Tag Archives: Mughal Empire

From Iran to India- Chronicles of the Biryani

chicken-biryani

Grand feasts define weddings across boundaries. Muslim weddings are no exception. Known for their culinary delicacies, the biryani is an integral part of Muslim wedding feasts. The following article traces the history of the royal dish along the Indian subcontinent.

Introduction

Culinary delights of India leaves its own inscription on history. Annexed by numerous intruders across borders and boundaries, Indian cuisine has over the centuries become somewhat a melting pot. The culture of feast in India was largely introduced by Muslim invaders like the Arabs, Persians and Afghans. Developed during the 15th to the 18th century, Mughlai cuisine continues to enthrall gourmets as well as laymen across the Indian subcontinent.

One such dish that continues to fascinate millions across the subcontinent is the grand old Biryani. Once accepted in India in its full form, the biryani endured numerous deviations depending upon the region such as Hyderabadi Biryani Awadhi Biryani, Kolkata Biryani and so on.

The Origins of Biryani

The word biryani is derived from the Persian word Birian meaning ‘fried before cooking’. This exotic dish is believed to have been invented in the kitchens of the Muslim invaders. Today, the dish is largely consumed by the populace inhabiting the Indian subcontinent and it is an essential part of Muslim wedding in not only in India but also in other parts of the world.

However, the origin of Biryani in India can be traced to several anecdotes surrounding the same. Let us take a quick look at the same.

Though biryani is essentially associated with the Mughals, some evidences trace its origins to present day Tamil Nadu. Evidences show that a rice dish named ‘On Sooro’ was widely used to feed the military people in south India. The dish was made out of rice cooked in clarified butter. Other ingredients used were meat, coriander, pepper, bay leaf and turmeric. This is very close to what we know as biryani today.

Another interesting story surrounding the origins of the biryani revolves in the court of Emperor Shah Jahan. It is said that one fine day, his queen Mumtaz Mahal made a surprise visit to the barracks where the entire military force was stationed. She was shocked to find that most of the soldiers were malnourished. She immediately ordered for a dish to be prepared by the chef that included rice, meat and other ingredients. The objective was to provide the soldiers with proper nourishment.

evt091210114900194One legend claims that, Timur the Lame, founder of the Timurid Dynasty and also the great-great grandfather of Babur (founder of the Mughal Dynasty in India) brought this exotic this to India from Kazakhstan via Afghanistan to north India.

It does not end here. One more anecdote traces the existence of the dish among the Nomads. The Nomads would bury an earthen pot filled with rice, meat, and spices in a pit. When dug out, the sumptuous biryani was ready.

Types of Biryani

With the passage of time and due to geographical and local influences, the original biryani underwent several changes. This gave rise to the various types of biryanis existing in the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia as we know today. Let us take a sneak peek into the same.

biryani_1Lucknowi/Awadhi Biryani: Biryani and Lucknow almost share a symbiotic relationship with each other. Also known as Pakka Biryani, in this dish, the meat and the rice are prepared separately and then put together and cooked in slow flame for a long time (Dum Phukt style).

Sindhi Biryani: Originating in present day Pakistan, the Sindhi biryani is cooked with meat and some vegetables like tomatoes. This variety is predominant in Pakistan and in parts of North West India.

mughlai-treat-1Calcutta Biryani:  Boiled potatoes are unique only to the Kolkata biryani. It is said that the biryani was brought to Calcutta by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in the mid- 1850s. Deported by the British to Calcutta, however, the Nawab remembered to take along with him the royal chef. However, since meat became expensive it was increasingly becoming difficult to afford the same. It was then that potatoes replaced meat. Almost more than two centuries now, the tradition still continues.

Hyderabadi Biryani: Relished all across the country, Hyderabadi Biryani was popularized directly from the Nizam’s Kitchen which is known to prepare 49 varieties of Biryani.

