What truly sets India apart from various other travel destinations is its vast cultural treasure stemming from a historic past.

India's grand repository of ancient cultural and natural treasures is of great significance to the history and civilization of the world. 

The Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri in Agra, the Konark Sun Temple, Khajuraho Temples, Mahabalipuram Monuments, Brihadishwara Temple, Thanjavur, Hampi Monuments as well as the Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta Caves are some of the monuments declared as World Heritage Monuments.

Besides, these monuments there are many historically important temples scattered all over the country.

In the past, as also in the present, the temple has been the focus of the religious, social and economic life of the Indian people. Myriads of Gods, Goddesses and celestial beings are wrought on the temple walls in a tremendous display of projected emotional states, ranging from the horrific to the erotic to the sublime. These supremely complex works of art never fail to fascinate all who see.

In India there are places where the visitor encounters history at every step.

Like in the desert state of Rajasthan, an area of awe inspiring physical beauty where massive forts and magnificent palaces are found even in the remotest parts of the state.

Its thriving colourful folk culture and over thousand years of history and myths have been passed down generations as stories of valour and love.

TAJ MAHAL, AGRA

MONUMENT FEE : US$ 5 per person plus INR 500

It stands on the right bank of the Yamuna, about 1.5 km from the Agra Fort. The Taj was built to enshrine the remains of Arjmand Banu Begam entitled Mumtaz Mahal, the consort of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Its construction commenced in AD 1631 and completed 17 years later at enormous cost and labour. The architect responsible for the construction was Ustad Ahmed Lahori. Unlike other Mughal garden tombs, the mausoleum is situated at the northern end of a large rectangular area with its central portion divided into a square garden. The entire portion is enclosed within a high boundary wall having broad octagonal pavilions at corners. The Taj is entered through a majestic gateway in the centre of the southern side where there is a spacious quadrangle. Closed on Friday.

FATEHPUR SIKRI, AGRA

US$ 5 per person plus INR 50

In honour of saint Shaikh Salim Chisti, the Mughal emperor, Akbar the great, founded a magnificent city on Sikri ridge. In 1571 he ordered the construction of buildings for his own use and asked the noblemen to build houses for themselves. Within a year, most of the work was finished and within the next few years, a well planned city with administrative, residential and religious buildings came into existence.

The Jami Mosque was perhaps among the first buildings to come up. Its epigraph gives AH 979 (AD 1571-72) as the date of its completion. The Baland-Darwaza was added some five years later.

Among other important buildings are the tomb of Shaikh Salim Chishti, the Naubat-or Naqqar Khana (drum-house), Taksal (mint), Karkhanas (royal workshop), Khazana (treasury), Hakim's quarters, Diwan-i-Am (hall of public audience), house of Maryam also called SUnahra Makan (Golden House), palace of Jodh Bai, Birbal's house, etc.

AGRA FORT, AGRA

US$ 5 per person plus INR 10

It represents first major building project of Akbar, through remains of only a few buildings built by him now survive. Built on the site of an earlier castle in AD 1565-75, the fort, apart from other important units, contains Jahangiri Mahal, Khass Mahal, Diwan-i-Khass, Diwan-i-Am, Machchhi Bhawan and Moti Masjid. Many extant buildings were erected by Shah Jahan (AD 1630-55). Irregularly triangular on plan, it is enclosed by a double battlemented massive wall of red sandstone which is about 2 km in perimetre and interrupted by graceful curves and lofty bastions. Of its four gates, the most impressive is the Delhi Gate on the west.

QUTAB MINAR, DELHI

 US$ 5 per person

Qutab Minar in red and buff sandstone is the highest tower in India. It has a diameter of 14.32m at the base and about 2.75m on the top with a height of 72.5m.

Qutbu'd-Din Aibak laid the foundation of Minar in AD 1199 for the use of the mu'azzin (crier) to give calls for prayer and raised the first storey, to which were added three more storeys by his successor and son-in-law, Shamsu'd-Din Iltutmish (AD 1211-36). All the storeys are surrounded by a projected balcony encircling the minar and supported by stone brackets, which are decorated with honey-comb design, more conspicuously in the first storey.

Numerous inscriptions in Arabic and Nagari characters in different places of the minar reveal the history of Qutab. According to the inscriptions on its surface it was repaired by Firuz  Shah Tughlaq (AD 1351-88) and Sikandar Lodi (AD 1489-1517). Major R. Smith also repaired and restored the minar in 1829.

Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque to the north-east of minar was built by Qutbu'd-Din Aibak in AD 1198. It is the earliest extant mosque built by the Delhi Sultans. It consists of a rectangular courtyard enclosed by cloisters, erected with the carved columns and architectural members of 27 Hindu and Jaina temples which were demolished by Qutbu'd-Din Aibak as recorded in his inscription on the main eastern entrance. Later, a lofty arched screen was erected and the mosque was enlarged by Shamsu'd-Din Iltutmish (AD 1210-35) and Alau'd-Din Khalji. The Iron Pillar in the courtyard bears an inscription in Sanskrit in Brahmi script of fourth century AD, according to which the pillar was set up as a Vishnudhvaja (standard of god Vishnu) on the hill known as Vishnupada in memory of a mighty king named Chandra. A deep socket on the top of the ornate capital indicates that probably an image of Garuda was fixed into it.

The tomb of Iltutmish (AD 1211-36) was built in AD 1235. It is a plain square chamber of red sandstone, profusely carved with inscriptions, geometrical and arabesque patterns in Saracenic tradition on the entrances and the whole of interior. Some of the motifs viz., the wheel, tassel etc., are reminiscent of Hindu designs.

Ala'i-Darwaza, the southern gateway of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque was constructed by Alau'd-Din Khalji in AH 710 (AD 1311) as recorded in the inscriptions engraved on it. This is the first building employing Islamic principles of construction and ornamentation.

HUMAYUN'S TOMB, DELHI

 US$ 5 per person

The first substantial example of a garden tomb on charbagh pattern with high arches and double dome was erected by Humayun's queen Hamida Banu Begam (Haji Begam) in AD 1569 at a cost of 15 lakh rupees (1.5 million).

The high rubble built enclosure is entered through two lofty double-storeyed gateways on the west and south. A baradar (pavilion) occupies the centre of the eastern wall and a hammam (bath chamber) in the centre of northern wall. The lofty mausoleum is in the centre of the enclosure and rises from podium faced with series of cells having arched openings. The central octagonal chamber contains the cenotaph, encompassed by octagonal chambers at the diagonals and arched lobbies on the sides.  Their openings are closed with perforated screens. Each side is dominated by three arches, the central one being the highest. This plan is repeated on the second storey too. The roof surmounted by a double dome (42.5m) of marble has pillared kiosks (chhatris) placed around it.

Several rulers of the Mughal dynasty lie buried here. Bahadur Shah Zafar had taken refuge in this tomb with three princes during the first war of Independence (AD 1857).

On the southwestern side of the tomb is located barber's tomb (Nai-ka-Gumbad) which stands on a raised platform, reached by seven steps from the south. The building is square on plan and consists of a single compartment covered with a double-dome.

ELEPHANTA CAVES, MUMBAI

US$ 5 per person

Elephanta anciently known as Gharapuri, the island capital of Konkan Mauryas, is celebrated for its colossal image of Mahesa-murti with three heads each representing a different form.

in fact, there are seven caves out of which the most important is the Mahesa-murti cave. The main body of the cave, excludin-g the porticos on the three open sides and the back isle, is 27 metres square and is supported by rows of six columns each. The gigantic figures of dvarapalas or doorkeepers here are very impressive.

There are sculptured compartments in this cave with remarkable images of ardhanarisvara, Kalyana-sundara Siva, Ravana lifting Kailasa, Andhakari-murti (slaying of Andhaka demon) and Nataraja Siva.

AJANTA CAVES, AURANGABAD

 US$ 5 per person

The caves including the unfinished ones are thirty in number, of which five (9, 10, 19, 26 and 29) are chaitya-grihas and the rest are sangharamas or viharas (monasteries). After centuries of oblivion, these caves were discovered in AD 1819. They fall into two distinct phases with a break of nearly four centuries between them. All the caves of the earlier phase date between 2nd century BC-AD.

The caves of the second phase were excavated during the supremacy of the Vakatakas and Guptas. According to inscriptions, Varahadev, the minister of the Vakataka king, Harishena (c.475-500 AD), dedicated Cave 16 to the Buddhist sangha while Cave 17 was the gift of the prince a feudatory. An inscription records that Buddha image in Cave 4 was the gift of some Abhayanandi who hailed from Mathura.

A few paintings which survive on the walls of Caves 9 and 10 go back to the 2nd century BC-AD. The second group of the paintings started in about the fifth century AD. The second group of the paintings started in about the fifth century AD and continued for the next two centuries as noticeable in later caves. The themes are intensely religious in tone and centre round Buddha, Bodhisattvas, incidents from the life of Buddha and the Jatakas. The paintings are executed on a ground of mud-plaster in the tempera technique.

