I first heard about Mahabalipuram in a chapter of my Class 8 or 9 Hindi textbook. While I don’t remember who the author of that piece was, I do remember that it was about the ruminations of a sculptor who wondered about the glorious temple ruins by the sea-shore and how they came to be.
Though the chapter didn’t mention Mahabalipuram as the place the sculptor was talking about, my Hindi teacher said that is where the story was based. He also elaborated a bit on the history of Mahabalipuram and that had me hooked. My young and impressionable teenaged mind found the description of a bygone era and the desolation of temple ruins by the sea-shore very romantic.
The visual stayed with me through school, college, university… till I actually visited Mahabalipuram in 1996. This was in the summer of that year and the heat and tourist hordes dispelled any romantic notion I had about Mahabalipuram. But the monuments left an impression on me — enough to make me want to re-visit it.
It took me almost 20 years visit Mahabalipuram again.
There are places that leave an impression on you after you have visited it. And then there are places which leave an impression on you even before you have visited it. Like Itchan Kala, the inner, fortified town of Khiva, an ancient city on the Silk Route in Central Asia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Itchan Kala was the first of the sites to be inscribed in the list from Uzbekistan in 1990.
I came across Khiva and Itchan Kala, while researching on places to visit in Uzbekistan. While the photographs of Itchan Kala were uniformly breathtaking, not to mention tempting enough make me want to pack my bags and head there immediately, the descriptions were varied and the reactions mixed — a living fortress, a perfectly preserved medieval fortress, a fort museum, a museum city, former hub of slave trade, lifeless and artificial, a film set, a somewhere else place, over renovated and restored, lifeless, touristy… I found the multitude of opinions and impressions about Itchan Kala even more enticing than the pictures, and couldn’t wait to visit it for myself.
The sun was setting when I arrived on a September day in 2015 in the rather nondescript city of Khiva. It had been a long day of travel from Nukus, exploring the scattered ruins of Khorezem along the way. As my car wove in and out of twisting roads, I kept a lookout for the walled town, already familiar from the numerous pictures I had seen online.
And then, as we drove through a market, the mud walls of a fortress suddenly loomed up. It was the Itchan Kala. I barely had time to recover from that first sight before the car entered the fortress through a gate and stopped outside my hotel. As soon as the registration formalities were completed, I set out to explore the place.
The grand and Gothic-inspired building of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai is awe-inspiring at any time of the day. But when this UNESCO-listed world heritage site and the headquarters of Central Railway is lit up, it is simply stunning. Do click on the photograph below to see the details.
I came across the CST building, all lip up, a couple of Saturdays ago. It was around 7.30 pm and I was in a cab, homeward bound when suddenly CST appeared glowing like a jewel. I was lucky to get the red signal, which meant that I had time for a couple of quick photographs with my mobile phone, before the traffic surged ahead.
While I love to see monuments lit up and showing off their architecture, I really wish the colours are subtler and nicer. I found the pink and blue colours that light up CST quite garish and geared towards grabbing your eyeballs.
What are you think? Did you like the colours of CST? How do like your monuments lit up? Subtle? Eyeball grabbing? Thematic?
Mumbai Lens is a photographic series which, as the name suggests, is Mumbai-centric and is an attempt to capture the various moods of the city through my camera lens. You can read more posts from this series here.
I visited the Sun Temple at Modhera on the last day of my North Gujarat trip in December 2014. It was a much-anticipated visit and I had spent the weeks prior to the trip salivating over the many photographs available online. I was so excited at the prospect of finally visiting the Sun Temple that I was awake much before the morning alarm rang.
I wanted to be at the Sun Temple by 9 am, but both the checkout at the hotel and breakfast got delayed. By the time the shared private jeep from Mehsana dropped me off at Modhera village, it was 9.30 am. A helpful villager pointed the path that would lead me to the Sun Temple and 10 minutes later, I was at the ticket office queuing up to buy my tickets.
It seemed to be a busy day for there were quite a few international tourists already making their way out of the temple complex, while bus loads of school children were entering it. Once I bought my ticket and a booklet on the Sun Temple, I entered the complex where a path lad me through well-manicured lawns, a museum before the Sun Temple came into view with a large stepped tank before it. And my first thoughts were that all the photographs do not do justice to the monument. It is far bigger and grander and more magnificent, dear reader, and do keep that in mind as you read further !
It is around 10.30 in the morning when I enter the Rani ni Vav (or the Queen’s Stepwell) complex at Patan. It’s a sunny day with bright blue and cloudless skies.
I take this as an auspicious sign for I have been rather unlucky when it comes to viewing stepwells. Be it at Hampi, Champaner or Lonar, the wells were full of water when I visited them, and I was unable to see the step-like feature of the wells. So keenly aware I am of my ‘luck’ with stepwells that I cannot help asking the person selling entry tickets to the monument, if there is water in the stepwell.
I get the reassuring reply that the water supply dried up a long time back and the step well is completely dry. So it is with a spring in my steps and a smile on my face that I enter the complex. Manicured lawns and well laid out pathways welcome me, and I pass a photo shoot, as well as coy couples hiding behind bushes on my way to the stepwell, which is a short walk from the entrance.
Soon the stepwell is visible or rather a fenced off rise and depression is visible and it is only when I am almost upon it that I see steps descending into the stepwell. I have picked up a booklet from the ticket office on the Rani ni Vav and settle down on the topmost step to read and familiarise myself with the history of the stepwell.
You know what they say about saving the best for the last? Well, Ellora Caves doesn’t believe in that !
The first thing that visitors to Ellora Caves see on entering the complex is its most famous monument. It is the monument that writers have written paeans about, the monument that is a photographer’s delight, the monument that leaves visitors awestruck, and the monument that everyone knows as Kailasa Temple, but is officially known as Cave 16.
When I walked in after buying my entry ticket and saw the richly carved entrance to the cave, familiar from so many photographs, I actually rubbed my eyes in disbelief !
My impulse was to explore Kailasa first, but better sense prevailed. Tempting as it was to explore Cave 16, I decided to begin with Cave 1, which was a short distance away. It turned out to be a good decision for if I had explored the Kailasa Temple first, I would probably not have seen any of the other 33 caves at Ellora!
Once again, as it happened at the Ajanta Caves and then at Daulatabad Fort, no guides were available when I arrived at the Ellora Caves at noon, one day in December 2013. There was also no literature on Ellora available at the ticket office. But, as I found out later, the information boards placed outside each cave provided adequate information.