Take a train south from Delhi or Agra, find a seat on the left hand side as you face the front and as you steam into the sprawling and dusty commercial town of Gwalior, you will be treated to one of the most awe-inspiring sights anywhere - the looming, beautifully proportioned golden walls of the great fort of Gwalior.
A pre-Muslim Hindu fort that became a Mughal stronghold, you can still see the remains of the exquisite blue, green and yellow glazed tile work that once covered the walls of the fort in exquisite patterns that dazzled visitors.
The Fort built in the 6th century has seen over 300 rulers across five different dynasties. This outcrop of sandstone structure provides the perfect background for the massive sculptures of Mahaveer Jain and Tirthankaras of Jainism built by the Tomar rulers who were great patrons.
The large sculptures with their benign faces smiling down on either side as you climb up the Fort are soothing in nature. The fine detailing though enjoyable does not prepare you for the bigger attractions hidden behind the Gwalior Fort, The Man Mandir and Mansingh Palace.
The sight that greets you as soon as you enter the gates of Mansingh Palace is breathtaking in its beauty. The yellow stone walls interspersed with Lattice and Meenakari work are stunning. Meenakari, derived from the word 'Mina' in Persian meaning 'azure colours of heaven' is seen across the many walls of the palace.
True to its name vivid shades of azure blue, yellow ochre and emerald green invite visitors to spend hours in admiration. Built as per the Hindu architectural style that is pre-Mughal, the palace walls used to be covered in vibrant glazed blue ceramic tiles. Today much of this is lost to the ravages of time, and you can only see a few parts that still recount the lost stories of beauty.
The Mansingh Palace, Man Mandir Palace and Gujari Palace built within the Gwalior Fort are also popular for the detailed Lattice and Jali work. Much of this delicate work is still seen across various walls, window areas and archways of the Palaces. Take a moment to appreciate the excruciating work that has gone into these structures.
Somewhere between amusing and whimsical are the motifs that are colourfully represented across the various parts of the palaces. You can see images of banana leaves, elephants and rows of yellow ducks adorning the walls! Also be hypnotised by the sharp geometric designs that these structures sport.
As you explore the underground structures of the Palace that once used to be the bathing area or the swing room, where royals sat cooling off on a hot afternoon, you are struck by how much the place has changed. The once vibrant palaces and outstanding structures of art are now reduced to being the home of few sleepy bats.
The Gwalior Fort houses many other splendid monuments such as the Teli Ka Mandir, Saas-Bahu Mandir, Karn and Vikram Mahals. A trip to this splendid example of architecture and art is a must for all those who appreciate the finer things in life.
While the fort houses some fine examples of Hindu architecture and some more modern buildings in its vast area - including a prestigious boarding school founded by the Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior, it is the palaces of the later Maratha rulers that house some extraordinary treasures.
One of these is the Jai Vilas palace, with its mix of European styles and extravagant décor. Part of the palace is now a museum which includes the famous silver toy train which the Maharaja used to disperse brandy and cigars.
The town is full of surprises and in the old Muslim quarter is the tomb of perhaps India’s most famous musician – Tansen who graced the court of the Emperor Akbar. Every year in December is a major festival of Indian classical music.
Gwalior is also the hub from which to visit the fascinating palaces of the tiny town of Datia or to head north to the Chambal River Sanctuary with its rare fish-eating gharial crocodiles and Gangetic dolphins.
By Marcela Kunova - 20th April 2017
Nicola Shepherd, founder and CEO of The Exploration Company, organises unusual trips for HNW and UHNW clients ranging from birthday parties at an Indian Maharajah's palace to reliving Sir Vivian Fuchs's 1950s expedition to the South Pole. Citywealth caught ...
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