Daughter of the Mountains

The waves of a wild river leap and rage against the banks. The sharp ringing of a temple bell pierces the air of incense and thick smoke. Secrets of marination, held close for centuries, melt away in the mouth. On a wind-swept ghat, a priest skims through the pages of sacrosanct family registers. A masterful stroke completes the kohl that outlines a goddess' eye, and an ancestral home conjures the stories from a seminal poet's life. 

Ganga is one of the major rivers in India which descends from the mighty Himalaya into the Northern Plains. With Delhi as a touchpoint, this journey begins by tracing the course of the holy river along the foothills of the Himalaya, in Rishikesh and Haridwar. Descending onto the plains in Lucknow, we follow the Ganges as it meanders into Allahabad, the city of a sacred confluence and Varanasi, the holy town of Lord Shiva and a consuming spiritual flight. This journey concludes at the first colonial capital of India and the largest city on the banks of the Ganges, Kolkata.

Hailed as the capital city for more than a century, Delhi remains to be the seat of political power for modern-day India. Protected by forts and ramparts, the walled old city swells with stories of a wealthy past. The metropolis of New Delhi continues to develop exponentially retaining within it the charms of the olden days. The pink sun rises over the royal Mughal gardens and lights up the dewy sandstone forts and monuments from its various pasts.

Eventually, to be met with the Yamuna down the plains, the holy Ganges descends from the lofty Himalaya and courses into Haridwar and Rishikesh, offering an immersion into the ancient art of meditation and yoga. Brought into the limelight with the arrival of the Beatles, this spiritual centre is filled with devotees, travellers, and locals meditating by the riverbanks. Also called the Yoga Capital of the World, the people of this land have mirrored their ancestors who once recited chants at the prayer service for the river in a spectacular ritual called the Ganga Aarti and performed ablutions in the flowing river water.

Moving deeper into the plains, Lucknow greets a tributary of the Holy Ganges with its quintessential charm. The capital city of the empire of the Nawabs of Awadh, its contribution to the fields of literature, poetry, music and dance is unparalleled. Lucknow’s real charm lies not only in its monuments of Indo-Islamic architecture but also in the Tehzeeb-o-Saqafat or culture and sophistication of its people.

Further south in Allahabad, the sacred river of Yamuna, personified in Yami as the goddess of life, merges with the Ganges and the mythical Saraswati to form a holy confluence of absolution. In its cluster of Hindu temples along the confluence, attended to by learned priests and flocked with devotees, the city endures as a site of Hindu pilgrimage. In a smattering of exquisite Indo-Islamic heritage, the city prevails as a Mughal emperors' abode of the gods.

Changing course to head eastward, the holy river meanders to a city that has seen men, kingdoms and gods pass by. One of Hinduism’s seven holy cities, and an important Buddhist centre, Varanasi was once a fertile land of philosophy, theosophy, medicine and learning. The remnants still linger in its narrow lanes and slippery ghats, inhabited by locals, devotees, sadhus, aghoris and travellers who visit the city looking for salvation and peace.

Further on, the holy river debouches into the plains of Bengal. Its capital Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, is the largest city on the banks of River Ganges. The river is called the Hooghly here. Kolkata is the centre of Bengali culture and is the cultural and educational hub of Eastern India. Besides a glorious view of the Victoria Memorial, one of the many remnants of Kolkata’s colonial past, the St. Paul’s Cathedral stands as an excellent tribute to the ‘British Calcutta’ before it wisps into the cultural rituals of the Far East.

Into the Dravidian Heartland

Faint, in the early morning hours, the smell of the flower market becomes intoxicating. The artisan remains hunched, concentrated, while hammer and chisel chip away at bronze. Bougainvillaeas hanging over pastel walls blow gently in the sea breeze. As the dancer’s feet smack the floor in quick succession, the salangai voices its own rhythm. A massive ship chugs into the harbour, decks afill with goods from over the world. 

