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India’s Greats

Friday, January 22, 2016

With Republic Day just around the corner, the 48hrs Team is helping you to celebrate the heritage of the country by picking out some of the best monuments and sites to visit in India

Whether you have a penchant for history and culture   or not, some sites in India are worth visiting at least   once in a lifetime. From mind-blowing architecture, unique surroundings to intriguing back stories, we’re marking Republic Day by bringing you a list of monuments and heritage sites that you shouldn’t miss out on. Read on! 

Bodh Gaya Complex
Few destinations are as monumental as the Bodhi tree, under which Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. Located in the sleepy district of Gaya in Bihar, the Mahabodhi Temple is one of the most ancient and important shrines in Buddhism. The word Mahabodhi stands for ‘great awakening’, and the complex comprises of the Mahabodhi Temple, Lord Buddha Stupa and a monastery called Bohimanda Vihar. Thousands of pilgrims head there every year to pray, meditate and study. While you’re here, don’t miss the chance to see the ruins of Nalanda University, which are located a few kilometers away.

Humayun’s Tomb
Few architectural marvels are as captivating as Emperor Humayun’s perfectly-proportioned mausoleum in Mathura Road, Delhi. The structure, open from dawn till dusk, follows strict rules of Islamic geometry, with strong emphasis placed on the number 8. It has even influenced the design of the iconic Taj Mahal. It was built during the 16th century, by the Emperor’s senior-most wife Haji Begum and the sprawling gardens that surround the building house her tomb as well as the tomb of the Emperor’s favourite barber! This was also the spot where the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, took refuge before being captured and exiled by the British in 1857. With its gorgeous arched façade, inlaid with white marble and red sandstone, the structure offers a humbling glimpse of the once-mighty Mughals.

Khajuraho Temples
Located in sweltering Madhya Pradesh, the Khajuraho Temples are among the most beautifully-created monuments in the country. The erotic carvings of Khajuraho’s three groups of the UNESCO’s World Heritage-listed temples are among the finest examples of temple art in the world. The architectural brilliance of the erotic sculptures has awed generations of people. Built during the golden period of the Chandela dynasty, the temples are scattered over an area of around 24 square kilometres, depict the traditional lifestyle of women in the medieval age and give us an interesting insight into life in the 11th century. Travellers often find the constantly increasing number of tour guides and aggressive advertising extremely annoying. And, while these complaints are understandable, they shouldn’t be the reason why you miss out on the architectural marvels of the temples.

Want to head out on a bone-chilling adventure that is off the beaten path? Head to the hometown of the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger, a land shrouded in mist and mystery, known as the Sunderbans. It’s a delta of islands floating among rivers, unpredictable tides and remote areas that are completely uninhabited by humans. The best way to explore the Sunderbans is to embark on a three-four day boat trip, where you not only sleep and eat on the boat, you also get to occasionally break off into short expeditions to track tigers on foot (with armed forest guards) or in smaller boats (along narrower river channels). Even if you don’t spot the man-eater, or 400 other breathtaking creatures, simply sitting on the deck of your boat as you float through a mangrove forest is a surreal experience.

Qutub Minar
With several pre-colonial monuments still in existence, Delhi is quite an interesting place to visit (obviously when it’s not cringing under the cruel sun).The spectacular Qutub Minar is a soaring victory tower and minaret, which was erected over several years. Surrounded by intricately carved sandstone bands that bear verses from the Quran, the tower is about 73 metres high. However, you’re no longer allowed to climb up the tower for safety reasons and a webcam shows you the view from the top.

Fatehpur Sikri
Built by Emperor Akbar with the idea to make it a part of his grand capital for his empire, Fatehpur Sikri is a World Heritage Site that is located near Agra. The monument is worth visiting for its Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture in addition to the grand Buland Darwaza, Panch Mahal and Diwan-I-Khaas. You can halt at a range of pocket-friendly hotels near the Fatehpur Sikri railway station. But, if you’re scouting for a mid-range hotel, head to the main bus stand or the State Highway 45. 

