Explore these hidden gems from the four corners of India that, though lesser known, are exceptionally beautiful architectural marvels in their own right. By Shrimayee Thakur
1. Pari Mahal, Jammu & Kashmir
Snuggled in a serene corner of Srinagar, surrounded by mountains and Dal Lake is Pari Mahal. Also known as the Abode of Fairies, Pari Mahal is a six-terraced garden built in 1640 AD by Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan, in honour of his Sufi tutor, Mullah Shah Badakshi. It was a school of astrology and an observatory. It is said that Dara Shikoh had an interest in mysticism and that he loved Kashmir.
There is dispute about how Pari Mahal got its name though. While some believe that Pari Mahal was named after Dara Shikoh’s wife, Pari Begum, others believe that it was originally known as Pir Mahal, which later changed to Pari Mahal.
Pari Mahal stands out from other Kashmiri gardens, as it is not characterised by cascading waterfalls, but instead has terraced gardens. It is a mere 5 minute drive from Chashme Shahi, another Mughal garden in Srinagar. Chashme Shahi was built by Shah Jahan’s Governor, Ali Mardan Khan, in the same period, in 1632 AD, as a gift for Dara Shikoh.
2. Qila Mubarak, Punjab
Built in the 1st century AD, Qila Mubarak is the oldest fort in India, still intact over 1900 years later. It is located in Bathinda, which is one of the oldest cities in Punjab, and was part of the Indus Valley Civilisation. The fort was built by Raja Dab during the years 90 – 110 AD. The bricks used to construct the fort date back to the Kushana period. Raja Dab constructed the fort to deter Huns from invading, and protect Emperor Kanishka’s kingdom. The fort went through many alterations done by rulers of the area.
Qila Mubarak is, perhaps, most famous as the location where Razia Sultan, the first Empress of Delhi was imprisoned. Legends say that she jumped off the balcony of the fort so she could gather her armies and fight.
The fort was also visited by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh guru, in 1705. A gurudwara was built in the fort later to commemorate his visit.
Rulers of the Patiala dynasty also, at one point, used the fort as a residence. In the middle of the 17th century, Maharaja Ala Singh captured the fort and named it Fort Gobindgarh.
3. Elgandal Fort, Telangana
Originally known as Veligundula, Elgandal Fort was built during the reign of the Kakatiya dynasty, between 1083 and 1323 AD. Sitting atop a hillock on the banks of the Manair river, the fort has a breathtaking view of the Elgandal town below. It is said that crocodiles were kept in the moat outside the fort to deter intruders.
This fort was the seat of power for many dynasties such as the Kakatiyas, the Bahmanis, Qutub Shahis, Mughals and the Nizams of Hyderabad. Elgandal served as the headquarters for the Nizams till the 20th century, when the district headquarter was shifted to Karimnagar.
The fort is around 180 kilometres from Hyderabad, and 10 kilometres from Karimnagar, and can be accessed easily by road.
4. Sarkhej Roza, Gujarat
9 kilometres away from Ahmedabad, Sarkhej Roza is known as the ‘Acropolis of Ahmedabad’, a name that came about when Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier compared the architecture of Sarkhej Roza to that of the famed Acropolis in Athens. Sultan Ahmed Shah ordered the construction of the tomb along with a mosque in 1445 AD, in honour of Shaikh Ahmed Khattu Ganj Baksh, a Sufi saint who was a close friend and advisor to the Sultan. The construction of the complex was completed in 1451 AD, by his successor, Qutb’ud-Din Ahmed Shah.
In the latter half of the 15th century, Sultan Mahmud Begada excavated a central tank and added pavilions and a central tank. He also built a mausoleum for himself and his family opposite that of the Sufi saint’s. His son, Muzzaffar II and Queen Rajabai are buried there.
The architectural style of Sarkhej Roza is a precursor to the style seen in the Mughal period, and is an amalgamation of Hindu, Jain and Islamic styles.
5. Eran, Madhya Pradesh
Eran is an ancient city in Madhya Pradesh, which has been mentioned in Hindu and Buddhist texts, as well as on coins and inscriptions from nearby areas. The variety of coins found here hint at Eran being one of the ancient mints. It was first noticed and studied by British engineer, Alexander Cunningham.
Eran has temples, pillars and monuments from the 5th and 6th centuries, which was the era of the Guptas. There is a museum in Eran with collections of the ancient relics found there.
Eran is in district Sagar, which is connected by road and rail to Bhopal, and can be easily accessed. It takes a little over three hours on the road to reach Eran from Bhopal.
6. Rabdentse, Sikkim
Rabdentse is an ode to Sikkim’s glorious past. Once a capital of the Namgyal dynasty, the city is now in ruins. It was built by Chogyal Phuntsog Namgyal, who shifted his capital to Rabdentse and was the second capital of Sikkim. After the Nepalese invasion in the 18th century, the palace and monastery were destroyed.
A stone throne with three standing stones, called the ‘Namphogang’, is where the judge would pronounce the final verdict, during the reign of the Chogyal. A little further, one will see ‘Taphap Chorten’ which was the entry point of the palace. The ruins are at the centre of the fourth courtyard, which offers a beautiful view of the southwestern region of Sikkim. Alongside this is ‘Dab Lhagang’, where the royal family would worship. A white marble slab nearby was once the location of the monastery, known as ‘Risum Gompa’.
Rabdentse is 3 km away from the town of Pelling, and 125 km away from Gangtok.
7. Unakoti, Tripura
‘Unakoti’, in Bengali, means less than a crore, or 99,99,999 (Koti means a crore). The ancient site has large sculptures of Hindu deities which are carved out of a hill and date back to between the 8th and 9th centuries. Most of the sculptures are around 30 to 40 feet high.
One of the legends associated with Unakoti is that a famous sculptor, Kalukumar, was visited by Lord Shiva in his dreams. Shiva asked him to carve out one crore sculptures in a single night, to make the site as sacred as Varanasi. Kalukumar and his associates worked throughout the night to complete the task. Kalukumar, before carving out the last idol, thought of carving out his own figure in order to attain immortality. However, before he could finish it, the sun rose and he had to stop just one short of one crore sculptures.
The closest railway station is 20 km away. Visitors can also book a taxi or a private vehicle from the station to Unakoti. Kumarghat, in Unakoti district, is connected to Agartala, Tripura and Lumding, Assam.