Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Fort and the Tomb at Tughlaqabad

Getting away from the noisy, dusty road and making our way across a long causeway supported by 27 arches to the Tomb of Ghiyasuddin-Tughlaq, we were taken aback at the splendid structure that stood before us. 

 Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq had the sandstone tomb with a beautiful marble dome, built for himself in the Indo-Islamic style of architecture enclosed by high battered pentagonal stone walls giving it a look of a fortress. 

Three graves- one believed to be his and the other two of his wife and son Mohammed bin Tughlaq
In the northwest bastion is the octagonal tomb of Zafar Khan.  The grave was there prior to the construction of the tomb and was included in the main structure by Ghiyasuddin-Tughlaq himself. The inscription reads Daru'l Aman - an abode of peace.
Daru'l Aman- an abode of peade - reads the inscription

The tomb of Zafar Khan
There are long corridors on the outside with arched openings.  Corridors have slanted slits for observation and for defence.  There are underground rooms for storage.  Rubble masonary clad with dressed stone masonary were the main construction material with limestone plaster.

We then made our way back to the main fort.  The fort stands on the hill. Legend has it that the last of the Khilji kings, Mubarak Khilji was with his general Ghazi Malik, when the latter suggested that the hill and its rocky environs was very suitable for a fort. Khilji jokingly replied that he (Ghazi) should do it when he became king.   

In the events that followed, Khilji was killed in a battle and Khusro Khan usurped the throne.  In 1321, Ghazi Malik killed Khusro Khan and ascended the throne as Ghiyasud-din-Tuglaq , and founded the Tughlaq Dynasty . He built the fort as protection for his city against the invading Mongols.
Fort Wall 

The fort with the battered walls made with grey rubble.  

The baoli - well inside the Fort complex
The fort was built in  parts - the citadel with its tower- Bijai Mandal at the highest point,  and remains of several halls and a long underground passage. It is not clear if it was meant for shopping or storing grains. The adjacent palace area that contained the residences for the royals and a long underground passage.
Steps leading to Bijai Mandal - the highest point at the fort
secret passageway
underground passage

The City area

The structure took just four years to build! It would have been an amazing feat considering the primitive methods of construction in that period.  Sadly it never was the flourishing city Giyasuddin Tughlaq had hoped it would be.  Was it the result of the curse of a Sufi saint?  The story goes that  while the walls were being raised and enforced there was a shortage of labour.  It was found that the Sufi Saint, Nizamuddin Auliya was building a baoli and some workers were being utilised for that purpose causing the shortage. Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq prohibited the workers from attending to the work of the Sufi Saint.  This enraged the Saint and he cursed the city Ya Rahey Ussar, Ya Bassey Gujjar - meaning the city will remain uninhabited or occupied only by cattle and nomads Gujjar.  

The feud between the two did not end there.  When the labour finished work at the fort, they would go back to the baoli to work at night.  This angered the king and he said he would raze the structure to the ground.  Ghiyasuddin was at that time engaged in a battle and was returning after a successful conquest. The comment was brought to the notice of Nizamuddin, who replied Dilli Door Ast - meaning Delhi is far away - and as luck would have it, Ghiyasuddin was killed when at a reception the platform on which he was standing collapsed.  

Muhammed bin Tughlaq, his son succeeded Ghiyasuddin and ruled from here for a few years, but the baolis dried up, the river at the north of the fort shifted course and he moved the city to Daulatabad.  Sadly, it seemed that the Sufi saint's curse had worked , the fort was abandoned and lay in ruins with only cattle and nomads within its premises.

Jan 2018 - Heritage Walk - INTACH

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Beautiful South Downs

We set off one splendid sunny October morning by train to Brighton.  Just a short distance outside the station we were met by our guide Lawrence for a trip to the South Downs (Downs is from Old English dun, meaning hill).

