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Old 27th May 2011, 20:22   #1
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Default May the Emperor Rest in Peace

Agreed this isn’t the way to start a travel article but I seemed to be stuck on it. Perhaps it was the seething anger that paralysed my mind from thinking something pleasant. For what I had encountered at the magnificent mausoleum, a landmark in the Indo-Islamic architecture, encasing the remains of one of India’s greatest rulers, Sher Shah Sur, was the foulest smell of my life.

And it wasn’t there to disperse some moments later. The atmosphere suffused in it.

You could find your way to the tomb literally by following your nose. Though when the odour first hit us I had not inkling to its portent. But as we negotiated our way through dense habitation, cratered road, overflowing drains, old men on charpoys, naked children, dogs, goats, ducks, pigs asking directions it only seemed to grow stronger and stronger.

One smart move to avoid one of many tortuous detours on the Golden Quadrilateral’s pride, Grant Trunk Road, renamed by ultra-nationalists as Sher Shah Suri Marg, to confer honour on the Emperor credited with its first elaborate construction, had made the difference. The 4-laned smooth carriageway ahead of us, not yet open to the traffic, appeared heavenly compared to the hellish original, lined up by the heavy trucks negotiating the cratered dust encrusted slope at snail’s pace, on my right.

Having already killed enough time in the jam on bone rattling Son River Bridge—the new one is under construction—Satish, the driver, stepped full on the throttle. The jangling old lady, the reliable Ambassador car, did surprisingly well for its condition, slowing only occasionally at the mud tracks for earth moving vehicles on culverts under construction.

But the joy was short lived. With no sign of the dense traffic we had begun to wonder whether we had made the right choice—later we found out that the new road has been planned to skirt altogether the town of Sasaram.

While we were weighing the option of returning to the turn once again a passer by guided us towards an underpass that led into the city. We must have covered only a mile or two when we got the first whiff of the smell. We had entered Sasaram from its hind.

Initially we dismissed it coming from a pond of stale water. Later ascribed it to the overflowing gutters but what disconcerted us most was that we seemed to be headed towards it. When we came out in the car parking it wasn’t the sight of the superb sepulchre that held me fascinated. Rather what led to the Eureka moment was the discovery of the source of the incessant assault on our senses and my chest shrank with pride.

Purchasing tickets and complaining about the aroma to the guard who nonchalantly suggested we write it down in the complaint book—later when my friend, Rohit, who was with me, actually did he found pages after pages filled with visitors’ grouchy comments.

Soon we were on the causeway that led to the main edifice. Closer to water the stink was at its worst. I felt like retching and Rohit, who had olfactory nerves more sensitive than mine already had handkerchief on his nostrils. Still there were one or two intrepid lovers, a few families, hangers on and even a teachers’ association holding their weekly meeting on the lawns.

As we entered the complex I had already begun to wonder what we have reduced Sher Shah Sur—the emperor of India from1540 to1545, who had ousted Humayun from the throne of Delhi and made him flee to Persia, and is one of India’s greatest kings, in the league of Samrat Ashok and Akbar—to.

He who is known for a slew of his public welfare measures like methodical land revenue system, elaborate military reforms, restoration of old imperial GT Road and other highways with sarais for overnight stay of travellers every 8 km (he had constructed 1700 such travellers lodges), relay postal system and effective policing—are we really taking care of him?

The rule of Sher Shah, who had spent his adulthood managing the jagir of his father, Hasan Shah Sur at Sasaram, was short lived. He had become the Emperor of India, in his own words, “in the evening of my life,” at the ripe age of 67.

Five years later injured by a freak gun burst during the siege of Kalinjar, a fort considered to be the gateway to the Bundelkhand region, the present South-western Uttar Pradesh, he breathed his last in 1545. He was buried at Sasaram.

In fact, Sher Shah in keeping with the practise amongst the Muslim royalty had commenced the construction of his tomb even when he was alive—owing to his untimely death it was completed 3 months later by his son Islam Shah.

With the help of his master builder, Alawal Khan, he had planned it to be an island tomb within a square artificial lake connected to the pillared jetty—now half sunk—on the east by a boat ride. (The present causeway on the north is a later construction, which had replaced the dilapidated arched bridge in 1881).

A flight of narrow steps from all sides of the tomb proper leads to the landing platforms near the water. Together with the high plinth, a massive dome-higher than even the Taj Mahal’s and surrounded by 24 cupolas, pavilions with smaller domes on all the four corners, projecting balconies, crenellated outer square walls, and arched octagonal veranda, the mausoleum exude a harmonious blend of robustness and sensuality.