ELLORA CAVES, AURANGABAD

US$ 5 per person

The magnificent group of rock-cut shrines of Ellora, representing three different faiths, Buddhist, Brahmanical and Jaina were excavated during the period from 5th to the 13th century AD. The Buddhist Caves (1 to 12) were excavated between the 5th and the 7th centuries AD, when the Mahayana sects were flourishing in the region. Important in this group are Caves 5, 10 and 12. Cave 10 is a chaitya-hall and is popularly known as 'Visvakarma'. It has a highly ornamental facade provided with in gallery and in the chaitya-hall is a beautiful image of Buddha set on a stupa. Among the viharas, Cave 5 is the largest. The most impressive vihara is the three - storeyed cave called 'Tin - Tala'. It has a large open-court in front which provides access to the huge monastery. The uppermost storey contains sculptures of Buddha.

The Brahmanical caves numbering 13 to 29 are mostly Saivite. Kailasa (Cave 16) is a remarkable example of rock-cut temples in India on account of its striking proportion, elaborate workmanship, architectural content and sculptural ornamentation. The whole temple consists of a shrine with linga at the rear of the hall with Dravidian sikhara, a flat-roofed mandapa supported by sixteen pillars, a separate porch for Nandi surrounded by an open-court entered through a low gopura. There are two dhvaja-stambhas, or pillars with the flagstaff, in the courtyard. The grand sculpture of Ravana attempting to lift mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva, with his full might is a landmark in Indian art.

The Jaina Caves (30 to 34) are massive, well-proportioned, decorated and mark the last phase of the activity at Ellora.

THE SUN TEMPLE, KONARAK

US$ 5 per person

Kainapara of the Periplus (first century AD), is an important port of the Orissan coast. The most notable marvel of Orissan art is the stately Sun Temple. Built in c.AD 1250, during the reign of the Eastern Ganga King Narasimhadeva-I (AD 1238-64), it was to enshrine an image of Sun (Arka), the patron deity of the place. The entire complex was designed in the form of a huge chariot drawn by seven spirited horses on twelve pairs of exquisitely carved wheels. The sanctum symbolises the majestic stride of the Sun-god and marks the culmination of the Orissan architectural style. The vimana of the deul has collapsed, while that of jagamohana and the nata-mandapa are better preserved, The walls of the temple contain superb carving of divine, semi-divine, human and animal figures amidst floral and geometric ornamentations. The vivacious kanyas and danseuse are remarkable for their sensuous modelling, pulsating with human emotions which are absorbed in a variety of gestures and rhythmic actions. Such sculptures render the Orissan temple a class unto themselves. Mighty simha-gajas welcome the visitor at the porches.

MAHABALIPURAM, GROUP OF MONUMENTS

US$ 5 per person

Mamallapuram, the city of Mamalla, is after the title of great Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman-I (AD 630-68). It was a sea-port during the time of Periplus (1st century AD) and Ptolemy (AD 140) and many Indian colonists sailed to south-east Asia through this port town. While there is some evidence of architectural activity going back to the period of Mahendravarman-I (AD 600-30), the father of Mamalla, most of the monuments like rock-cut rathas, sculptured scenes on open rocks like Arjuna's penance, the caves of Goardhanandhari and Mahishasuramardini, the Jala-Sayana Perumal temple (the sleeping Mahavishnu or Chakrin at the rear part of the Shore temple complex) are attributed to the period of Narasimhavarman-I Mamalla.

The monolithic rathas from single to triple-storeyed, display a variety of architectural forms. While the Dharmaraja, Arjuna and Draupadi rathas are square on plan, the Bhima and Ganesa rathas are rectangular and Sahadeva ratha apsidal. Though monilithic sculpturing, both cut-in and cut-out, continued even during later periods (Atiranachanda cave, Pidari rathas and Tiger-cave), the structural architecture was introduced on a grand scale by Pallava Rajasimha (AD 700-28), culminating in erection of the world famous Shore temple. After Rajasimha there is lull in the architectural activity of the place, save a few additions during late-Pallava and Chola times. The grandiose Vijayanagara phase here is represented by the Raja Gopurams and the Sthala-Sayana temple, juxtaposed to the carved boulder of Arjuna's penance.

GOA, CHURCHES AND CONVENTS

US$ 5 per person

The most comprehensive group of churches and cathedrals built during 16th and 17th century AD at Old Goa comprise of the following:

Se'Cathedral, Church and Convent of St. Francis of Assisi, Chapel of St. Catherine, Basilica of Born Jesus; Church of Lady of Rosary; Church of St. Augustine.