Victoria Memorial
The Victoria Memorial, situated in Kolkata, was designed by Sir William Emerson, the President of the British Institute of Architects. Known as one of the finest art museums, it boasts of a myriad of British Raj paintings and Victoria memorabilia. The museum also hosts a light and sound show that takes place from October to February. While the best time to visit is from October to March, avoid visiting during the humid, Bengal summer.

Taj Mahal
If you’ve only seen the Taj Mahal in pictures and heard about the stories, you might feel the need to visit and see the monument in person. Made of white marble and built in memory of Shah Jahan’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the building is truly a marvel of construction and stands on the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra, a few hours’ drive from New Delhi. The intricate detailing, beautiful artwork and sheer brilliance of the architecture are reason enough to visit, but the history and romance that the building stand for make the experience even more surreal. However, you should know that thousands of people throng to see the Taj Mahal every day, so you may not get a chance to see it as it’s depicted in pictures. Go earlier in the day to avoid a long wait in the lines to get in, or you may not get a chance to enter altogether! If you are unlucky enough to be locked out, you will have to settle for a view from the gardens located across the monument.

Hawa Mahal
Located in Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal (the palace of the winds) is made from pink sandstone and resembles the structure of a bee hive — a honeycomb structure. The high wall with the honeycomb maze was built in the late 1700s by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh in order to allow the women of the royal household to overlook the festive processions on the streets and view general everyday life of the city. Time your visit so that you arrive early in the morning. This will give you a glorious view of the façade lit up by the rays of the morning sun. This façade resembles the crown of the Hindu God Krishna and has 953 intricately decorated windows.

R-Day Facts
Before you switch on your television set to watch the Republic Day parade this year, read on to find some facts.
1.  The first Republic Day in India was celebrated on January 26, 1950, which was three years after we achieved independence.
2.  The first Republic Day parade at Rajpath was hosted in 1955.
3.  The guest of honour at India’s first Republic Day celebration was President Sukarno of Indonesia. So far, the Head of State of France and Bhutan’s have been the guests of honour four times, more than any other country.
4.  More than a hundred aircrafts had participated in India’s first Republic Day Parade.
5. During the beating the retreat ceremony at the end of the 3-day Republic Day celebrations, Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite Christian hymn Abide by me is played.
6.  On this day, deserving candidates are honoured with prestigious awards such as the Bharat Ratna, Padma Bhushan, Ashoka Chakra and Kirti Chakra.
7.  Republic Day celebrations actually go on for three days and end with the Beating Retreat ceremony.
8.  The constitution of India is the longest constitution in the world and consists of 488 articles.

In and around Mumbai
Have you managed to take a holiday from work on Monday to enjoy a long weekend? If you have, and you want to do something within the city with your family, take your children to these locations across Mumbai:

Gateway of India
When we talk about monuments of historical significance in the city, the first one into pop in our heads is the Gateway of India. One of the architectural marvels of the country, the monument opens out to the Arabian Sea, welcoming every tourist into the city. Built in 1924, the Gateway of India is a combination of Indo-Saracen architecture.

Elephanta Caves
Elephanta Caves are the world heritage site at Elephanta Island in Mumbai harbour. An exciting day trip, the temples of the Elephanta Caves are made out of rocks that are devoted to Lord Shiva. The rock cut temples of the caves are a fine example of ancient Indian architecture.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Part of the city for years now, the significance of this famous monument is lost; we barely ever stand outside the terminus to gawk at the magnificent station. Originally named Victoria Terminus, the train station was designed by Fredrick William Stevens and is a fusion of Gothic and traditional Indian architecture.

Google’s 3D Virtual Tour
This Republic Day, walk through the iconic journey of India’s independence with a virtual tour from Google. Like last year, Google is hosting a virtual tour that allows users to follow in the footsteps of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, right up from this oath at the Parliament to the Red Fort, where the Tricolour is unfurled on Republic Day and Independence Day every year. Apart from a collection of special images and rare artefacts from Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the tour also brings you places such as the Cellular Jail in Port Blair; Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar; the Aga Khan Palace in Pune; the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, the Lahori Gate and other sites at the Red Fort in New Delhi. The interactive is easy to use and sleek enabling you to get a 360 degree view of all the places. Apart from this, the tour gives you a glimpse into Mahatma Gandhi’s life from the Sabarmati Ashram and from momentous occasions such as the Dandi March.

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