Travel Bucket List: India – Haryana Part 4

Kurukshetra
Also known as Dharmakshetra or the realm of duty and as the land of the Bhagavad Gita, Kurukshetra lies about 35 km north of Karnal. According to the Puranas, Kurukshetra is a region named after King Kuru, the ancestor of Kauravas and Pandavas in the Kuru kingdom, as depicted in the epic Mahabharata. The Kurukshetra War of the Mahabharata is believed to have taken place here. Thaneswar whose urban area is merged with Kurukshetra is a pilgrimage site with many locations attributed to the Mahabharata. It is where Lord Krishna is said to have recited the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna.

In the Vedas, Kurukshetra is described not as a city but as a region where kshetra means a region in Sanskrit. The boundaries of Kurukshetra correspond roughly to the central and western parts of the state of Haryana and southern Punjab. According to the Vamana Purana, King Kuru chose the land at the banks of the Sarasvati River for embedding spirituality with eight virtues. Lord Vishnu was impressed with the acts of King Kuru and blessed him with two boons—first, that this land forever will be known as a Holy Land after his name as Kurukshetra or the land of Kuru and second that anyone dying on this land will go to heaven. The land of Kurukshetra was situated between two rivers—the Sarasvati and the Drishadvati.

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Kurukshetra was conquered by the Mauryan empire in the late 4th century BC and subsequently became a centre of Buddhism and Hinduism. The history of Kurukshetra is little-known in between the collapse of the Mauryans and the rise of the Kushans who conquered the region. After the decline of Kushan power in the region, Kurukshetra became independent only to become conquered by the Gupta empire in the early 4th century. Under the Gupta rule, Kurukshetra experienced a cultural and religious revival and became a centre for Hinduism. After the fall of the Gupta, the Pushyabhuti dynasty ruled over Kurukshetra. Around the early 9th century, Kurukshetra lost its independence to Bengal. Mahmud of Ghazni sacked Kurukshetra in 1014 and Muslim raiders sacked it in 1034. Kurukshetra was incorporated into the Delhi Sultanate in 1206. Other than a short moment of independence from the result of a rebellion within the Sultanate in 1240, Kurukshetra was under the control of Delhi until 1388.

Kurukshetra became independent once again after the steep decline of the Delhi Sultanate and the raids of Tamerlane near the region. The Sayyid dynasty incorporated Kurukshetra into their territory through the city likely enjoyed some autonomy. Kurukshetra became part of the Mughal Empire after Babur quashed a local rebellion in 1526. Under Akbar, Kurukshetra once again became a spiritual centre not only for Hindus but also for Sikhs and Muslims. Between the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Kurukshetra was controlled by the forces of the Maratha Empire until the British took over Delhi in 1803. In 1805, the British took Kurukshetra after defeating the Maratha forces in the Second Anglo-Maratha War. Kurukshetra is an important Hindu pilgrimage destination, and several pilgrimage sites surround the city. A few kilometres from Kurukshetra is the village known as Amin, where there are remnants of a fort that is believed to be Arjun’s son, Abhimanyu’s fort.

Jyotisar is associated with the legend of Mahabharata and is where Lord Krishna recited the Bhagwad Geeta under a Banyan tree to the Pandava prince Arjun, to prepare him to fight the war against Bhishma and Karna. The tree at Jyotisar is believed to be the same tree under which Lord Krishna expounded the Bhagavad Gita.

Raja Harsh Ka Tila is an archaeologically important site where excavations have revealed an ancient settlement expanding about 1 sq km. Research has revealed that the settlements belong to over six cultural periods ranging from the 1st to the 19th centuries including the Gupta, the Kushana, the Vardhamana, the post-Gupta and the Mughal periods.

Raja Karna Ka Kila belongs to three cultural periods in the region ranging from the 4th century BC to the 3rd century AD. It was first surveyed and excavated in 1921 by the Archaeological Survey of India and artefacts recovered include terracotta seals, fabrics, terracotta beads, stamped pottery, bricks, clay artefacts & seals. One can also see the fortification of well preserved small houses.

Named after the wife of Rishi Jamadagni, Renuka, the Renuka Yaksha Tirth is the entry point to Kurukshetra and one of the four Yakshas present in the region. Located on the banks of the sacred river Saraswati, it is considered auspicious to take a dip in the river before beginning the journey into the region.