As you drive out of the quaint town of Brighton and Hove you suddenly notice the landscape changing.  South Downs is characterized by rolling chalk downlands, with close cropped turf and dry valleys.  It was hard to imagine that 80-90 million years ago, the whole area was a tropical sea and the chalky ridge was formed by layer after layer of marine deposits that were laid down.  The  weathering and erosion over the years would have resulted in the present landscape consisting of hills, valleys and ridges.

The hills were popular with paragliders

Our first stop was the Devil's Dyke, the longest, deepest and widest dry valley in Britain - a 100m deep, a kilometer long and 400m wide from rim to rim.  Scientific explanation goes back to the Ice Age where the cold froze the chalk and made it impermeable.  When the weather warmed up the top layers thawed and due to gravity the sludgy earth, rock and particles flowed across the frozen ground underneath and carved steep valleys.  Later on as it got warmer the chalk became porous and water percolated through them leaving the valleys all dry.

Devil's Dyke - the longest, deepest and widest valley in Britain
That apart, the legend (obviously the more popular one with the locals)  has it that the Devil was upset about the spread of Christanity and that at night he stealthily  created a ditch to flood the area with water.  However an old lady heard the digging and lit a candle, and fooled the rooster into thinking it was dawn and it crowed.  On hearing the rooster, the devil fled after creating the valley but unable to flood it !

We had a brief stop at the 625 acre working family farm, in Sussex, the Middle Farm with a collection of cheese, wines, cider, perry and vegetable produce.  It was time for some coffee and lunch. 

Once refreshed, we moved along through winding lanes, sharp turns, past beautiful houses built with flint and brick, some with thatched roofs till we got to the Long Man of Wilmington.  It was so named because the illustration appears stretched, however it is in proportion when viewed from below. The figure was carved in the 16-17th century on the chalky steep slope of the Windover Hill.

The Long Man of Wilmington
The Litlington White Horse
It is because of the chalky and steep hills and short grass that there are more hill figures in this region.  We saw a figure of the white horse carved by four men in 1836.  In the 1920s the grandson of one of the four men recarved it.  

View of Eastbourne on the way to Beachy Head.  Eastbourne was the most bombed town in the SE of England in WW II
The drive continued towards Eastbourne and to Beachy Head, the chalk headland in East Sussex.  The cliff rises 162 m above sea level and is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain.  It offers beautiful views.
The lighthouse was built in the sea and was operational from 1902
In the distance one can see the original lighthouse - the Belle Tout built in 1834 , but fog obscured the light and it was replaced by the newer one (above) built in the sea in 1902.  Belle Tout is now a private residence.

Tree at Beachy Head - all trees are bent due to constant wind
It is hard to imagine that many use these beautiful cliffs to end their lives.  The Beachy Head has a notorious reputation of being a suicide point.  There are also visitors who move to the edge of the cliff for a selfie.  These cliffs are unstable and are known to collapse frequently and many mishaps have occured. There are warning boards all over the area.

It is scary to watch people go up to the edge of the cliffs
Our guide cautioned us before we got off not to go too close to the edge.  He tells us as we get back that he is always relieved when all his passengers have returned ! 

We proceeded onward to Birling Gap.  And then on to Seaford Head. 

We stopped just as we approached Birling Gap , looking back to get another view of the Beachy Head
Somewhere along the way we pass by the Cuckamere Lake ( meaning fast flowing) since it is descends 100m and flows into the English Channel
Cuckamere Lake
We reach the Seaford Head and there you have the most beautiful view of the Cuckamere Haven, where the river Cuckamere meets the English Channel, the old Coastguard cottages and the Seven Sisters.

First view of the Seven Sisters

You can see heaps of chalk below the cliffs due to erosion
The Seven Sisters are chalk cliffs that are part of the coastline by the English Channel between Seaford and Eastbourne (including Beachy Head).  Every year at least 30-40 cms is being lost due to erosion.  We spent around an hour walking here before heading back.  

