Junagadh’s Mahabat Maqbara is a stunner to behold

This photo essay was first published in Indian Express

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Standing forgotten on the dusty streets of Junagadh in Gujarat, stands the 19th century mausoleum of Nawab Mahabat Khan II. Called the Mahabat (not Mohabbat) Maqbara Palace, also Mausoleum of Bahaduddinbhai Hasainbhai, is a mausoleum in Junagadh, India, that was once home to the Nawabs of Junagadh. (Text and photos: Shruti Chakraborty)

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This stellar example of Indo-European architecture — as the rusty, spotty iron information board informs visitors, whose faded words stand testament to the ravages of time and neglect — has now been declared a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India, and quite justifiably so. (Source: Shruti Chakraborty)

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Even if you’re not an architecture student, you can instantly spot the various influences on the building. You have the Islamic domes and arches, you have the jharokha-type windows on the top and the very European lines, especially the carving above the main door. (Source: Shruti Chakraborty)

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Though the layout has a resemblance to the Taj Mahal — complete with four minarets — the European influence gives a very gothic feel. The construction of the Maqbara started in 1878 and finished in 1892. (Source: Shruti Chakraborty)

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The Maqbara was constructed by Sheikh Bahauddin with his own funds during 1891-1896. The monument is located inside the city in a very busy area, with the High Court situated just across the street. (Source: Shruti Chakraborty)

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Just adjacent lay the Jama Masjid, while the Vazir’s maqbara is located on the other side. The architecture for the Masjid is very similar to the old building. (Source: Shruti Chakraborty)

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The doors of the main building are decorated in silver, and the minarets have rich stone carvings and large silver doors as well. (Source: Shruti Chakraborty)

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According to the marble information tablet, which forms a part of the Magbara’s front wall, the Nawab’s family has set aside Rs 8,000 a year that’s given to the village for the upkeep and maintenance of the Maqbara. (Source: Shruti Chakraborty)

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The best time to visit Junagadh is between October to April when most of the tourist locations/spots are open. (Source: Shruti Chakraborty)

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How to Reach Mohabbat Maqbara — By Air: The nearest airport is at Rajkot which is just 99km away. There are frequent flights from all major cities in India. By Road: Junagadh is well-connected to all major towns in Gujarat and has good transport facility. As Jungadh is a historical town, buses frequently ply from all part of the state. Junagadh is 99km from Rajkot, 184km from Jamnagar, 54km from Sansar Gir, 88km from Somnath and 327km from Ahmedabad. By Train: The main railway station nearby is the Junagadh railway station, which is well-connected with other cities and has frequent trains.

(Source: Junagadhonline.in; photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

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10 trips every woman should take

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It’s said that ‘travel is the best form of education’, and for the multi-tasking and multi-faceted woman, this holds more true than ever. Not only does travelling work as a means of escaping the world you live in, but also discovering a whole new one. And this experience is even more enhanced and intensified by the kind of trips she undertakes and at which stage of her life such a jaunt is taken.

1. A trip with her parents/guardian as a child

Everyone remembers family trips taken as kids. In fact, that’s one of the best and tension-free times to go on trip, when the world is oh-so-new, almost everything done is for the first time and — the biggest kicker of all (at the time) — she can confidently forget the existence of the monstrous ‘studies’. Decades later, when she’s on a trip with her parents again…much of the time will be spent recounting these trips and all the silliness.

2. A school trip with friends

For a girl — in fact, for every kid — this is the first trip where’s she’s almost on her own. Ideally to be taken in the early-to-mid teenage years, when a girl is in a phase of self-discovery, it’s a time when she understands that which decisions she can take on her own and which she needs her parents for. Also, bonds made during such outstation tours with friends tend to last a lifetime.

3. A road trip with her girlfriends

From school to college and even beyond, a road trip with friends is a definite-must, especially if it’s one with her girlfriends. Mission brief: break all stereotype, challenge themselves, be responsible, and make memories for life.

