LOCATED ON THE BANKS of the Sarayu river, Ayodhya is said to be the birthplace of Rama, the divine hero of the Ramayafla . Dozens of temples in this small pilgrim town commemorate his birth. Whether this is a historical fact or simply part of oral tradition, for devout Hindus Ayodhya remains inextricably linked with the legend of Rama, As a result, when the Mughal emperor Babur built a mosque near the supposed spot of Rama’s birthplace in 1526, he left behind a bitterly contested site. Known as the Babri Masjid (“Mosque of Babur”), it was a long-simmering source of tension between Hindus and Muslims. In 1992, a mob of Hindus tore down the mosque, leading to rioting all over the country. Security personnel now guard the site. A makeshift temple outside the security ring still attracts pilgrims, particularly during the full moon night of Kartik Purnima. One of the more renowned temples, among the hundreds of shrines on the river bank, is the Hanuman Garhi. Built within the walls of an old fort, it is dedicated to the monkey god, Hangman .

ENVIRONS: Ayodhya’s twin city, lying 6 km (4 miles) to its west, Faizabad has a sizeable Muslim population and was Avadh’s first capital before it was shifted to Lucknow in 1775. In the town’s centre is the Jami Masjid, built by the later Mughals, while the 18thcentury tomb of Bahu Begum, the wife of Shuja-ud-Daula (Avadh’s third nawab), is an austere structure built in marble. Faizabad also has a pretty rose garden.

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