The last two weekends have both taken me to historical sites, one in Delhi and the other in Jaipur. Now India is a very rich culture, and the amount of history on display here is staggering. Every town, every city has one or the other monument. When I was in school, I thought my home town of Bhopal didn’t have a lot of monuments. But as I grew up, I came to know that Bhopal was probably the only city(correct me if I am wrong here) ruled by female rulers, known as begums, and that it had the Taj-ul masjid, one of the largest mosques in Asia. Even the sleepy little town where I went to college had Maratha forts, and a rich historical background. Almost every city I have been to has its share of history.
Coming back to focus, the first place I visited was the Mehrauli Archaeological Site. This site is a collection of mosques, tombs and baolis(a baoli is essentially a large water tank made for storage purposes) scattered around the place. My trip here was as a participant in the Delhi Blogger’s Meet, an event that brings together bloggers residing in and around delhi to meet up, know each other and inevitably have a cup of coffee with. The archaeological park is overlooked by the famous Qutub Minar, but unlike the fame associated with the Qutub Minar, this site is pretty much a silent spectator. It has been around quietly for hundreds of years, and will probably remain so for another hundred. Watching generations go by in the flash of time.
There were only two sites I visited here. First was the Jamali Kamali Masjid(mosque), built to honor the saint and poet Shaikh Fazlullah, also known as Jamali. The architecture of the mosque was typical of the mughal era, with arches, ornate roofs and domes. The tomb is flat roofed, but the roof is beautifully carved on the inside. From the ramparts, Qutub Minar could be seen rising out in all its glory and splendor.
The next site was the Rajaon Ki Baoli. This was a large water storage tank built to ration water. I must confess I know little on the history of this structure, as I spent too much time with the camera at the Jamali Kamali site. By the time I reached there, it was already dark, and cops had started patrolling the park, asking visitors to leave. It is worth mentioning here that there was absolutely no lighting of any of these historical sites, and the area was full of mosquitoes. These are ruins, and are being ruined by the apathy of the ASI and the Indian government.
The next trip was to the Pink city, Jaipur. Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, a state whose name is synonymous to vast expanse of deserts. But make no mistake, being a desert state does not imply that Rajasthan lacks any culture. In fact, Rajasthan’s culture is as rich as the ghee-laden food that is consumed here. Our trip to the pink city was mainly aimed at getting a taste of some of this rich food and culture at Chokhi Dhaani, a theme village set on the outskirts of Jaipur.
Having made the 5-hour drive to the pink city, and spending another hour in the city barricaded to allow a religious procession to go by, we landed at Chokhi Dhaani. The experience offered at this place gives visitors a peek into the rich heritage of this state. And the food is authentic Rajasthani fare, loaded to the hilt with red-chillies, and ghee(clarified butter). They serve you food with a lot of love, and it feels like eating food at home, where mom won’t listen to arguments about how health conscious you are and go on to place another serving on your plate. There is a warning here, you must go to Chokhi Dhaani with an empty stomach. Simply because you will feast like there is no tomorrow.
But there is a tomorrow, and my rumbling stomach reminded me of that as soon as I reached the hotel. After a night of sleep, I woke up in the morning to find my travel companions had the plans ready for the day. They involved driving to one of the famous forts near Jaipur, and then heading back home.
So we headed out on the road, and on the way passed through the famous lal bazaar(red market) of Jaipur. This market reminded us of why Jaipur is called the Pink City! Every shop was painted in pink. And I must admit, it felt great to pass through these lanes that have seen hundreds of years go by, standing there and playing host to the generations of traders that sell their wares in these markets.
After a half hour drive, we reached the Jaigarh fort. This fort houses the largest cannon ever built. This cannon is called the Jaivaana, which translates into “The sound of victory”. It is said that this cannon was fired only once, and they never had a chance to use it in battle. The cannon must be really powerful, how else would it propel a cannon-ball that weighs 50 kilos!
This fort is in a much better condition as compared to the monuments I visited in Delhi last weekend. Maybe because it is maintained by the Royal Family, and they charge you a fee of Rs. 25/- per person for entry. An additional fee of Rs.50 is charged for every still camera that is taken inside for photography. We spent some time looking at the large cannon, and then walked around the walls of the fort, where at one time armored guards would have stood with their weapons ready to defeat any attacking enemy.
There was a small armory also, where some of the weapons and smaller cannons were kept for public display. I learn that there is another fort, the Nahar fort, that is located even higher up on the hill than this one. But time did not permit us to go there. We had to drive back to Delhi.
After visiting these tow monuments, several thought run around in my head. Why are wonderful archaeological sites like the Mehrauli Archaeological Park lying in ruins, awaiting much needed repair? Is it just the overwhelmingly large number of historical sites present in our country that makes the job of the ASI and the government all the more difficult, or is it just bureaucratic apathy that lets these sites lie in ruins? The forts at Jaipur were a total contrast, properly maintained and managed to ensure that the historical beauty of the site is preserved. I do not mind paying up a small fee, but I should know that the money I pay goes in the effort of saving the site from becoming a ruin.
There was no entry fee at Mehrauli, but sites where there is an entry fee are no better off. This definitely is a lesson that ASI needs to learn from the forts in Rajasthan, maybe it is time to let private firms come up to take care of these monuments. They might charge a fee from people to enter, but at least they will have the professionalism to spend the money on renovating ancient sites and monuments.
Historical sites are slowly decaying to historical ruins. This needs to be stopped, as history is the biggest teacher. And these monuments reflect the culture and history that all Indians should be proud to inherit.
Author’s Notes: Photographs of these two sites can be found at my flickr account. In case there is an error in the historical references I have made, please comment and I will correct them.