This journey starts at Chennai, the cultural hub of Tamil Nadu before moving on to the temple city of Mahabalipuram on the eastern coast and trails the sandy beaches of the erstwhile French settlement of Pondicherry, spreading across the mainland into Thanjavur and Madurai, draining the Periyar basin in the forests of Thekkady. From here it emerges in the rustic backwaters of Alleppey before finally ending at the western coast, at the new port town of Cochin.  

The fourth largest metropolitan in the country, Chennai offers a glimpse into the intricate weaving of India's cultural past. The imposing stone temples, artefacts from a colonial-era intertwined with the recent burst of modernity, Chennai is a world of its own. Visitors are offered a range of activities to pursue, from history and culture to the mouthwatering cuisine of the South.

From a bustling city, you move to the serene shores of Mahabalipuram. Surrounded by two beautiful lakes, the small strip of Mahabalipuram is home to some of the oldest architectural marvels in India. The famous Shore Temple overlooking the Bay of Bengal, with its large granite stone architecture perfectly encapsulates its essence. A huge monolithic rock, famously called the Krishna’s Butterball, hangs miraculously on a slope just so and has survived earthquakes through the ages.

The journey continues southwards and into Pondicherry, a city caught in a time-warp, which tells the tale of French influence and Tamil sensibilities. Walking through the cobbled streets, the romance of the old French town comes alive with sprightly shades of yellow on its chic buildings and colonial churches. Merchants sell country-made glass bangles in front of chic designer boutiques and the pleasures of coconut-based cuisine can be had in cafes with sophisticated French names.

The city of Thanjavur, south of Pondicherry, gleams with one of the oldest temples in the county. Once the cultural seat of the Chola empire, its splendour is visible in the many majestic temples in and around town. The epitome of the Dravidian style of architecture, the Bhrihadeeswara temple is situated in the heart of the city with a wealth of art, painting, sculpting.

The journey moves towards the mainland, and into the city of Madurai. The prime centre of Tamil culture, literature, art, music, and dance, Madurai has flourished through the centuries and has preserved its tradition of celebrating culture through the confluence of poets and artists, even today. The Meenakshi temple with its towering gopurams, sculpted brightly from stories of the past, stands tall in the proud blue sky.

In the Periyar basin, the deep jungles of Thekkady are home to a variety of species of indigenous flora and fauna including the mighty Indian tiger, elephants, deer, and langur to name a few. The Periyar National Park has sounds of local birds and gurgles of streams which can be explored by walks, treks, and the cradling bamboo rafts on the river.

Trail through thick forests to the pristine backwaters of Kerala in the little town of Alleppey. The lush and graceful backwaters of Alappuzha, anglicised as ‘Alleppey’, provide a rare respite from the bustle of cities. Cruise through the backwaters in the unique houseboats, or visit the temple by the lake known for its beautiful architecture. Unwind on the untouched beaches of the town before continuing to the busy city of Cochin.

The journey concludes at the western coast of India at the port town of Cochin. Popular for Dutch and Jewish influences, Cochin is the land of spices and Chinese fishing nets. Home to Kerala’s fabled backwaters, the roots of history run even deeper in Cochin to support the skyscrapers of modernity, much like the tallest of coconut palms that tirelessly line the coastal city.   

Aromas that the Ships brought

Silhouette of a vessel appears on the distant horizon. A strong breeze brings with it faint scents that move back and forth like the restless tides. The dawn breaks to teeming spice markets.  An old fisherman looks over his fresh catch. In the shades of a cathedral, workers relax, sipping the local beverage. A group of pilgrims wait, in reverence, for the prasad. Elsewhere, in a kitchen, a dish simmers with the rich fragrance of a closely guarded Arabic recipe.

