A good way to instil curiosity about India’s past in a child’s mind is by taking them to some of the magnificent monuments around the country. Belonging to different eras of India’s rich past, these five structures are remarkable examples of ingenuity and creativity.
Sabarmati Ashram, Gujarat
In a time when children are used to having their every wish fulfilled, the Sabarmati Ashram set up by Mahatma Gandhi in 1917 in Ahmedabad is a powerful example of modest living. Sandwiched between a jail and a crematorium, the two places that Gandhi believed a satyagrahi would end up in, the ashram is a reflection of his beliefs and ideology. Gandhi and his wife Kasturba’s personal belongings like their charkha and writing desk are on display at Hriday Kunj, their home inside the ashram premises.
Also part of the ashram complex, is the Gandhi Memorial Museum. Opened in 1963 and designed by legendary Indian architect Charles Correa, the museum has three galleries and houses the ashram library. The “My Life Is My Message” gallery has an exhibition of 250 photographs that chronicle the Mahatma’s life, organised into seven parts.
Don’t leave without taking your children to see the statues of the three wise monkeys installed near the ashram entrance
(www.gandhiashramsabarmati.org; daily 8.30 a.m.-6.30 p.m.; entry free).
Vivekananda Rock Memorial, Tamil Nadu
Taking a ferry to Kanyakumari at the southern tip of India, the meeting point of two seas and a mighty ocean, is an adventure any kid will jump at. A short ferry ride from the mainland takes visitors to one of the two rocks on which the Vivekananda Rock Memorial is built. Legend has it that the philosopher dived into shark-infested waters to reach the rock where he meditated. A memorial built at the spot has two structures: the Vivekananda Mandapam and the Sripada Mandapam. The former adjoins a meditation hall which has a bronze statue of the philosopher made by renowned sculptor Sitaram S. Arte (www.kanyakumari.tn.nic.in; daily 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; entry ₹20; ferry ride ₹34).
Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh
Birbal was an advisor in Emperor Akbar’s court who was known for his sharp intellect and wit. Tales of their friendship and conversations form the base for many children’s stories today. A visit to Fatehpur Sikri, a city founded in the 16th century, will transport children to the place where many of Akbar and Birbal’s legendary interactions took place. One of the best examples of Mughal architecture in India, Fatehpur Sikri is a striking collection of magnificent structures. Climb up the steps of the imposing Buland Darwaza, peep through the marble screens at the tomb of Salim Chisti, or explore the fountains and courtyards of Panch Mahal (www.uptourism.gov.in; open daily sunrise to sunset; entry ₹40).
Brihadeeswara Temple, Tamil Nadu
Superlatives like the first, the tallest, or the biggest, hold significant weight in a child’s world. Tell your children they will be seeing a big temple that is over a thousand years old, and my guess is you already have them hooked. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, Brihadeeswara temple in Thanjavur was built by Raja Raja Chola I in the 11th century. The gigantic 196-foot-tall vimana or tower is a sight to behold. As a child, the massive kumbam or rounded dome that crowns the vimana fascinated me the most. Believed to weigh 80 tonnes, it was apparently hauled up to the top with the help of elephants. The sprawling grounds are also a joy to explore and children will love spotting the lone lizard carved onto the roof of the main temple. Watching priests climb ladders to perform the daily prayer ritual for the imposing lingam and Nandi bull is also fascinating. I have fond memories of playing hide-and-seek with my sisters among the hundreds of pillars within the complex while our parents rested (daily 6.30 a.m.- noon and 4 p.m.-8 p.m.; entry free).
Ajanta and Ellora, Maharashtra
The story behind the discovery of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ajanta is one that children will lap up. The forgotten caves were left to the mercy of the elements for hundreds of years, until they were discovered by chance by a British officer out on a hunt. The main attraction at this collection of caves dating back to the second century B.C. is intricate Buddhist frescoes painted with natural colours.
Located about 100 kilometres southwest of Ajanta, the Ellora cave temples are some of the finest examples of rock-cut architecture in India. The pièce de résistance of this collection of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu caves is the Kailasa or Cave 16. It is a multi-storeyed structure resembling a temple, and is carved out of a single rock. I vividly remember being transfixed by it when I visited Ellora on a school trip, wondering how such magnificence could be created using a simple hammer and chisel(www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/treasures/caves; Ajanta opens 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday closed; Ellora opens 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday closed).
Published in the February 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller India. Read it online on natgrotraveller.in.