4. A trek/historical holiday with her mother

This is a special one, especially when she’s in her late-20s or 30s and conversations are more between two friends than mother-daughter. It’s also the time she realizes that despite all the fights there is actually much in common between the two generations. The reason it’s relevant that this trip be either a trek (an easy one, mind you!) or to destination with a lot of historical relevance is because while the former challenges just enough to give mommy-dearest a sense of achievement along with her daughter, the latter gives a sense of discovery and appreciation of one’s past. Get the drift?

5. A bonding trip with her father

A woman is always her father’s little princess (ever heard the quote: I may not be a man’s queen, but I’ll always be my father’s princess?), and when years have gone past, a solo jaunt with the old man will give both the time and space to discover all the things that were missed between storming-out sessions, weddings, cry-outs and silent wars. Try doing an adventure trip or camp out — that will reassure dad that his girl is all grown-up and quite capable of taking care of herself. Try something that he’s never done before!

6. A trip with her partner

Nothing can be a better way to take a relationship to the next level than a quick trip away. This would be a great way to understand her partner, test him, be tested herself, and figure out if this is the real deal or not. After all, one can’t put the same best foot forward — continuously — for three days straight, right?

7. A road trip with parents, siblings and extended family

In today’s age of nuclear families, it’s quite easy to get so involved in one’s own life that the family — or khandaan — can be quite easily be slotted into Whatsapp groups and family filters on Facebook. A road trip with them all — all 20+ of them — is sure to surprise with the amount of fun that can be had. Not only are such trips great to find out about all the “secrets” parents have been hiding all these years, but also connect with long-lost cousins, which just opens up the friend circle a tiny bit more. (And if they’re living at some exotic location — you know exactly where the next budget trip is going to be!)

8. A solo trip to an unknown land

This is a must for every woman in the 21st century. Nothing makes someone discover more things about herself than being by herself — and this is definitely not a bad thing. This makes her stronger, more confident about herself, may end up change her entire world-view or even give her the grounding she seeks. New friends are much easier to make when you’re by yourself, and the world is truly your oyster. Just be sure to stay safe!

9. A challenging/pampering trip with her husband/life partner

This is most preferable if unplanned and totally spontaneous. Get away from the humdrum routine that life tends to become after a point. Rekindle the romance, rediscover each other — or, basically, just run away from monotony and rejuvenate yourselves. Choose a kind of trip depending on what interests both partners, and elope! (Make sure there’s a babysitter at hand, should it be necessary.)

10. A fun trip with her children

The roles have been reversed — she goes through every single emotion her mother did decades ago, and it’s so much sweeter. This time it’s not her firsts that are the centre of attention, but her child’s — which is, again, a first!

Festive Travel

This article was first published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 18-11-2013. And is available online.

Planning your vacations abroad early next year? Team them with festivals that will give you insights into the local culture

Spring Festival, China
30 Jan – 5 Feb
While perpetually in the news for its economy and population, this star of the Orient encompasses within its borders a most fascinating topography and — if you take the time to get under its skin — culture, with its quaint rituals and rules. But experience the mystique of the Chinese lanterns during their lunar New Year, when the country offers a bite-sized version of its legends, foods, dragons and red lanterns, of course. Beijing, Guangzhou, Xian and Pingyao are some of the preferred places to visit during the Golden Week.

Crush Festival – Cellar Door Wine Festival, Australia
19 Jan – 16 Feb
If you’re a foodie and looking to swim in the coral reefs early next year, consider attending the Crush Festival — one of Australia’s premier food, wine, fashion, music and art festivals. While the European countries uncork their finest wines in the autumn, Down Under it’s in January. Start with the Crush, when 30-odd wineries open their cellar doors. If you crave for more, then the Cellar Door Wine Fest offers unlimited food and wine tastings from over 150 producers. There are master classes with celebrity chefs and interactive sessions for serious gastronomes.