Throughout history, port towns have been the receivers of new cultures - embracing the many beautiful confluences with time. This trail appears in the cosmopolitan centre of Mumbai, where the influence of many styles has found expression in the city’s streets. It then heads along the coastline to Goa, the famous yet unexplored beach town of India. From there it heads to Udupi, which stands in complete contrast, a holy town known for its deeply religious aura. In the red-hued lanes of Mangalore, experience a spicy, flavour-rich confluence of cultures and cuisine. This gastronomic expedition comes to an end at the multicultural city of Calicut, where the remnants of Arab culture linger in the aromas of the kitchen.

From spacious highrises to tiny chawl hamlets, Mumbai is a city for everyone. A haven for many communities that have migrated over the years, the city has developed an eclectic cuisine style, taking from the many cooking traditions including that of the Parsis. Known widely for its cosmopolitan nature and glamorous extravagance, the real taste of the city, be it the spicy hot paav or the quenching sharbat, lies in the many stalls and cafes along its streets.

A harsh salty breeze carrying the smell of freshly cooked fish wipes away the imagery of crowded urbanity. Bask in the warmth of the afternoon sun on the beaches of Goa. A popular holiday destination for Indians, the beach city hides behind its pomp and festivity a richness in its culture which has evolved as a confluence of many, especially that of the Portuguese.

The redolence of seafood slowly fades and the beach winds tickle the nose with a dainty smell. Enter the quaint town of Udupi where the streets are filled with devotees walking towards or coming back from temples. The day begins with a freshly brewed cup of filter coffee. The cuisine is satvic, an entirely vegetarian cuisine that was born in the mutts of Udupi to cater to the travellers and vagabonds who roamed the lands as religious and spiritual pilgrims.

At Mangalore, a city that evokes the countryside of Kerala, this gastronomic quest reaches a threshold point. Nestled between the Konkan coast and the inland Western Ghats, Mangalorean cuisine is a rare blend of the many culinary styles found around, ranging from the spicy Konkan seafood to the tantalising Udupi idlis.

The whiff of spices transports one to an era when traders from faraway lands set shop in the spice markets of Calicut. A port town since ancient days, the cuisine has been greatly influenced by the Arab traders and the later European settlers. Walk the streets as the heavy coastal wind carries the rich sweet smell of bananas, coconuts and spices that emanate from the many corners and taste the delicious golden pazhampori along with some sharp suleimani chai.

In the Land of Palaces and Kings

A wistful melody pervades the corridors of an ancient palace, as a folk artist romances his harmonium. The hustle and bustle of a city market reveals flavours of local cuisine, indigo drapes that have travelled from the countryside. An artisan recites chants that translate to a Mughal carpet’s weave. At the facade of an exquisite mausoleum, a historian narrates tales of conquest and eternal love.

The journey begins in the capital of India, Delhi, from where it moves to Udaipur, the idyllic city of the moonlit lakes. The path then leads to the blue city of Jodhpur and then makes its way to the city of opulence, Jaipur. The journey comes to a rest in the forgotten city of Fatehpur Sikri, hidden amidst the present day Agra, an exemplary reminder of Mughal glory. 

A city of multiple identities, Delhi has seen empires rise and fall over centuries. Walk through the narrow streets of the old city to witness customs long forgotten in its charming bazaars and ancient houses. Marvel at the splendid architecture built by various conquerors, or dig into some delicious Mughlai cuisine. Delhi holds a place for everyone and offers something new with every journey. 

Known as the City of Lakes, Udaipur seems to be taken right out of a fairy tale. With the undulating Aravalli hills as a backdrop, the charming palaces decorate the many lakes with their reflection. Mewar architecture gives Udaipur a distinct aesthetic, seen most impressively aboard a boat looking toward the east bank where a series of glorious palaces stand.

The city of Jodhpur is immortalised in time in varying hues of blue amid a sea of golden sand. Overlooked by a massive fort perched atop a hill, the city holds in it long traditions of crafts and folk art. Visit the imposing Mehrangarh Fort, or take a stroll through the old markets where you will find craftsmen making lac bangles in one and the strong whiff of spices in another.

