Our quest for the most beautiful abandoned places in India and the history behind them took us to Kuldhara a vast mazelike cluster of roofless homes, bare walls, and a carpet of disjointed bricks are all that remain of what is once said to have been a prosperous village. Sitting quiet in the sand dunes of western Rajasthan, this is just one of eightyfour such abandoned villages dotting the stark landscape. A local myth tells us that these villages were of the Paliwal Bhramins who fled their homes overnight to uphold their honour because the then primeminister of the Jaisalmer court, man called Salem Singh wanted to marry the headmans daughter against her wishes. How true this myth is, no one can tell.
Far up in the Himalayas, a couple of hours drive from the border town of Kargil, further north from the grand SrinagarLeh Highway lie the ruins of what once must have been a majestic fort. Rumoured to be taller and older than its famous cousin the Leh Palace, the Chiktan fortress is shrouded in many mysteries. Legends of its making, numerous sinister and violent events, magical tales of wondrous creations and a heartwrenching tailspin of destruction and apathy encompass the story of this fabulous fortress set in an almost fantastical location.
Human Life has long been intertwined with the course of rivers and their confluence with the great seas. Lakhpat is the apocalytic setting of life if the river were to disappear. Situated at the mouth of the Kori Creek from where the Sindhu once met the Arabian Sea, it is all but a fortified ghost town whose walls overlook the desert sands as it preserves within it, with infinite care, the remains of a two century old trading hub blessed by the holy men and the beloved of men of exceptional valour.
In the vast territories of the Kutch, on top of a forlorn hillock stands the fort of Roha. Once the biggest jaagir in the region, it lies neglected and forgotten. A close observer in the tragic death of 120 princesses, the seat of brave rulers, home to famous artists, a once burgeoning and rich principality, this is a story of riches to ruins as tempests of fate took charge of Roha and reduced the stone fortress to whispers in the wind.
The astonishment of why some places lie abandoned and in ruins does not get more perplexing than this. Off the Konkan coast of Maharastra lies the impregnable, unassailable and unconquered fort of Janjira. A fascinating history that begins with a pirate keep from which the Ethiopians carved out a stone fortress. It has held back mighty warriors like Shivaji the great Maratha champion. It lends a distinctive colour to the eclectic social fabric of the region.
This time our quest for abandoned places and their stories took us to two different places in East Rajasthan. One, an erstwhile kings capital reduced to rubble after being ravaged by war, and the second, an unconquerable fort still standing high and proud after being torn by tragedy. Tying the two are valiant stories of a brave dynasty of Rajputs â€“ the Khinchi Chauhans and their poignant history.
A medieval town of palaces and temples, and while the temples still draw pilgrims by the thousands the majestic palaces lie silent. What prompted the Bundelkhandi Kings of Orchha to abandon their capital and move elsewhere This question throws up a plethora of answers and the most intriguing one tells us of a curse that explains why this town has been abandoned twice in the past and will be abandoned once more in the years to come.
A couple of hours drive from Jaipur, in the land of a thousand forts, the fort of Bhangarh has consistently topped the list of the most haunted place in the country. Not much is known about the fort and the entire town the lies sprawled in front of it. Rumours of curses abound and all that meets the eye is a town that appears to have been abandoned at the spur of an instant. Is there a grain of truth in its many creepy stories or can they be explained away through logic
The sleepy town of Ramgarh in northern Rajasthan is known by connoisseurs as a unique open art gallery. It is the site of several mansions made at a time when it was on the crossroads of trade routes and wealth streamed in from all directions. The cenotaphs and palatial homes painted on the outside and inside with some fabulous examples of local artwork are visually exceptional as we follow the story of what turned this cosmopolitan trade city into a sleepy unknown town overflowing with vestiges of a splendid era.
Talakkad has a long history, going back to at least the 8th or 9th century when it was the capital of the Ganga Kings. In later years, it was also a prominent city under the Cholas, the Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar kings and the Mysore Wodeyars, with each successive dynasty adding its own architectural stamp to the city. There are 30 temples here under the sand. There is a local myth where people believe that the entire town got submerged in sand because of the curse given by a queenRani Almellamma.
A forgotten capital of a forgotten kingdom. Its name today means ruined city, but at the height of the Hoysala rule in the 12th century, Halebidu enjoyed an important status and was called ‘Dwarsamudra’. Halebidu is home to some of the most iconic structures of Hoysala architecture, yet remains relatively unknown in modernday India. Figures, as with the nearby city of Mysore and the rockcut temples, Halebidu now lies silent. The Hoysala empire lies forgotten.
Kittur in Karnataka is a place where the story of one of the first women freedom fighters Rani Chennama lies in a silent abandoned fort. All about wars and bravery, this episode unearths the heroic character of Rani Chenamma and the reasons for the ruined abandoned state of the fort.
