors, one can find the private amenities like the swimming pool. The king had nine wives, eight of which were Tomar and stayed at the Man Singh Palace and the eighth wife, a Gurjar, Mrignayani, lived at the Gujari Mahal as she demanded a separate private palace for herself. This was because she refused to obey the regulations of the Tomar clan, such as the pardah system, which was prevalent in Rajput dynasties.

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Architectural styles of the Man Singh Palace
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This pipe was used for internal communication in the palace. Whatever one speaks from one end could be heard from the other.

Gujari Mahal

Unlike the other buildings, the Gujari Mahal is located at the foot of the fort near the ‘Qila Gate’ and has been converted to an archaeological museum now. Not many are aware of this museum and hence, it has very low visitors. Most of the monuments at the museum belong to the ancient age and have been partly destroyed.

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The Gujari Mahal, as seen from the upper fort

Vikram Mahal and Karn Mahal

The Vikram Mahal was built by Man Singh’s son Vikramaditya Tomar. Similarly, the Karn Mahal was built by Kirti Singh, also known as Karn Singh.

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Me standing before the Karn Mahal

Jahangir Mahal and Shah Jahan Mahal

Gwalior fell to the Mughal Empire after Akbar’s invasion. After this, the Mughal emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan built their own palaces here.

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Jahangir Fort, Gwalior Fort

Jauhar Kund

Jauhar was a practice in medieval times of killing oneself after the death of the husband due to invasion by Islamic forces. To prevent oneself from being subjugated as a sex slave, the wives of Rajputs used to jump in a pyre. The swimming pool used to be filled with sandalwood which was burnt and one by one, everyone used to jump in it. It is said that the Hindu practice of sati has evolved from jauhar. For more about jauhar, visit Jauhar, Wikipedia.

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The Jauhar Kund: Since it is not in use currently, it is not well maintained and has been infested with algae

Suraj Kund

This is a pond inside the fort, a few kilometres away from the palace complex. This is the pond where king Man Singh used to bathe every day. There is a small temple in its centre and today, the pond contains blooms of lotuses.

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Lotuses in the Suraj Kund
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The temple in the Suraj Kund

Saas Bahu ka Mandir

It was originally named as the Sahastrabahu Mandir and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Sahastrabahu means a thousand arms. Hence, it was meant for Lord Vishnu with a thousand arms. It was built in 1092 CE by King Mahipala of the Kachchhapaghata dynasty. There are two temples – one for the king’s wife and the other for the king’s daughter-in-law; hence the name ‘Sas Bahu’.

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The larger temple, or the Sas ka Mandir
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Sculptures inside the temple
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The smaller temple, or Bahu ka Mandir

Teli ka Mandir

The word ‘teli’ means an oil presser, i.e. one who extracts mineral oil. The temple was built around the 8th or 13th century and was originally dedicated to Lord Vishnu, but later converted to worship Shiva. Both, the Sas Bahu and Teli temples are non-functional today.

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The Teli ka Mandir: There was some refurbishing taking place at the left, which spoilt the view

Other monuments

The fort has several other monuments, including a few Jain temples, statues dedicated to Jain tirthankaras, a well known as the Assi Khamba ki Baori and other modern buildings such as a Gurudwara, the Scindia school, etc.

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The Assi Khamba ki Baori (eighty pillar well)

Apart from the monuments and buildings that the fort houses, it provides you an amazing view of the underlying city of Gwalior. Everything from the railway station, the Roop Singh Stadium, the different temples on the adjacent hills, etc. is visible. That is enough to realise the significance and strategic importance of this fort.

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View of the city

Suggestions and advices for tourists

As a friendly hand, I wish to provide some help while visiting this fort.