Masked Lovers at Mardi Gras in Venice by Frank Kovalchek (Wikimedia Commons)

Masked Lovers at Mardi Gras in Venice by Frank Kovalchek (Wikimedia Commons)

Carnival/Mardi Gras, Venice, Italy
15 Feb – 4 Mar
The mystical city of Venice takes on a whole new persona during this three-week-long annual extravaganza. Home to the renowned Venetian mask, around 3 million people from across the world flock to this canal city during the pre-Lent period to lose themselves in the anonymity of the masks and elaborate costumes. There are parades, balls and masquerades that transport you to a different era altogether, and a special array of food and drinks are laid out for the masses. The festivities culminate with Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

Rio Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
24 Feb – 4 Mar
For travellers (and even hard-core party-goers), Brazil is anyway one of the most coveted destinations. Not diluting the extremely rich cultural experience of the Latin American country, it would be safe to recommend that if you’re planning a trip to Brazil, it should be during the Rio Carnival. A capsule of the vibrant rhythms and culture, the Samba parades and masquerade balls are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Dance on the streets with the exotic dancers, while seeing the sights.

Cherry blossoms in Japan and the US
March – April
All year-round, Japan’s attractions are many — from anime conventions and tea ceremonies to museums and bullet trains. But head towards the Land of the Rising Sun during end-March and April, and your eyes can feast on the gorgeous cherry blossoms in full bloom, especially in the garden city of Kyoto. There are a series of festivals organised here during this period projecting a very a different aspect of this eastern nation. But if your floral trail is Westward-inclined, then fret not. As a mark of Japan-American friendship (the former had presented the US capital, Washington DC, with 3,000 cherry trees), the National Cherry Blossom festival is celebrated across the city for three weeks. Next year’s dates are 20 Mar–13 Apr. So, while waving at the White House, stop by the various festival venues as well, for a slight taste of Japan in America.

Eboshiyama is one of the 100 places in Japan to view cherry blossoms. This picture shows the illumination of the mountain during the peak viewing season. By Fantasy Leigh (Wikimedia Commons)

Eboshiyama is one of the 100 places in Japan to view cherry blossoms. This picture shows the illumination of the mountain during the peak viewing season. By Fantasy Leigh (Wikimedia Commons)

Hay-on-the-Wye Festival, Wales, UK
22 May – 1 Jun
Known as the ‘town of books’, Hay on the Wye has been playing host to one of the world’s most popular literature festivals since 1988. With its inception from the winnings of a poker game, the festival draws around 25,000 visitors, including the crème de la crème of the world’s litterateurs. The quaint little town is a delight for book lovers, with pop-up stores, live music, author interactions, lovely food and the chance of bumping into your favourite author walking down cobbled streets. Romance out of a book!

Feast of St Patrick, Ireland
14 – 17 Mar
This can alternatively be called the ‘green festival’ because of the predominance of the colour across all festivities — inspired from the shamrock, which was used by St Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity. So, if you land during this festival, be prepared to be enveloped in a sea of green revelry. The magic comes from a smorgasbord of events — crack up to the quintessential Irish humour at the many comedy clubs, sway to street music and folk concerts, be moved by the theatre, applaud the fireworks and be enchanted by the many parades.

Chocolate cupcakes decorated with green icing for St Patrick's Day. By Kristin Ausk (Wikimedia Commons)

Chocolate cupcakes decorated with green icing for St Patrick’s Day. By Kristin Ausk (Wikimedia Commons)

Rainforest World Music Festival, Sarawak
20 – 22 Jun
There are music festivals aplenty, but what sets this one apart is that it’s nestled in the beautiful rainforest of Sarawak, Borneo. Set against the Sarawak Cultural Village, artists from across the world converge as attendees dance to the rhythms of the rainforest, drink and dine under the canopies of trees, away from the rest of the world. It’s magical.

What to do when you’ve arrived?

After you get yourself that soothing coffee, remember some basic things you gotta do!

After you get yourself that soothing coffee, remember some basic things you gotta do!

So, the vacation is now a reality. You’d been planning for months (or not at all) and had thought of every single hurdle that could put this much longed for and needed vacation in jeopardy — but nothing happened! Or even if they did, you have surmounted all, and have blissfully arrived at the destination of choice. You’ve checked into your hotel, settled in and feel like you can conquer the world.
But before you do just that, here are a couple of things that make the experience all the more better and hassle-free.