They, notwithstanding the scum the town empties as sewage and effluent in the lake, impart the structure a bewitching charm. In the tomb chamber, Sher Shah’s grave is shrouded in green satin. With a few coins thrown in I am amazed how we have reduced a ‘Badshah’ to a ‘Fakir.’ Unfortunately I am unable to capture the sight in a photo as photography is prohibited.

From the tomb of Sher Shah the dome of his father’s tomb, 500 metres further sandwiched by the marauding city, is easily visible. Though not as elaborate as Sher Shah’s and not visited by many tourists it is the abode of daydreamers, sunbathers, card players and pranksters.

When I get on the narrow steps of the rear gateway for a better view, urged by the children, halfway there are turds to block my ascent.

Encircling the goat droppings littered octagonal passage looking for a way inside the grave chamber I find it locked. The Maulvi Sahib of the Madarsa being temporarily run inside the Mosque within the premises and Guddu, a tailor, help me find the ASI watchman to unlock the gates.

Inside Hasan Shah has his 24 family members and bats for company. The tomb chamber is almost an exact replica of Sher Shah’s. As in the case of the son’s grave the father’s too is draped in green satin with wide red border but there are no coins.

Grit like bats’ droppings spread on the floor. And it smelled damp. But what’s the best I could take photos. As I kneel on the floor composing the frame, just for the sake of a little chat, I express my surprise at the practise of locking the entrance. What came as the answer literally chilled my spine.

“Murder.” It was Guddu. The guard merely nodded. Seeing my gawked expression he filled in more details. “The dead man was thrown from that balcony…” I look in the direction his index finger pointed while Guddu’s narrative became more lurid.

My eyes confront an innocuous looking pavilion on the first floor. From there it wanders towards the massive hollow of the dome as big as Sher Shah’s. For the first time I become aware of the pervading stillness. For the first time, ever since I had entered Sasaram, I fail to notice the pervading smell.

(I had taken this journey from Bodhgaya to Sasaram about 4 years ago when some portions of NH2 was still under construction).
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Last edited by anandjha : 27th May 2011 at 20:34.
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Old 27th May 2011, 20:31   #2
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Default Re: May the Emperor Rest in Peace

Agreed this isn’t the way to start a travel article but I seemed to be stuck on it. Perhaps it was the seething anger that paralysed my mind from thinking something pleasant. For what I had encountered at the magnificent mausoleum, a landmark in the Indo-Islamic architecture, encasing the remains of one of India’s greatest rulers, Sher Shah Sur, was the foulest smell of my life.

And it wasn’t there to disperse some moments later. The atmosphere suffused in it.

You could find your way to the tomb literally by following your nose. Though when the odour first hit us I had not inkling to its portent. But as we negotiated our way through dense habitation, cratered road, overflowing drains, old men on charpoys, naked children, dogs, goats, ducks, pigs asking directions it only seemed to grow stronger and stronger.

One smart move to avoid one of many tortuous detours on the Golden Quadrilateral’s pride, Grant Trunk Road, renamed by ultra-nationalists as Sher Shah Suri Marg, to confer honour on the Emperor credited with its first elaborate construction, had made the difference. The 4-laned smooth carriageway ahead of us, not yet open to the traffic, appeared heavenly compared to the hellish original, lined up by the heavy trucks negotiating the cratered dust encrusted slope at snail’s pace, on my right.

Having already killed enough time in the jam on bone rattling Son River Bridge—the new one is under construction—Satish, the driver, stepped full on the throttle. The jangling old lady, the reliable Ambassador car, did surprisingly well for its condition, slowing only occasionally at the mud tracks for earth moving vehicles on culverts under construction.

But the joy was short lived. With no sign of the dense traffic we had begun to wonder whether we had made the right choice—later we found out that the new road has been planned to skirt altogether the town of Sasaram.

While we were weighing the option of returning to the turn once again a passer by guided us towards an underpass that led into the city. We must have covered only a mile or two when we got the first whiff of the smell. We had entered Sasaram from its hind.

Initially we dismissed it coming from a pond of stale water. Later ascribed it to the overflowing gutters but what disconcerted us most was that we seemed to be headed towards it. When we came out in the car parking it wasn’t the sight of the superb sepulchre that held me fascinated. Rather what led to the Eureka moment was the discovery of the source of the incessant assault on our senses and my chest shrank with pride.

Purchasing tickets and complaining about the aroma to the guard who nonchalantly suggested we write it down in the complaint book—later when my friend, Rohit, who was with me, actually did he found pages after pages filled with visitors’ grouchy comments.

