Delving into my old files the other day, I came across photos of a memorable trip I made 5 years ago to Madhya Pradesh, the central state of India. It was more of a cultural tour rather than a leisurely vacation to some of the richest heritage sites of our country. MP is filled with historic structures of bygone eras that whisper stories of their many rulers & their dynasties.
Here, I write about the first place we visited; a city named Gwalior, the city of true royals. Well known for its hilltop fort, Gwalior is the home of the Scindia dynasty that ruled the state from 18th to 20th century. Traces of its past glory can be felt in corners of its many temples and palaces.
Gwalior fort is one of the most majestic and impenetrable fortresses of India. Although its exact date of construction is unknown, it is believed to have been around since the 6th Century, having been passed through the possession of multiple empires like the Mughals, the Marathas and even the East India company. Eventually, it came to be occupied by the Maratha Scindia family in 1844 and has continued to be a part of Gwalior's stately legacy ever since.
Sitting atop a vast hill, the imposing structure dominates the entire city of Gwalior. The UNESCO world heritage site covers an area of 3 sq.km and has 2 entrance gates; the main being 'Hathi Pul' (Elephant Gate), approached by a long ascending ramp to the summit. The complex inside houses several small temples, palaces and water tanks.
At the forefront of the fort's many legacies is the tale of Rani Lakshmibai, the Queen of Jhansi :
On her refusal to surrender Jhansi to the British in 1858, the Jhansi fort was bombarded; the siege resulted in near destruction of her fort and upon realising that resistance within the city was useless, she jumped from the high fort on her beloved horse with her infant son strapped to her back to escape. Along with an escort of guards, she was able to flee to the nearby city of Gwalior... where together with her allies, she sought shelter within the Gwalior fort to regroup & prepare the troops for battle. But she was unsuccessful in persuading all the leaders to fight & had to defend against successive sieges on the fortress with limited troops. After fighting for days, she breathed her last in the fort, with eyewitnesses accounting for her bravery & valiance against British rule.
"No, Impossible! I shall not surrender my Jhansi!" - Queen Lakshmibai
Another notable edifice located in the heart of the city is the living palace of the ruling Scindia family, the 'Jai Vilas Palace'. Established in 1874 by Maharaja of Gwalior at the time - Jayajirao Scindia, it harmoniously blends Tuscan, Italian & Corinthian styles of architecture. Due to the erstwhile royal family being on good terms with the British, the palace was endowed generously with a European touch by its designer in every inch of its 28 acres.
The most distinguished feature of the palace is undoubtedly the "Durbar Hall", previously used for banquets, resplendent in its gold furnishings. Among the other famous embellishments are two almost identical crystal chandeliers imported from Vienna, believed to be the heaviest in Asia and a silver food & liquor train on the long dining table, whose carriages were made out of cut glass.
The Indian musician Tansen, who played in the courts of the Mughal ruler Akbar during the medieval period was born in Gwalior and so here lies his final resting place. His voice was believed to posses such magic as the clouds would rain down and animals would be enchanted. The 'Tomb of Tansen' is of typical Mughal style architecture; square structures topped with domes, walls featuring intricate jaali patterns and beautifully landscaped gardens.
And now, onto the next....
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