Apart from these, several other forms of biryani exist viz. Ambur Biryani, Memoni Biryani, Bhatkali Biryani, Malabar Biryani, Dindigul Biryani and many more. Whether served at wedding or relished just like that, the exotic dish of biryani will always remain a favourite.

draft_lens3252712module60149732photo_1254237043Hyderabadi-mutton-biryani

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Agra – Huzoor Wah Taj Boliye!

agra

Kartik Kannan travels to Agra and shares his experiences with some awesome pictures. 

When we boarded the GT express, my friend and I were slowly switching ourselves from our busy work lives, into a short holiday. The transition took a few hours to finally happen as we learnt to ignore the constant noises the blackberry would make to get our attention. Traveling in a II AC compartment, we were well stocked on sleep, before we reached Agra at 2 am. We decided to wait till 4 am in the waiting room, till when we planned to scour for places to stay, closer to either the station or Taj Mahal. We managed to get a steal of a deal at a hotel near the east entrance of the Taj. 2 nights in an AC room, overlooking the Taj Mahal at Rs 900 totally for both of us.

Once we got the deal, we called up the hotel at 4 am, waking up the hotel receptionist, and checked on what would be an approximate auto fare to the hotel from the railway station. With a figure of 80 rupees in mind, we decided to go catch an auto rickshaw, and we saw scores of people who were wanting to be our personal travel consultant. One man, wanted us to pay for him giving information on where the auto stand was , while another one was just wanting to be our personal un solicited guide, with the hope of extracting a final price. We ignored the unsolicited advances, and after haggling on the price, we settled at 100 rupees, a few rupees more than expected.

paratha

We arrived at Hotel Taj Palace, eager to finish our ablutions and head off the crack of Sun rise to see the Taj Mahal. Since we were on the street, leading to the east gate of the Taj Mahal, vehicles were not allowed beyond a point, so we had to factor in some walking. We left our room at 5 30 am, and quickly met a cycle rikshaw wall, who saw the tripod and camera in my hand, and sensed that my immediate friend was the sun rise. So he gave us a package deal. 40 rupees for plying us to the counter and then in the opposite direction to the gate entrance. We took the deal and were done with the whole process in 15 minutes. I had with me my phone, iPad, Camera Bag, Camera and tripod. I learnt that tripods are not allowed inside the Taj, so I had to leave it at a antique store, and hope it would not vanish by the time I am out of the Taj Mahal. No electronic items are allowed inside the Taj, but I was able to take the iPad inside, since I could show that it had a mobile signal and could take photos.

Once inside the Taj, it feels like a different world. The Mughal empire did not quite believe in minimalism, by the look of the buildings leading to the Taj Mahal. The gardens in green, the buildings in red and the here size of the complex, puts you in awe of the place. A guide seems to tell an un suspecting foreigner that the first few rooms before the entrance to the Taj Mahal, were courtesan quarters. The Mughals seem to have craftily planned their entertainment needs, while building the Taj Mahal. While people say this mausoleum is a reflection of Shahjahan’s love and remembrance towards his wife-Mumtaz, the entrance to the mausoleum it also reflects the love and passion of the Mughal rulers towards their courtesans. Some loose talk from a guide to a tourist, revealed that there were close to a 100 rooms.

We entered the Taj through the Southern end, from which you get the post card version of that perfect picture of the 4 pillars flanking the giant dome, 6 am, and the were already close to 200 people holding the taj in their hands and letting the world on Zuckerberg’s planet know about it. I stood their mesmerized by the whiteness of the Taj, and the subsequent glow when the sun from the east shone on its dome and pillars. Maybe it was the marble, or probably the whiteness and the aura that the place was radiating, I immediately felt at ease. The Taj’s south end entrance has a building which runs west, for a fair distance. It has little visitors and that made it my haunt to walk through the empty corridors and feel even more at ease. This section has photographs of other places of interest in India, and makes for a good read to know about some places and if you want a quiet siesta amidst history, this place is a good place to earmark.

sitting

As you walk across the southern end, there are gardens flanking the pathway to the Taj, and on the pathway are many water pools and slabs to sit. Some of these slabs are elevated and give you a good photograph of yourself against the background of the Taj. My friend and I tried some jumping stunt from the slab, while the shot was taken from the ground level slab.

