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Seven Indian Sites Where History Comes Alive

A lot is said about Indian history; the past of the country is in fact, one of the most compelling factors that pull visitors in, along with its rich heritage and well-preserved culture. Though as old as mankind itself, the history of India is still manifest in several places. A visit to these places will take you on a time-machine ride back to different vistas of the past; while some sites have existed since prehistoric ages, others belong to India, the land of the Maharajas and still others symbolize modern history, the time when Indians joined hands to fight for their independence from colonial rule. Here is a round-up of seven interesting sites that bring back the rich history of the country.

The Borra Caves of Vishakapatnam
Estimated to be over 150 million years old, the Borra Caves, located 90 kms away from Vishakapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, is an important historic landmark in the Eastern Ghats of India. The caves are situated at a height of over 1400 m above sea level and came into prominence when they were discovered by William King George in 1807. The caves soon got converted into a religious site because of what they contained. The natural reaction of water with limestone and rock led to the creation of stalactites and stalagmites throughout the caves. The shapes of these structures, fueled by tribal imagination, have given these caves a religious status.

The rock formations have taken the shapes of animals, birds and celestial creatures; there are myths that a Shiva Lingam can be found deep inside the caves with the structure of a cow sheltering the Lingam. It is believed that the river Gosthani, which led to the formation of the caves, originated from the udders of the cow and the Lingam is considered very powerful. Thousands of devotees throng the caves on religious days, especially on Sivaratri, to worship the Shiva Lingam. The multihued natural lighting of the caves makes the figures seem lifelike and creates a mystical aura that makes you want to believe the tales.

From a historic point of view, the caves are important because they provided proof to human in-habitation dating back 30000 to 50000 years. Tools belonging to the Palaeolithic age were found here. When you enter the caves, you will find it easy to imagine men from the Stone Age, making the place their home to get shelter from natural calamities and protection from hazards of the wild.

Nalanda University
The Oldest University in the world, Nalanda enjoyed an undisputed seat as the fountainhead of knowledge for over 700 hundred years from the 6th Century AD to 13th Century AD. As many as 10000 students studied here under the guidance of 2000 teachers among whom there were several Indian luminaries of that period. Admission for students was tough and granted after evaluation by teachers, but once they got into the residential school, life was a continuous learning experience with comfortable residential quarters, vast classrooms and a wide range of subjects.

“Nalanda”, meaning “no end to the gift of knowledge”, was just what it signified. Xuanzang, the Chinese monk who had visited this university in the seventh century has left behind vast notes of the center of learning, describing it as a thriving, wealthy place, teeming with scholars and the library alone was an impressive building with nine floors that, in his words was “soaring into the clouds”. This place is said to have been graced by the presence of Buddha as well as Mahavira. Virtually every subject known back then was taught in the university along with religious teachings and doctrines of Buddhism and Vedas; even foreign languages and philosophy were taught. Sadly, all this was destroyed by Islamic invasion in 1193 when the entire place was burned down; it is said that the library was so vast that it took 3 months for the entire building to get demolished by flames.

Today, you can visit the excavated ruins of the Nalanda University and the Nalanda Museum where you’ll get a fair idea of how this place was hundreds of years back. A UNESCO world heritage site now, the elaborate structures in the ruins are awe-inspiring; what makes this place all the more exciting is the fact that 90% of the University still is to be excavated.

You don’t need a sound & light show or a giant multimedia screen to provide information about the past when you visit Hampi; nothing can portray the story of a city that has lost its glory more eloquently than the ruins themselves. The glorious monuments and stone structure that even time hasn’t been able to completely demolish narrate the tale of an impressively strong empire. When you walk through the ruins and temples and enter the Pan Supari street, you could easily conjure images of the colorful market it must have been once, long back, when even diamonds and precious stones were sold on the street, horses were adorned with gold and gemstones and people from all over the world flocked to this place just to see its riches.

With a history that started as early as in 3BC in the Mauryan era, this beautiful region with its dreamy location along the Tungabadhra River was a very prosperous city, sometimes compared to Rome because of its riches. This was the capital of the splendid Vijayanagara Empire till 1565 when it was attacked and destroyed by the Deccan Sultanates. Today, the ruins of Hampi are the biggest complex of ruins in India; the ruins among the enchantingly beautiful backdrop of boulders, paddy fields and the river are a lovely place to visit. From the grandiose Virupaksha Temple to the Vithala Temple with its stunning stone chariot, the Lotus Mahal or queen’s mansion that even then had piped water supply, the Royal Centre and Achyutara Temple, every monument in Hampi is fascinating to visit.