Jaipur is a celebration of all things royal and glorious, represented in its exuberant forts and palaces. Admire the exquisite blend of Rajput and Islamic architecture in the Amber Fort and Palace. Walk through the lively markets of the old city taking in the monochromatic walls and savouring local dishes along the way.

The city of Agra, in the midst of modernisation, preserves its magnificent past in iconic mausoleums, elaborate forts, and narrow old-city lanes. Early morning, observe the colours change on the white marble façade of the Taj Mahal. Retrace your steps in history as you walk in the compounds of the Agra Fort and examine the exquisite work of marble inlay in a Persian nobleman’s tomb. End your journey in this magnificent city before heading back to Delhi.

A Wondrous Moonland

An audible gasp escapes, out of awe or of oxygen, one shall never know. Whisps of clouds brush against quaint buildings that peek from amidst the undulating passes. From the silent corridors of a Buddhist monastery, a mild hum of chants echo across the icy white mountain folds. The warmth of salty butter chai soothes from the inside as a gust of cold breeze passes by. An olden tribe walk with solemn yaks and flock of sheep across the arid white land. Stars illuminate the dark expanse, lingering almost within one’s reach.

A land of varying landscapes, from white sands to blue lakes, snow-capped mountains to lush valleys, Ladakh, like a dream captured in a snow globe, is a wildly beautiful milieu set between the Kunlun Mountains and the Himalayas. Fly into the capital city of Delhi, where the confluence of old and new has produced some marvellous architecture, delectable cuisine, and more significantly, timeless stories. From here, travel to the lofty terrains of the Himalaya through the town of Leh.

The elevated magical landscapes of Leh, the city in the sky, is the gateway to the surrounding Ladakh region. This cold, arid, and remote region has enchanted travellers with its sheer rugged beauty. As a result of lying directly in Tibet's sphere of influence, Tibetan Buddhism and its unique philosophy have thrived here for centuries. Most of Ladakh outside of Leh is either very sparsely populated or is just a seemingly endless expanse of lofty mountains and valleys with the occasional monastery.

In these distant arid lands, the cultural vibrancy of its people has survived the harshness of their surroundings. Explore the several secluded monasteries that dot the spectacular landscape which stand out like jewels amid the cold desert. Drive, hike and walk to some of the abbeys and monasteries in Uletokpo and other remote hamlets and settlements; meet with the locals, the abbots, the lamas and the students of the monasteries, letting the barren expanse of Ladakh charm them with its unspoiled allure.

Amidst the snow-capped peaks and lush green fields lies the emerald blue Tso Moriri, untouched by modernity. Barley fields, rare birds, and charming white houses characterise this area inhabited by a nomadic community.

While in the mountains, there is a cycling tour for sightings of one of the loftiest mountain passes in the Himalayas. The locals eat hearty meals by gushing rivulets and walk into the enchanted old city. Ladakh offers bird watching experiences around River Indus and local people love to invite travellers to share a meal with them at their home.

Monuments of Minimalism

A naked sepia edifice stares down at the fickle traffic. An architect reminiscences the story of a city’s birth. The touch of raw concrete under a neem's canopy soothes the tired feet. Along the austere corridors of an institution, the murmuring of students gently echo. Ornate curves and arches give way to brute geometry. A game of sunlight and shade persists.

India, a newly formed nation seeking to forge a singular identity from the many, found an interesting refuge in modern architecture. This journey explores India’s tryst with the architectural styles of the 20th century starting with the Mughal stronghold of Delhi, where two eras of power, different in time and essence, stand together solemnly. It then heads through the defined lanes of Chandigarh, an anomaly of measured grids in the sprawling lines of an Indian map. From there, the trail enters the old city of Ahmedabad, a centre whose flourishes are greatly expressed in the confluence of different styles found in its quaint lanes. The path comes to rest at the metropolitan of Mumbai, a city - of tightly packed chawls, elaborate bungalows, plush cars and crowded trains - for all.