From the calm, quiet and beautiful winding roads we meet the evening traffic as we make our way back to Brighton.  On route we stopped at Rottingdean, the coastal village. 
The Old Mill at Rottingdean - from the van- used to grind corn from 1802-1881
The Elms - once the home of Rudyard Kipling

Rottingdean is a prefered place of residence of those who want to be away from the busy town of Brighton. It developed as a community across the pond in Saxon time meaning village of Rota's people.  It has been the home to painters and writers,  noted among them was Rudyard Kipling. 
St. Margaret's Church - parts of the structure date from the 13th century

The Whipping Post house - the tree stands on the spot where the Whipping Post stood. 
The Whipping Post Lane has the Whipping Post house, a Tudor home which is a listed building from the 16th century.  It was the home of Captain Dunk who was a butcher by the day and smuggler at night.  Where the tree stands used to be a whipping post where people were whipped and most often for minor offences.

That brought our trip to the South Downs to an end.  We could not have chosen a better day with sunshine throughout !  Lawrence dropped us off at the Brighton Pier where we just sat around and took in the sights and walked our way to the station to catch the train back to Horley.

The sleepy fishing village of Brighton, was transformed to a fashionable town once it was patronised by Royalty and the high society

Picture from the vibrant Brighton Pier

The Royal/Brighton Pavilion was the seaside resort of George, Prince of Wales.  Built in the Indo-Saracenic style

October 2017

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Stepping Stones Walk across the River Mole

On a pleasant Sunday, A took us to Box Hill, in the North Downs in Surrey.  The hill takes its name from the Box woodland – Box – a species of flowering shrub/small tree. We decided to do the Stepping Stone walking trail down to the River Mole and up.  It was categorized a moderate walk of about 2 hours and at the visitors centre we picked up a leaflet with the map of the trail and set out.

Salomon's Memorial Viewpoint - pic credit Wiki - there were so many people there that I did not take a picture.

We walked up to the Salomon’s memorial viewpoint.  Leopold Salomon was a financier, who  in 1914 purchased Box Hill to prevent it from development.  Wish we had someone like him in India. He really does deserve a memorial for such a noble act !    From here one gets a glorious view right across to the South Downs.

 As we set off there were steps and more steps that were cut into the ground.  275 of them said the leaflet.  Some were very steep.  Since there had been rain the preceding days one had to be really careful.  

275 steps in all

As we proceeded downhill, we could see the river and had to make a choice whether to take the stepping stones or use the bridge. We chose the stones.  The stones were slippery and we needed to be alert and cautious as we crossed the river. 

Stepping Stones across the River Mole , they were removed in World War II in case of an invasion - pic credit A
A bridge just in case you did not want to use the stepping stones

We walked to a gate which led to a large open space called the Burford Meadow.  As we continued across the meadow, one could see the wooded chalk cliffs.  These are the Whites.

Wooded chalk cliffs - the Whites
At the end of the meadow, we got on to the road and crossed over to a little opening just past a hotel, that took us on a steep track up the hill.  As we proceed uphill the ridge was chalky white. 

We then took a turn that was not on our trail (unintentional) but went past an interesting grave of Labilliere that read An eccentric resident of Dorking was buried here head downwards.  Labilliere was of French descent, he joined the British Army and rose to be a major. He then became a political agitator and moved to Dorking to meditate. He was known for his eccentric ways. 

The memorial stone of Labilliere

The trail then led us back to the Visitor's Centre.  From there we took a path that led us to the Box Hill Fort. The fort ( not a fort in the real sense) was built in the 1800s when mobilization centres were constructed to protect London from the threat of invasion from continental Europe.  It was part of the London Defence Scheme that stretched for 116 kms on the North Downs with 13 military installations.  It was one of the earliest examples of reinforced cement being used in construction of these structures. The fort was never meant for artillery but as a concrete rampart to protect nearby trenches from which the infantry would fight.
Box Hill Fort

The fort was never used.  The tunnels that were meant for ammunition storage are now inhabited by bats and since they are a protected species in the UK,  the interiors are not opened for public.

Just as we walked back to the parking lot the skies opened up and there was a heavy downpour.  What a lovely walk this was. 

(October 2017)

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