Cellular Jail (Kala Pani)
Though now a popular tourist destination, a hundred years ago, a “trip to the Andamans” was a threat for it was here that most prisoners were sent, never to return to their home. After the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 in India, several shiploads of prisoners were sent to this island as punishment. Not only were the living conditions here terrible, exile to these islands also meant social ostracism because of the overseas journey. The prisoners were made to build the prison in the end of the 19th century when the independence movement gained momentum in India and the number of rebels kept increasing. The inmates were jailed in individual cells so that they could not communicate with each other; there were 693 such “cells” in the prison; this is why it came to be called the cellular jail. Ironically, when the Japanese invaded the Andaman Islands in 1942, the British colonialists who played a major role in building the prison were imprisoned in its cells.

In 1945, British regained control over the islands after end of the Second World War. Today, the Cellular Jail is a national memorial monument; yet, when you visit the jail and get into one of its cells, you will experience the gloom and dread that haunted the prisoners of those days. Watch the Sound & Light show here, hosted every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in English. This informative show will help you appreciate the value of the memorial more. This hundred year old prison is now an UNESCO world heritage site.

Wagah Border, Amritsar
Yes, Amritsar has the revered Golden Temple and the infamous Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden that is better known because of the bloody massacre that happened here in 1919 when hundreds of peaceful protestors faced a painful death; yet, these sites lack the drama that brings history alive at the Wagah Border. The Wagah Border, which was the only road link between India and Pakistan till 1999, is the venue of a spectacular border ceremony that is viewed by thousands of people, both locals and outsiders, everyday. The border has an emotional significance to people in India; while some people view it as the boundary that demarcates their country from neighboring Pakistan, to others; this is the barrier that has separated them from their loved ones when partition happened.

Every evening, spectators on both sides of the gate gather to watch a grand ceremony called the beating retreat border ceremony. Tall soldiers in impeccable uniforms and grand turbans start the ceremony with a parade; the stamping of their heels sound like gunfire and there’s plenty of dramatic marching and gate clashing as the soldiers from both countries face each other. While the routine of the soldiers is part of the attraction, it’s the frenzy of the crowd that makes this show complete; cries of Vande Maataram and Jai Hind fill the air in the Indian side while Pakistani spectators cry “Allahu Akbar” to show their dedication. The turbulent event comes to an end with the lowering of flags on both sides and soldiers on both sides salute each other.

Sun Temple, Orissa
The majestic chariot of the Sun God rising over the horizon invokes hope and illuminates the world; it is this picture of the Sun that’s represented by the awe-inspiring Sun Temple in Orissa. Built in the thirteenth century, the temple was a towering glory in the thirteenth and fourteenth century; like the Sun, it rose from the east, soared over the sea and glittered like a beacon to seafarers who were sailing past. The design of the temple is so awe-inspiring that it cannot be fully expressed through words; as poet Rabindranath Tagore said, “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man”.

The temple is designed like a chariot with 24 wheels, drawn by 7 horses; the carvings on the chariot and the wheels are elaborate and fascinating. There are three images of the Sun God positioned to catch the Sun’s rays at dawn, noon and dusk. The legend of the temple also talks about a powerful magnet positioned in its dome and iron plates placed in the stone walls such that the reaction between the magnet and iron plates made the idol of the deity float in air. Such a magnificent monument was damaged by invaders in the fifteenth century and since then, the temple started losing its glory and got completely submerged in sand after even the sea deserted it and receded. The ruins were discovered in the twentieth century and though we call them “ruins”, even what is left of the Sun Temple now is fascinating to visit.

Visitors to the religious city of Varanasi normally don’t inquire about the place’s history; how can they, when the city is still living in its own history? For centuries, crowds have been gathering at the bathing ghats, flocking to the temples here and falling over each other to just have a dip in the holy River Ganges that has been flowing through this city since time immemorial; even the cattle here sit like they’ve been here, chewing the same cud for millennia. The oldest, continually inhabited city in the world, Varanasi treasures its antiquity and displays it like a trophy; this is a delightful place to visit for history lovers.

You wouldn’t find ancient monuments here; at least not older than those built in the 18th century, for those were destroyed by Mughal invaders. Yet, when you visit Varanasi, you’ll know instinctively that the land you’re standing on has seen a several hundred generations and will continue to see many more. The colors, emotions and scenes here are guaranteed to give you an unforgettable experience of an age-old place that you’ll definitely love.

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