A longstanding seat of power, Delhi has borne witness to the rise and fall of many dynasties, evident in the many monuments that lay hidden in the urban agglomeration. In buildings like the India International Centre and the Palika Kendra, the city saw bold experiments by Allen Stein, Kuldip Singh, Habib Rahman and the likes who vowed to provide it with the identity that represented the nation’s vision.

Testimony to a beginning, Chandigarh was a planned city among cities that seem to have grown organically with varied architectural influences at different points. The magnum opus of Le Corbusier, the city was modelled after the human body with sectors being divided and designed based on their functionality.

Ahmedabad is a ground that exhibits proudly, its longstanding romance with architecture. Louis Kahn, Charles Correa and B. V. Doshi explored blending the ideas of functionality and traditions of building with locally available materials. In its exposed brick structures and experimental buildings like Amdavad Ni Gufa, one finds the modern architectural oeuvre attain a full circle.

Considered to be the first modern cosmopolitan of India, Mumbai is the perfect representation of urbanity. A city of dreams that evolved under the colonial rule, it is the city where the irregular chaos that is characteristic of India and the symmetry of modernity come together to form a unique rhythm which the city’s many lives jive to.

Of Domes and Arches

In the light of day, shadows of latticework recline and stretch. Atmospheric halls abide with the secrets of a thousand lives. The rhythmic clank of an artisan chiselling a tiny marble block suspends the majestic monument in time. A mystic’s soulful rendition reverberates across the hollow of a mosque. The practised hand of a cook deftly kneads the dough, fluffy breads emerge hot from the oven.

The journey begins at the capital city of Delhi, where the influence of Islamic architecture took roots and proceeds to the city of Agra, the famed town resplendent with monuments from the Mughal era and leads to the city of Lucknow, where this confluence of styles culminated into a fresh school of architecture.

The olden seat of power, Delhi has seen the rise and fall of rulers and dynasties, growing with every event. Like the wrinkles of an old person, the narrow lanes of Delhi bear witness to the many influences that have shaped the city over centuries. Walk through the crowded alleys and be transported back to the Mughal era by the monuments and ruins that lay scattered amongst the modern.

As we travel further inwards, on the banks of river Yamuna lies Agra, a guardian land of Mughal heritage. Known widely for the magnificent Taj Mahal, Agra also holds within it the forgotten city of Fatehpur Sikri and monuments that are masterpieces of Indo-Islamic architecture.

The journey comes to an end in the marvel of a city known as Lucknow. Born out of the experimentation of Awadhi nawabs with different materials and styles is the Awadhi architectural style that decorates the city of Lucknow. Walk across the city filled with markets lively with native craft traditions and cuisine to come across ornate imambaras, durwazas, and other structures exemplary of Awadhi heritage.

Where Desert Meets the Sea

The crusty plateau softens at the edge of the Arabian sea. The first showers awaken the tropical birds. Vibrant yarns unspool with each warp and weft, bringing out the shape of a motif.  The aroma of freshly spiced snacks teases a metropolitan street. The sculpted walls of an ancient cave narrate stories of a continuing tradition.

This journey is the gateway into the western fringe of India, right up to the edge of the mainland, across the many rivers that drain the tropical forests. The marks of civilisation fade in and out of view, as they slip into caves of history, Mughal monuments, UNESCO world heritage sites and relics from India’s colonial past.

We will begin in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, or the more romanticised ‘Bombay’ -  a cluster of seven islands that are home to 21 million people who identify themselves as citizens of the metropolitan world. Built from 450 AD, the cave temples of Elephanta are the evidence of a glorious past that is dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu God of destruction and regeneration. A visit to the Victoria Terminus is a perfect introduction to the Gothic architecture introduced by the British in the subcontinent. The journey will segue from the flamboyant station to the corniche lined with Art Deco buildings to the Malabar Hill, into the hanging gardens and Parsi cafes.

