Mehtab Bagh and the Baby Taj Mahal: Mughal Gardens Restored in India

Mehtab Bagh and the Baby Taj Mahal: Mughal Gardens Restored in India

Long overshadowed by the Taj, two neglected spots in Agra have now been restored to their original splendour

The landscaped garden around the Tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah in Agra
The landscaped garden around the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah in Agra

Tourists Christine and Martyn Andrews, first-timers to Agra, would have visited Agra Fort and Taj Mahal and been on their merry way back to their hotel, had it not been for a guide who directed them to what the locals call ‘Baby Taj Mahal’ — the tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah.

The tomb is the marble precursor to its more famous sibling across the Yamuna, and its English-style gardens and charming ivory-tinted facade are a lovely surprise for the rare tourist or history buff who gets here. And now, after four years of dedicated restoration, the monument is slowly finding its rightful place on the tourist circuit, along with the other famous garden here, Mehtab Bagh.

The restoration of the two Mughal gardens was carried out jointly by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the World Monument Fund (WMF) and the Ministry of Culture, under the Mughal Riverfront Gardens of Agra (MRGA) project, and opened up in January this year.

The tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah — loosely translating to ‘pillar of the state’ — was commissioned by Empress Nur Jahan for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg in the early 1620s in the typical Mughal ‘charbagh’ style.

It consists of four equal square-shaped gardens (hence ‘char’ and ‘bagh’) with the mausoleum sitting smack in the middle.

Fruit for monkeys

A typical Mughal garden also meant lush, chaotic gardens, filled with colorful flower beds and trees heavy with fruit for monkeys and birds, says Lakshmi Narayan, ASI’s junior foreman for horticulture at the site.

Imagine a cross between the secret garden of Frances Hodgson Burnett and the exquisite visuals in Lewis Carroll’s literary masterpieces. But that is also an unfortunate comparison because, under the British Raj, the gardens of I’timād-ud-Daulah were transformed to the exact opposite — stately, manicured lawns with not a tree in sight.

The MRGA project aims to correct that. “The idea behind these gardens at Mughal tomb sites was that if the dead were to wake up from their eternal sleep, they would want to stroll in a garden full of flowers and birds, maybe enjoy a fruit,” says Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI-Agra Circle. The British revived what had turned into agricultural land after Nur Jahan’s time, but in doing so they also removed many markers of the Mughals.Trees were removed, walkways were relaid, the ground was leveled.

Very little recorded

Armed with research papers, paintings, and historical records, conservationists took a stab at restoring the gardens to their former glory.

“There is a very little actual record of how the garden looked during its heyday,” says Swarnkar. “But we’ve tried our best with the information we found.”It’s a cloudy, ozone-heavy afternoon when the photographer and I visit. We can hear the cacophony of birds right from the gates. There is a fair number of visitors lining up at the ticket counter, much more than before, says Sonvir, an ASI supervisor.

“On an average, we get about 700 visitors per day,” he says. The walkway from the main gate is lined on both sides with flower beds, while the pathway to the tomb itself, from the inner gate, is lined with cypress trees, in typical Mughal garden style. On either side of the trees are flower beds, hibiscus plants, and pomegranate trees symmetrically planted in order of increasing height. “Beyond that, we’ve planted amla trees, amaltas, mango trees, guava trees, and others like it,” says Narayan.

The tomb’s traditional water system has also been restored. Irrigation systems were modernized in 1958, but they needed more work. “An integrated water management system was designed to address the needs of the project as well as ensure there would be no discharge or waste. Today, clean water is again flowing in the channels and the gardens,” says a statement from WMF.

The project also created an information and ticketing center, an office for ASI, and a toilet for visitors. Just three kilometers away, along with the banks of the Yamuna, lies Mehtab Bagh, the ‘moonlight garden’. This one is quieter, perhaps because of its size.

Even though we’re surrounded by people, we are easily lost within the symmetrically planted trees and pathways. A quick stroll from the entrance and the Taj Mahal is suddenly upon us, breathtaking as always, but even more special when seen from this distance and without the teeming crowds one always experiences.

Mehtab Bagh with the Taj Mahal emerging at the far end.
Mehtab Bagh with the Taj Mahal emerging at the far end. 

