Written by Donna Dawson
India has always been on my hit list…I had gone there on a family trip a few years ago and wanted to get a garden tour together as that is what I specialize in. Finally we had what we wanted…an incredible trip to northern India and what a trip it was. The group was as enchanted with what we saw as I was. The crowning glory was of course the Taj Mahal but there were also such beautiful sights as Agra Fort and Sisodia Gardens.
Travelling in March was the perfect time of year. Not too hot yet and the flowers were beautiful. The trees had that sweet spring green colour that only happens in spring.
The gardens are listed as we travelled in India…and each has something incredible to share with you. We started in Delhi and ended in Udaipur. The difference in the areas was very noticeable as the closer we got to Udaipur the warmer it got. When travelling in a country like India, you have to go with an open mind and if you do you will come away with so much more. This is a country full of warm and friendly people, wonderful food and joyous experiences all around you.
The origins of Qutab Minar are shrouded in controversy. Some believe it was erected as a tower of victory to signify the beginning of the Muslim rule in India. Others say it served as a minaret to the muezzins to call the faithful to prayer. No one can, however, dispute that the tower is not only one of the finest monuments in India, but also in the world. The nearby Iron Pillar is one of the world's foremost metallurgical curiosities, standing in the famous Qutb complex. According to the traditional belief, anyone who can encircle the entire column with their arms, with their back towards the pillar, can have their wish granted.
The unique lotus shaped Bahai Temple is a marvel of modern architecture. It's lotus shape is composed of 27 free-standing shining white marble clad "petals" arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides and is one of the major attractions for national and international tourists. All around the lotus are walkways with beautiful curved balustrades, bridges and stairs, which surround the nine pools representing the floating leaves of the lotus. It was to me as ethereal as the Taj Mahal as the colour of the marble used gave it an appearance of floating.
Established in the 15th-16th century by the Sayyids and Lodis, this gardens is more like a park, but it is the buildings that catch your eye. Medieval monuments lend a charm to these gardens. The tombs situated in the garden belong to the Lodi and Sayyid Era, and boast of excellent architecture. This style was later used in the construction of Taj Mahal. This garden is known for its fountains, ponds, flowering trees, blossoming shrubs and artificial streams.
Few forts in the world have a more fascinating story to tell than the Great Fort of Agra. Originally planned as an impregnable military structure by Akbar, the Agra Fort, over a period of time, acquired all the elegance, lavishness and majesty of an imperial palace. It is the most important fort in India. The great Mugals, Humayun’s, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb lived here, and the country was governed from here. It contained the largest state treasury and mint. It was visited by foreign ambassadors, travelers and the highest dignitaries who participated in the making of history in India.
A Wonderful example of early Mughal Architecture, the Humayun's Tomb was built by the wife of Humayun, Haji Begum in the mid 16th century. Constructed with red sandstone and ornamentation, it marks the beginning of a new tradition of ornate style culminating in the Taj Mahal. Designed by the Persian architect, Mirza Ghyas, Humayun's Tomb shows a marked shift from the Persian tradition of using coloured tiles for ornamentation.
A Taj Mahal tour is not only about the seeing the mausoleum in white marble, but also its surroundings, especially the Taj Garden - Charbagh. In Islamic style of architecture, the garden is not just another feature but has a well-defined meaning and symbolizes the spirituality of a place. According to the Holy Koran, a garden is symbolic of paradise. The Taj Garden covers most parts of the Taj. Out of a total area of 580 m by 300 m, the Taj Garden alone covers 300 m by 300 m.
The guiding principle in creating this garden is one of the symmetry and it can be experienced everywhere. The four regions of the garden within the Charbagh are divided into 16 flowerbeds, making a total of 64. It is said that each flowerbed was planted with 400 plants. Trees were planted carefully in accordance with the symmetry of the overall plan. The trees, which were generally preferred, were either cypress (Cuprussus) (signifying death) or different fruit bearing trees (signifying life). These trees were home to many birds, which migrated from distant places to enhance the liveliness of the Taj Mahal.
For centuries, the Taj Mahal has inspired poets, painters and musicians to try and capture its elusive magic in word, colour and song. Since the 17th century, travelers have crossed continents to come and see this ultimate memorial to love. It does not matter how many photos you see or how many shows you watch, you must see this in person to truly appreciate it. It is the ultimate in ethereal beauty. It was built in the memory of the beautiful Arjumand Bano Begum, who won the heart of a Mughal prince. She was married at 21 to Emperor Jahangir's third son Prince Khurram and stayed loyally by his side through good times and bad: in the luxurious royal palaces of Agra as well as the transient tents of war camps.
Shahjahan's two biggest passions were architecture and jewellery and both are reflected in the Taj Mahal. He visualized a building in marble and then had it decorated with semi-precious stones inlaid with the delicacy of handcrafted jewellery. Marble in purest white was brought from Makrana in Rajasthan, yellow marble and rockspar from the banks of the Narmada river, black marble from Charkoh and red sandstone from Sikri. For the intricate pietra dura the finest gems were collected - crystal and jade from China, lapis lazuli and sapphires from Sri Lanka, jasper from Punja, carnelian from Baghdad and turquoise from Tibet. Yemen sent agates, the corals came from Arabia, the garnets from Bundelkhand, onyx and amethyst from Persia.