The Church of St. Cajetan is modelled on the original design of St. Peter's Church in Rome. The Church of Bom Jesus with its facade decorated with lonic, Doric and Corinthian pilasters, shows the application of the Classical order. The Se'Cathedral, with its Tuscan exterior the Corinthian columns at its portals, the raised platform with steps leading to the entrance, the barrel-vault above the nave, is yet another example of Renaissance.

The paintings in the churches were done on wooden borders and fixed between panels having floral designs as in the chapels housing the tomb of St. Xavier, the arches above the altars in the transept of the Se'Cathedral and in the nave on either side of the main altar in the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. Excepting a few which are in stone, the statues are mostly in wood delicately carved and painted to adorn the altars. They depict mostly the saints, Mother Mary and Jesus on the cross.

KHAJURAHO GROUP OF MONUMENTS

US$ 5 per person

Khajuraho, the ancient Kharjjuravahaka, was the principal seat of authority of the Chandella rulers who adorned it with with numerous tanks, scores of lofty temples of sculptural grace and architectural splendour. The local tradition lists eighty-five temples but now only twenty-five are standing examples in various stages of preservation. But for Chausath-Yogini, Brahma and Mahadeva which are of granite, all the other temples are of fine grained sandstone, buff, pink or pale yellow in colour.

Yasovarman (AD 954) built the temple of Vishnu, now famous as Lakshmana temple is an ornate and evolved example of its time proclaiming the prestige of the Chandellas.

The Visvanatha, Parsvanatha and Vaidyanatha temples belong to the time of king Dhanga, the successor of Yasovarman. The Jagadambi, Chitragupta are noteworthy among the western group of royal temples of Khajuraho. The largest and grandest temple of Khajuraho is the immortal Kandariya Mahadeva which is attributed to king Ganda (AD 1017-29).  The other examples that followed viz., Vamana, Adinatha, Javari, Chaturbhuj and Duladeo, are smaller but elaborately designed. The Khajuraho group of temples are noted for lofty terraces (jagati) and functionally effective plans. The sculptural embellishments include, besides the cult images;  parivara, parsva, avarana devatas, dikpalas, the apsarases and sura-sundaris which win universal adminration for their ornamentation embrace the winsome grace and charm.

GROUP OF MONUMENTS AT HAMPI

US$ 5 per person

Traditionally known as Pampakshetra of Kishkindha. Hampi is situated on the southern bank of the river Tungabhadra. Once it was the seat of the mighty Vijayanagara empire.

The monuments of Vijayanagara city, also known as Vidyanagara in honour of the sage Vidyaranya were built between AD 1336-1570, from the times of Harihara-I to Sadaviva Raya. A large number of royal buildings were raised by Krishnadeva Raya (AD 1509-30), the greatest ruler of the dynasty. The period witnessed resurgence of Hindu religion, art, architecture in an unprecedented scale. The contemporary chroniclers who came from far off countries - such as Arabia, Italy, Portugal and Russia visited the empire, have left graphic and glowing accounts of the city. It covers an area of nearly 26 sq. km and is stated to be enclosed by seven lines of fortifications.

Extensive remains of the palaces can be seen within innermost enclosure of the ancient Vijayanagara. The various religious and secular structures which include Hindu and Jain temples, audience hall of the king, the magnificent throne platform to witness the festivals and other events, the king's balance (tulabhara) are awe-inspiring.

Temples of this city are noted for their large dimensions, florid ornamentation, bold and delicate carvings, stately pillars, magnificent pavilions and a great wealth of iconographic and traditional depictions which include subjects from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The largest extant temple is that of Pampapati (now in worship) was extensively renovated. Its magnificent entrance tower was caused by Krishnadeva Raya. The Vitthala temple is an excellent example of Vijayanagara style. The monilithic statues of Lakshmi, Narasimha and Ganesa are noted for their massiveness and grace. The Krishna temple, Pattabhirama temple, Hazara Ramachandra and Chandrasekhara temple as also the Jaina temples, are other examples. Majority of these temples were provided with widespread bazaars flanked on either side by storyed mandapas. Among secular edifices mention may be made of the Zenana enclosure wherein a massive stone basement of the Queen's palace and an ornate pavilion called 'Lotus-Mahal' are only remnants of a luxurious antahpura. The corner towers of arresting elevation, the Dhananayaka's enclosure (treasury), the Mahanavami Dibba carrying beautifully sculptured panels, a variety of ponds and tanks, mandapas, the elephant's stables and the row of pillared mandapas are some of the important architectural remains of this city.

