Travel Bucket List: India – Haryana Part 1

Located in north India, Haryana is a land-locked state which was carved out of the former state of East Punjab on 1 November 1966 on a linguistic basis. It shares its state capital of Chandigarh with Punjab while its most populous city is Faridabad, part of the National Capital Region and the city of Gurgaon among India’s largest financial and technology hubs. The 11th highest among Indian states in the human development index, Haryana’s economy is the 13th largest in India and has the country’s 5th highest GSDP per capita.

The state, which is bordered by Himachal Pradesh to the north-east, by the river Yamuna along its eastern border with Uttar Pradesh, by Rajasthan to the west and south, and the Ghaggar-Hakra River which flows along its northern border with Punjab is rich in history, monuments, heritage, flora and fauna. Since Haryana surrounds the country’s capital Delhi on three sides, north, west and south, large areas of the state are included in the economically important National Capital Region for planning and development.

Experts say that Haryana was known by the name because in the post-Mahabharata period the Abhiras lived here who developed special skills in the art of agriculture and so Haryana came to be derived from Abhirayana. The villages of Rakhigarhi in Hisar and Bhirrana in Fatehabad are home to one of the oldest and largest ancient civilisation sites, the Indus Valley Civilization, dating over 9,000 years old. Evidence of paved roads, a drainage system, a large-scale rainwater collection storage system, terracotta brick and statue production, and skilled metalworking, in both bronze and precious metals have been uncovered. According to archaeologists, Rakhigarhi may be the origin of the Harappan civilisation, which arose in the Ghaggar basin in Haryana and gradually and slowly moved to the Indus valley. During the Vedic era, Haryana was the site of the Kuru Kingdom, one of India’s great Mahajanapadas and the south of the state is the claimed location of the Vedic Brahmavarta region.

Ancient bronze and stone idols of Jain Tirthankara were found in multiple areas of the state. The Pushyabhuti dynasty ruled parts of northern India in the 7th century with its capital at Thanesar, on the outskirts of Kurukshetra and the Tomara dynasty ruled the south Haryana region in the 10th century. The area that is now Haryana has been ruled by some of the major empires of India. Panipat is known for the three seminal battles in the history of India. In the First Battle of Panipat in 1526, Babur defeated the Lodis. In the Second Battle of Panipat in 1556, Akbar defeated the local Haryanvi Hindu Emperor of Delhi, who belonged to Rewari. Hem Chandra Vikramaditya had earlier won 22 battles across India from Punjab to Bengal, defeating Mughals and Afghans. Hemu had defeated Akbar’s forces twice at Agra and the Battle of Delhi in 1556 to become the last Hindu Emperor of India with a formal coronation at Purana Quila in Delhi on 7 October 1556. In the Third Battle of Panipat which took place in 1761, the Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali defeated the Marathas.

Compared to a national average of 22%, Haryana has only 4% of the area under forests. The state has four main geographical features. The Yamuna-Ghaggar plain forming the largest part of the state is also called Delhi Doab and consists of the Sutlej-Ghaggar Doab between Sutlej in the north in Punjab and the Ghaggar river flowing through northern Haryana, the Ghaggar-Hakra Doab which lies between the Ghaggar river and the Hakra or Drishadvati river which is the paleochannel of the Saraswati River and the Hakra-Yamuna Doab between the Hakra and the Yamuna Rivers, the Lower Shivalik Hills to the northeast in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Bagar tract semi-desert dry sandy plain to the south-west and the Aravali Range’s northernmost low rise isolated non-continuous outcrops in the south.

Often known as the Land of Milk and Butter, Haryana has witnessed some of the most critical events in the course of Indian history, aptly giving it its title of being the land of lore, myth and ancient history. October to March is the best time to visit the state because starts getting colder and pleasant around this time making it a perfect time for sightseeing. We have spoken in detail about Haryana’s shared capital of Chandigarh when we saw what Punjab had to offer us, so let’s dive into the rest of the state.

Gurgaon
Officially known as Gurugram, Gurgaon is situated near the Delhi–Haryana border, about 30 km southwest of the national capital. It is one of the major satellite cities of Delhi and is part of the National Capital Region of India. Gurgaon is India’s second-largest information technology hub and third-largest financial and banking hub and also home to India’s largest medical tourism industry. Despite being India’s 56th largest city in terms of population, Gurgaon is the 8th largest city in the country in terms of total wealth. The city serves as the headquarters of many of India’s largest companies, is home to thousands of startup companies and has local offices for more than 250 Fortune 500 companies and accounts for almost 70% of the total annual economic investments in the state.

