It was a cold January morning and I was on an assignment to unearth the seen and not so seen attractions around Sariska and Alwar. By the end of the trip, I couldn’t help but wonder how come this region retains its offbeat charm despite being so close to Delhi?! And I couldn’t help but smile in happiness, content with knowing that I had witnessed something special.
Memorable Historical Delights in and around Alwar – Sariska
Neelkanth Mahadev Temple Complex
A short drive from Sariska, is a temple complex with incredible carvings that is supposed to date back to the sixth century. It is said to have survived Aurangzeb only because bees chased him away from the location.
The crumbling Neelkanth Mahadev Temple Complex sits on a small plateau circled by low hills and the defensive walls of the Rajorgarh Fort. A winding road leads to this complex and provides some dramatic views on the way, making the journey every bit as intriguing as the destination.
The more than 200 odd temples in this complex are said to have been built between the 6th and 9th century. The main shrine is that of Neelkanth or Shiva. This complex is yet another example of the depth and width of Indian art and intellect . The pillars in these temples have intricately carved mythological figures. The temple spire is still undamaged and can leave the viewer spellbound. A little distance away is a Jain temple built from orange-red sandstone, with a gigantic statue of the 23rd Tirthankar (Jain saint).
Anecdotal history suggests that the temples survived Aurangzeb because he was chased away by bees when he tried to attack the buildings. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) maintains these temples. Many historians feel that the complex is worthy of being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Neelkanth Mahadev is located at a distance of around 30 kms from Sariska.
Bakhtawar Ki Chhatri – Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri.
Bakhtawar ki Chhatri – Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri is both an incredible piece of architecture and a memorial to Moosi’s undying love for Bakhtawar. It is a must visit for those who revel in the beauty of Rajput architecture and tales of love. Chhatris (cenotaphs) were an important element of traditional Indian architecture especially that of Rajputs, Marathas and Jats. The term literally translates into umbrella and therefore typifies structures with domed, canopy-like roofs.
The term chhatri is used to refer to two kinds of structures, the first being the purely decorative cupolas that usually mark the corners of the main roof. However it is the second type of structure that constitutes more common usage – ornate, stone pavilions built at the funerary site of important people. Such pavilions usually consist of intricately carved pillars that support the chhatri. Since chattris denote pride and honour, they were usually built at the cremation site of kings.
Bakhtawar Ki Chhatri, also known as the Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri, is a double storied edifice built in 1815 by Maharaja Vinay Singh in memory of his father Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh. It is an incredibly elegant structure that is shaped like a flower. The first storey is in sandstone colour while the upper storey and the roof are constructed in white marble. The domed arches have exquisite floral designs that glisten in the sunlight. The ceiling is embellished with fading gold leaf paintings depicting mythological characters and scenes.
There is a certain poignancy about this chhatri made more so by the story behind it. Moosi was Bakhtawar’s mistress who was never given the status of a wife in her lifetime. When Bakhtawar died she jumped into the pyre along with him and committed sati as a wife would have done. She thus came to be regarded as his wife. Death gave her the husband that life held back. Footsteps of Maharaja and Moosi Rani are carved in marble inside the pavilion, and locals pay homage to them. It is located adjacent to the Alwar City Palace Complex.
Pandupol and Hanuman Temple
While in exile, the Pandavas are believed to have stayed for a while in the forest of Sariska in an area called Pandupol. There is a Hanuman temple in the region that is believed to be more than 5000 years old and was probably built by the Pandavas themselves.
In Sanskrit, Pandupol translates into the Gateway of the Pandavas. It is essentially a rock formation that resembles a gateway. Legend has it that while in exile, the Pandava Princes were passing by this area. A boulder in their path proved to be particularly obstinate and invited the wrath of Bheem. He whacked it with his mace and managed to make a big opening in the rockface for the Pandavs to walk through. Smashing the rock is also believed to have released a hidden stream; which still flows in the vicinity.
Pandupol is idyllic and looks straight out of an Amar Chitra Katha comic book. The ancient Hanuman temple in the proximity is much revered by the locals. Practically every ruin in India has a documented history as well as a popular one, the Hanuman temple is no different. Myth has it that one day Bheem was going to fetch water from the stream when he saw a frail monkey lying by the roadside, his tail sprawled across the rough track.
Bheem arrogantly asked the monkey to move his tail. The monkey claimed has was too ill to do so and requested the mighty Pandav to move it instead. Despite several efforts, Bheem could not. He then realised that the monkey was actually the Monkey God Hanuman and sought the latter’s forgiveness.
To commemorate this divine encounter, the Pandavas are said to have set up a small idol of Hanuman here, which probably became a temple later. Visitors driving down are allowed into the temples on Tuesdays and Saturdays by paying a small fee of two hundred and fifty rupees. Pandupol and Hanuman Temple are at a distance of 15-20 kms from Sariska, and lie inside the Tiger Sanctuary.
Boating at Siliserh
Siliserh Lake is a man-made lake that lies between Alwar and Sariska. A Lake Palace stands on its banks. One can enjoy boating at this lake and watch the sun go down. Siliserh Lake is an enchanting lake that runs along the edge of the Sariska Tiger Reserve. It lies serene in a valley surrounded by low, forest-clad hills, with little to mar its tranquility.
This beautiful water body is spread over 10 square kms, and offers dreamy views of the mountains in the winter fog. Apart from being a sight for sore eyes, the lake is also an important source of water for Alwar. Maharaja Vinay Singh had it built for his subjects. He also constructed the palace that stands on the banks of this water body as a token of love.
Trails leading from the lake to the foothills are said to have many interesting chattris; marking the funerary sites of many an important Rajput. The roads and tracks in the area are also popular biking routes.
The best time to visit this lake is early morning or late evenings, when the rays of the sun paint the water in surreal colours. The sleepy evening with the still, golden waters, the slowly setting sun, the lulling rhythm of the paddle – boating at Siliserh at sunset time is an experience that is the stuff of legendary memories. It is located around 20 kms from Alwar.
Alwar Museum in City Palace
Alwar Museum is located inside the Alwar City Palace. It has an eclectic collection of exhibits one of which is an illustrated Mahabharata drawn out on a single scroll. The Alwar museum is a gem hidden in the Alwar City Palace. A dimly-lit, sloping passage leads to the top floor where the museum is. The dark ramp, the indifferent ticket counter and the slightly run down feel of the approach do not portray the real treasures inside the museum.
The Alwar Museum is large, well maintained and home to amazing exhibits. It offers a glimpse into the famed lifestyle of Indian Maharajas as also the rich and continuously evolving culture of India.
The armory section is really fascinating. It houses shields, swords, pistols, rifles, daggers, spears, and a host of other weapons. The miniature paintings with intricate brushwork and bejeweled colours speak of the artist’s complete mastery on his craft. A particularly interesting exhibit is a single long scroll; this is the Mahabharata illustrated in the Alwar School of painting style.
The extravagances of the Rajputs Kings are on display too. Ivory slippers, solid silver tables, exquisite objects of art and utility, personal effects, stuffed remains of animals that they shot. Alwar Museum is a place where one walks in with curiosity and leaves with wonder.
While the places visited and memories are many, I think it calls for another article about this region. Alwar – Sariska is truly an explorer’s delight.
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