The Kaleidoscope that is India comes to evocative life in its capital, Delhi, where a succession of cities have influenced the country's fortunes over centuries. Here, powerful empires have left behind their impress in a celebration of ritual festivities, art, music and dance, in food, and in that touchstone of great civilisations-monuments which have stood the test of time.
If Delhi provides a tantalising glimpse of India's history, caught in a time-wrap of the past and the present, then Agra-once also the capital of the country-is a shrine for worshippers of beauty. It leitmotif is the Taj Mahal, humankind's purest, most beautiful requiem to love, a tomb that is a memorial palace to an Empress and her Emperor, Shah Jahan. Yet there is so much more to discover here, from abandoned cities to smaller garden tombs, making Agra one of those cities where great empires once challenged time.
At the third end of this golden triangle is Jaipur, the provincial capital of Rajasthan. Established by the solar-descended Kachwaha dynasty, here is medieval India preserved with all its splendour of palaces and forts, of temples and crafts, of colour, pageantry and celebration.
This book captures the ambience of these three cities, in words and pictures, blending them together to offer a fascinating glimpse of enduring India.
From the Introduction
No city in India has had as long, as continuous and as varied a history as Delhi's. In the last 3,000 years it has seen the rise and fall of great empires, ruled in turn by the Hindus, the Muslims and the British. It has had a taste of the Hun invasions, and it has been plundered and ravaged by Nadir Shah. As the capital of independent India, it has become a political nerve centre. Through the centuries the magic of Delhi has remained unbroken. There is an old song that says: "Dilli shahr suhana aur kanchan barse neer" (Delhi city is beautiful, and gold showers down like rain).
The power and the glory of Delhi's pageant of rulers are reflected in the monuments which have survived through the centuries. These monuments stand in the so-called seven cities of Delhi. Over a thousand are listed, not including the ruins which have their own story to tell.
The city of Delhi had acquired its present name before it came under Muslim rule at the turn of the twelfth century. Popular tradition traces the name to Raja Dillu who is said to have ruled here in the first century BC. But historians believe it was christened Dilli by the Rajput rulers who founded the first of the medieval cities of Delhi in the eleventh century.
Dilli was probably the capital of what is now Haryana. The earliest local reference to it is a 1276 inscription in the Palam baoli (stepped well), though the name occurred for the first time a century earlier in an inscription near Udaipur in Rajasthan. The Palam baoli inscription mentions Yoginipura as an alternative name and also refers to the village of Palamba, clearly the same as the present-day Palam village which is adjacent to the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Today, Delhi's nine million residents are sprawled across an area of 1,485 sq km on the banks of the river Yamuna, which flows down from a Himalayan glacier to join the mighty Ganga at Allahabad. The city lies in the hot and arid region between the Indus valley and the alluvial Gangetic plain.
Very little of Delhi's original flora and fauna have withstood the pressures of urbanization. The only surviving natural areas are the northern and western ridges. These hilly spurs are the trailing end of the Aravalli range, one of the oldest mountain systems in the world.
The ridge is characterized by a typically arid vegetation. The thorny babool and the casuarina with its needle-like leaves are in abundance. A few surviving groups of Rhesus monkeys perch on the bunds of the ridge road. These monkeys are considered sacred by the Hindus. You can also spot an occasional mongoose scurrying through the undergrowth which harbours snakes.
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