Brahma Sarovar, as its name suggests, is a water tank in Thanesar, considered sacred by Hindus and incredibly beautiful. Sunsets here with their reddish and golden reflection in the water is beautiful. A beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is situated inside the pond which can be reached via a concrete bridge. The tank sees a huge number of pilgrims during a solar eclipse and on the day of Somavati Amavasya or the sacred no-moon day that happens on a Monday as it is believed that a bath in the holy Sarovar frees one from all sins and the cycle of birth and death. The Sarovar is one of Asia’s largest man-made ponds and Hindu genealogy registers are kept here.

According to mythology, Brahma Sarovar is dedicated to Lord Brahma who created the universe after a huge yajna or ritual in Kurukshetra. In ancient times, the tank was known as Ramahard and Samanta Panchaka and was said to be associated with Parshurama who was an embodiment of Lord Vishnu. Due to its special association with the solar eclipse, the tank was also popularly known as the Kurukshetra tank. Yudhisthir, the eldest of the Pandavas, erected a tower in the middle of the Sarovar as a symbol of his victory in the battle of Mahabharatha. On the northern bank of the Sarovar lies the shrine of Lord Shiva which is said to have been installed by Lord Brahma himself. The festival of Gita Jayanti is the most famous occasion celebrated at the Brahma Sarovar which is held in November and December. Deep Daan in which lighted lamps are floated in the water and the aarti take place during the ceremony. It is believed by devotees that one circumambulation of the sacred tank is equal to visiting the Teertha lying within the holy circuit of Kurukshetra once. The week-long celebration of the birth of Bhagavad Geeta is celebrated with dramas, dance performances, social campaigns, exhibitions, sacred ceremonies and competitions.

Bhishma Kund is said to be where the patriarch Bhishma was laid on a bed of arrows made by Arjun for him to watch the battle. When he was thirsty and he requested water, Arjun shot an arrow in the ground letting out a water spring to quench Bhishma’s thirst. This water body is now known as the Bhishma Kund. Falgu Tirth is a religiously important pilgrimage centre, especially during Pitru Paksha, which is the period to pay respects to the ancestors.

Measuring up to 550 ft in width and 1500 ft in height, Sannihit Sarovar is believed to be the meeting point of seven tributaries of the Saraswati River and is the home of Lord Vishnu. It is believed that bathing here on the day of Amavasya or the day of an eclipse would be equal to performing the Aswamedha Yajna. The Sarovar also houses shrines of Dhruv Narayan, Sri Hanuman, Lord Vishnu, Dhruv Bhagat, Laxmi Narayan and Goddess Durga.

It is said that Lord Krishna and the Pandavas obtained the blessings of Lord Shiva at the Sthaneshwar Mahadev Temple before the epic battle of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata. The tank in the premises of the temple is believed to possess healing properties and is also said to have healed Banasura’s leprosy. Archaeologists trace the architecture of the temple to Sthaneshwar, the ancient capital of Emperor Harshavardhana. One can see the roof of the temple shaped like an Indian gooseberry with lofty pinnacles. The temple houses an ancient statue of a Shiva linga believed to be the first idol of Shiva in the phallic form.

The Bhadrakali Temple is where Pandavas were believed to perform prayers and rituals before the final battle against the Kauravas. One of the Shakti Peeths, the shrine is home to Goddess Kali and her incarnations.

The Lakshmi Narayan temple is an 18th-century shrine dedicated to Lord Narayana and Goddess Lakshmi built during the Chola dynasty. It is believed that devotees wouldn’t have to go on the Char Dham or the four holy pilgrimage temples if they visit this temple and complete seven circumambulations around the shrine.

Sheikh Cheli Mausoleum or Sheikh Chilli’s Tomb was built in the memory of the Sufi master of Prince Dara Shikoh, Sufi Saint Sheikh Chehli. The attraction is a stunning illustration of Persian architecture with beautiful floral designs. The complex has Sheikh Chilli’s and his wife’s tombs, a mosque made of red sandstone, a madrasa, beautifully maintained lawns and an Archaeological Museum.

The Kalpana Chawla Memorial Planetarium was established in memory of Kalpana Chawla, the Indian-American astronaut and engineer who was the first woman of Indian origin to go to space and who was one of the seven crew members who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when the spacecraft disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. The planetarium has interesting exhibits and short films about astronomy.

The Kurukshetra Panorama & Science Centre was established to explain the role of science in traditional religion. Interactive and functional exhibits of technology merging with the culture are displayed at the centre including the legendary battle of Kurukshetra in a life-like panorama. Here, one can get in-depth knowledge on the concepts of matter and their properties utilised in ancient India along with their scientific justifications.