As you approach the actual main tomb, you need to deposit your slippers on the south eastern and south western ends. We decided to go to the eastern end of the Taj, and sit near the building adjacent to the Taj. It gave some beautiful views of the Taj, drenched in the golden hue of the sun. The eastern end adjacent building overlooks the small road that leads right into the banks of the Yamuna. The only people who have a view of the princely Taj and the byline leading to the Yamuna are the guards who sit atop in control rooms.

backdrop

The surrounding buildings are so beautiful and peaceful, that you can relax by the shade under the trees or the buildings and observe that Mondays don’t run as fast as it does back in the cities. Right besides the eastern side, runs the lane that runs through an Akhara, and brings you to the Yamuna river. This was probably another part of our trip, that I would treasure. As I approached the Yamuna, post a long session at the Taj, I came there with my camera kit and tripod, waiting to earmark a territory for shooting the hues of the sunset. There was something beautiful about the simplicity of the banks of the Yamuna, the pace of life here, the magnificence of the Taj donning the banks, that I am not able to pin point, but it made me sit for a whole half hour taking in the scenery, before I started shooting.

There was a policeman who was sitting by the steps of the Yamuna and humming a yesteryear Bollywood number by the sunset ( ‘Tujhse Naaraz Nahi’ from ‘Masoom’), and I responded by you tubing that song and playing it on my iPad, and he was quite surprised to see the same song playing, and turned towards me with a smile. I showed him the iPad and the instant nature of how the web delivers what you want right away. So he played the role of a requesting songs, while I played the role of a DJ in getting the song and playing it for him. Quite an uncommon way of spending a sunset with a stranger,  but looking at his joy over listening to Kishore da, I decided to engage myself in a short conversation with him on the songs of the yore.

boatman

With the sun threatening to come down, I go on my knees and requested a boatman to take me on the Yamuna to the other side of the land, so as to help me take the reflection of the Taj on the Yamuna. He said he would stop near the land, but I would have to be on the boat and take my shots, as only locals can walk on that side of the Yamuna, with heavy police protection in that zone. Viewing the Taj during a sunset from the Yamuna, was one of the most relaxing ways to spend an evening that was pregnant with the expectation that it would show all the colors that VIBGYOR had.

outside

The walk back to the Taj east end gate entrance amidst the street lights ranks very high on my experiences. It took me a different world, that I wanted to take along with me. The yellow halogen lighting of the streets, with the eerie noises of the forest nearby, with the Taj for company, made me feel like a king walking in  darkness of the night, to gather knowledge about his subjects. Despite the illumination of the moon and the street light, the ensuing darkness was just enough to pretend that you were invisible and just viewing this little street as an entity. An entity that you wish you could pack and take along, and get transported to, whenever you feel like. In the era of wish click and go, Agra should only be a few hours away from the urban chaos of the southern cities of Bangalore and Chennai. I shall soon be back in search of the silence, that this lane offers, in anonymity to reflect on life.

Top Specialty Hotels in Bharatpur, Rajasthan

This is the list of the top three specialty hotels of Bharatpur.

(The list is subject to the number of user reviews we get from the visitors of Bharatpur.)

The Birder’s Inn
(Bird Sanctuary Road)

The Birder's Inn

A modern facility with a slight touch of Rajasthani tradition – the Birder’s Inn is a fantastic place to relax and rejuvenate. Large plush rooms with sophisticated baths, a beautiful sprawling garden and a variety of cuisines is what makes Birder’s Inn a favourite of most visitors. The hotel offers five types of cuisines, including Continental, Chinese, Indian, Italian and Mexican. The icing on the cake is, of course, Mr.Tirath Singh’s (the caretaker) wit and humor.

The staff is well-trained and all their services are offered with a platter full of smile! Despite the homely atmosphere facilitated by Mr. Singh the workforce is extremely professional. The best part is that the Birder’s Inn has not used the luxuries and pamperings as an excuse to increase prices. They are competitive and conveniently located at a distance of half a kilometer from the bird sanctuary.