Packed with more

The flora at Mehtab Bagh is pretty much the same as that at I’timād-ud-Daulah, only much more. Spread over 22 acres, there are 20 plots packed with flowering shrubs and fruit trees. The trees are laid out with near-military precision, not one of them out of place. Excavations in 1979-80, originally undertaken to confirm whether this was the site of the famed ‘Black Taj Mahal’, revealed a rectangular garden and its foundation walls.

Further excavation in 1993-94 revealed the octagonal pond, the terracotta pipes connecting it, and the 25 fountains around it.“The remnants of the traditional system indicate that water was drawn from the river to a series of wells and carried into the complex via an aqueduct and fed into the pools through a network of underground terracotta pipes,” reads an information slab.

Even though the traditional aqueduct cannot be revived, the idea is to restore the octagonal pool at least so that the reflection of the Taj Mahal can be seen in it. Mehtab Bagh is also in the same ‘charbagh’ layout, but there is one crucial difference, says Swarnkar.

“The Yamuna cuts through the garden, so parts of the charbagh lie on either side of the river,” he says. The garden could be conceived thus because of the unusual layout of the Taj, he says. “Since the Taj is located at the end of the garden, instead of in the middle, the Mughals might have planned a garden across the river.”

At the boundary wall, there’s a mini photoshoot going on. We can’t resist either, what with the Taj in the backdrop. Meanwhile, the Andrews are finished with their tour of the tomb of I’timād-Ud-Daulah and have reached Mehtab Bagh.“I’m glad we came here first instead of heading to the Taj first,” says Christine. Just then it begins to rain and the sky turns a brooding grey. The Taj doesn’t dim one bit though.

Source: cntraveller

Sunken 17th-Century ‘Pirate Ship’ Discovered in Cornwall coast of England

Sunken 17th-Century ‘Pirate Ship’ Discovered in Cornwall coast of England

The two hand grenades.
The two hand grenades.

Hand grenades and cannons from the pirate ship’s wreck were found along the Cornwall coast in the United Kingdom from the 17th century.

Divers spotted artifacts from the wreck of the Schiedam, which sank off the coast in 1684 after some storms disturbed the sand that covered the objects on the seafloor.

According to Live Science, the Schiedam, originally a Dutch merchant ship, was taken by Barbary Pirates as a prize in 1683 and was subsequently seized by the Royal Navy and used for transport.

IFL Science reported, “The last of her days were spent as a transport vessel in the English Royal Navy before sinking to the seabed amid a storm on April 4, 1684, while loaded with ammunition from a failed British colony in North Africa.

It’s believed locals looted most of the wreckage, however, evidently, some of its treasures remain.”

A Sea Fight with Barbary Corsairs by Laureys a Castro, c. 1681.
A Sea Fight with Barbary Corsairs by Laureys a Castro, c. 1681.

The wreck was rediscovered about two years ago.Local historian and author Robert Felce told Fox News that he found one hand grenade in November 2018 at Dollar Cove on Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula.

Felce found a similar grenade at the site in May 2017.“I don’t use a metal detector – I use sight,” he explained. “I have become accustomed to what a lot of these things look like.”

The two 17th century hand grenades each consisted of a hollow iron shell filled with gunpowder.Felce told Live Science that he was a frequent visitor to the beach, which is exposed to strong waves from the Atlantic.

Both objects were heavily encrusted after lying on the seafloor for more than 300 years, and “Felce said he at first thought the latest grenade was an ordinary rock until he slipped and dropped it, and it broke open, revealing the two halves of the metal weapon and the explosive powder inside.”

Although the gunpowder in the grenade was damp and centuries’ old, he reported the find to the local police, who called in bomb-disposal experts from the Army to ensure that it was safe to handle.

The Schiedam was first discovered in 1971 by divers near the coast of Cornwall at a depth of 13 to 22 feet. Previous dives revealed an arsenal of weapons in the wreck, including numerous iron canons and carriage wheels.

A magnetometer survey in 1985 suggests that as many as 15 iron cannons may be buried under the sand.