Founded in 1987, the Krishna Museum houses various artefacts of Lord Krishna and Krishna’s incarnations from the 1st to the 11th centuries. The museum houses six galleries that showcase statues in the forms as described in the Bhagavata Purana and Mahabharata. The exhibits in the galleries consist of exquisite woodcarvings, wooden panels, bronze casting, ivory works, palm–leaf etchings, stone sculptures, archaeological artefacts and miniature paintings. There is also a tableau made from papier-mache and clay, based on the Bhagavata Gita and the Mahabharata.

Located in Kurukshetra University, the Dharohar Museum exhibits the rich historical, cultural, archaeological and architectural heritage of the state. It was established during the Golden Jubilee of the university and has over 23 galleries that display the rich heritage of the region through paintings, photographs, artefacts and manuscripts. The museum complex also has an open-air amphitheatre where folk performances are frequently organised. The Nishtha Fish Museum is a little fish museum where one can find several colourful aquatic species and is apt for children to explore over a day-long picnic along with other attractions nearby.

The OP Jindal Park & Musical Fountain is an expansive park covering about 14 acres of land with lush green lawns, fountains, a jogging park, a fully functioning children’s play area, a quiet meditation centre and a fragrant rose garden. Established in 1982, the Pipli Zoo houses various species of animals over 25 acres. The zoo also has a blackbuck breeding centre and is a local favourite picnic spot.

Bhor Saidan Crocodile Farm was established over an area surrounding a tank full of crocodiles. In the 1930s, the Mahants of the nearby Bhureeshwar Temple brought a few mugger crocodiles and released them in the pond next to the temple. In 1982, the farm was taken over by the Forest Department and the periphery was fenced. The department obtained four pairs of crocodiles from the Crocodile Bank in Madras to help balance the ecosystem. The centre captive breeds and conserves freshwater mugger crocodiles which are native to India.

Just 25 km west of Kurukshetra and 6 km from the Bhor Saidan Crocodile Farm lies the Chhilchhila Wildlife Sanctuary. Also known as the Seonthi Reserve Forest, the Chhilchhila Wildlife Sanctuary is located in a depression that has a small lake created by an embankment. The sanctuary, as a staging and wintering ground of avifauna, has recorded 57 species, including 33 winter migrants, 2 summer migrants and 22 resident species of both resident and migrant wetland birds which belong to 37 genera and 16 families including two species classified as near endangered. Chhilchhila Lake was notified as a Bird Sanctuary in 1986. A zone of 5 km surrounding the sanctuary has been declared an Eco-sensitive Zone to preserve its ecology and environment. According to local legend, the lake in the sanctuary is linked to the epic Mahabharata as it is believed that the Pandavas escaped to Haridwar through a tunnel under the lake.

About 35 km from the Chhilchhila Wildlife Sanctuary lies Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as Seonsar Forest and is spread over an area of more than 110 sq km. The Saraswati Plantation was notified as the Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary on 29 July 1988. It was reported in 2016 that the Mahant and members of a group of Nath yogis in the sanctuary found ancient rectangular bricks from a 15 feet deep structure after an old banyan tree was uprooted. According to experts, these bricks and structure appear to be older than 1500 years old as the square bricks are associated with the 1,500-year-old Gupta period, so between 320 to 550 AD and these bricks are likely to be even older from the Kushan period between 30 to 375 AD as the Sarasvati river used to flow here. There is also 40-year-old water well made of small lakhauri bricks associated with the Mughal empire.

Ambala
Ambala which lies about 50 km north of Kurukshetra is located on the border with Punjab and in proximity to the state capital, Chandigarh. Because of the cantonment area, which has a large Indian Army and Indian Air Force presence, it is also known as a twin city. Ambala separates the Ganges river network from the Indus river network and is surrounded by two rivers, the Ghaggar and the Tangri, to the north and the south.

The town is said to derive its name from Amba Rajput who supposedly founded it during the 14th century. According to another version, it is named after the goddess Bhawani Amba whose temple still exists in the town. Indo-Parthian Kingdom coins as well as coins of Hunas, Mihirakula and Toramana were found in the area, which indicated that after the disintegration of the Mauryan empire, the area was taken over by Indo-Parthians and later was incorporated in the domain of the Hunas. In 1709, the Battle of Ambala was fought and the Sikhs captured Ambala from the Mughals.

