IN THE LAP OF HERITAGE

Over the years, the Taj Mahotsav has steadily grown into an event that showcases the cultural plurality of the country, says Rohan Harry

If one plots a graph charting the journey of the Taj Mahotsav over the last two-and-a-half decades, it would make for an interesting visual treat. It is akin to marvelling at the intricate scrollwork on the minarets and archways of the Taj Mahal itself. This, in a nutshell, is the impact that the event has had on the cultural ethos of the nation’s multi-ethnic fabric. Since 1992, the festival has figured prominently in the event calendar of the country and has attracted several delegates and tourists, local and international alike. The arts and crafts festival – organised by Uttar Pradesh Tourism – has, since its inception, had a dual role to play in furthering the cause of tourism around the Taj Mahal. While it is primarily a platform for artisans, tradesmen and craftsmen to showcase their wares to discerning audiences, it also offers the latter a chance to make direct purchases at reasonable costs that are not inflated by the hankerings of the market.

This year, while on a macroscopic level the festival will work to preserve and showcase the cultural identity of the country, on a microscopic level it will involve bringing a larger and more diverse collection of craftsmen under one roof to present and market their creations. This will be in addition to having the performing arts in the backdrop to add to the charm and flavour of the festival. This is not all, however.

No festival in India is complete without culinary delights from the subcontinent, and the Taj Mahotsav will offer them aplenty. While visitors travelling to Agra from all over the world will be in for a vast variety of experiences, the festival is by no means a run-of-the-mill affair for locals either. The sense of modernity woven into a traditional festival also means that there is something for audiences of all age groups. The Fun Fair, with its amusement park ambience and joyrides, is a perfect spot for young adults and children to enjoy themselves.

This edition of the Taj Mahotsav will also take a step beyond India to include artisans, craftsmen, artists, performers, musicians and dancers from across the Asian subcontinent. In order to make the event bigger  than its predecessors and to set the bar higher for its successors, the festival will offer visitors a grassroots feel of the country. This, combined with the fact that the official website of the festival continues to update and post helpful links regarding its events, places to visit in Agra and more, is likely to take the experience a notch higher this year.

As an additional attraction, the festival offers the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable view of the Taj Mahal from aboard a hot air balloon, the vibrant colours providing a sharp contrast to the pristine white marble. The hot air balloon safari provides a bird’s-eye view of River Yamuna as well, and makes for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Those interested to indulge in it are advised to keep an entire day slotted, as the activity requires a significant amount of time.

The Taj Mahotsav has, over the years, seen musicians, dancers and singers from across the country, contemporary and niche alike. The idea, as the organisers put it, is to ensure that there is a healthy amalgamation of different schools of the performing arts. It is important for the audience to feel comfortable amid the familiar as well as have the opportunity to relish the new – and the festival, in its 27 years of existence, has enabled visitors to do just that.

Around Agra

The Taj Mahal never ceases to amaze. But Agra is not about the iconic monument alone. Within a couple of hours of the city are several places of historical importance and natural beauty. The most popular among them is Fatehpur Sikri, around 40 km away. A UNESCO World Heritage Site built by Mughal emperor Akbar in 1564 AD, this architectural marvel is a sight to behold and draws hundreds of tourists every day.

Developed as the capital of the Mughal empire by Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri houses the beautiful marble tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti. Other attractions here include Diwan-e-Khas, Diwan-e-Aam, Buland Darwaza, Panch Mahal, Jodha Bai’s Palace and Birbal’s House.

Situated around 70 km from Agra, the temple town of Bateshwar sits on the bank of River Yamuna. Bateshwar has a plethora of temples, once totalling 101. Out of these, 42 temples still stand, and some retain the original frescoes painted on the ceilings. The beauty of this town lies in its long line of ghats, dotted with temples of various sizes.

If a spot of green is what you desire, then explore two not-so-heard-of bird sanctuaries close to Agra. The Patna Bird Sanctuary (approximately 60 km away) emerges like an oasis in the arid zone of Jalesar in the Etah district of Uttar Pradesh. Spread over 108 hectares, this pitstop for migratory birds was recognised as a protected sanctuary in 1991. Ornithologists have accounted for about 200 different species of exotic birds here.

Another sanctuary, Sur Sarovar (Keetham Lake), situated around 23 km from Agra, is home to more than 126 species of migratory and resident birds. Initially covering an area of 4.03 sq km, it has been expanded to 7.83 sq km and is dotted with small, artificially-created islands.

The author is a senior journalist and the views expressed in this article are his own

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