David Gibbons of Cornwall Maritime Archaeology recently snapped a series of 3D photogrammetry images of the rediscovered wreckage.“The Schiedam is a fascinating wreck because it was carrying goods back in 1684 from the English colony of Tangier [Morocco], which had been abandoned to the Moors,” Gibbons told Cornwall Live.

“It represents a pivotal moment in history because the failure of Tangier led the English to look to Bombay instead.”Gibson continued: “Had the English succeeded in carving out a commercial enclave in North Africa and focusing their interests in the Mediterranean instead of in India, then the world would have been a very different place today.”

When the ship ran aground, there were no fatalities, which was unusual.“Because it was a government-owned ship by this time, they wanted to get as much of the cargo off, because it was ordnance,” Felce said in an interview.

“They had to draw on companies [of soldiers] from [the neighboring county of] Devon. These people salvaged as much as they could.”

3D photogrammetry of timber and stone from the ship’s wreck.
3D photogrammetry of timber and stone from the ship’s wreck.

4000 Years Ago in Egypt, Dozens of Men Who Died Of Terrible Wounds Were Mummified and Entombed Together in the Cliffs Near Luxor

4000 Years Ago in Egypt, Dozens of Men Who Died Of Terrible Wounds Were Mummified and Entombed Together in the Cliffs Near Luxor

In Egypt more than 4,000 years ago, in the cliffs near Luxor, dozens of men who died of terrible wounds were mummified and buried together.

Mass burials were exceptionally rare in ancient Egypt — so why did all these mummies end up in the same place? Recently, archaeologists visited the mysterious Tomb of the Warriors in Deir el Bahari, Egypt; the tomb had been sealed after its discovery in 1923.

After analyzing evidence from the tomb and other sites in Egypt, they pieced together the story of a desperate and bloody chapter in Egypt’s history at the close of the Old Kingdom, around 2150 B.C.

Their findings, presented in the PBS documentary “Secrets of the Dead: Egypt’s Darkest Hour,” paint a grim picture of civil unrest that sparked bloody battles between regional governors about 4,200 years ago.

One of those skirmishes may have ended the lives of 60 men whose bodies were mummified in the mass burial, PBS representatives said in a statement.

Archaeologist Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, investigated the mummies with a camera crew in late September 2018, with the cooperation of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and the assistance of local experts, Davina Bristow, documentary producer, and the director.

From the tomb’s entrance, a maze of tunnels branched out about 200 feet (61 meters) into the cliff; chambers were filled with mummified body parts and piles of bandages that had once been wrapped around the corpses but had come unraveled, Ikram discovered. The bodies all seemed to belong to men, and many showed signs of severe trauma.

Skulls were broken or pierced — probably the result of projectiles or weapons — and arrows were embedded in many of the bodies, suggesting the men were soldiers who died in battle. One of the mummies was even wearing a protective gauntlet on its arm, such as those worn by archers, according to Ikram.

Archaeologist Salima Ikram examines an image of a skull from the mass burial.
Archaeologist Salima Ikram examines an image of a skull from the mass burial.

These people have died bloody, fearsome deaths,” Ikram said. And evidence from elsewhere in Egypt suggests that they died during a period of extreme social upheaval.

A kingdom’s collapse some of those clues lay in the tomb of the pharaoh Pepi II, whose 90-year reign had just ended, Philippe Collombert, an Egyptologist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, told archaeology-world in an email.

Pepi II’s burial tomb in Saqqara, Egypt, was ornate and spectacular; it was built during his youth, which suggests that the kingdom at that time was secure with no signs of civil collapse, Collombert said.

However, Pepi II’s tomb was looted soon after he was buried. Such a profoundly sacrilegious act could only have taken place if Egyptians had already begun to reject the godlike stature of the pharaoh, and if the central government was no longer in control, Collombert explained.

Hieroglyphs in Pepi II's pyramid in Saqarra, Egypt contain ritual text for the pharaoh's rebirth in the afterlife.
Hieroglyphs in Pepi II’s pyramid in Saqarra, Egypt contain ritual text for the pharaoh’s rebirth in the afterlife.

As Pepi II’s influence waned toward the end of his rule and local governors became more and more powerful, their burial chambers became bigger and more lavish.

