Tread the path of royalty that seemingly leads to the bowels of the earth. The Queen’s Well is an immense structure painstakingly carved out of the Earth. Running your fingers over the centuries old intricate carvings is an exquisite feeling. Adalaj and Modhera step-wells are also beguiling additions to the Gujarati landscape.
Lucknow has an impressive skyline that you simply must observe from the vantage point that Bada Imambara offers. But here’s the catch! It’s not easy to manoeuvre the thousand passages and 489 doorways, some of which lead you in circles, back downstairs when you’re trying to go up, and some even drop off sharply with no way forward! If you think you’re good at mazes, this one will take you on a wild spin.
Standing amidst the crumbling ruins of a civilization that is 5,000 years old, it almost seems like stepping through a time machine. The impeccable planning of the ancient town, the sanitary systems and the remarkable man made dock in this once port town will leave wanderers awestruck at the machinations and resourcefulness of the Harappans.
The ‘real’ India lies in the outskirts of major metropolises. Discover the pottery makers, puppet makers and miniature painters – artisans in their own right – on a leisurely walk through an Udaipur village. We’re sure you’ll leave with a profound sense of respect for the neo designers who recycle waste into contemporary works of art.
Conspiracy theorists would have you believe aliens gave rise to the largest rock-cut monastery-temple caves complexes in the world. But for unassuming visitors, the place is awe-inspiring. The serpentine corridors in the mountainside linking immense Buddhist prayer halls and the traditional Hindu mythological carvings make these some of the most intriguing caves you can find anywhere. They also provide significant insight into the region’s past. It’s basically catnip for historians.
If necessity is the mother of invention, it’s easy to see why Sualkuchi is such a fine craftsman’s village. Once an incubator for various small industries like the hand-loom and oil processing using traditional ghani methods, the village now solely produces the exquisite Muga silk. When you learn that this is the only place in the world that produces silk by turning only open silkworm cocoons, it warrants a pause to reflect on the Gandhian principles that seem remiss these days.
This little town has been around for centuries and is a little piece of Portuguese divinity on the Goan coast. Named after a fountain that gushed from the foothills of nearby Altinho Hill, the village is a treasure trove of delicate porcelain plaques with blue lettering, tiny roosters and dolls mounted on rainbow colored walls. An evening spent walking through the tiny lanes trying to get to the source of the fountain is an evening well spent indeed.
When life doesn’t give you lemons, build terracotta temples? This is exactly what happened in the thriving town of Bishnupur, just a few hours from Kolkata. In the days of the Malla Kings, shortage of stones resulted in glorious terracotta temples dedicated to Hindu Gods. This creativity and reverence for the arts is evident in the pottery and the famous Baluchi Saris that are handwoven here today, which you can pick up as souvenirs.
Boasting over 700 temples in the vicinity, the capital of Odisha is a remarkable place to discover temple architecture that is indigenous to the region. Even if religion or spirituality don’t particularly call to you, prepare to be astounded by the exquisite artwork that adorn the spires. Through painstaking work, each of the centuries old temples were finished with carvings from great Indian epics.
Knowing where you come from is as important as knowing where you are headed. Returning to the roots of Odisha is an enthralling experience. Follow in the footsteps of the ‘original people’ and rediscover an ancient way of living. Past the temples and lively local markets, you can interact with a culture that is millennia old, older than many countries in the world.
Over 15 centuries ago, the Chalukyas who then ruled over most of India, initiated a movement that lingers to this day. In the north of Karnataka, at Aihole, the journey of South Indian temple architecture was set afoot. Visiting one of the first temples ever built in the characteristic style is a gratifying experience. Far removed from the colours and overt carving that deluges contemporary shrines, Aihole emphasizes the essence of temple architecture mirroring the human pinnacle of minimalism.
Patchwork quilts and applique work are a specialty of Pipli. The village in its entirety depends on the sale of such crafts to power their economy. The streets of Raghurajpur are similarly lined with artisans toiling away in the heat. Every home is an artist’s studio with Pattachitra paintings (religious and tribal themes) on cloth – adorning the walls. If walking through the Heritage Villages seems like a dredge, you could hop on a bicycle and whizz past smiles and waves!
Let your inner child come bounding out as colourful lacquer is sprayed on wooden toys that fit in the palm of your hand! The artisans who have followed their traditional craft for over two centuries are developing contemporary designs that are increasingly relevant today. From pen stands to coasters, there’s bound to be a simple home solution that you will want to replace once you see these cute wares.
Like the harp of Orpheus, the veena is a significant facet of Hindu mythology and emits the sweetest sounds you’ve ever heard. In one of the last places on Earth where you can catch the making of this instrument, you can converse with the dying breed of veena makers. Later you can hop over to the artists who make exquisite paintings studded with stones and gilded with foil for a truly ostentatious souvenir.
What could be better than retreating to the place that deserves the name ‘Land of Temples’ and exploring the living and the ruins? Seek out the famous weaving houses that gave birth to the Kanchipuram saree (a traditional garb worn by many women all over India). The silk sarees that come from Kanchipuram are revered and many are even handed down as heirlooms. Here is where you can unravel the mysteries just like the silk threads unfurl from the cocoons.
A village, home to over 200 farmers, lies in an inconspicuous bend of the Varaha River just off Vizag. You’d be surprised however, at the creative intellect behind these rough hands. The place is best known for the namesake wooden toys that are created here. The handmade toys are painted in various shades of lacquer and made in a sustainable way.
The troughs of the undulating landscape are powerhouses of some of the best crafts in the country. Shrouded in their animal skins and under their thatched roofs, the last place you’d think to find artisans is a glorious revelation of generations of skills passed down from parent to offspring. A guided tour through the valleys will have you wishing you could build yourself a home here and peddle vibrant crafts.
The final call echoes through the alley and hands work faster. Limber hands and muscly tones work in sync to place the finishing touches on the idols of Lord Ganesha. From the smallest to the largest, clay and plaster sculptures are decked up in preparation for the largest Ganesh Festival parade in India. Starting from the workshops, follow the procession as devotees head to the beach to dissolve the idols and metaphorically, wash their sins away.
The Tanjore temple is a grandiose engineering marvel full of oddities characteristic to it. You can chase the ‘shadow you can’t find’ or you can also head out on a hunt to find quirky marvels. One such quirk is the carving of an Englishman in a bowler hat, which has left many history buffs bewildered, for the English did not arrive in India till many centuries later!
A place where souls transcend, Akshardham is considered by many as a gift to the world. Built of pink sandstone from neighboring Rajasthan, the many halls have immaculate depictions of the Hindu Gods. In contemporary fashion, the guided audio tours and mini screening halls within exude a ‘New York Art Gallery’ confidence. Stay till nightfall when the lights and water weave in elegant dance; speaking tomes of Gods & myths.