Its a place where freedom fighters were kept before the independence of India. This place has witnessed the torture and pain given to the people imprisoned here after the first war of independence. However, today it lies forgotten and only when one visits can one realise the importance of the freedom fighters and their stories.
Ross Island is a tiny little Island at the mouth of the Port Blair Harbour. It is, in fact, the entry point into the Andaman islands. At one point in time, it served as the capital of the British in this part of India. It was a township that had everything one may need to live a lavish life in. But today this island lies forgotten, deserted and totally abandoned.
Unakoti is a place in the North East of India where carvings of Gods and Godesses lie abandoned on a hill. In numbers these statues are one less than a crore and are in the form of rock cut structures. Nobody knows how and when these carvings were made. With mythological reasoning behind the existence of the statues, Unakoti is a discovery in itself.
A place from where lies the story of a once powerful Ancient kingdom of the Ahom Rulers.This kingdom shaped the beautiful north eastern state of Assam. However, despite the stories and the 600 year old important rule, Shibsagar today lies only as a hint of the grandeur before.
Champaner lies in Gujarat, This town has has seen three kingdoms and their contribution to several fortifications.. At one point of time this place was the capital of Gujarat, but today lies only as asilent witness to past glory.
There are precious few monuments and artefacts in our ancient land which have survived the vagaries of man and time. But the ones that do are an insight into an India that was inimitable as it was marvellous. And few would stand in comparison with two jewels of ancient India the fair Mahajanpada of Vaishali, blessed and protected by Buddha and whose legacy led to the formation of amongst the greatest universities that the world has know the unparalleled learning centre of Nalanda.
On the banks of the gleefully wavering Tungabhadra, flanked by mountains made of towering boulders, sits, what seems like an impossible city Hampi. Once known as Vijaynagar it served as capital of an empire whose wealth, power and reputation was the envy of the known world. Surpassing, if not equivalent to any modern day urban settlement in scope, scale and vision it was home to one of the largest populations in the world gathered in one location. The extensive ruins of Hampi defy the wildest imaginations and visualisation of ruined cities. That such a city in stone and only stone was built 500 years ago could scarcely be believed, save the splendour that are its magnificent ruins a testament to times that were as glorious as they are intriguing.
Standing majestically on a plateau above the flood plains of Kashmir are the stupendous ruins of the Sun Temple of Martand. Described as a dream in stone designed by Titans and finished by jewellers, the temple of Martand is part of the legacy of the indomitable Lalitaditya Mukhtapid of the Karkota dynasty of Kashmir which was once the centre of a mighty empire governed from the capital city of Parihaspora. Once the city of smiles, it is today a site of ruined stones. We see the glory of Kashmir through the life of one of its favourite sons.
Known as the KohiMaran in Persian, the hill of Hari Parbat is crested with a fort of the same name. Originally built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, the fort has been the silent sentinel watching the winds of change and the many hands eager to grasp the land fabled as heaven on Earth. We arrive in Kashmir as Akbar wrests control of the land for the Mughal Empire and follow the many tales of the various rulers vying for control over the Hari Parbat and wanting to be masters of Kashmir.
Amongst the many scattered battles of the First War of Independence of 1857, none has been eulogised in literature and popular culture as the Siege Of Lucknow. Once the quarters and centre of operations for the British Resident in the Court of the Nawab of Lucknow, the Lucknow Residency was the epicentre of a battle between the British and the Indian freedom fighters. We experience the times rife with passions, valour and determination as the British fought for supremacy with the future of the subcontinent up for grabs.
Situated in a forgotten part of Bengal, 150kms northwest of Kolkata, is a city that was a proud capital for over 800 years of a kingdom whose royal lineage stretched over a thousand years The only surviving heritage of the splendour of Bishnupur are some exquisitely constructed and decorated temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. With generous use of terracotta and an influence of various styles, they portray a picture of life in medieval West Bengal which is lost to time and perhaps, tradition too.
On the Konkan coast of Maharastra sits in seeming placidness the serene sea fort of Vijaydurg. A rock that has been witness to thrilling times of an era when Shivaji and his empire spread through the Deccan like wildfire, followed by the formation of a naval force off its coast that dominated the Arabian sea for over 50 years. A hotspot of Maratha activity, in its history of daring feats, impossible achievements lies also a tragic tale of greed and power that sowed the seeds of the decline of the grand Maratha Empire.
Hidden in the ravines of the Chambal and protected for centuries by dense forest is an ancient temple town. Named after the Lord of the Elements Shiva, this site the ancient Bateshwar has the densest concentration of temples in one location in India 200 and counting. While KK Muhammed, an exemplary officer of the ASI, has set new standards in restoration and recovery of almost half of these, there is much about the antiquity and intricacies of this temple town that still evades the brightest minds, while its magic is slowly coming back to life.
31 July 2020
History, Travel, Human Interest