What is most amazing about the Taj Mahal is the fine detailing. The coloured inlay is never allowed to overwhelm the design, as carvings done in relief sensitively balance it. The ornate pietra dura and relief carvings are of floral, calligraphic and geometric designs. However, flowers remain the main decorative element as the tomb depicts a paradise garden. The skill of the inlay worker is so fine that it is impossible to find the joints, even when as many as 40 tiny pieces of semi-precious stones have been used in the petals of a single flower. Some of the best calligraphy of Koranic verses can be seen around the entrance arches and on the two headstones.
Fatehpur Sikri is a city built in red sandstone by Emperor Akbar to commemorate the birth of his son. Perched a top a rocky ridge 37 km west of Agra, Fatehpur Sikri came into being four centuries ago when the Emperor Akbar, not yet 28 years old, created the first planned city in Indo-Islamic style. The city was actualized with great energy, but was completely abandoned a little more than a decade later. A shortage of water is believed to be the reason. Today it is a ghost city, its architecture is in a perfect state of preservation, and wandering through the palaces it is easy to imagine that this was once a royal residence and a dynamic cultural centre.
Sisodia Rani Ka Bagh in Jaipur is a beautiful garden also built as a symbol of love. In 1728, Sisodia Rani Garden was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, with an intention to gift the garden, to his Sisodia Queen from Udaipur. The structure of the garden is imbibed from the Mughal style of Architecture, which makes it a well-designed garden. It appeals to the artistic and visual tastes of the visitor with its layered gardens, fascinating fountains, painted pavilions and galleries. The interesting frescos, depicting the exotic scenes of lovers Radha-Krishna, enthral the visitors with their divine appearance. Many of the walls are covered with pictures of ladies…and the inside was filled with all kinds of artwork.
The ornamental facade of this "Palace of Winds" is a prominent landmark in Jaipur. The are five storey structures of sandstone plastered pink, encrusted with fine trelliswork and elaborate balconies. The palace has 953 niches and windows. Built in 1799 by Pratap Singh, the Mahal was a royal grandstand for the palace women. They could look out and not be seen by the commoners.
Amber is the classic romantic Rajasthani fort palace. Its forbidding exterior belies an inner paradise where a beautiful fusion of Mughal and Hindu styles finds its ultimate expression.There is a room that is all inlaid with glass and at night when they lit the candles in this room, it would have been magical. This place demands hours to visit!
The City Palace Museum contain the original collection of the Maharajas of Jaipur. A delightful blend of Mughal and traditional Rajasthani architecture, the City Palace sprawls over one-seventh of the area in the walled city. It houses the Chandra Mahal, Shri Govind Dev Temple and the City Palace Museum.
The Mehrangarh Fort rises up on a hillock and is very huge and imposing as you approach it. The fort was built on the advice of a pious hermit and overlooks the blue city. The fort houses several palaces, cannons, temple and a museum. Inside its territorial boundaries, there are several palaces, which are known for their intricate carvings and sprawling courtyards. Here you can see the holes that were left from the cannon balls, amazing! Inside there were so many things to see. I have been to many museums, but have never seen carpet weights before and was thrilled to see these four rather fruit shaped weights from the early 18th century.
One of the highlights was a visit to the Chokelao Bagh garden. This garden is over two hundred years old and lovingly kept up by very dedicated people after being restored, complete with the scents, sounds and textures of a garden of the 18th century.
Jaswant Thada is a richly carved white marble cenotaph of Maharaja Jaswant Singh ji, which preserves the genealogy of the rulers of Jodhpur along with their life-size portraits (no pictures allowed inside). The monument, in its entirety, is built out of intricately carved sheets of marble. These stones are extremely thin and polished so that they emit a warm glow when the sun's rays dance across their surface. Within this cenotaph, there are also two more tombs. The Jaswant Thada is a traditional cremation ground of Jodhpur rulers.
On the banks of the shimmering lake Pichola is one of the most romantic cities of Rajasthan. Nestled among the lush hills of the Aravalis, it has inevitably been dubbed the 'Venice of the East'. It is a kaleidoscope of fairy-tale palaces, lakes, temples, gardens and narrow lanes strewn with stalls, carries the flavour of the heroic past, epitomizing valor and chivalry.
Founded in 1568 A.D by Maharana Udai Singh, the city is a harmonious Indian blend of whitewashed buildings, marble palaces, lakeside gardens, temples and Havelis. According to the legend, Maharana Udai Singh, the founder was hunting one day when he met a holy man meditating on a hill overlooking the Lake Pichola. Maharana followed the advice of the hermit and founded the city. The marvellous architecture of the palaces is spell binding.
City Palace towers over the Pichola Lake. Maharana Uday Singh initiated in the construction of the palace but succeeding Maharanas added several palaces and structures to the complex retained a surprising uniformity to the design. Full of wonderful inlaid floral designs on the walls. There were rooms for the men and rooms for the women. The women’s room has this lovely swing with a padded seat where they could sit and chat with each other.
Sahelion-ki-badi just adjoining the east of the embankment of Fatehsagar lake was constructed in its present form by Maharana Fateh Singh after the original garden had been washed away on account of the breach of its old embankment. A Profusion of flowers, well laid court yards and lotus pool studded with water fountains guarded by four marble elephants – each elephant sculptured out of a single piece of stone – will be a feast for the eyes of visitors.
Spacious and well maintained lawns, beautified by blooming flowers and the setting of huge groves of trees, present a spectacular sight to enjoy. It is also aptly called the Garden of Fountains. When the fountains are in their showery action creating rain-like sounds, white elephants spout water from their lovely trunks on lotus leaves and water cascades from the circular eaves of the pavilion standing in a huge water pool – visitors find themselves amidst the rain-like scenes and atmosphere to be seen, believed and enjoyed.