User Rating: 4.8/5

Mahal Khas Palace
(Lohagarh Fort)

mahalkhaspalace

This is a heritage building situated in the middle of the Lohagarh Fort. The palace was built by Maharaja Balwant Singh in 1826. The architecture is typically Mughal. The building has 2 patios, intricate murals and beautiful sculptures. All the rooms and deluxe suites are beautifully decorated and equipped with private balconies. Mr Abhay Vir Singh has a great penchant for hospitality. His immaculate hospitality skills added to the old-time feel of the building makes it a delightful experience for visitors.

Despite being an old palace, all the rooms are equipped with television sets and AC. Mahal Khas Palace offers Indian and continental cuisine. All in all, it’s quite a value for money.

User Rating: 4/5

Hotel Saras
(Saras Choraha)

hotelsaras

Located at a 10-minute distance from Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, this is an Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation Ltd (RTDC) hotel. Like its counterparts, it does not offer too much in terms of luxury but it has all the necessities in place. To put it crisply, it’s a basic hotel which facilitates a clean, comfortable stay. The staff is reasonably professional, though not very well-dressed. It is recommended to ask for one of the rooms which overlook the main road, as the early morning feel is extremely rejuvenating.

User Rating: 3.8/5

Attractions in Bharatpur, Rajasthan: Part 1

Yes, the Keoladeo bird sanctuary and Bharatpur are synonymous to each other. However, that’s not the only spectacular place in the city! The foundation was laid for the city of Bharatpur around 100AD when the Jats migrated to India. For a small city, Bharatpur has quite an intricate and gory history involving the founders – the Jat rulers, the Mughal reign and the transfer of power to the British East India Company. This rich history has left its mark on Bharatpur in the form of architectural and cultural heritage.

Bharatpur

In fact, Bharatpur is a city of forts. The interesting forts and palaces in and around the city reflect the sheer architectural brilliance while offering a glimpse of the ceremonious lifestyle followed by the royals. This is the first of a three blog series about the major attractions in Bharatpur.

Lohagarh Fort and Museum

Braj Mahotasav 2009

Lohagarh or the Iron Fort has lived up to its name several times in the course of history. Lohagarh’s modest appearance belies its strength. Constructed during the reign of Maharaja Suraj Mal, this fort has withstood repeated attacks by the Mughals and later, by the British army. The British army had to compromise with the rulers of Bharatpur several times due to the impregnable nature of the fort. However, in 1805, the forces led by Lord Gerard Lake managed to capture the fort after a six-week long siege.

The Lohagarh fort houses several monuments – Kothi Khas, Kishori Mahal and Mahal Khas – and towers – Fateh Burj and Jawahar Burj, symbolizing the victories won by Bharatpur over the Mughals and British. There is also an Ashtadhatu (8-metal) gateway.

Legend has it that the Ashtadhatu gateway belonged to the Chittorgarh fort, which was taken away by Alauddin Khilji of Delhi after a battle. By the end of the 17th century, the victorious Jats brought the gate back from Delhi to Bharatpur.

The palace attached to the fort is a blend of Rajput and Mughal architecture. The gigantic apartments of the palace, the intricate patterns etched on the walls and the patterned tiles on the floor bear evidence of the grand and magnificent lifestyle led by the rulers of Bharatpur. The museum hosts 4000 antiquities, including some distinguished sculptures from various parts of India, arms, inscriptions and ornamental art objects.

Lohagarh 1

Quick Facts

  • The best time to visit Bharatpur is between October and March. Summers and monsoons are best avoided. March to June sees the temperature varying from 37°C to 45°C. The monsoon month (July to September) is comparatively cooler at 27°C, but humidity makes sightseeing quite a task.
  • Bharatpur is 200kms from Delhi, 270kms from Jaipur and 70kms from Agra.
  • Bharatpur has a large number of hotels and guest houses – government and private, forest rest houses, budget motels and dak bunglows. (Check this). The mode of travel within the city is, more often than not, auto-rickshaws. You can even consider booking a jeep.