Soon we were on the causeway that led to the main edifice. Closer to water the stink was at its worst. I felt like retching and Rohit, who had olfactory nerves more sensitive than mine already had handkerchief on his nostrils. Still there were one or two intrepid lovers, a few families, hangers on and even a teachers’ association holding their weekly meeting on the lawns.

As we entered the complex I had already begun to wonder what we have reduced Sher Shah Sur—the emperor of India from1540 to1545, who had ousted Humayun from the throne of Delhi and made him flee to Persia, and is one of India’s greatest kings, in the league of Samrat Ashok and Akbar—to.

He who is known for a slew of his public welfare measures like methodical land revenue system, elaborate military reforms, restoration of old imperial GT Road and other highways with sarais for overnight stay of travellers every 8 km (he had constructed 1700 such travellers lodges), relay postal system and effective policing—are we really taking care of him?

The rule of Sher Shah, who had spent his adulthood managing the jagir of his father, Hasan Shah Sur at Sasaram, was short lived. He had become the Emperor of India, in his own words, “in the evening of my life,” at the ripe age of 67.

Five years later injured by a freak gun burst during the siege of Kalinjar, a fort considered to be the gateway to the Bundelkhand region, the present South-western Uttar Pradesh, he breathed his last in 1545. He was buried at Sasaram.

In fact, Sher Shah in keeping with the practise amongst the Muslim royalty had commenced the construction of his tomb even when he was alive—owing to his untimely death it was completed 3 months later by his son Islam Shah.

With the help of his master builder, Alawal Khan, he had planned it to be an island tomb within a square artificial lake connected to the pillared jetty—now half sunk—on the east by a boat ride. (The present causeway on the north is a later construction, which had replaced the dilapidated arched bridge in 1881).

A flight of narrow steps from all sides of the tomb proper leads to the landing platforms near the water. Together with the high plinth, a massive dome-higher than even the Taj Mahal’s and surrounded by 24 cupolas, pavilions with smaller domes on all the four corners, projecting balconies, crenellated outer square walls, and arched octagonal veranda, the mausoleum exude a harmonious blend of robustness and sensuality.

They, notwithstanding the scum the town empties as sewage and effluent in the lake, impart the structure a bewitching charm. In the tomb chamber, Sher Shah’s grave is shrouded in green satin. With a few coins thrown in I am amazed how we have reduced a ‘Badshah’ to a ‘Fakir.’ Unfortunately I am unable to capture the sight in a photo as photography is prohibited.

From the tomb of Sher Shah the dome of his father’s tomb, 500 metres further sandwiched by the marauding city, is easily visible. Though not as elaborate as Sher Shah’s and not visited by many tourists it is the abode of daydreamers, sunbathers, card players and pranksters.

When I get on the narrow steps of the rear gateway for a better view, urged by the children, halfway there are turds to block my ascent.

Encircling the goat droppings littered octagonal passage looking for a way inside the grave chamber I find it locked. The Maulvi Sahib of the Madarsa being temporarily run inside the Mosque within the premises and Guddu, a tailor, help me find the ASI watchman to unlock the gates.

Inside Hasan Shah has his 24 family members and bats for company. The tomb chamber is almost an exact replica of Sher Shah’s. As in the case of the son’s grave the father’s too is draped in green satin with wide red border but there are no coins.

Grit like bats’ droppings spread on the floor. And it smelled damp. But what’s the best I could take photos. As I kneel on the floor composing the frame, just for the sake of a little chat, I express my surprise at the practise of locking the entrance. What came as the answer literally chilled my spine.

“Murder.” It was Guddu. The guard merely nodded. Seeing my gawked expression he filled in more details. “The dead man was thrown from that balcony…” I look in the direction his index finger pointed while Guddu’s narrative became more lurid.

My eyes confront an innocuous looking pavilion on the first floor. From there it wanders towards the massive hollow of the dome as big as Sher Shah’s. For the first time I become aware of the pervading stillness. For the first time, ever since I had entered Sasaram, I fail to notice the pervading smell.

(I had taken this journey from Bodhgaya to Sasaram about 4 years ago when some parts of NH 2 were still under construction)
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Old 27th May 2011, 20:43   #3
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Default Re: May the Emperor Rest in Peace

The picture by the lake is mesmerizing! I just want to go back in time and become a shepherd boy lazing by the banks while the goats graze ...

Neglect of monuments or defacing them seems to be a sort of "national pastime" in India

--Ragul
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