The region of Gurgaon originally fell under the Kuru Kingdom with the early people to inhabit the region Hindus ruled over by the Ahir clan and the Yadu tribes were also a part of this clan. In the late 4th century BC, the city was absorbed by the Mauryan Empire as part of Chandragupta Maurya’s earliest expansions of his kingdom. It is also said that the Gurgaon of today may be the same as the Gudapura town mentioned in the 12th-century text Prithviraja Vijaya, according to which Nagarjuna, a cousin of the Chahamana king Prithviraj Chauhan, rebelled against the king and captured the town, after which King Prithviraj crushed the rebellion and recaptured the town.

During the Mughal and the initial years of the British colonial era, Gurgaon was just a small village. There are mentions of a stone pillar at Gurgaon of a local feudal lord, Durgga Naga dating back to 672 or 871. After coming into direct British rule, the British established a civil line at Jharsa and a cavalry cantonment at Hiyadatpur. In 2016, the name of the city was officially renamed from Gurgaon to Gurugram, though Gurgaon still lingers in colloquial usage.

24 km south of Gurgaon lies the beautiful Damdama Lake which was commissioned by the British in 1947 for rainwater harvesting. Today, the lake is home to over 190 species of native and migratory birds and in the monsoons, when water levels reach as high as fifty feet is when most of the migratory birds are spotted. The lake is the biggest in Haryana and stretches to almost three thousand acres and is a popular place for picnics as well as for on-site training for corporate team-building exercises. Surrounded by the rocky Aravalli hills and uneven but exciting topography, this scenic lake is a perfect getaway for people in and around New Delhi, Delhi, and Gurgaon. There are many resorts near the lake that offer adventure sports and paddle boating. Other attractions here include kayaking, parasailing, angling, cycling, fishing, hot air ballooning, rowing and nature walks.
Resorts also offer activities like artificial rock climbing, cricket, volleyball, flying fox and darts in packaged deals. The best months to visit Damdama Lake are between August and February because many endangered bird species can be spotted here then. Summers are not advisable because of the heat and reduced water levels.

A perfect weekend getaway, the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary is the perfect getaway for nature lovers and birding enthusiasts. Home to several migratory birds, it is a great spot for spotting various species, especially during the winter months. The sanctuary is home to more than 250 species of birds, especially during the peak season. The birds travel long distances from Europe, Siberia and Central Asia. The sanctuary also has four towers at different points of the sanctuary. The Sultanpur sanctuary is named after Rajput Chauhan Sultan Singh, the great-grandson of Harsh Dev Chauhan, the ruler of this area. Sultanpur was the centre of salt production till the 19th century and on April 2, 1971, the Sultanpur Jheel with an area of 1.21 sq km was provided with sanctuary status and the sanctuary was upgraded to a National Park and the simultaneously the area was increased to 1.42 sq km. The National Park comprises the lands of Sadhrana, Chandu, Sultanpur and Saidpur villages. For bird watchers, early morning or late evenings are the best time as the migratory birds fly out of their nests at sunrise and return at sunset.

Set over 1.54 sq km, the Aravalli Biodiversity Park was established to ecologically restore and preserve the vegetation on the desert and arid land areas in the region. Inaugurated on the occasion of the World Environment Day in June 2010, after a Supreme Court Ban on stone mining in the region, the biodiversity park has about 160 plant species, over 170 species of birds and animals.

The Tau Devi Lal Biodiversity Park is mostly used for recreational purposes with a walkway used for morning or evening walks. There is also a rose garden with colourful and fragrant roses and the greenery attracts birds and so is preferred by bird watchers as well.

Qutub Khan’s Tomb is an 18th-century structure built in the memory of Adam Khan who served as a general to Emperor Akbar. The tomb has a unique octagonal structure and is an example of Mughal architecture. In 1830, Blake, a British Officer chose to reside at the location and removed all the graves. The tomb was later restored by Lord Curzon after Blake’s death.