One governor’s tomb, built in the Qubbet el Hawa necropolis after Pepi II’s death, contained inscriptions that hinted at the conflict emerging between political factions, describing social disruption, civil war and lack of control by a single administration, Antonio Morales, an Egyptologist at the University of Alcalá in Madrid, Spain, said in the documentary. And famine caused by drought may have accelerated this social collapse, according to Morales.

Another inscription in the governor’s tomb noted that “the southern country is dying of hunger so every man was eating his own children” and “the whole country has become like a starving locust,” Morales said.

Together, starvation and unrest could have laid the groundwork for a frenzied battle that left 60 men dead on the ground — and then mummified in the same tomb, Ikram said.”Secrets of the Dead: Egypt’s Darkest Hour” aired last night (April 3) on PBS and is now available to stream on the PBS website and on PBS apps.

Eight-year-old Swedish-American girl pulls pre-Viking era sword from lake

Eight-year-old Swedish-American girl pulls pre-Viking era sword from lake

Saga with the sword.
Saga with the sword. 

An 8- year – old girl on vacation with her family discovered a  pre – Viking Era Sword in a Swedish lake, leading to locals jokingly naming her the “Queen of Sweden.”

The ancient artifact was found by Swedish – American Saga Vanecek while playing in Vidöstern lake near her family’s holiday home.

Museum experts estimate that the sword is about 1,500 years old. A museum expert said that the sword is about 33 inches long and “exceptionally well preserved.”

It even has a sheath made of wood and leather.“I like to walk around finding rocks and sticks in the water and then I usually walk around with my hands and knees in the water and in the sand,” Saga told Radio Sweden in an interview.

As she was exploring the lake, she felt something “odd” beneath her hand and knee.“I picked it up and was going to drop it back in the water, but it had a handle, and I saw that it was a little bit pointy at the end and all rusty.I held it up in the air, and I said ‘Daddy, I found a sword!’ ”

“I’m not sure you should be touching it anymore,” her father responded. “It looks fragile.”

The sword found in Lake Vidöstern is estimated to be around 1,500 years old.
The sword found in Lake Vidöstern is estimated to be around 1,500 years old. 

The sword was initially reported to be 1,000 years old, but experts at the local museum now believe it may date to around 1,500 years ago, said the BBC.

“It’s not every day that you step on a sword in the lake,” said Mikael Nordstrom, head of the cultural heritage department at the Jönköpings County Museum.

Officials believe that no one found the sword until now because a drought lowered the level of the water.

Saga’s discovery led the museum and local council to carry out further excavations at the site.

They asked the family not to tell anyone about the discovery until they’d checked to see if there were other items of historical interest.

The finding of the sword was made public in the first week of October.

Anyone hoping to see the sword will have to wait at least a year, Nordström told The Local, explaining: “The conservation process takes quite a long time because it’s a complicated environment with wood and leather, so they have several steps to make sure it’s preserved for the future.”“Why it has come to be there, we don’t know,” he continued.

“When we searched a couple of weeks ago, we found another prehistoric object; a brooch from around the same period as the sword, so that means – we don’t know yet – but perhaps it’s a place of sacrifice.

At first, we thought it could be graves situated nearby the lake, but we don’t think that anymore.”

After a further search of the lake an Iron Age brooch was also found.
After a further search of the lake an Iron Age brooch was also found. 

The sword prompted teams, which included museum staff, to carry out more searches, though none have resulted in such an important find.

The first led to the discovery of the brooch but the oldest object found in the second search was a coin from the 18th century.

Saga’s father said in an interview with The Local that several friends in the community joked that this discovery made Saga the new Queen of Sweden. The press soon took up the anointing of Saga.

On social media, the news has led to people posting things like “She’s the chosen one!” and “Well that’s it then, she’s the new ruler. We all must pledge our fealty.”

In Arthurian legend, only the king could draw a sword from the stone — and later the Lady in the Lake gives Arthur his sacred sword: Excalibur.As for Saga, she said this discovery hasn’t made her want to pursue a career in archaeology.

She said instead she hopes to be a doctor, vet, or an actress in Paris, although she does enjoy learning about “old stuff.”

Source: thelocal

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