From the city of dreams, we will move on towards the interiors of Aurangabad. An imitation of the grand Taj Mahal in limestone and marble stands at Aurangabad. Often referred to as the ‘Baby Taj’, this mausoleum is known as Bibi-ka-Maqbara and was built by one of the last Mughal kings. Close to the city are the famous rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora. A tour of these cave temples reveals intricate interiors and ornamental facades carved and sculpted on ancient basalt rocks.

A provincial Indo-Saracenic style of architecture can be seen in the minarets, domes, and latticework in the mosques in the city of Ahmedabad. Prosperity, that followed trade with the affluent western countries, is reflected in the havelis and courtyard houses of the merchants. It was from Ahmedabad that Mahatma Gandhi orchestrated India’s struggle for freedom. It is now a city that is home to some of the most iconic contemporary architecture in India.

On the west of Ahmedabad lies the region of Kutch. Colour and design stand out as the most salient features found in the handicrafts of Kutch as expressions of the State ’s rich heritage. The highlights of our visit to the tribal villages would be the different forms of embroidery, block printing and tie and dye.  As we take a safari into the wild west of the Gir National Park - a breeding ground of flamingo, pelican, and home of the rare Indian Wild Ass, we will also sight the great Asiatic lion along with leopards and antelopes.

The UNESCO world heritage site of Champaner Pavagadh near Vadodara is a living cultural heritage beginning from the Chalcolithic period. The ancient shrine on the top of a hill is an important place for Hindu pilgrimage. Excavations have also revealed precincts of cities with various places of worship and primitive water tanks. Besides this, Vadodara also houses the royal family of Baroda in the Laxmi Vilas Palace, a unique blend of different schools of architecture.

Of Myth and Mist

An artist gives shape to the distinctive beak of Garuda on a mask painted for bhaona. Closeted hills give way to paddy fields, soon morphing into forests, and suddenly, tea gardens. A lone fisherman awaits on the Brahmaputra, the silhouette of his oar defined against the setting sun. The pungent aroma of bamboo shoot hangs in the air, pork is slow cooked over a fire. The thak-thak sound of the looms create melodies of labour, local women are weaving silk mekhela chadars.

For most of its long history, the northeast of India has remained in isolation, embraced by a mighty mountain range. Exploring the many cultures and diverse features of the land, this journey begins in Guwahati, a city that mirrors the geography of the entire region. Move to Cherrapunjee, the land of clouds – a place where the mist is entwined with the rocks, streams, and hills. From here, descend into Shillong, reminiscent of the Raj with its quaint old buildings. Play hide and seek in the grasslands of Kaziranga with the indigenous fauna species, then alight upon the river island of Majuli, where myths and legends come to life in the bhaonas. In Kohima, discover a rich tribal culture that has grown nestled comfortably within the Naga Hills.

Ringed by a cluster of hills, on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra in the lower regions of Assam is the largest city of the Northeast, Guwahati. Home to several sites of religious importance, it is the entry into a remote world. The renowned Kamakhya Temple, a sacred site of worship for the mother goddess, Shakti, is one of the most visited places of the area. An ancient domed temple for astronomy rests on one of the hills of the city, proffering sweeping views of the landscape from its heights.

From this seat of power, the journey ascends the mountains of Meghalaya to alight upon Cherrapunjee. A land of high rainfall with undulating hills and green plateaus, the place cannot be mentioned or even thought of, without thinking about mist. The unique climate of this area creates impromptu mists every few minutes, rendering the landscape a sea of cloudy white seconds after viewing it in its green glory. In nearby Mawlynnong, discover how sustainable indigenous practices have made it the cleanest village of Asia. On way to Kaziranga, unwind by the Umiam Lake on the outskirts of Shillong.

In the open grasslands of Kaziranga National Park, encounter the indigenous wildlife. While it rose to fame because of the rare one-horned rhinoceros, the Park is home to a number of other rare species, like the wild water buffalo, leopard, swamp deer, and several migratory birds from Central Asia. After a day of exploration, experience traditional Assamese cuisine in a homely forest retreat.