Dedicated to Sai Baba, the Sai Ka Angan Temple sprawls over an area of 3344 sq m and is built in the shape of a cave with important points of Sai Baba’s life in Shirdi replicated. The idol of Sai Baba is installed under a Neem tree and lit with oil lamps.

The Sheetla Mata Mandir is dedicated to Mata Sheetala, a Hindu goddess widely worshipped in North India, West Bengal, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan as the pox-goddess. She is the Goddess of sores, ghouls, pustules and diseases in Hindu mythology. The temple is popular for its festival in the Chaitra month of the Hindu calendar i.e. between March and April.

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A palaeolithic archaeological site and sacred grove hill forest next to the Mangar village on the Delhi-Haryana border, Mangar Bani lies in the South Delhi Ridge of the Aravalli mountain range, the oldest plateau mountains in India. It is the Indian subcontinent’s largest neolithic South Asian Stone Age site and tool-making factory dating back to 100,000 years Before Present or BP, the first ever site with cave painting in the Aravalli range dating back to 20,000-40,000 BP, making it the oldest human habitation discovered in Haryana and the Delhi NCR. Mangar Bani is spread across 5000 hectares and it is surrounded by the larger forested Aravali range. Archaeologists discovered cave paintings in the Mangar Bani hill forest in May 2021 with the tools found estimated to be 100,000 years old.

Contiguous to the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, it is an important biodiversity area within the Northern Aravalli leopard wildlife corridor stretching from the Sariska Tiger Reserve to Delhi with several wetlands. Formed in the abandoned open-pit mines in and around the area and significant to migratory birds are the Badkhal Lake, the 10th century ancient Surajkund reservoir and Anangpur Dam, Damdama Lake, Tughlaqabad Fort and Adilabad ruins, both of which lie in Delhi proper. Mangar Bani is one of the last remaining natural tropical forests in the Aravalli range with more than 30 native tree species along with the 100 native shrubs and herbs, which acts as an important source of groundwater recharge.

Mangar Bani, is a Haryanvi dialect term that means the Mangar Vana in Hindi or Sanskrit and the Mangar Forest in English. The Mangar Tribal Jewellery Museum, established by Sterre Sharma, the wife of former union minister Satish Sharma, has jewellery from all over India including the tribes of northeast India with jewellery made from glass, bone, brass, white metal, silver and gold plate, all finding a home here. Mangar Bani is also a sacred grove as it surrounds the Gudariya Das Baba temple, within the forest and lies 2 km to the northwest of Mangar village. This ancient temple provides the status of a sacred grove to Mangar Bani and according to local oral tradition, the baba or saint Gudariya Das protects this bani or forest and punishes anyone who damages this forest. The Lulu Lake wetland is nestled on the hills of Mangar Bani, 6 km to the southwest of Mangar village and 4 km south of Gudariya Das Baba temple, close to Mount Gaga Lulu, a small hill.

The Lohagarh Farms was established to create self-sustaining rural communities and create employment opportunities. It also serves as a platform for village artists to exhibit and sell their arts and handicrafts and visitors can participate in activities like farming, pottery and trekking to get closer to nature. The farms offer activities and accommodations away from the urban life for one to connect with the basics of human nature.

The NeverEnuf Garden Railway is an enchanting infotainment park with miniatures of all sorts of vehicles, including boats, trains, buildings and landscapes. Some of these models are controlled with the help of a remote and add an interactive touch to the display. The park also has lawns and gardens where one can take a long relaxing stroll.

Tikli Bottom is a private guest house that offers a feel of living on a hill station. A haveli or mansion with four bedrooms, a beautifully maintained garden with trees and a swimming pool, one can get magnificent views of the Aravalli Hills from the property.

Founded by the renowned painter, sculptor and historian, K.C Aryan, the Museum of Folk & Tribal Art has a splendid collection of tribal handicrafts made of iron, wood & stone, embroidered fabrics, colourful murals and terracotta objects. Some artefacts with religious importance are also displayed at the museum. The complete collection gives a sneak peek into the culture and art of the tribals who live in and around Gurgaon.

The Vintage Car Museum was established to explore the history of transportation in India and exhibits a stunning collection of actual pre-mechanised and mechanised transportation including automobiles, railways, aircraft, etc. Technology buffs, especially those interested in the history of transportation in India, should visit the museum which partners with schools and research centres to provide material for research and documentation on the subject.

