Orchha Fort

18th February 2014 (Day 10) Orchha

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This is the main door of Orchha Fort.  There is a good and obvious reason for the door looking as it does.  This is because armies tended to use organic battering rams to break through the front doors of a fort.  These organic battering rams are otherwise known as elephants.  It is an elephant deterrant device.

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Orchha was founded in 1501 by Rudra Pratap Singh to be the capital of his state.  It is a charming old town of many temples and cenotaphs, and quite small because modern development has occurred in nearby Jhansi.

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Inside Orchha Fort, we are in the Jahangir Mahal (or Jahangir’s Palace).

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We are looking through at Ram Raja Mandir, a Hindu Temple in the town.

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This is a pair of what appear to be spotted owlets in a niche in the fort wall.  They live in the hollows of trees or the cavities of buildings.  They may favour living close to humans because there are more rodents to catch to help fed their young.

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We encountered Veer Singh Deo in the previous post, when we saw the Satkanda Mahal he built to honour Emperor Jahangir in Datia.  The two were allies from the time when Veer Singh Deo was a minor raja at Datia and Jahangir was Prince Salim.  At that time Akhbar’s Vizier and savant was Abul Fazi, who produced the remarkable Akhbarnama, a history of the reigns of Akhbar and his predecessors.  He came to oppose Prince Salim succeeding to the throne.

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In 1602, partly in response to Abul Fazi’s influence, Prince Salim revolted and Akhbar sent Abul Fazi to subdue him.  As Abul Fazi marched past Datia (or Badoni, as Veer Singh Deo’s overall fief was called),  Veer Singh Deo attacked and defeated the army and killed Abul FaziSalim subsequently became reconciled with Akhbar but when Akhbar died three years later, Salim became the Emperor Jahangir and rewarded Veer Singh Deo by making him Maharaja of Bundelkhand (of which the capital city then was Orchha).

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Maharaja Veer Singh Deo constructed Jahangir Mahal in 1606 to house Jahangir in style when he arrived to attend Veer Singh Deo’s coronation.

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Here we are looking back at Laxminarayan Temple, in the middle of Orchha town.

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By now we are at a smaller building behind Jahangir Palace.  Some or all of the previous three images are from there as well.  The couple being photographed by their friends here (using a phone) are Bijender Beckham and Ritu Bijender Rathore, who were married a couple of days previously.

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Some buildings to the north of Jahangir’s Palace.  Small temples or cenotaphs, I presume.

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Now returning to Jahangir’s Palace, I am about to hurry after the rest of the group who have all disappeared.

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Red Fort in Agra

15th February 2014 (Day 7) Agra.

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The Red Fort in Agra, not to be confused with the Red Fort in Delhi, was one of the bastions of the Mogul Empire.

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There has been a fort here for a very long time. When Babur, the first Mogul Emperor, defeated the Lodi Sultans of Delhi, they were based in Agra and living in the fort. Humayan was also crowned here but the walls we see here are those built by Akhbar. Originally the fort was brick but Akhbar rebuilt it with a brick core and outer layers of red sandstone. It was completed in 1573 after eight years of construction.

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In Akhbar’s time there were 500 buildings in the fort. Shah Jahan demolished some of these to make way for his white marble palaces but most were demolished by the British to make way for barracks. There only thirty buildings left in the South-Eastern corner and this is the part of the fort that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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When Shah Jahan’s favoured son Dara lost to Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan took refuge in this Red Fort.  Aurangzeb cut off the water supply and Shah Jahan had to surrender.

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Jahangir Palace.

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Jahangir’s Hauz, Jahangir Palace.

This is Jahangir’s portable bath.  I kid you not.  He took it with him when he went on campaign.  Dating from 1610, it is five feet high and eight feet in diameter.  It has both external and internal stairs.

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This man requested a portrait for himself and his young son.  I presume I gave him a card so perhaps he will see this here.

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A view of the Taj Mahal from the Red Fort, such as Shah Jahan must have seen during his captivity.

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Taj Mahal

15th February 2014 (Day 7) Agra.

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The front gate.  You can see a bit of the Taj behind it.

We arrived at 7am to photograph the Taj Mahal, which is when the gates open.  You can’t actually photograph it at sunrise or sunset or at nighttime from a regular location.

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Through the front Gate.

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Shah Jahan ruled 1627 to 1658.  He was a contemporary therefore of Charles I of England and you’d have to say a rather more successful monarch although they both ended up being displaced from their thrones.  His favourite wife was Mumtaz Mahal, his cousin, who he married when he was 20 and she was 19.  They shared all the vicissitudes of life including his campaigns and the four years he was battling or on the run from his father Jahangir.

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Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 while giving birth to their fourteenth child.  Shah Jahan was grief-stricken and retired for a year and when he re-appeared, he devoted all his energies to a mausoleum for her.  This is the Taj Mahal, built between 1632 and around 1653.

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Mumtaz Mahal insisted that children of other wives should be aborted to ensure the succession of their children but that did not prevent succession disputes.  After she died, Shah Jahan threw himself into licentious activities with a great number of women.  In 1658, he fell ill as a consequence of taking a seventeenth century equivalent of Viagra.  For a while it looked as though he would not survive.  Dara Shikoh, his nominated heir, assumed Regency and provoked a four-way civil war with his three brothers.  This continued even after Shah Jahan recovered.