The Ambala Army Cantonment was established in 1843 after the British were forced to leave its Karnal Cantonment following the malaria epidemic of 1841–42. The cantonment houses the 2 Corps, one of the three Strike Corps of the Indian Army. Ambala Air Force Base is one of the oldest and largest airbases inherited from the British by the IAF. Ambala was the front line airfield for many years and home to various aircraft that were inducted into the Indian Air Force. Ambala Cantonment is the location of the historic European Cemetery.

Rani Ka Talab is a 400-year-old scenic and historic pond in Ambala Cant and is manned by the army. It is surrounded by the Kailash Mandir and the Indra Park. The Raja Ka Talab was also constructed along with Rani Ka Talab but now Raja Ka Talab has been carved out into a modern park known as Patel Park which during British rule, was known as Company Bagh.

The Sisganj Gurudwara is also known as Baoli Sahib and was sanctified by Sri Guru Hargobind and Sri Guru Gobind Singh who spent seven months of his childhood over here. Located near Anandpur, the gurudwara has a large dome and is one of the most significant gurudwara of Haryana. It is also known as the Badshahi Bagh of Haryana and it is believed that this gurudwara disciplines the Sikh followers from wrongdoings per the sermons of Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh held a congregation here and now that place houses the Guru’s bed, weapons and utensils used in the langar. Gurudwara Shri Laknour Sahib is situated in Lakhnour village. Shri Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib Ji’s wife and Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Mother Mata Gujri was born here after which her parents shifted to Kartarpur Sahib, where she married Shri Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib Ji. On their way to Punjab, Mata and Guru Ji stayed at this gurudwara for 6 months and today, three beds, of which 2 beds and pawas, 2 prant’s and many more of the Guru’s weapons are still preserved here.

The Chintamani Sri Parshavnath Jain Mandir is one of the finest temples of Ambala founded by the Shri Vijay Inder Jain charitable trust about 150 years back. It is believed to house idols that are over 2,500 years old and excavated at Pinjore. The shrine consists of four idols of Jain deities with the statue of Chandra Prabhu the biggest sculpture in the temple.

The 2500-year-old Hanuman Mandir has beautiful artwork, artistic engravings and sculptures which is in tandem with the Mughal School of painting. Located on the old Grand Trunk Road, it is flocked by pilgrims and devotees, especially on Tuesdays and Saturdays and on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti which takes place in April. The temple is also known as Shree Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir.

The Ambika Mata Temple is not only the oldest shrine in the town, but is also from where Ambala got its name. Dedicated to Goddess Amba, Ambika and Ambalika, this ancient Hindu shrine is thousands of years old. One of the attractions of the temple is paintings on the upper walls and ceilings, which have faded over the years.

The Holy Redeemer Church was built under by the British when troops of the East India Company were posted from Karnal to Ambala. The church was rebuilt in 1905 after it collapsed and consists of an altar of the old church and huge towers, sturdy pillars and an elevated Gothic roof. Today, the old residence of the priest is used as a dispensary and reading room.

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Kalesar National Park and the adjacent Kalesar Wildlife Sanctuary are protected areas that lie about 100 km east of Ambala. Both are also contiguous to the Simbalbara National Park in Himachal Pradesh and the Rajaji National Park in Uttrakhand. Kalesar National Park is spread across 53 sq km and was notified on 8 December 2003 while the 53 sq km Kalesar Wildlife Sanctuary was notified on 13 December 1996. The park is named after the Kalesar Mahadev temple located in this national park. Kalesar is a popular destination for leopards, panthers, elephants, red jungle fowl and bird-watching and is covered primarily with sal with a smattering of Semul, Amaltas and Bahera trees as well.

The ancient Kalesar Mahadev temple takes its name from the corrupted form of Kaleshwar, a moniker of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva. It is located near NH 907 on the east side and just 400 meters north of the Kalesar Dak rest house and 8.5 km north of the Hathni Kund Barrage. There is also another later era Shiva temple north of the Kalesar Mahadev temple.

The Colonial Dak Bungalow is excellent for bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts and is a 100-year-old colonial dak bungalow. The forest rest house is at a picturesque point and commands a sweeping view of the Yamuna river. Surrounded by multi-layered gardens, with high-ceiling rooms, exquisite parquet flooring and teak panelling along the walls, the bungalow has fireplaces with mantelpieces and antique furniture that completes the period setting.

Wildlife jeep safaris are available on 3 tracks and the park is closed between July to September. During the remaining months visiting hours are between 6 to 10 am and between 4 to 7 pm during summers, and between 7 to 11 am and 3:30 to 6 pm during winters.

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