Recent excavations at the site have brought to light a large number of palatial complexes and basements of several platforms. Interesting finds include a large number of stone images, both in round and relief, beautiful terracotta objects and stucco figures that once embellished the palaces. In addition many gold and copper coins, household utensils, a square stepped-tank (sarovara) at the south-west of Mahanavami Dibba, and a large number of ceramics including the important variety of porcelain and inscribed Buddhist sculptures from sunrise to sunset.

GROUP OF MONUMENTS, PATTADAKAL

US$ 5 per person

Pattadakal was not only popular for Chalukyan architectural activities but also a holy place for royal coronation, 'Pattadakisuvolal'. Temples constructed here mark the blending of the Rekha Nagara Prasada and the Dravida Vimana styles of temple building.

The oldest temple at Pattadakal is Sangamesvara built by Vijayaditya Satyasraya (AD 697-733). It is a simple but massive structure.

Virupaksha temple of the Chalukyan period served as a model for the Rashtrakuta ruler to carve out the great Kailasa at Ellora. The sculptural art of the early Chalukyas is characterised by grace and delicate details. The ceilinig panels of the navagrahas, dikpalas, the dancing Nataraja, the wall niches containing Lingodbhava, Ardhanarisvara, Tripurari, Varahavishnu, Trivikrama bear ample testimony to the sculptor's skill as well as the cult worship in vogue. The narrative reliefs illustrating certain episodes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata and Panchatantra fitted well with these grand religious edifices.

BRIHADISVARA TEMPLE, THANJAVUR

US$ 5 per person

This celebrated Saiva temple, appropriately called Brihadisvara and Daksinameru, is the grandest creation of the Chola emperor Rajaraja (AD 985-1012). It was inaugurated by the king himself in his 19th regnal year (AD 1009-10)  and named it after himself as Rajesvara Peruvudaiyar. Architecturally, it is the most ambitious structural temple built of granite. The temple is within a spacious inner prakara of 240.90m long (east-west) and 122m broad (north-south), with a gopura at the east and three other ordinary torana entrances on at each lateral sides and the third  at rear. The prakara is surrounded by a double-storeyed malika and parivaralayas.

The sikhara, a cupolic dome, is otagonal and rests on a single block of granite, a square of 7.8m weighing 80tons. The majestic upapitha and adhishthana and common to all the axially placed entities like the ardhamaha and mukha-mandapas and linked to the main sanctum but approached through a north-south transept across the ardha-mandapa which is marked by lofty sopanas. The moulded plinth is extensively engraved with inscriptions by its royal builder who refers to his many endowments, pious acts and organisational events connected to the temple. The brihad-linga within the sanctum is 8.7m high. Life-size iconographic representations on the wall niches and inner passages inlude Durga, Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Bhikshatana, Virabhadra, Kalantaka, Natesa, Ardhanarisvara and Alingana forms of Siva. The mural paintings on the walls of the lower ambulatory inside are finest examples of Chola and later periods.

Sarfoji, a local Maratha ruler, rebuilt the Ganapati shrine. The celebrated Thanjavur school of paintings of the Nayakas are largely superimposed over the Chola murals.

BUDDHIST MONUMENTS AT SANCHI

US$ 5 per person

Sanchi, variously known as Kakanaya. Kakanava, Kakanadabota and Bota-Sriparvata in ancient times, has a singular distinction of having remarkable specimen of Buddhist art and architecture right from the early Mauryan period (c.thirth century BC to twelfth century AD).

Sanchi is famous in the world for stupas, monolithic Asokan pillar, temples, monasteries and sculptural wealth. During Sunga times, several edifices were raised at Sanchi and its surrounding hills. The Asokan stupa was enlarged and faced with stones and decorated with blustrades, staircases and a harmika on the top. The reconstruction of Temple 40 and erection of Stupas 2 and 3 also seem to date back around the same time. In the first century BC the Andhra-Satavahanas, who had extended their sway over the eastern Malwa, caused the elaborately carved gateways to Stupa 1. From the second to fourth century AD Sanchi and Vidisha came under the Kushanas and Kshatrapas and subsequently passed on to the hand of the Guptas. During the Gupta period some temples were built and sculptures were added. Shrines and monasteries were also constructed at the site during seventh and twelfth centuries AD.

Since the fourteenth century Sanchi remained deserted and uncared for till 1818 when General Taylor rediscovered the site, Sir John Marshall established an archaeological museum  in 1919, which was later transformed into the present site museum at Sanchi.

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