1. Grab your hotel’s business card: You’ve skimmed through Tripadvisor and gotten yourself a great deal on a quaint little hotel in the heart of the city that not many know about. Discovery! (Please pat yourself on a job well done.) But the flipside of such fortuitous discoveries is that when you’re lost wandering the city, soaking it all in, you can’t really ask people for directions to the hotel! ‘Coz it’s a secret remember?! To avoid such a situation, make sure you grab a couple of visiting cards from the hotel and place them in your wallet, between the sheets of the book you’re carrying around, in the pockets of your several coats, and anywhere else you can think of. This way, even if you have a language problem, you can whip out the card and get proper directions, or show it to the cabbie, etc., etc.

1a. GPS it: If you’re a techie and work well with your GPS map apps (and they can be lifesavers!), “Favourite/Mark” your hotel location before venturing out. This will see you through any wrong turns, drunken stupors and over-smart cabbies that would like you to contribute generously to their day’s income.

2. Walk around your hotel: Take some time out on Day 1 to familiarize yourself with the hotel locality. You never know when you get a sudden craving for coffee or need something from the deli. If you’re a budget traveller (like moi) then it may be possible you’re staying in a h/motel with no kitchen (this is fairly common in European countries), get an idea of the 24×7 shops around the place, and the general time when they open and close.

3. Chat up the receptionist: Most receptionists are founts of information, and they know how to get the stuff, and where to get the stuff — so be nice! (Plus, they also have a key to your room!) If you like local flavour and cultural amusements, ask the receptionist/concierge for tips around the city — there may be special events or festivals that you could check out, breweries/restaurants that are new and haven’t quite made it to your edition of Lonely Planet. The guy will probably be able to help you out with reservations/tickets and the other paraphernalia.
Also, you’ll be surprised to see the kind of stuff people have left behind, and most receptionists would have stored them — from phone chargers and books to playing cards. So, if you’ve forgotten some essentials, just ask them and they may have it.

4. Grab a map: Of paramount importance. You may have the latest smartphone, and a cracking map app, but it’s always good to keep a hardcopy backup. Most hotels have city maps, so make sure you grab one or two. These not only help you plan your way around the city, but you can also mark places like your hotel, and other must-visits on it, so that you don’t forget. Also, once the trip is over, marked maps make for awesome souvenirs.

5. Grab a transit pass for the city/state: Taking public transport is a great way to get a feel of the city. It’s also a safe way to get lost (if you like doing that on a regular basis — and you should. It’s fun!). Most cities have day/week passes that work for different types of transport services, and they’re also very cheap. These are usually available at the terminus or even the mom-n-pop stores and kiosks. If you find a booklet with details like bus/tram/metro routes, get one. Teemed with a map, they can be a formidable weapon in your pocket.

6. Get a local number: If you’re travelling in the same country for around a week or more, then I have found that the initial investment into a local GSM SIM card with data connectivity can give great dividends. Not only do you save up on international calling rates, but it gives you great security while travelling by yourself. In fact, a prepaid plan with the primary focus on data connectivity with a basic call balance is optimal. Use Skype and Viber to make the calls, and a zillion other apps increase mobility. Most hotels usually have Free Wi-Fi (yes, yes, India still has to catch up on that!), so you would basically need to make calls of short duration. Check out these links for some detailed info (Rick Steves; Slow Travel); Telestial (specially good for Europe), Cellular Abroad (for multiple countries on the same card) offers some decent options for those intending to travel across Europe. You can also rent phones from these sites (and other places as well. These are just a few examples I’ve given). Also, there are some plans excluding text messages. Now, “I’m a let’s talk, instead of message” kinda person — especially since a 1-minute conversation is a LOT more enlightening, than six text messages — and economical!
Please note, most service providers have country-specific calling cards, which makes calling home EXTREMELY cheap. In fact, more often than not, it’ll be cheaper for you to call home, than for them to call you! No kidding!

And if there’s anything I’ve missed out, please do let me know with your comments! 🙂