Manesar
Lying just 15 km south of Gurgaon’s city centre, Manesar is a town, an industrial hub and part of the National Capital Region of Delhi. The original village of Manesar was a sleepy village of about 1000 houses on the Delhi-Jaipur highway. The early people to inhabit the region were Hindus ruled over by the Ahir clan and since the late 1990s, it has been transformed into a boomtown with growth helped by the government’s drive to move out factories from Delhi as well as the growth of Gurgaon. Farmers have become millionaires or multi-millionaires. Manesar is famous for its rustic life and the majestic views of the wonderful Aravali Hills. The town is best visited between November and February which is wintertime in the region where the temperature is pleasant and sometimes bracing. Must-visit places in Manesar include the Gujarat Haveli, Sultanpur National Park, the Never Enough Garden Railway, the Rajon Ki Baoli, Damadam Lake, Sanskrit Museum of Everyday Art, Garden of Five Senses and the Heritage Transport Museum which is situated on 3 acres of land. The museum spread over four floors houses the exhibition galleries, library and reference centre, conference rooms, mini auditorium, the museum shop, and a restaurant.

Sohna
The town of Sohna is a popular tourist weekend destination and conference retreat on the highway from Gurgaon to Alwar, about 25 km south of Gurgaon. The town derives its name from the word Sona or gold, which refers to the gold dust that blows in the area, especially after heavy rainfall. Sohna is known for its hot springs and a Shiva temple and is part of the Ahirwal region. According to historical records, Sohna traces its origin from the 11th century and was occupied by three races in succession – the Kambhos, the Khanzadas and the Rajputs. Gazetteers mention that Nawab Qutb Khan Khanzada defeated the Hindu Kambhos and took over the town in 1570 who were then expelled in 1620 by the Sisodia Rajputs who migrated to Sohna, obeying the orders of their patron saint who appeared in their dream indicating Sohna as their place of settlement.

The Sohna Hotsprings, in the foothills of the Aravali Range, also has an ancient Shiva temple built by the Baba Lakhi Shah Banjara Banjara. A Gangasnan Mela or fair is held each November at the temple, and a fair is held each July and August to celebrate the festival of Teej. The hot springs are strongly sulphurous and according to legend, the Pandava prince Arjun dug the wells when he was thirsty. Sohna is believed to have been the abode of hermits and the main tank or kund, the Shiva Kund, is said to have medicinal properties. Devotees consider it sacred, and during eclipses and the Somavati Amavasya they gather here to bathe in the water. The hilltop Barbet Resort, operated by Haryana Tourism, has sauna and steam-bath facilities, a small swimming pool, a park, lodging and a restaurant overlooking the town.

The Gora Barak Mosque has a minaret while the Quto Khan ki Masjid, built from local red sandstone, is in ruins. The Shah Nazam al haq Tomb was built over a Hindu temple with the tomb having an inscription dating it to 1461, during the reign of Bahlul Khan Lodi of the Lodi dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. The Lal Gumbaz or the Red Dome and Kala Gumbaz or Black Dome of Sohna lie west of the town with the 400-year-old tomb called Lal Gumbad located in the vicinity of the Ansal’s Orchid Estate. Made entirely of stone, the structure has a 12-pillared hall in the entrance arcade that is made of red sandstone crowned with a dome. Attached behind this is the main tomb in stone masonry with a larger dome, exhibiting hybrid architectural styles from Tughlaq and Lodhi periods.

Sohna is also famous for being the site of the annual vintage car rally held annually in February with car collectors from all over India coming to display their collection of vintage beauties including Rolls Royce, Aston Martins, and Austins. The rally also awards trophies to car owners based on their performance, maintenance, and restoration. Every year, the event draws hundreds of tourists who throng to witness these vintage beauties in action.

Tucked away in a distant part of the small town, the Sohna adventure camp offers its visitors an exciting life of camping, trekking and rock climbing. The camp also has a rope course, paintball area and mountain rappelling, making it a popular site for corporate getaways. Living in temporary tents gives the feeling of living at a hill station just a few hours away from the national capital. Foods and snacks available at the nearby eateries are also very delicious.

The Sohna Hill Fort or the Bharatpur Hill Fort is a semi-finished fort on the Aravalli Ranges. It was built by the king of Bharatpur State between 1700 and 1857. Demolished and rebuilt several times, the fort is the best place to spend a quiet and lonely evening.

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