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One of the two mosques, part of the overall enclosure.

Aurangzeb, the experienced war leader, defeated and killed the other three.  Shah Jahan survived, no longer Emperor, in house arrest in Agra Fort, where he could see the Taj Mahal.  Originally, he had wanted to build a black duplicate of the Taj Mahal as his mausoleum on the other side of the river, connected by a bridge, but this was not to be.  When Shah Jahan died, Aurangzeb buried him in the Taj Mahal alongside Mumtaz Mahal.  His cenotaph is on the ground floor beside hers.  They are buried in a private chamber below that.

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This image and the next five are from or at one of the two mosques.

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Near the main gate.

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Near the main gate.

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the Baby Taj

14th February 2014 (Day 6)  Agra.

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Roadside market.

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Indian construction techniques.

These first two images are from the highway between Vrindavan and Sikandra.
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Truck parked at the side of the road.  Long-term parking, I would say.

From Akhbar’s Tomb we travelled further on into Agra.   The image above and the next seven are from that journey.

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Intersection.

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Making the best of your housing.

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Looking down on a street.

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Petrol pump transactions and a curious load.

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Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah or Baby Taj.

This was our next destination but we hadn’t quite got there yet.

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Roadside market.

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Road clogged with tuk-tuks.

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Main gate for the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, or the Baby Taj.

Here we are at the outside gate and wall of the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah.  A distant relative of the Safavid royal family who ruled Persia from 1501, he came to India to find a position under Akhbar and ended up chief minister under Jahangir.  His title Itimad-ud-Daulah means “Pillar of the State”.  His daughter Nur Jahan became the favourite wife of Akhbar’s son JahangirJahangir was a capable ruler who consolidated the empire rather than expanding it.  However, he was overly fond of alcohol and opium and consumed excessively.  Nur Jahan grew in prominence during the reign of Jahangir and she came to sign official documents, feature on coins and act as Emperor when he was away or incapable.

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The end of Jahangir’s reign involved conflicts with his sons.  Kusrau, the eldest son rebelled and Jahangir blinded him.  Parwiz, the drunken second son rebelled but died anyway.  Khurram, the favoured third son rebelled and spent four years fighting or on the run.  He also killed Kusrau, a potential rival even if blind.  Nur Jahan married her daughter to illegitimate Shahriyar and tried to position him to be Emperor.

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Itimad-ud-Daulah’s tomb, or the Baby Taj.

 

However when Jahangir died, Nur Jahan’s brother, Asaf Khan, ensured that Khurram succeeded.  Apart from being the most capable candidate, Khurram was married to Asaf Khan’s daughter, Arjumand BanuAsaf Khan temporarily installed a son of Kusrau, Dawar Baksh as Emperor, Khurram marched from the Deccan and in short order executed Dawar Baksh, Shahriyar and other remaining male cousins.  Khurram then became the Emperor Shah Jahan and Arjumand Banu became his Empress Mumtaz Mahal.

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Nur Jahan survived but her political power was at an end.  She retired on a massive pension and devoted herself to building a tomb for her father, Itimad-ud-Daulah, Chief Minister of Jahangir and also grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal.  Specification of the white marble architecture was her focus and the tomb has the nickname of the “baby Taj” because it is clearly a precursor to the Taj Mahal.

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Delicate decorations on the inside walls of the Baby Taj.

Unfortunately, our visit to the Baby Taj was very rushed.  There were a wealth of details I would have like to explore but only five or ten minutes to race around.

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After a short bus journey, our next stop was the Mehtab Bagh, or the moonlight garden.  There were some very curious instructions on this sign on the way in.

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Taj Mahal (did you guess?) from Moonlight Gardens.

And here we see the purpose of the Moonlight Gardens, to view the Taj Mahal by moonlight.  Unfortunately this is not possible because the gardens are not open after dark.  Also, as of the last year or two, you are no longer allowed close to the river.  My guess is that this is a security reaction to the Bombay bombings.

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Click image for much larger view.

Here is the full view, showing the mosques on each side, which are part of the overall complex.  You can click on any image for a larger view.  This one however is a panorama comprising five images and there is a full-sized image behind it that you can zoom around in if you click it.

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This is near the Taj Mahal on the same side of the river but not part of the Taj.  According to Google Maps it is on the edge of the Taj Protected Forest.

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The first Mogul Emperor Babur constructed gardens on the site of the Taj Mahal and also on the site of the Moonlight Gardens.   Akhbar granted the land (on both sides of the river) to Raja Man Singh of Amer.  Much later, Shah Jahan purchased the land from Jai Singh I of Amer, the great grandfather of Jai Singh II who built Jai Singh Gera where we stayed in Vrindavan.  The river is the same an in Vrindavan too, the sacred Yamuna, and in theory it might have been possible to travel by river from Vrindavan to Agra though I suspect there is no river traffic these days.  Shah Jahan’s Moonlight Garden was covered in mud by successive floodwaters so the current one is a recreation.

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Just a reminder that there is more to India than the Taj Mahal.  This is not far from the Moonlight Gardens on the way back to our hotel, in the receding light.

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