  1. While leaving for the fort, the cab/auto driver will ask you as to which gate should they drop you. There are two gates from which you can enter, one is the ‘Qila gate’ where you need to go walking on the hill fort and the other is the gate from which cars can enter. All 4 wheelers, including Ola cabs, can drop you atop the hill directly, charging INR 50 extra as the vehicle entry fee. However, if you enter from this gate, you won’t encounter the Chaturbhuj temple and Gujari Mahal. Instead, you can view the Jain statues.
  2. If you have the ability to climb the 104 metre hill, I would recommend to climb and go. If you enter from the Qila gate, some cab drivers would ask you for a tour from their cab at INR 450, which is non-bargainable. I don’t think it’s worth the cost; hence, able bodied people may climb the hill on foot. For just ascending or descending the hill by cab, they cost you INR 100; whereas the same can be availed on an Ola cab by paying just INR 50 extra.
  3. You would require a guide for exploring the Man Singh palace as it has no setup for audio guides and it is quite confusing inside. That’s the reason the locals call it as a ‘Bhool bhoolaiya mahal’.
  4. The same ticket is valid for the Man Singh Palace, Teli ka Mandir and Sas Bahu ka Mandir. The Vikram Mahal, Karn Mahal, Jahangir Mahal, etc. together have a separate ticket.
  5. Free wifi is provided on the fort.
  6. There is no good facility for lunch there so you should better carry your own food; there is only a single cafeteria but there isn’t any proper lunch available there either. The rest are small stalls where you’ll find only tea, chat, soft drinks, chips, etc.
  7. For transportation on the fort, you can avail the e-rickshaw facility which charges INR 40 per person. It takes you from the palace complex, lets you explore the Suraj Kund, Teli ka Mandir, Sas Bahu ka Mandir, Gurudwara and drops you back.

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The e-rickshaw at Gwalior Fort
  1. There is a light and sound show every evening at the fort complex.

Apart from the fort, there are a few other monuments in Gwalior, such as the Moti Mahal, Jai Vilas Palace, Sun temple, etc. However, due to time constraints, I could not visit them.

In 2010, Gwalior made history and came into the news once again. This time, it was not the fort but the Roop Singh Stadium, where Sachin Tendulkar scored 200 runs, not out of 147 balls. He became the first batsman in ODI cricket to score a double century.

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The Roop Singh Stadium where Sachin hit a double ton, as viewed from Gwalior Fort

Some of the highlights of this match:

Getting there

Gwalior is an important railway station on the Delhi-Chennai main line and several trains originating from Delhi and north and bound for South India, Odisha, Chhatisgarh or Maharashtra, such as the Taj Express or Bhopal Shatabdi halt here. From Mumbai, one can reach Gwalior by the Punjab Mail or similar trains. I took the Punjab Mail to reach there. It is one of the oldest trains of the Indian Railways, inaugurated in 1912. It was used for transporting British government officials from Bombay port to Delhi, the capital.

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Punjab Mail, which now runs between Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Mumbai and Ferozepur Cantt.

Gwalior also has a small airport, known as Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia Air Terminal, with regular services to Indore, Delhi and Mumbai. With a population of more than 19 lakhs and in order to boost tourism, there is a need for upgrading the airport to schedule regular domestic services to major metro cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, etc. This is quite essential as more and more passengers are shifting to air travel in the recent years.

Until India’s independence in 1947, Gwalior was a princely state under the Scindias. Vasundhara Raje Scindia, the current Chief Minister of Rajasthan is also from this royal family. Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia, a Member of Parliament and a Congress politician is the current titular king of Gwalior. However, there is an interesting story about their royal clan which I wish to share.

Jayajirao Scindia, the ruler of Gwalior from 1843 to 1886, was loyal to the British East India Company. He had initially promised help to Rani Laxmibai, the ruler of the state of Jhansi. However, when Laxmibai arrived at Gwalior, Jayajirao refused to protect her and betrayed his promise. Hence, Rani Laxmibai died at a tender age of 29 fighting against the British in the rebellion of 1857 a Gwalior. Her samadhi is situated at Phool Bagh in Gwalior. Because of this betrayal, the districts of Jhansi and Lalitpur refused to be a part of Madhya Pradesh and is hence seen as a protruding part of the state of Uttar Pradesh. To this day, some of the patriots of Jhansi still hate the citizens of Gwalior, to some extent. Because of this inclusion of Jhansi and Lalitpur in Uttar Pradesh, the train crosses the MP/UP boundary several times while moving from Bhopal to Gwalior.

Samadhi of Rani Laxmibai (Image source: Aaj Tak)
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Gwalior and Jhansi; the protruding part of Uttar Pradesh

However, this story is more than a century old now and it should not be your reason to hate the Scindias or not visit Gwalior. As I mentioned, it is an underrated tourist destination and hence, you should definitely visit it if you have a keen interest in history. It is one of the few ancient cities in Central India existing since the 3rd century. I urge everyone, regardless of your nationality, to visit Gwalior. India also has an electronic visa system for foreign nationals. After exploring Gwalior, I visited Agra, the capital of the Great Mughal Empire, which I would talk about soon. See you all at Agra 🙂

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Me with my mom at Gwalior station, while leaving for Agra