Drive amidst the unending tea gardens and paddy fields, purple hills in the horizon, to reach Nimati Ghat, from where the ferries bring people to the river island of Majuli. A Neo-Vaishnavaite movement started by social reformer Srimanta Sankardev brought this island into prominence in the 16th century. His philosophy of ‘worship through art’ is still followed in the many xattras of the island, monasteries where people practice this philosophy through music, dance, and theatre.

A land of constantly changing landscapes, the region is heaven for those interested in geography. Ascend the hills of Nagaland from Assam after a drive through Nambor Habi, a forested area inhabited by local flora and fauna. In the capital city of Kohima, discover the rich culture of the tribes, a wealth of arts, dance, cuisine, and craft traditions. Come across fermented foods and the famous bhut jolokiya, the Naga King Chilli, capable of reducing even one who is very at home with spicy foods to tears.

Kingdoms of Old

Ancient myths brought to life under the gentle guidance of the sculptor now repose in forgotten glory. A massive fort nurtures within its walls, living stories. Conical domes – chhatris – peer out of green foliage. Symmetrical white lines meet at the top of an arch, marble in sandstone. Through the black bars on the windows of a train, landscapes become a blur.

This journey delves deep into the history of Madhya Pradesh, examining the many influences that gave birth to the land that lives today. Begin this journey in Gwalior, where a living fort sprawls across a hill. In the former princely state of Orchha, meet a sea of sublime edifices dominating the skyline. Meander through the sculpted temples of Khajuraho, where history meets legend. In the caves of Bhimbetka, discover the ancient relationship humans have with art. Draw your journey through history to a close in the city of Indore, where traditions came together to give birth to an array of architecture.

In the stately city of Gwalior, witness the turning of the pages of history within its many monuments. Legend gave life to the Gwalior Fort, one of the most expansive and majestic forts in the country, which has grown with every dynasty that has ruled here. At one point under the rule of the Slave Dynasty of Delhi, then the Tomars, who endowed the city with its many Jain sculptures. Later it was ruled by the Mughals, and then finally the Scindias, who were heavily influenced by the British. Explore the remnants left behind by each empire, marvellous structures from different schools of architecture.

Drive down to the medieval city of Orchha, an urban settlement that seems preserved in time. Witness a cityscape born 500 years ago, an array of intricate palaces, temples, and cenotaphs, distinct against the waters of the Betwa. The Chaturbhuj temple, dedicated to Rama, an avatar of the god Vishnu, built to resemble the four arms of the god – chatur meaning four and bhuj meaning arms – is one of the oldest structures here. A stunning structure of note is the Jahangir Mahal, paragon of Mughal architecture, that was built for the Emperor on his visit here.

In the ancient town of Khajuraho, find temples that were built more than a thousand years ago. Known for the exquisite detail in their sculptures, these facades depict themes from daily human life, famously recognised for their overtly erotic themes. Made of sandstone, the temples were originally near water bodies, as is typical of Hindu temples, and reflect central Hindu beliefs in their construction. Interspersed within them are Jain temples, of equal intricacy and age, containing within them legends of old.

From the green city of Bhopal, venture into Sanchi, a village brought into prominence by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE. The great Stupa here was built as part of a larger plan by the Emperor to spread Buddhism across the country. In the caves of Udayagiri, unearth reliefs of Hindu gods in their avatars, when they descended to Earth to save humanity from evil. Ramble into the rock shelters of Bhimbetka, dating back to the Stone Age, and discover interactions between the community and the landscape that lived then.

After a brief road trip, emerge in the Indore of the Holkar dynasty as well as that of the British, illustrative in the many architectural remnants of both rules. Venture into Maheshwar, a site of pilgrimage on the banks of the Narmada that finds mention in several tales from mythology. In Mandu, weave through structures of Pashtun architecture, exemplified in the floating Jahaz Mahal set between two lakes, or Roopmati’s Pavilion, an observation post with a romantic history.